Palmetto Paddling made it’s debut in the April, 2011 issue of South Carolina Sportsman, and in slightly more than four years, we’ve covered everything you can do in a kayak, from deer and turkey hunting to freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing and boat-rigging. Along the way, we overlooked something: how to get started as a member of the plastic armada. An inquiry from a non-kayaking friend recently brought this to my attention, so this month, we go back to the beginning.

Choosing a boat is like choosing a spouse; one type does not fit all. Fortunately, having multiple boats, or trading up, is more socially acceptable. In recent years, the popularity and availability of kayaks and kayaking has increased tenfold. Mainstream outdoor retailers like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops have dedicated major space to kayaks and gear. Even Wal-mart is carrying boats in many of its stores. On the other hand, online and specialty retail stores are popping up everywhere. It’s hard to know where to start. To help with a variety of perspectives, we enlisted several noted kayak anglers and sportsman across the state and beyond via a social media survey.

Jeff Singleton, of Manassas, Va., and Drama Fee Kayak Anglers writes, “If it is plastic and floats, you can get into kayak fishing. People will ultimately want to sell you on their favorite brand, but when push comes to shove, all you need is a kayak and a fishing rod to get into it.”

A recurring theme across the web is that newbies are no longer left to their own devices to figure out what works best for them. Kayak-fishing clubs are on the rise, and South Carolina has several good ones. You can join a club without a boat and get plenty of advice on what, how and where to acquire your own ride.

Josh Swaney of Anderson, a member of the Upstate Kayak Fishing Club wrote, “I suggest joining a group/club. Usually, someone has an old (or spare) kayak they would part with. I started with a 10-foot Pelican sit-inside and stayed in it for a year-and-a-half; it really doesn’t matter where you start, it’s what you learn from it. If not for the club, I’m a member of, I might have given up in Ole Blue.”

Jason Saledas of Columbia, co-founder of the Midlands Kayak Fishing Club, is another club proponent. “I started with my local club, which at the time, had a few industry big names in it,” he said. “They were invaluable in getting me started. So always seek out your local club.”

During the spring and summer, manufacturers, retailers and supporters frequently hold “demo” events where a prospective buyer can come out, test drive several popular models and decide what best fits their needs and budget. guide Justin Carter from Mount Pleasant said this is one of the best ways to get first-hand experience with what works best for you.

“Every April, the East Coast Paddle Sports and Outdoor Festival comes to James Island County Park. The event allows anglers to try out almost every kind of kayak before they buy,” Carter said. “I recommend trying a kayak out before you buy it, no matter what brand you are looking at. You should also think about the type of water you will be using it in, how you are going to transport it and where you are going to store it. My first kayak was a Hobie Adventure. With the goal of fishing from a kayak it was a no-brainer. The Mirage Drive propulsion system was worth the money to be hands free and not have to deal with a paddle in my lap.”

Adam Fillmore, who owns Hunt, Fish and Paddle in Lake Wylie, has some good advice when it comes to buying a used kayak — which for many is a first option until they get hooked on the sport and decide to invest more. He wrote, “Even though I haven’t been kayak-fishing for a long time, I jumped in feet first and have put enough hours on a paddle to be able to give an educated opinion. 

“Local clubs are a great place to start. Used boats are definitely traditionally a lesser-expensive way to go, but make sure you look over a boat THOROUGHLY before buying it used. A little leak can make your beginning kayak experience not very fun and downright unsafe. Check with local dealers for demo-grade stock which can sometimes be new with factory blemishes. Do a ton of research on the credibility of where you get your boats as well. I’ve heard stories of big box stores saying your paddle length is based on your birthday — not really, but pretty close.”

Finally, veteran kayak-angler Daniel Seaman of Rocky Mount, N.C., had this advice: “There is a wealth of information online on YouTube and various kayak-fishing website forums. I’d recommend going to a local paddle shop and demo paddling as many as you can before you buy one. 

“You have to really figure out where you plan on fishing the majority of the time — large open reservoirs, fast-moving rivers, small creeks, saltwater flats or open ocean — then you can narrow the search down from there. Depending on your budget, you can find a nice used kayak on Craig’s List for around the same price as a new, “off-brand” kayak from Academy or Walmart. Looks for brand names like Native Watercraft, Jackson, Feelfree, or Wilderness Systems for a nice used kayak.”