I am a passionate kayaker and keen fishermen. So becoming a passionate kayak angler was no surprise. I learned to paddle at a young age, fooling around in a fibreglass canoe my parents brought for us. My first fishing kayak was a second hand Ocean Kayak Prowler Elite. I learnt a lot paddling that yellow boat. I explored many local rivers, lakes and even took it into the sea. Since then I have owned over a dozen kayaks, and have paddled many more.
Fishing kayaks advantages over boats and other water craft.
While it is very easy to spend several thousand dollars on a fully customised and accessorized fishing kayak. That does not have to be the case. Kayaks are one of the most affordable ways to get onto a river or lake for a fish. It is certainly possible to get out fishing on a kayak for under $1000, including all of the accessories.
Kayaks are very versatile fishing craft, and it is possible to launch them in many locations inaccessible by powerboats, or even small dinghies. The ability to lift a kayak over your shoulder and portage over rough ground opens up many otherwise inaccessible launch spots.
Kayaks are extremely versatile on the water, a well-designed hull can easily punch into a headwind, and experience paddlers can cover many miles in a day of fishing. I know anglers who cover over 20 miles flat water someday. This type of range is not really suitable from most other personal watercraft such as pontoon boat or float tubes.
Fishing kayaks are close to silent, they glide through the water. It is possible to sneak across shallow flats, creating only a few ripples on the water. In the stillness, it is possible to see and hear fish rising.
Kayaks, especially sit on tops are much safer than most comparable sized watercraft. Experienced paddlers in a good boat can battle through some seriously nasty weather. Waves simply wash over them, while a canoe or small boat can get swamped by the waves a sit-on-top kayak is basically immune, the water just pours off.
Remounting a capsized sit-on-top is significantly easier than climbing back onto a capsized canoe or dinghy. Even then, practice makes perfect. It is important on a fairly regular basis to practice remounting. This includes deep water re-entries where your feet can not reach the problem.
It is always important to take appropriate safety gear out kayaking, that includes a suitable life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Life jackets which are designed for kayaking are much more comfortable to wear. Some PFD even function as a fishing vest, they have so many useful pockets to keep all the important fishing gear easily accessible.
Some PFD I have used and can recommend is the Astral V-Eight Fisher, this lightweight PFD is great for hot summer days. If fishing on a budget the Onyx Kayak Fishing is excellent value and has ample storage options. I can not recommend inflatable lifejackets, they require maintenance and I have read too many reports of them failing at the worst possible time.
It is also important to take a means of communication, and for longer trips you might also want to take a backup. When fishing close to home, I normally just bring my waterproof phone. Other options worth considering are VHF radios (great for chatting with mates on the water), Personal Locator Veacons and even flares. An old CD also works great as a signalling mirror.
Lastly, always check the weather and water temperature and dress appropriately. If the weather is bad, consider not heading out. If hot, remember to bring plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. Kayaking is thirsty work.
Things to look for in a good fishing kayak
I love kayaking, and I feel they are among the most versatile of personal water crafts on the market today. Unfortunately there are a lot of kayaks which I feel have lost the plot, and in doing so they have forsaken many of the advantageous of what makes fishing kayaks such versatile boats.
Stability, and how wide should a fishing kayak be?
A fishing kayak must feel stable, and the fisherman must be comfortable so he can concentrate on catching fish rather than worrying about staying upright. Several factors influence stability. Most important is the width of the kayak, a wider kayak is more stable. Longer length also improves stability, but it is harder to notice. The narrowest fishing kayaks typically have a width of around 24 inches, while widest are well over 30 inches. yak
24 inch (60cm): Fishing Kayaks are designed for long distance cruising and trolling. They are high performance fishing kayaks. New kayakers might find such a kayak quite unstable to fish from. Unless you are already experienced, a 24 inch kayak might feel unstable. Quite a few popular sit inside sea kayaks are 24 inches across.
28 inches (71cm): is a good compromise between speed and stability. A lot of classic fishing kayak models are within this range. The extra width makes for a very stable and reassuring fishing platform while still providing decent performance. Keen fishermen can easily paddle 12 miles (20km) on longer days.
32 Inches (80cm) : Extra wide kayaks. Such wide kayaks are designed to be extremely stable and spacious. Many consider them the most comfortable kayaks to fish from. Many fishermen can stand up with ease, and such kayaks often come complete with luxurious raised seats and many other comforts. The downsides, such kayaks are normally very heavy and they are noticeably slower. They are a good option for smaller ponds or flatwater fishing.
The hull sharp also plays an important role, a flatter hull feels more stable but takes more effort to move through the water. While a U or V sharp hull feels tippy, but as the boat rolls a greater surface area contacts the waste preventing capsizing.
The main factor regarding stability is the sitting position. The higher the paddler sets above the water, the higher the centre of gravity, and the less stable the kayak feels. A low seat is more stable than a high or raised seat. Standing up always feels tippier than sitting.
How long should my fishing kayak be?
Kayak hulls need to be long and streamlined, they glide through the water with minimal effort. The wider and boxier they become the less efficient they become.
There are formulas to calculate the optimal water length for the weight of a paddler. This is the length which gives them the most efficient waterline. Basically a paddler weighing around 80kg (175lb) are most efficient with a 5.2m waterline (17ft). Very few fishing kayaks reach these dimensions, and too be honest fishermen care more about other functionality than pure speed.
15ft: A good length for a large paddler interesting in paddling longer distances. It has enough waterline to quite efficiently push into a head chop or up current. Theoretical maximum speed of 5.8mph
14ft: Is a popular length for day tour sea kayaks, they are a good option for more medium size paddlers. Theoretical maximum speed of 5.5mph
13ft: These kayaks still have decent length, and are okay for longer distances for smaller paddlers. Theoretical maximum speed of 5.3mph
12ft: Kayaks which are 12ft and under are starting to become less efficient to paddle, I only consider them for short trips close to shore such as floating around a local lake. They can be the optimal choose for navigating down a tight river or through mangrove swamps.
My first prowler elite 4.5, which I feel has pretty good dimensions for a fishing kayak comes in at just under 15ft. Still quite a bit off optimal for my weight.
Call me old fashion, but I still believe all good kayaks should come with a comfortable and usable bucket or molded seat. While the modern super comfortable seats are a pleasure to relax in. Sometimes simplicity is nice, without the need to take excessive clutter. If I plan on portaging my kayak half a mile to fish a pond, there is zero chance I am taking a seat with me. I am only carrying the essentials.
I have paddled thousands of hours in bucket seats and I find them very comfy once my body adjusted. The kayaks which have given me the most dead legs and numbness had raised seats. A well designed bucket seat provides the paddler a lot more control over their craft, because their body is in direct contact. With slight leans, in calm conditions I can actually steer my kayak, no need for a direction stroke or rudder. Sitting on a cushioned armchair, you lack that extra control.
Sadly, most fishing kayaks have badly designed moulded seats. Some kayaks such as the Prowler 13, have a very basic moulded seat. Often wide and unsupportive. So most of the time, to prevent sliding around, I use a foam pad and back rest. The WOOWAVE Kayak Seat is a good generic example, I personally use a Surf To Summit GTS Elite seat, mine is 15 years old and other than fading and a few rat chew marks is in good condition.
A good fishing kayak needs to have ample storage, places to store anything you might need for a day on the water. Many fishing kayaks come with large back and front wells which are great places to store an ice box or cooler bag. They also should have day hatches accessible while seating.
For overnight fishing trips, a large internal hatch is useful. Camping gear can be stored away dry and safe.
What is the best material for a fishing kayak?
Most fishing kayaks are made from polyethylene plastic. In general they are tough boats and extremely impact resistant. I have dropped rotomolded kayaks down short cliffs and they suffered no permanent damage. The plastic is still prone to scratches, so dragging them across rugged gravel is not a good idea. Barnacles are especially nasty. I happily drag polyethylene kayaks across sand, smooth stones and grass.
Holes and more serious damage can be harder to repair. Most large repairs are done using plastic welding. A process which involves melting replacement polyethylene to patch any hole or crack. It is most important to weld using the same type of plastic
I usually do not worry about fixing minor scratches or burrs. Such minute damage has no noticeable impact on paddling performance.
Thermoform kayaks are a relatively new technology only becoming commercially available in the last 15 years or so. There are still some doubters, but so far they have proven to be extremely durable and well performing boats. Thermoform kayaks are made from ABS plastic, and are significantly lighter than comparable rotomolded kayaks. Their weight is more comparable to composite. The overall finish is more glossy and in my opinion more premium looking.
They are also very impact resistant and rarely need repairs. I have never needed to repair a thermoform boat. In most cases repairs require the use of an ABS glue which can be purchased from any plumbing store to patch or seal minor cracks and holes. In terms of price, thermoform is slightly more expensive than rotomolded but should be cheaper than composite boats.
I paddle a lot of composite boats, their glide through the water is in a class of their own. Composite kayaks have unmatched rigidity. Durability, largely depends on the thickness of the material used. I have paddled old sea kayaks which are built like a tank. But, they are also relatively heavy. Modern state of the art composite racing kayaks are exceptionally lightweight, My current one is 20ft long and weighs only 25lbs. I have often wondered what a fishing kayak will be like using the same manufacturing process. Ultralight composite kayaks are rigid, fast and a joy to carry. However durability is lacking with hull punctures not uncommon. I even known of a few snapping in rough surf conditions.
Composite fishing kayaks do not push the boundaries with regards to weight. They are made solid, which allows them to better withstand impacts and minimize the risk of damage. I have owned and paddled a Stealth fibreglass fishing kayak for over 15 years and apart from a few scratches in the gel coat it has never been damaged. For its dimension it is still significantly lighter than any plastic kayak. I can throw it onto my shoulder to carry over sand dunes, I can not do the same with a polyethylene boat.
Scratches are very easy to repair, and can be removed by painting on a new layer of gel coat. Punctures and cracks are a bit more challenging but still easy enough to repair in most home workshops. While out on the water, duct tape is a surprisingly effective temporary patch. Larger cracks, and broken boats can be fixed by most fibreglass specialists.
I am not aware of any wooden commercial fishing kayaks. Wooden kayaks are beautiful to look at, and offer good strength weight ratio. There are plans and kits available online for anyone interested in a winter project.