Welcome to Part 2 of Choosing a Kayak!
In this article we hope to finish out the basic conversation of choosing a kayak. Of course, the concept of picking the perfect kayak is a very complicated and large topic so we are only going to scratch the surface. However, we hope to give you enough idea of what you’re looking for, that you can go out and make an educated purchase and not buy a kayak that is completely wrong for your needs.
So the first thing you’ll want to know about the types of kayaks are that there are two major types and many sub-types. There are some that are designed to go on the ocean, some that are designed to go on lakes, and others designed for rivers. Different types perform better in certain situations where some barely perform at all if used in the wrong place. Of course, we are only referring to fishing kayaks but in the general world of kayaks there are even more types out there!
There are two major types of kayaks:
- Sit-in: These kayaks range from canoe-like kayaks that have huge open spaces in them, to
whitewater-like kayaks that are designed to have a body skirt to keep the water out, to ocean-going kayaks that also have a body skirt but are designed to go long distances. We won’t be discussing much about open style kayaks simply because they are usually very specialized or are not that practical for most professional kayak fishing use. This is not to say they are bad, just that we think they are unsuited to the challenges presented to kayak anglers who are serious about fishing, whether recreationally or professionally.
- Sit-on-top: These kayaks are sealed and have no open areas not covered by a hatch with a real
seal. Unlike sit-on-top kayaks, these are almost impossible to sink unless you leave a hatch open and flip the kayak. These kayaks have a slightly higher center of balance than a sit in kayak, but make up for it with very wide hulls with decks that are easy to stand on. Some you can even stand on one leg if needed, making turning around a breeze.
Here are some of the types of sit-on-top kayaks out there. Keep in mind this is just a general guide as there are new types coming out every month with even more options.
- Flat style: Modified stand up paddle boards
- Brand/Model Diablo Paddlesports, Vibe Maverick
- PROs: These usually have a really nice chair and are insanely stable for standing up.
- CONS: Poor natural tracking without a skeg or rudder. They don’t handle current as well and are blown around in the wind more easily. In high waves water splashes over sides.
- Big water: Large with huge weight limits
- Brand/Model Hobie PA14, Jackson Big Tuna, FeelFree 13.5, Wilderness Sys A.T.A.K 140
- PROs: Very stable but have a keel for tracking ability in wind and some current. They easily carry all the gear you could want.
- CONs: Very heavy. Most are around 100lbs before gear. May need a trailer or special arrangement to carry them.
- River style: Shorter, Stable, Tracking
- Ocean Style: Very long, fiberglass construction, minimal fishing features.
- Brand/Model: Jackson Kraken 15.5, Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160
- PROs: Designed to be paddled long distances. Tracking is phenomenal and speed is insane.
- CONs: Turning ability so poor it’s impractical for anything but very big water. Narrow so stability is very low – unless you get outriggers, which reduces turning ability even more.
Complete kayak brands list from this article:
Note: There are many other brands available that make decent kayaks! While we have our favorite kayak brands we do not specifically endorse a particular kayak. We have seen some amazing “rigs” built from cheap $300 kayaks that do fantastic on the water.
By looking at the above kayak types and styles, you should be able to see that there are many different conditions that you could find yourself in while kayak fishing. While it’s true that a particular type of kayak may seriously affect how you are able to fish a particular type of water, the lines are often blurred on which one is better for your situation. Here’s why – You may want to carry a lot of gear or you may carry a little extra weight around, so you’ll want an open water or large type of kayak. These kayaks won’t be as affected by extra weight and will still do the job.
If you plan on spending most of your time on a river where you’ll be paddling in current, you’ll want to make sure you have a kayak that turns well but still tracks decently. A rudder might be very useful to you as well.
Once you’ve identified a particular type of category of kayak that fits your type of fishing, you’ll still want to go ride that type of kayak. But now you’ve narrowed the search down to a handful of kayaks with similar features. These features are often differences in gear track brands or how the mounts are setup. These features are usually not that important to a new kayak angler because you don’t yet know what you’ll be most comfortable with.
The thing to remember is that the major brands mentioned on this page all produce quality kayaks in many categories. It’s more important that you pick the style of kayak you want for your application, vs, the brand of kayak. Then go to the store and choose one from that type of style. Again, it’s very important that you ride the kayak before you buy it if at all possible due to the minor variances that may bother you, like seat type, etc.
Aren’t pedal kayaks another type of category?
Yes and no. The reason is that you’ll often find that there are pedal kayaks in many of the categories. The number of kayaks models that have pedal drive of some sort has grown exponentially over the past few years. Once you have chose a style of fishing kayak, then you’ll want to look for a pedal kayak in that style. If there isn’t one, it will likely happen soon!
As far as the types of pedal kayaks, there are two main types. Hobie makes the Mirage Drive type of pedal kayak. This type has fins that propel the kayak through the water and are very efficient at doing this. While the fins do stick down a ways in normal mode, you can push the pedals apart which makes the fins move in a flat configuration. This allows you to pedal in shallow water. While earlier versions were forward pedaling only, newer models have the ability to back up by flipping the fins around. Another major difference with the Mirage Drive is that the pedals are really push pedals and do not rotate.
The other type of pedal fishing kayak is the propeller style. This version has an actual propeller which is connected to what look and rotate like bicycle pedals. This will be better for those who are used to bicycling, however, there are a few limitations. The propeller doesn’t immediately move up and down easily. Most models allow the propeller to be raised for portage, but in general they don’t retract quickly. Some don’t even allow for retraction and simply have to be removed completely and this process is often tricky. Yet the biggest pro of the propeller club is that pretty much all of them allow you to stop almost instantly and reverse propeller direction. This could be critical when wind or current is a major issue. It could also give you an edge to pull a fish out from under brush on the bank, where normally your kayak would continue to drift toward the fish.
What gear do I need?
Gear is highly subjective to your preferences. Presuming you are new to kayak fishing, you likely don’t even know what you want yet. Our best advice is to get yourself some waterproof boxes and gear that can be stowed or tied down in case you flip. Other than that, keep it as simple as possible. Don’t over do the gear at first because as you experience kayak fishing you’ll quickly realize the things that you need.
While this article is not about gear, there are a few things that might make your life easier or safer:
- Safety gear. Of course you need a personal flotation device (PFD), but you’ll also want a whistle, and a waterproof flashlight (even during the day).
- Paddle leash. This should really be in safety gear, but we are giving it it’s own category because it’s such a huge thing. If you lose your paddle fighting a fish on a windy day, you won’t be getting back to the dock by hand paddling. Here is a good one.
Ways to carry food and water safely. Non-glass water bottles are a must. It’s easy to get dehydrated on a 6 hour fishing trip, let alone a 12 hour day on the water! We recommend seal lunch bags and stainless steel insulated water bottles.
- Rod holders. Usually the permanent rod holders that come with your kayak are in the wrong position. Get yourself one that can be mounted either directly in front of you, or off to the side about 3ft up the side of the boat from your seat – too close will keep you from paddling.
- Rod Floater. Some people like rod leashes and there is a place for them on big water. But for normal fishing, having a floaty on your rod is the best way to go. 99% of the time you lose a rod, it’s because you dropped it over the side of the boat. We know. A rod floaty has saved many rods for us and we highly recommend them!
So now what?
You’ve got the goods now! You’re educated but you still have to make a choice from even the huge list of kayaks on this page. The single biggest thing you can do is to determine what your favorite water is to fish. Or do you have one? Many new kayak anglers want to fish all kinds of different conditions and want to experience everything. Our advice is if you are just starting with kayak fishing, stick with a kayak that is not too specialized so you can sample multiple types of fishing in different kinds of water/weather conditions.
When choosing the type of fishing you intend to do, be sure you don’t choose a type that is far above your skill level. For instance, if you’re new to kayaking, you really don’t want to start with “BTB” – “Beyond The Breakers”. This type of kayak fishing is done in the gulf or other coastal waters and has you pushing your kayak out through the waves, and then jumping in and paddling on out several miles to fish deep sea fish. Then you have to paddle back through the waves to shore by effectively surfing the waves in your kayak. Even the experts dump their kayaks in these conditions. If you’re going to start with this kind of kayak, get a friend to help you learn the ropes first.
The best thing a new kayak angler can do is to start with lakes and calmer rivers and then slowly work your way up to fishing in rougher conditions. Go out on a lake on a windy day and experience the waves in those conditions. Even this can be dangerous, but if you always go with someone and do some training ahead of time for flipping your kayak, then you’ll be fine.
That’s it! – Mostly
Congratulations! You are now much more knowledgeable about kayak fishing than you were before! Now you can go to your local kayak store and impress the sales person with your knowledge! Of course, there’s still a lot to learn that you’ll only get by being on the water. But hopefully you’ll be able to correctly choose the kayak that will work for you and give you years of enjoyment.
Happy kayaking and tight lines!