By Dave Mull
If you haven’t been around the world of kayaks lately, you might be surprised to see today’s craft equipped for fishing with side-scanning sonar/GPS, electric motors, foot-pedal drives, rod holders and livewells. In short, they are excellent, go-almost-anywhere fishing craft.
Anglers use them for everything from river fishing for steelhead, to casting for bass, from trolling for walleyes, to cruising saltwater bays for redfish, snook and sea trout. As long as anglers use common sense and keep a weather eye, few things can be done in traditional fishing boats that can’t be done in a kayak.
This story will show how modern kayaks have become efficient fishing machines. But first, let’s get the most common misperceptions about fishing from a kayak out of the way.
Misperception 1: I’m too big, and kayaks are too unstable.
Reality: Modern kayaks have large payloads. For instance, my 14-foot Hobie Pro Angler has a 600-pound capacity, and at 58 years old and 250 pounds, I can stand and fish from it. I often take my 100-pound golden retriever fishing with me on kayak outings.
Misperception 2: Kayaks are uncomfortable.
Reality: Modern seat systems are as comfortable as seating in a boat can get. A friend who lives in a small apartment actually uses his removable kayak seat as an extra chair when friends are over to watch a sporting event on TV. It’s a sought-after seat.
Misperception 3: I could never take enough fishing gear with me on a kayak.
Reality: Certainly, a 21-foot bass boat can hold a lot more gear, but kayak anglers with modern boats sporting rod holders and storage systems commonly take along eight or more rods and enough stackable tackle boxes to hold more lures and tackle than they could go through in a season.
Perhaps those realities are why kayak fishing is one of the fastest-growing activities in the outdoors.
A few other realities that might add to their increasing popularity: Kayaks are among the most inexpensive ways to get on the water both in terms of initial investment—roughly $800 to $3,000. And every angler who has fished from a kayak loves the fuel consumption—ZERO!
Plus, almost any vehicle can be a kayak “tow vehicle.” And, finally, it’s downright fun to catch fish out of a kayak, whether you’re hooking tuna that take you for a wild ride toward the horizon, competing in a $20,000 kayak bass tournament, or just filling a cooler with panfish.
Most of today’s fishing kayaks are of the “Sit On Top” variety, meaning the seating area is molded in to the top of the kayak, opposed to the whitewater style craft that encloses the paddler from the waist down. The SOTs, as they’re called, give the angler freedom of movement and allow easy installation of fishing accessories such as electronic GPS/fish-finder units and their sonar transducers. Track systems that install flat on the boat’s topside accommodate rod holders to set rods and reels in for trolling and still fishing, as well as vertical holders to take extra combos along. The tracks allow easy removal of these and other accessories, and let the angler position them exactly where he wants them—easy to grab, but out of the way of paddling.
My friend Tim Percy has two fishing kayaks, a traditional paddle-style Ocean Kayak, Big Game II model as well as a Hobie Pro Angler 14, which is propelled with the pedal-power Mirage Drive. Percy gives insightful seminars and webinars on rigging kayaks for fishing. He recommends before installing anything, that you get in the ‘yak, take one rod, and go fishing. Determine where to place rod holders so they will be easy to reach, yet out of the way of paddle strokes or pedaling. Also, make sure your electronics are installed where they are out of the way, but easily reached so you can easily change the settings and get the most out of this helpful technology.
Most fishing kayaks you see on lakes these days have some sort of storage system behind the angler, ranging from a milk crate with rod holders zip-tied to it, to a repurposed tool box, to a box such as the YakAttack BlackPak (available in black or white) designed for holding flat tackle boxes and lots of rod holders and other accessories, such as the popular GoPro Hero and other types of video cameras.
To be certain, kayaks have their compromises. You can take many traditional fishing boats out in rougher water, but you might not be able to get that traditional watercraft into some of the smaller fishing holes with limited access like you can a kayak. Today’s modern fishing kayaks, properly accessorized are among the best fishing craft around. If you’re in the market for a new fishing boat, take a test ride in one of them. You might just decide that little boats are the way to go.
Kayak Safety Concerns
Most of today’s boats that advertise themselves as “fishing kayaks” are incredibly stable—you can go to YouTube and find segments showing daredevils standing and battling big sharks in kayaks. Still, they are kayaks, and they can be on the tippy side, so common sense is called for. Just as you should walk before you run, you should sit and fish before you stand!
All boating safety rules apply: Always wear your PFD. Have a whistle, horn or other noisemaker to alert oncoming boats. On bigger water, take along a handheld VHS ship-to-shore radio. Veteran yakkers advise removing all your fishing tackle and then practice capsizing and righting the craft. In cold water, kayakers often wear specialty dry suits that keep them dry and prevent hypothermia if they overturn.
Visibility to other, bigger boats is tantamount, too. Most yak anglers have an orange flag on a pole at the stern of their crafts to help other boaters see them. Many of these poles have lights, which should be turned on when out in the dark. Check your local boating regulations—proper lighting after dark is likely required.
Kayak angling is an inherently fun, comfortable and safe sport, but just like most other outdoor activities, it pays to be prepared for problems.
No Paddling Required
Although anglers in most kayaks propel themselves with a double-blade paddle, American ingenuity along with some German engineering has produced some kayaks that allow anglers to fish without paddling.
Hobie, best known for Hobie Cat sailboats, has produced several models of kayaks that use the company’s proprietary Mirage Drive. This consists of two flippers that move back and forth as the angler moves two pedals front and back with his or her feet. The company compares it to how a penguin “flies” through the water.
Native Watercraft has five models of kayaks featuring its Propel Drive. Instead of moving pedals front and back as in a Hobie, the angler in a Native pedals as if he or she were on a bicycle, the action spinning a propeller under the boat.
To go in reverse, the Native driver pedals backwards. In a Hobie, the angler simply pulls the Mirage Drive up, turns it around and clips it back in place to pedal in reverse.
Torqueedo, a German company that has manufactured electric outboards for a number of years, has brought the technology to kayak fishing with small motors that attach to the rear of a kayak and provide hours of quiet propulsion.
Some models attach right to a kayak’s rudder and there’s even one for Hobies that drops into the Mirage Drive holder.
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