Kayak Fishing

Your overall kayak fishing experience depends a great deal on your physical well being.

You want comfort regardless of where you fish, and for how long. Fishing kayaks can compete with bigger boats in price, portability, maintenance, ease of use, and in some cases mobility, but they fail when it comes to comfort and other ‘fishability’ factors, with one exception: our patented, well tested Wavewalk kayaks.

Comfort is multi-dimensional – like your are, and it starts with stability and ergonomics. This article discusses fishing kayaks from a particular standpoint – yours.

What can you really expect from kayak fishing?

-And is it what you really want?

People around the world have been using small, personal paddle craft for fishing out of necessity as means for survival for centuries. What is it that draws you to kayak fishing? Obviously, you like fishing as an outdoor, fun, both relaxing and exciting activity. That makes you a candidate for traditional fishing from shore or from a motorboat, so why consider fishing kayaks in the first place?

Compared to bigger boats, fishing from a canoe or a kayak offers the following advantages:

  • Portability– unlike bigger and heavier boats, most canoes and kayaks can be car topped and do not require a towing trailer.
  • Convenience– the hassle of launching and beaching is considerably reduced.
  • Mobility– you can launch and beach kayaks in more locations, and access very shallow waters. However, motorized boats have a bigger range of operation.
  • Low Cost– both cost of purchase and cost of maintenance of kayaks are minimal.
  • Physical Exercise -something you get from paddling but not from motor boating.

Why is it that some people prefer kayaks to canoes, and why choose a kayak over other, traditional fishing paddle crafts? Good question indeed, considering that other traditional boats for fishing are usually made bigger than kayaks… Nevertheless, fishing kayaks offer some advantages that most canoe and other traditional boats don’t:

  • Ease of use- paddling and controlling your boat with a double blade (‘kayak’) paddle is easier to learn than paddling and controlling it with a single blade (‘canoe’) paddle, especially if you’re paddling solo. It is also much easier than rowing a dinghy.
  • Less windage – Most canoes and dinghies are quite big and have an open cockpit stretching all the way from bow to stern, which tends to cause a windage problem: The user finds it difficult to progress and steer his/her boat under wind conditions.  Kayaks are generally less problematic when it comes to wind, unless they are very long and/or wide: Being long increases the wind’s leverage on the boat, and being wide makes it hard to propel it efficiently as well as track and manoeuvre.  Unfortunately, a reasonably good fishing kayak must be wider than recreational and touring kayaks in order to offer more stability and support.
  • Portability- sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks are smaller and lighter than the average fishing canoe models since canoes today are usually made for more than one person.

How do you fit into this picture?

You’d probably want to ask yourself a number of basic questions, which are:

  • Who am I, and what experience am I looking to have?
  • Where am I going to fish, and what am I going to fish?
  • What else would I like to do with my kayak besides fishing.

Who am I and what experience am I looking to have?

Sounds pretty obvious, but after all this is about you wanting to enjoy a good personal experience, and not about you conforming to an image created by kayak vendors.
Factors like your weight, height and age are important as well as your physical condition, experience in paddling and experience in fishing from small watercrafts.  Needless to say, that the same boat can confer a totally different experience to different paddlers or fishermen. Remember – most adults suffer from some issue with their back, and these same factors (size and age) work against you when you have to spend long hours in a kayak.

First of all, a few words about your personal safety:
The height and weight factors are often discussed but age and physical condition not so- You need to be aware of the fact that in case of very small watercrafts ‘expecting the unexpected’ means that sooner or later you may have to face some hazardous situations on the water.
Naturally, the best strategy in planning for such cases is prevention and not reaction, which means you should first think in terms of minimizing the probability of accidents happening.
Reaction is your second line of defence – the one you don’t want to have to reach.  Reaction is a strategy designed to reduce the potential damage in case an accident already happened.
This is where it is useful to understand the term Redundancy in planning:
Redundancy is a critical factor that must be integrated in any planning for unexpected problems, which eventually will materialize.

Two examples may clarify this:

  1. Redundancy in prevention: The best example for applying redundancy as part of the first strategy is your fishing kayak’s stability:  You may be a seasoned kayaker and used to paddling fast (i.e. narrow and unstable) kayaks, and you may even be able to use such kayaks for fishing.  However, you are likely to find that the unfortunate yet perfectly expected combination of a moment of inattention when you are casting or landing a fish (and therefore not holding your paddle) with either a wake coming from a bigger boat passing nearby or a sudden lateral gust of wind or wave can easily lead you to lose balance and capsize.  Such event can be perfectly harmless, but in case you’re not in good physical condition it might be dangerous, especially in cold waters and/or weather that can lead to hypothermia and even cardiac arrest. Other factors such as underwater rocks that might injure you as well as marine predators, jellyfish etc. need not be taken lightly.  Planning for redundant stability is your best policy against having to need to use emergency tactics and second lines of defence (i.e. reaction strategies) that may or may not work.  Interestingly, what is the prevalent approach in evaluating the seaworthiness of watercrafts of all sizes and types is contested by some in the kayaking world, whose reasoning is that you should rely on the extreme and in most cases inapplicable recovery (i.e. post accident) technique known as the Eskimo Roll…
  2. Redundancy in reaction: The obvious example for applying redundancy in your second line of defence is wearing a Personal Floatation Device (PFD):  It doesn’t contribute a thing to your paddling performance or experience, but in case you fall overboard and need to get back into the boat or stay in the water for a long time this seemingly redundant object becomes highly necessary, and sometime even vital.

See and be seen:

A kayak is not just a very small boat, it is also very low to the water and therefore very difficult for others to see. Your kayak can easily disappear behind the waves, especially if light conditions are not optimal.

Furthermore, sitting so low limits your own field of view and puts you in double jeopardy…
In view of this you should consider fishing from a boat that’s either yellow, orange or bright red – the three most visible colours on the water.  You may also consider the advantages of fishing standing or sitting in a higher type of kayak.

Fishing alone:
Sea kayakers have developed a strict and elaborate sea paddling code of conduct, and one of the essential things you learn as a sea kayaker is never to paddle alone.  In fact, even paddling in pairs is not considered very safe, and sea kayakers prefer to paddle in packs.  While fishing in groups may not seem like an appealing idea to you, it’s important to remember that the ocean is too unpredictable and powerful for tiny, under powered vessels such as kayaks, and in this aspect planning for enough redundancy is essential for safety:  Sooner or later fishing by yourself in the ocean is likely to get you in some trouble that otherwise you would have had a much better chance to get out of.

After safety come your well being and comfort.

The main questions you may want to ask yourself are:

  1. Do I feel secure and confident in this kayak, or is it good just for flat water?
  2. Am I going to be comfortable after sitting more than an hour in it? Discomfort, fatigue, leg numbness and back pain tend to amplify with time.
  3. In the likely case I don’t feel comfortable, is there anything I can do to improve the way I feel, such as switching positions or stand up?
  4. Is this kayak fun to paddle or wide and clumsy? Most fishing kayaks are wider than 30″ (76 cm) and therefore don’t paddle well.
  5. Do I want to go through the hassle of manipulating a rudder? No you don’t, but with most kayaks you’ll have to.
  6. If I feel numbness in my legs can I change positions? Some kayak fishermen feel so bad after sitting in or on their traditional kayaks that they jump overboard and swim or walk if the water is shallow enough.
  7. Do I feel any pressure points when sitting? And what about after an hour? Foam cushioned back rests don’t prevent back pain, they just delay it for a while.
  8. Is this kayak easy for me to launch, or do I have to struggle to enter it?
  9. Is it acceptable for me to step in water each time I launch and beach? Well, let’s say you want to be able to decide if and when you’ll step in water, but regular fishing kayaks don’t offer you such choice.

10.  What kind of gear am I going to take with me, and are storage solution offered by ordinary kayaks acceptable for me?  You want to be able to take whatever gear you feel like, and access it anytime you want, but storage hatches won’t let you do that.

11.  Where am I going to fish, and what am I going to fish?  Is that fishing kayak going to protect you in bad weather? wind? cold? surf? Is it stable and reliable enough to enable you to deal with strong fish?

Where and what am I going to fish?

Once you’ve established what the answers to the first set of questions are, you need to think about the type of fishing you’d like to do.  The conclusion may be that you don’t need or want a kayak at all, and you may be better served by another type of craft e.g. canoe, dinghy, or even a small motorboat.

In case you’re thinking about kayak fishing at sea you need to make sure you understand the risks involved, and realize that ‘stuff happens’ – sooner or later, in a mild or severe form.  Most fishing kayaks don’t handle the surf well, which means you’re likely to capsize either on your way in or out, and even if you don’t capsize you’ll be soaked from the first moment throughout your entire fishing trip:  Traditional kayak fishing experts would tell you that fishing from sit-in kayak (SIK) is not practical since you’d have to use a spray skirt that would limit your access to gear inside the cockpit. They would recommend that you use a sit-on-top (SOT) kayak that has offers practically no protection against the elements and lets water penetrate the cockpit through its scupper holes… In sum, whether you fish from a SIK or a SOT a ‘wet ride’ is a fact you have to accept, unless you wear waders, (DO NOT WEAR WADERS – it is very dangerous if you go overboard in water that’s too deep for you to stand in).

The ocean is challenging not only in the surf zone, but practically everywhere and at any time:  While you’re sitting peacefully in your kayak a motorboat passing nearby may fail to see you and either run you over or, more likely, simply cause you to overturn by the effect of its wake hitting your kayak.  Such an event may turn out to be anything from funny to fatal.

Currents and wind can easily carry you where you don’t want to go, without you being able to do anything about it.

Bottom line: Unless you use an appropriate boat (primary – prevention strategy) and are perfectly capable of dealing with emergency situations (secondary – reaction strategy) you should abstain from fishing at sea and in large-size bodies of water such as big lakes, big rivers etc.

What’s a fishing kayak, actually? –

The common ‘fishing kayak’ is in most cases a wide, more stable recreational kayak accessorized with ‘special’ features for kayak fishermen such as rod holders and hatches. But while recreational kayaks are normally very affordable, fishing kayaks are considerably more expensive.  No wonder many kayak fishermen prefer to purchase recreational kayak models and outfit them for fishing with off-the-shelf fishing accessories and sometimes even home-made fishing accessories. So, do you really need a ‘fishing kayak’ or could you be satisfied with a self outfitted recreational kayak? This is a question that only you could answer.

How to test a fishing kayak?

Leg numbness, back pain etc. are problems that usually appear after some time.  Don’t think that because you felt comfortable paddling a certain kayak for half an hour and casting from it a number of times that you’ll be comfortable after two or three hours in or on that kayak.
Test kayaks in real life conditions i.e. wind, and if you’re planning to fish at sea you must check how you’re doing with the kayak in the surf and with some real waves… -The reason for this is that even if you decide to fish only on beautiful and windless days the weather can change by the time you go back home, which can mean difficulties in the surf zone and even at sea.  Remember – the wake of a motorboat passing by can overturn your kayak, especially if you didn’t notice it because you were too busy fishing, which means you can’t stabilize yourself using your paddle.
Check if the boat is stable enough to support you when you’re struggling with a strong fish -Do you feel safe and confident enough?
Ask yourself in all honesty:

  • “Am I going to like this in a year from now?”  (Many don’t)
  • “How do I really feel about sitting in wet clothes for hours?” (Few would admit it, but nobody does)
  • “Do I miss casting standing?” (Yes, of course, but don’t try standing in or on a regular kayak, or you’ll learn the hard way that pictures on vendors’ websites and forums are one thing, and your reality is another)
  • “Do I really get along with carrying and car topping this heavy, 14′ long kayak?” (you probably don’t)
  • “Would I rather spend this time in a more comfortable boat?” (indeed you would)

After all, fishing should be about you enjoying your free time safely and comfortably, and not about trying to accommodate yourself to an inadequate and uncomfortable over hyped craft.

What else would I like to do with my kayak besides fishing?

  • Go on long touring, camping (and fishing) trips?
  • Take passengers on board
  • Play in the surf
  • Stand up paddling (its fun!) and more.

There’s no reason why such an expensive toy shouldn’t offer more than just fishing, but most fishing kayaks barely do that.
This is the dimension we call Versatility. After all, when you own a motorboat you don’t just cast lines from it, but you’re supposed to do other things as well. Although kayaks are smaller and cheaper than motorboats, they should be versatile. A kayak that’s not versatile is an underperforming one, and nearly all fishing kayaks on the market are such.