Wouldn’t it be fun to take a class in kayak fishing as part of a college degree? Or, take a college class later in life to learn about a new sport? Well, now you can. The Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD recently introduced a four-hour class on Kayak Fishing instructed by Mark Bange and myself, both local kayak anglers and book authors. (Editor’s note: Bange and Veil have both penned articles in FishTalk, as well: How to Go Fly Fishing on a Kayak, and Controlling Lure Depth while Trolling From a Kayak).
While returning to a launch ramp after fishing for yellow perch one afternoon this spring, I ran into FishTalk Angler in Chief Lenny Rudow and told him about the recent class. We thought a short article including key take-away points from the class would be valuable. Rather than try to summarize the entire class in a short article, however, I decided as a first step to write about the topic of greatest interest to the students in the class – how to choose a fishing kayak.
When I’m asked what the best kayak is for fishing, I reply that there is no best kayak – rather there may be the best kayak for you at a particular point in time. Determining which type, brand, and model of kayak is the best one for you involves considering many criteria. Each buyer puts his or her own weighting on the different criteria in determining which features are highly important and which are less critical.
How Much Does a Fishing Kayak Cost?
For nearly all of us, cost is an important consideration. New fishing kayaks range from bargain models starting at near $200 to fully featured pedal-drive kayaks costing more than $3,000. Generally, you can get more value for your dollar by purchasing a used kayak. Plastic kayaks will inevitably get scratched and dirty, but that doesn’t affect the usability of the kayak. Often a used kayak will already have some accessories installed or included with the deal. Also, when considering your budget, remember that you may want to reserve some of your budget to add accessories.
Fishing Kayak Questions To Ask Yourself
- What style of kayak and propulsion do you want? Most people who actively pursue kayak fishing end up in sit-on-top kayaks. Within the sit-on-top kayak world, you can find many models that use paddles for propulsion, a few more expensive models that use pedal-drive units for propulsion, and several models or after-market attachments that allow the use of electric motors.
- How do you plan to use the kayak? Do you plan to fish primarily in free-flowing rivers, in quiet ponds or lakes, or in open tidal areas subject to high winds and waves? Fishing in a flowing river with rocks or whitewater requires a very maneuverable kayak rather than a large kayak that tracks well; basic paddle kayaks work well for pond fishing and can be transported and launched easily; and fishing in larger open water bodies, like the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, is best from a large and stable kayak that tracks well and has lots of space for gear storage.
- How do you plan to transport and store the kayak? Sit-on-top kayaks range in weight from about 60 pounds to over 120 pounds. When rigged with gear and accessories, the weight can increase significantly. Many kayakers transport their boats on top of their vehicles using standard vehicle roof racks, fancy cradle attachments to roof racks, or foam cushions. Other kayakers have vehicles large enough to push their kayaks in the back with part of the kayak sticking out (SUVs, minivans, pickups) or buy a trailer to avoid lifting to a rooftop position. Longer kayaks offer more weight-carrying capacity and often are faster than shorter kayaks, but they tend to weigh more and require more storage space. Regardless of which model you choose, you should identify how you will transport and store your kayak before you buy it.
- How comfortable is the seating position in the kayak? This criterion is often overlooked when buying, but it can be extremely important in how much you use your kayak and how long you are able to remain out on a trip. Seating ranges from molded plastic wells with minimal cushioning and low backrests to padded or raised seats with adjustable positions. Subtle differences in the shape, position, and cushioning of the seats can make a great difference in the time to "butt fatigue."
Another seating concern is how dry you stay under normal conditions. Some seating areas tend to collect drippage off of paddles or waves that slosh over the side. Other seats are elevated to minimize wet bottoms. At a minimum, try sitting in kayaks on the ground to see how comfortable they are initially. Even better, work with a dealer or private seller that offers an on-water demo or rental so you can check out different seating before buying.
Additional criteria to consider
- How heavy are you? This includes your own body weight as well as the weight of the gear you plan to carry. Large individuals will have fewer models that can safely support their weight.
- Consider width and stability in relation to the places where you are likely to use the kayak. If you plan to stand while fishing from the kayak, you need to choose a model that gives enough stability to allow standing.
- How does the kayak move in the water – does it track straight or does it move from side-to-side on each paddle stroke? You may find that having a rudder helps you to navigate in a straight line. On the flip side, if you use your kayak in moving water or want to work close in to shorelines, having a boat that pivots easily is more desirable. Another related consideration is the speed through the water; remember that wider and shorter kayaks tend to be slower.
- How much storage space is available? Kayaks have various types of built-in storage, from open wells to closed hatches or molded-in compartments or drink holders. Some models come with gear tracks that allow users to add other accessories on devices that fit into the tracks.
- Where do you put your feet? In a pedal-drive kayak, the user’s feet are actively engaged in pushing pedals. But for paddle kayaks, the user needs to put his/her feet somewhere. There can be a surprisingly different comfort level depending on the type and shape of footrests. Lower-cost kayaks often have a series of notches molded in the floor. The user rests their heels in whichever notch is most comfortable. Other kayaks offer small rectangular pegs that adjust fore and aft for foot support.
- How much time will be need to attach or remove your accessories on each trip? If you’re able to mount a fishfinder and rod holders in a way that doesn’t require separate installation on every trip, you’ll save several minutes at the start and end of each trip.
Do some homework and you should be able to find a kayak that works well for you for fishing. And if you’d like to learn more, you can always go back to school – college, that is.
- Author John Veil is an avid fisherman who spends a lot of time in his three kayaks. He has fished from kayaks for 18 years, serves on the Pro Staff team for Native Watercraft kayaks, and has written two books on fishing “Fishing in the Comfort Zone” and “Fishing Road Trip 2019.”