Choosing The Right Fishing Kayak
By Jerry White
Since you're reading this article you're obviously interested in the sport of kayak fishing. Chances are that you already fish. Good news, almost everything you currently use to go fishing can be used or adapted to work from a kayak. But if you currently fish from a power boat you will have to give up some things. Yeah, gotta give up those boat loan payments, insurance premiums, maintenance bills, storage and launch fees. I think this is a sacrifice you can deal with though - be strong. You still need a kayak though. So, let the journey begin.
Learn about the sport:
The information highway can lead you to some pretty secluded waters too. While cruising the Internet, if you phrase the questions properly when you search, you can find enough information to quickly overwhelm you. A great way to start is to search by typing "kayak", "fishing", and "your_state" or "your_favorite_fish_to_target". Often you'll find that kayak fishing clubs have already been established in your area, kayak fishing guide services are available to take you to your target species, and discussion forums are buzzing with curious folks like you, as well as seasoned veterans sharing advice. All of these things are available to you long before you ever buy a kayak. But soon you'll have a good idea what successful kayak anglers are using - and why. As you unearth all this information you'll also find a lot of self-professed experts. Listen to them and learn from their experiences. This is a relatively new sport, but you'll find that most who participate are very passionate about it. They may not offer up their "honey holes" but they aren't shy about sharing general locations for launching, and tips about gear. And man, do these folks take pride in their kayaks ! Most fishing kayak owners consider the kayak they own to be the best on the market, and they are correct. The fishing kayaks on the market today normally are available in "angler" versions (rigged, just add water) or stock versions (you rig it). As a result, paddle casters often rig their boats to fit their individual personal needs and wants. And, in the end, THAT is what makes the best fishing kayak.
Be honest about your goals:
Will you be fishing fresh water, salt water, farm ponds, huge lakes, slow moving rivers, offshore, warm water, or cold water, launching through the surf, or from a dock, or a tiny opening in the shoreline, or a combination of all of these ? Will you be content with taking minimal gear, or will you sometimes want to take a family camping ? Start your journey with the end in mind, and that will help narrow the list of choices. Once you whittle your list down, certain types of fishing kayaks will begin to emerge from the crowd. One of those is yours.
Speed versus stability, length versus width, and other trade-offs:
This is battle of good and evil, so to speak. Longer kayaks are normally faster than shorter ones. Wider kayaks are normally more stable than narrower ones. Kayaks that have some "rocker" (upswept bow) do well in waves and current but not as well on flat water. Don't blame the manufacturers. Blame the laws of physics that pertain to all things that float. Often, new paddlers realize that the boat that seemed stable in the beginning soon appears to be slow. That's because the paddlers balance and confidence improved with experience - they're simply getting better at the sport. It's like learning to ride a bike. So, as you test kayaks, keep in mind that over time your abilities will improve.
Inside or on top:
Most kayak anglers prefer the sit-on-top variety of kayak. This allows them to easily add accessories, and also enables them to get out and wade. However, this can be a wet ride at times. So, some choose to fish from "cockpit" style kayaks, which are basically a traditional sit-inside kayak with a much larger cockpit opening. The cockpit boats are great when fishing cold water, and can be a much drier ride. And, since you're actually down inside the boat, your center of gravity is lower, and stability is often improved. But, being down inside a boat of this type makes it harder to get out should you decide to wade.
Consult the experts, try before you buy:
Seek out a kayak shop in your area, ask some questions and advice, and take a test paddle in as many kayaks as you can, even ones that you don't think you'd like. Many kayak dealers will allow you to rent a kayak and then apply all or part of that fee toward a new kayak. It's hard to make an informed decision about what fishing kayak is best for you based on a short paddle or simply the opinions of others. These dealers can often provide a class about paddling technique as well. Even though your goal is to fish, you still need to get there in the most efficient way possible. Another fantastic way to really see what kayak fishing is all about is to hire a guide. This will be money well spent for a number of reasons. The guide will put you in a kayak rigged to make fishing as easy and efficient as possible for a beginner. They can give you all the tips you need for having a safe and productive day on the water. Normally it's their gear you'll be using, so you don't have to worry about dunking your favorite reels. Most importantly, they want to enable you to catch some fish. After all, that's what this is about anyway.
Transportation and storage:
Once you finally decide on which kayak is right for you, you'll need to figure out a way to get it home. The dealer where you make your purchase will probably carry whatever you'll need to load it on your car or truck - they really want you to be able to get it out of their showroom. I made a rack for my truck using materials found at a home improvement store for about $80. There are also many companies that sell via mail-order and the Internet. Search and you shall find. Once you get it home, you'll need to figure out a good place to store it. Since most people don't want a plastic coffee table that's 14 feet long, the new addition to the family will probably sleep outside or in the garage. Once again, the Internet will be valuable here. There are numerous storage solutions out there. Just always remember that plastic doesn't like prolonged direct sunlight and heat. Most kayak manufacturers will offer storage suggestions either on their websites or it will be included in their warranty packet. I keep a pair of my boats on my truck rack at all times. You just never know when you'll have a few extra minutes to go wet a line. Plus, it makes my truck easy to find in a crowded parking lot at the mall.
Stealth, health, or fashion:
Color is crucial to successful fishing - to lure manufacturers maybe. Not quite the case when it comes to choosing the color of your new kayak. Recent studies have suggested that fish don't see as many colors as humans. And, in their environment, they're more likely to pay attention to shadows. Since shadows don't have different colors based on where they came from, I feel color doesn't play much of a role in this sport. Still some will chose blue to blend with the sky overhead, sand color to blend in with the beach, even camouflage to blend in with wooded areas. Others chose boat color based on safety and the ability to be seen by others on the water. Yellow is the most visible color, followed closely by orange and red. Blue, green, and even white will seem to blend in with the color of the water or surf. It's up to you though. I'll be getting a pair of new fishing kayaks in a few weeks. One will be yellow simply because I like yellow - the other will be blue to match my wife's eyes.
To rig or not to rig, that is the question:
When you get down to basics, the only thing that separates a kayak from a fishing kayak is a rod holder. If you're the handy type and comfortable around power tools, then this sport takes on another life for you - the life of rigging. Stock kayaks are cheaper than rigged "angler" models, so you can save a good bit of money this way, and add a personal touch to your kayak along the way. Always measure twice and drill/cut once. And, take your boat out several times and get a feel for where things should be before you perform your installations. Things are different on the water than they are in your driveway. But, if you're not at ease drilling holes into something designed to float, fear not. Angler models are designed and pre-rigged so that accessories are correct and convenient for most paddle anglers.
Does this seat make my butt look big?
Well, black is a slimming color. You will most likely want to buy a good quality high-back seat. Some even have rod holders and storage pouches. There are lots of options here, with varying degrees of padding and back support. Again, consult your dealer for what would be best for you. Remember, this is your vehicle for a multi-hour trip, so you definitely want to be comfortable.
Don't forget the motor:
I'm speaking of your paddle. You get what you pay for in this respect. Your dealer can recommend many options, but most will agree that you should get the lightest one you can afford. This will greatly enrich the paddle fishing experience. Also invest in a paddle leash. The excitement of landing that once in a lifetime fish quickly fades when you discover that you and your paddle have parted company during the heat of battle.
Live to tell your fish story:
PFD's (Personal Flotation Devices) are required on kayaks of all kinds. Check your state laws for specifics. In many states they need not be worn, but must be readily accessible. However there are many new PFD models on the market today specifically designed for the sit-on-top kayak angler. Not only are they comfortable, they're functional, with storage pockets, etc. There's no excuse to become a statistic - WEAR YOUR PFD. You will also need a Coast Guard approved signaling device, most likely a whistle. Several brands are available now that have a built in compass, thermometer, and other gadgets for less than five bucks.
New for 2005 - The PERFECT Fishing Kayak:
I have great news, probably should have put this up front, I guess. But I know when the perfect fishing kayak will be released to market. The perfect fishing kayak will be released next year, and the next year, and the next. As more and more companies vie for the customer's dollar, the customer reaps the benefits. Better design, lighter materials, and more options are expected.
Decisions, decisions. Lots of choices and almost all of them are great ones. And, if at the end of it all you still can't make up your mind, do like a lot of us have done … BUY TWO.
Be sure to check out the Fishing Kayaks in the Paddling.net Buyers guide!