Pick that first kayak

Many seasoned anglers are looking for stability in a kayak, not for fear of tipping over, but for the ability to stand while fishing. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Here’s how to know your options and what they mean

Most anglers get into the sport of kayak-fishing through introduction by a friend, seeing another angler in person or some type of media and decide they’d like to give it a try. 

Devotees often reminisce about the first fish they caught or the first time they set out on the water with nothing but a paddle and a rod and the world of fishing became new all over again.

Kayak anglers probably remember the “feeling” of the proximity to the water, the feel of the waves and the excitement of that first tug on the line more than they remember the specific watercraft in which they were seated at the time.

It’s only after the newness of the experience starts to become more familiar that anglers look to enhance that experience with different gear, boats and so on.

That’s what makes it so hard to answer the question: “What’s a good kayak to get started fishing in?” It’s not that most anglers aren’t full of suggestions and opinions, it’s that each paddler must begin his or her own experience in their own way and see where it takes them.

All ethereal comments aside, you can make a better decision based on information, so here’s a rundown of considerations to help you make an informed decision when it comes time to pick.

Sit-in or sit-on

All kayaks were sit-inside, cockpit-style boats when first designed eons ago. This style later evolved into the sit-on-top, which allowed water to wash over the side of the boat and drain away through scupper holes molded in the deck.

The on-deck version allowed more freedom of movement and more room for gear. Some manufacturers have capitalized on this idea by integrating storage compartments into the gunwales and decks, and sit-on-tops have become the market leader for fishing kayaks.

Stability

The rule of thumb is, the wider the boat, the more stable it is on the water. A novice’s first concern is usually in the arena of “I don’t want to fall out.” Later on, the seasoned kayak angler wants enough stability to stand while fishing — or even throwing a cast net.

Less-expensive boats tend to have more rounded hulls, while more expensive versions have channels and/or are divided, similar to the hull of a motor boat, to allow full width touching the water at rest or slow speeds and track up, allowing the boat to glide smoothly through the water when underway. 

Speed

Faster kayaks are usually longer kayaks. The boat’s width comes into play, but the speed vs. stability factor boils down to hull design. Most anglers are not overly concerned with how fast they can paddle or peddle, but then again, there is a whole contingent of bass-fishing kayak anglers who want the fastest boat they can find to beat all the other tournament guys to the best spots.

Propulsion

While kayaking used to mean paddling, end of story, it now may include pedaling in bicycle fashion, paddling in traditional fashion, or even using a small gas or electric motor to propel the boat.

Further trends in pedaling circles are steering capabilities while pedaling, including allowing the kayak to move in reverse, either by adjusting gears on the drive or reversing the direction you’re pedaling.

Storage

As mentioned, sit-on-tops typically offer the most storage. Compartments are molded into the hull with water shields or sealed hatches to keep cargo dry. 

The counter side of this in the cockpit style boat is a spray skirt that goes around the paddler and the lip of the cockpit opening. While this is more practical for whitewater applications, some sit-insides still offer this feature, which effectively turns the whole boat into dry storage with limited accessibility. 

Portability

The trend in the modern era of kayak angling is to keep the boat upright, as you would do any boat, to keep stuff from falling out. Transporting a kayak in this fashion usually requires more space in the bed of a truck or on a separate trailer, rather than being able to attach the boat to most any vehicle capable of supporting a carry rack system.

Some anglers have made a whole new science of converting a jet ski trailer or other small-boat trailer into a kayak fishing/utility/storage trailer.

Construction

Rotomolding has had great influence on the kayak industry. It allows the entire hull to be made in one piece, giving kayaks a uniform and seamless construction. Cheaper construction methods created kayaks in two pieces — the top and bottom half — and these two were bolted, glued or plastic welded together and usually leaked over time. 

Two-piece construction had become the hallmark of lower-end, less-expensive boats. Today, even economy-line kayaks are rotomolded, giving the budget-conscious consumer a choice of one-piece construction.

Cost

Probably the biggest factor to all kayak anglers is cost. New fishing kayaks can be purchased in department stores today for $100 to $200, while other models, usually ordered direct from the manufacturer or purchased from a specialty retailer can top $4,000.

Probably the best piece of advice in choosing a kayak is to buy what you can afford now, with the knowledge that as your experience level grows, so will your budget and the boat you are in today will probably not be the boat you’re in tomorrow due to upgrades.

Ease of use, lighter weight, and a focus on fun is helping trend a surge in sit-inside kayaks for fishing. (Photo by Mike Curtis)

Sit-insides: a comeback?

When the kayak-angling era began to boom in the late 1990s, it did so on the heels of manufacturers who began designing, making and selling sit-on-top kayaks that appealed to the angler and not just the paddler. However, chances are your first attempt at paddling a kayak was in a cockpit-style boat, because cockpits dominated the touring or recreational paddling market, so the chances of “just trying one” were greater to be a sit-inside.

Today, a few manufacturers have toyed with trying to create a niche market within the kayak-fishing industry. One of the first was Bona Fide Kayaks, with a new spin on the SIK model. Other manufacturers have foregone the hype and drama and made or marketed simple paddling kayaks that you sit inside but can also fish from.

“Everyone in my family fishes from a sit-inside kayak,” said Mike Curtis, a kayak angler from North Carolina. “It’s just easier. We each fish with one or maybe two rods, at the most, and the focus is on fun.”

It’s hard to argue with simplicity, which also carries a price tag of almost one-third to one-half off more expensive sit-on-tops.Other advantages to cockpit-style boats are: less weight and ease of transport, especially with multiple boats, and closer to the water.

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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 769 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Greenville, S.C., is host of “Upstate Outdoors,” a weekly radio show that can be heard on Saturdays at noon on WORD 106.3 FM.

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