If you’ve ever stood on a bank, rod and reel in hand, and wished you could just slip across to that little cove where the redfish were tailing or had to keep your boat out of that cover for fear the water was too shallow, then a kayak is for you. In fact, there is a long list of reasons to own a kayak—chief among them portability, low initial and virtually non-existent maintenance costs, and the fact that it is also one of the most environmentally friendly ways to navigate the water—that is making kayak fishing one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in America right now.
“I can launch in places you can’t get another type of boat in. If I can walk to the water, then I can get my kayak in it and go fishing,” says Cory Routh, one of today’s foremost experts on the sport.
Routh, who is a marine fisheries biologist, kayak fishing guide who owns Ruthless Fishing, Inc., and the author ofKayak Fishing: The Complete Guide, has been kayak fishing for more than 10 years and fishing his entire life. He’s also the founder of the Tidewater Kayak Angler’s Association, which holds a number of tournaments during the year as well as events for wounded military and disabled anglers, and is in the process of creating his own show, “Ruthless Kayak Fishing with Cory Routh,” for the Sportsman’s Channel.
He points to other factors such as not needing to hassle with gas, never having to wait in lines at a boat ramp, the ability to get closer to the fish he is trying to catch and even exercise as more great reasons to fish from a kayak. Best of all, it’s easy to get started.
Selecting a Kayak
To start, a person needs to determine what type of fishing they’re mostly going to do and in what type of water they will be fishing. With manufacturers recognizing the growing popularity of kayak fishing, today’s angler has many models from which to choose. With that though, other considerations such as budget, where you’re going to keep your kayak, how you’re going to transport it and what style and length of kayak needed will all come into play.
Budget—Like most things in life, how much a person has to spend often dictates what they can realistically buy to use in their hobbies. Prices can range from as low as $550 to over $2,000 for a new kayak. A quick look at the showroom in Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach, Va. showroom revealed a huge selection of quality models in the $600 to $1,000 range making it obvious this is one of the most affordable options for a guy or girl looking to access water. A quick look at Craigslist or the local classifieds will also turn up a number of used options, particularly with boats already tricked out for fishing. However, with new prices so reasonable, most anglers will want to give a new boat with a warranty serious consideration.
Transport and Storage—Unless you plan on fishing out of your backyard (if you’re lucky enough to live on the water) or right up the road, then you’ll probably need to transport your kayak in either a truck or on some sort of vehicle rack. You have to be practical here. If you drive a Honda Civic, you probably don’t want to have to haul around a 16-foot kayak that is longer than your car. Likewise, if you drive a pick up and want most of the kayak inside the bed of your truck rather than having to secure it hanging half outside of the bed, the same concern applies. You also need to consider where you plan on storing your kayak—on a rack in the backyard, in the garage, in your apartment! Again, be practical about what will work and what won’t.
Type of Fishing—Will you be fishing big open water where wind and chop might come into play or mainly working shallow inlets and tidal marshes where calm waters are the norm? For the former, some anglers Routh knows prefer a longer kayak in the 14- and 16-foot range that slices through the water more easily and tracks straighter and faster. However, for anglers that want to be able to maneuver their boat more or who are looking for more stability, a shorter, wider kayak is the ticket. Roush also suggests these models for beginners as they are easier to work with when starting out.
Sit-On-Top or Sit-In-Kayak—At first blush as a beginner, a Sit-On-Top kayak or SOT, seems like it would be more precarious for a beginner. “Not so,” says Routh. While Sit-In-Kayaks or SINKs are the ones most recognized through recreational kayaking as they allow the paddler to sit down inside a cockpit. However, if you accidentally flip the kayak, the cockpit can take on water and it is harder to learn how to get back inside. For this reason alone, SOTs are preferred by most anglers. They are both self-bailing, beneficial when fishing where waves are present, and they are easier to climb on and off of for anglers who want to slide off and wade while fishing certain areas. “Ninety-nine percent of the kayaks anglers use are the Sit-On-Top design,” says Routh. Wilderness Systems, Native Watercraft, Pelican and Freedom Hawk all offer great models designed for anglers.
Paddle or Peddle—While most kayak designs require the user to paddle, kayaks propelled via a peddle system and rudder for steering are available. Hobie pioneered the design, says Routh in his book “Kayak Fishing: The Complete Guide.” The company makes several peddle models for anglers including a large-capacity Mirage Outback and the smaller Mirage Sport. Their Mirage Adventure is the longest and fastest peddle model they offer, while the Mirage Revolution is a hybrid version that offers a mix of speed, capacity and maneuverability.
Color—There are lots of choices in colors offered by manufacturers and Routh says it really comes down to personal choice. He prefers a neutral color such as beige that can still be visible from other boats or land, but blends in with the naturally dark waters and marsh grass where he fishes. If you will be fishing in a high-traffic area, you might prefer a bright red or yellow for better visibility. As for the fish, they could care less.
Once you have a kayak selected, you’ll need to rig it up for action. And while you can put virtually as many bells and whistles on a kayak as you can any other small fishing vessel, here are the basics you’ll need to consider.
Seat—Most models come with a seat, but if you want added comfort or features not common to a standard seat, there are abundant choices of after-market seats.
Paddles—Like a scope on a rifle, these can cost almost as much as the kayak depending on which model you choose. Aluminum handled models with plastic paddles are less expensive (often less than $100), but also grow much colder in your hands when cold-weather angling, while composite fiber handles and composite paddles are more rigid, aren’t temperature sensitive and are lighter yet cost more (some models are upwards of $400). Routh says treat paddles like you would the tires on your vehicle: “Buy the best ones you can afford.”
Rod Holder—Available in flush mount models or models that extend above the surface of the kayak, you’ll want to get at least two or three rod holders—one in the center front and two for each side behind the seat.
Anchor—A light claw anchor of about 2 ½ pounds is sufficient for most fishing areas. A Bruce-style model has a breakaway secondary attachment for your rope should it get hung, allowing the rope to switch the end of the anchor from which it’s being pulled for easy freeing.
Tackle Bag—A soft-sided tackle bag or even a milk crate, which a lot of anglers prefer, can be used to store gear. The bag or milk crate simply bungees in the back to hold your tackle and other items. For items you need to keep dry such as cell phones, food, or a change of clothes, try a collapsible dry bag that can be stored in the kayak’s fore compartment.
Coast Guard Required—A PFD, a whistle and a light, such as a bright flashlight that can be used for signaling, are all that is required by the Coast Guard for a kayaker to be on the water. There are countless PFD’s designed to double as a utilitarian fishing vest so finding one that is comfortable and that will save your life is easy to accomplish.
Fishing Gear—The best thing about fishing from a kayak is that it doesn’t require any different type of rods, reels or tackles than you would use fishing from shore or a boat. If you have a system that works, go with it on the kayak.
Before hitting the water or even making the choice to try kayak fishing, Routh urges anglers to consider their fitness levels. It might be easy to paddle going out with a tide or winds to your back, but if you start to wear down returning against either, things can turn dangerous—even deadly. Routh recommends beginners take an introductory paddling skills course or spend a day or two with an experienced guide in the area you plan to do most of your fishing to learn how to handle the kayak, get a read on your own initial abilities and learn areas of concern in your local waters.
With the right skills and equipment, you’re off to a great new chapter in your life of fishing adventure.