What to Consider Before Getting a Kayak for Fishing
Perhaps you’ve noticed a lot of kayak-toting vehicles on the road and you’ve experienced a little portable-boat go-fishing-wherever-you-want envy. You’re interested in getting a kayak but don’t know where to start.
As with many purchases and decisions, to make the right choice you need to realistically assess your needs and capabilities and understand what different kayaks and kayak accessories offer.
There are loads of used kayaks around, and a primary reason for this is that many first-time kayak buyers, like many first-time powerboat buyers, find later that what they need is not what they initially acquired, so they step up, step down, or otherwise make a switch.
Kayak-Fishing Pros and Cons
Kayaking is about paddling. You provide the power. If you’ve never paddled before, you may not realize that paddling is tougher to do against a stiff wind and against significant current. You will build up arm strength, but you’ll also spend a good portion of your time on the water paddling, and the farther you go, the farther it is to return to your starting point. This is more of a factor on bigger bodies of water and in places where weather is an issue.
Paddling pros: quiet operation, easy site access, shallow water navigation, ability to get to seldom-fished places, healthy exercise, lower cost and lower carbon footprint than powerboating.
Paddling cons: time getting to distant fishing areas, time returning to put-in location, being in tight quarters, diminished visibility due to low angle, low cargo capacity.
Where Will You Paddle/Fish?
Boat needs depend on the type of water where you’ll be going and fishing. Will you spend most of your time on big open waters, smaller flatwater ponds and lakes, gentle rivers and streams, or fast-flowages? Large waters and/or long paddling distances require a kayak that tracks well (stays easily on course) and possibly has a rudder, which helps steerage. In moving waters and smaller streams you need one that is smaller and can be turned easily. Smaller and wider craft turn quickly but don’t track well. If you’re looking to compromise, fishing occasionally but cruising a lot, then decide which activity is more important.
Sit-In or Sit-On Model?
Comfort is a major factor in using a kayak. Taking a test drive in a kayak that you’re considering purchasing is highly recommended, especially if you do so in the environment where the boat will most often be used.
Anglers who predominantly fish in warm waters and hot climates prefer a sit-on-top model, which has an open deck where your whole torso and gear are exposed and has drain holes to allow water to pass out. It's easy to get into and out of, but offers no cold-water/weather or gear protection. A sit-in model is one with a cockpit. This is preferred in cold-water/weather situations because it offers more protection from the elements, including sun. It’s harder to get into, especially if you have mobility issues or launch from steep banks or shorelines and from docks. Water does not drain out of a cockpit, so if you take on too much water you have to find a place to beach and drain the water out, or carry a hand pump to remove it. There are cockpit covers that help keep water out, and many cockpit kayaks are good at fending off waves.
What Length Is Best?
The shorter the kayak the easier it is to maneuver, the lighter it is, and the easier it is to portage and transport. However, for fishing anything but a small pond, don’t consider any kayak under 10 feet long, which is not very stable for average-size adults. Thirteen- and 14-foot kayaks are stable and good for big waters but also heavy and harder to transport. Eleven- and 12-footers, therefore, are most popular for freshwater anglers, while 13-footers are popular with coastal inshore anglers.
What Else Do I Need?
In brief, there are a few other primary considerations. A good paddle is one of these. It’s foolish to buy a cheap paddle, which may be heavy or have a flimsy blade. You better love your paddle, because you’ll be making tens of thousands of strokes with it. Get one that is light and rigid, which aids efficiency and is less tiring. Length matters, too, and that depends on your height; a good outfitter can help you pick what's best.
A personal flotation device (PFD), also called a life jacket, is mandatory boating gear and there are unencumbering models especially made for kayakers.
Lastly, before you get a kayak, think about how you’ll transport it, and what you may need to do so. Unless you’ll permanently keep a kayak at your boat dock or waterside property, or unless you can fit it into the bed of a pickup truck, you’ll need a roof rack or trailer for your vehicle, plus appropriate tiedowns.