Unless you are one of a small but growing number who fish from a kayak, chances are that what you think you know about the little craft is wrong.
You think that they are too unstable? Not anymore. Now you can stand up to fish.
You think that they are too uncomfortable? Not anymore. How does a swivel seat sound?
Want electronics? You can have that too.
And, hey, you don’t even have to paddle if you don’t want to. Some fishing kayaks now have pedal drive systems. That means you can move backward as well as forward, with both arms free, and cast as you go.
“Ten years ago, you had to fish out of a touring kayak,” said Richie Moschella, a longtime B.A.S.S. member, kayak fishing veteran, and host of the Reel Deal Fishing Show out of New Jersey.
“But, in the last two years, kayak fishing has just exploded. Today, some (fishing industry) companies are even starting kayak fishing pro staffs.”
Statistics from the Outdoor Industry Association reflect that “explosion.” In 2009, kayak fishing participation wasn’t even surveyed. Today, nearly 1.8 million anglers say that they fish from these lightweight, easily portable craft.
For fishermen, at least, those first-generation kayaks were unstable and uncomfortable, and they were not suited for adding options. Rather than providing the means to better enjoy another outdoor activity such as fishing, they were intended solely for what their name implies--- touring. Just casting from one of those could be perilous because of their tendency to tip with the slightest shift in weight.
“I never liked canoes after tipping one,” said T. Chad Montgomery, a Georgia angler. “When I found Freedom Hawk, I could stand, which is how I prefer to fish, and the stability gave me peace of mind. I was hooked immediately for something I said I’d never be into.”
The Freedom Hawk provides a perfect example of how touring kayaks have evolved into man-powered fishing machines. It features an outrigger system that can be extended into a Y shape for stand-up fishing. It also offers a casting brace to lean against.
Down in Louisiana, meanwhile, Russ Pylant now fishes from a top-of-the-line Hobie Pro Angler 14, a pedal-powered craft with lots of bells and whistles that retails for about $3,000. And at 6-5 and 260 pounds, he can stand and fish comfortably in it.
“You give up some speed and maneuverability for stability and standing capacity,” he explained.
But Pylant began with a more modest vessel.
“I started out with a Bass Pro Ascend (about $500),” he said. “It only took me a few months to see this hobby was going to stick and I upgraded to a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 (about $1,200).
Moschella, who gives seminars on kayak fishing, added that an angler should pay at least $500 for his first kayak, while a “decent kayak setup” likely will run $700 to $1,200.
“I know so many who buy cheap,” he said. “I tell people that what they pay is the experience that they will have.”
The New Jersey angler explained that he experienced some of that when he started kayak fishing in 2007. “Some of them were cheap and bad,” he said. “They took on water. They sat too low. They didn’t move true in the water. Yeah, they might weigh less, but you get what you pay for.”
His choice today is a Native Watercraft, 12-foot, sit-on-top that weighs about 75 pounds and retails for about $1,200. “It’s so comfortable that it’s almost like sitting in a chair. Nine hours seems like nothing,” he said. “Native Watercraft really thought about fishermen when it made this kayak.
One of the most important steps in the evolution from touring to fishing has been development of the sit-on-top kayak. Typically, sit-in varieties are more difficult to get into and launch and are more prone to tipping. Additionally, angler movement is more restricted.
Besides allowing the fisherman to stand in some models, the sit-on-top also offers better leverage for a hookset, even when the angler is seated. Still, it’s a good idea to exercise caution, even in kayaks designed for fishing. Before moving into deep water for the first time, practice casting and reaching around you in the shallows to gauge your stability. In general, you’ll want to use your arms more and cast with a little more finesse than you would from shore or in a bass boat.
“If the water favors it, many kayak anglers side straddle their kayaks, meaning they sit side ways while their legs dangle in the water,” said Austin Kayaks. “Keeps you cool but also provides a general feeling of balance and many find it a bit more comfortable of a position, especially if paddling and fishing for long periods of time. A general rule of thumb is to always keep your body upright and your head centered over your kayak.”
Another advantage of the sit-on-top are the scupper holes, which make the vessel self-baling.
Aside from a drainage system and a comfortable seat, what else should an angler have to start kayak fishing? A paddle and a personal flotation devices are basics. Also, he probably will want rod holders and a storage system. Other options include a rudder, anchor, electronics, and safety light for after-dark fishing. Pylant keeps a floating net and measuring board for tournaments.
“The possibilities are endless,” Moschella said. “You can have video/GoPro (camera) holders too. You can just keep building on.
“You can find bundle packages too,” he added. “Some of the kayak fishing stores will install things for you, and the online stores might too. Most of them are owned by people who love the sport and want to pass it on.”
What’s to love about kayak fishing? That’s easy, according to Moschella, Montgomery, Plant, and many others: It’s much less expensive than the bass boat option, with virtually no cost for fuel or upkeep, and it allows you into places that larger and/or motorized craft can’t access. Also, kayaks are easy to transport, either on top of a car, in the bed of a truck, or with a lightweight C-Tug cart that can be dismantled and stowed in the vessel.
“I can’t think of a better way to fish,” Moschella said. ‘You can get into that pad field that a bass boat can’t get into. You can paddle right up to a (fallen) tree and see the submerged branches. You can use map services to find ponds that only you can get into. It’s like fishing unpressured, private waters.”
Kayak Tournament Fishing
Many like kayaks for fishing because of the serenity aspect, exploring remote backwaters with no outboard to scare the fish or disturb the peace. But as fishing kayaks evolve, so do how they are used. Those who can’t afford bass boats and don’t want to fish out of the back now have another option.
“Tournaments are really spiking,” Moschella said. “You see them mostly in salt right now, but they’re becoming more popular in fresh.
“In New Jersey, we’re seeing it in small tournaments. You take photos and measurements. It’s the honor system.”
He hopes that aspect will expand. “I’d like to see a pro tour, maybe with B.A.S.S. involved,” he said. “But we’re not at that point yet.”
Heroes on the Water
Fishing from kayaks also has a therapeutic quality, according to this organization, which arranges trips for veterans.
“What looks like a day trip of paddling and fishing is, in fact, something much deeper and long-lasting,” it says on its website. “Our unique kayak fishing program allows the participants a chance to decompress from the stresses associated with combat and the physical rigors of rehabilitation. Warriors enjoy these benefits while on guided fishing trips held in local communities around the country.”
One soldier called the outings “triple therapy,” since they provide physical by paddling and fishing, occupational through learning a lifetime sport/activity, and mental by relaxing in nature with no distractions or expectations of performance.
Kayak Fishing Statistics
1.8 million people participated in kayak fishing in 2013 for a three-year growth rate of 20 percent.
1 in 38 kayak anglers are female.
1 in 5 kayak anglers cast their lines in Florida.
(Source: Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Participation Report 2014, and 2013 YakAngler.com Survey)
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)