The first step towards becoming a kayak fisherman is picking out a fishing kayak. The best boats are sit-on-top models made out of polyethylene plastic. Look for a boat with a molded tankwell to hold gear, scuppers to drain water through the deck, a bow hatch large enough to carry fishing rods, and plenty of deck space to mount electronics and accessories. The hull of the kayak is as important as its topside. A seaworthy boat will feature a high-volume bow that glides over waves, a rockered keel to improve handling, and a V-shaped hull that is both nimble and stable. Lengths range from 11 to 16 feet and boats can be anywhere from 28 to 33 inches wide. The longer kayak will be faster but less maneuverable while a wider boat will offer greater stability but reduce handling. The best policy is to test-paddle several models before making a choice.
Sit-on-top kayaks are the most popular fishing kayaks. These models are stable and efficient, offering plenty of deck space to mount accessories. Look for a hull that is both stable and responsive.
The Seat A kayak angler’s butt is his Achilles heel. Long before a paddler’s arms give out, his butt and back will be screaming in pain if he doesn’t have a high-quality seat. A good seat offers both rock-solid support and squishy soft cushioning. The best seats use gel, foam, or air to provide maximum padding. A high-back seat offers more support for longer paddles while a low-cut model will allow the angler greater mobility in the cockpit. Since much of the power in the paddle stroke is provided by the lateral muscles of the back, a good seat will be a solid platform for generating maximum force. Most seats are infinitely adjustable. To get the most out of each paddle stroke, the paddler should be seated up right and slightly forward. A good seat combines comfort and support. Look for thick, foam padding and sturdy straps. This Surf to Summit Expedition seat features a dry bag on the spine that can accommodate a rain jacket or an extra layer of clothes.
The Paddle Think of the paddle as the kayak’s motor. Just like an unreliable power plant on a motor boat, a cheap paddle could leave the angler broken down and stranded. Skip over heavy wood or metal paddles and look for a model with a carbon fiber shaft and fiberglass blades. Investing in a lightweight paddle will pay off in the long run as each ounce adds up over miles of paddling. The best paddles will have carefully designed blades that pass through the water efficiently and slice through the air with the least resistance.
Tank Well Another feature unique to fishing kayaks is the tank well. This is the open space behind the kayak’s seat that carries tackle and gear. Some anglers mount a crate to hold dry bags, lures, rigs, food, and water while other anglers install a live well to carry bait. The Bristol Bay bag by Shimano doubles as a crate to carry gear or a livewell to carry live bait. The system also has four rod holders and waterproof outside pockets. Check out the Scotty nav light stashed next to the bag. At night this light can be seen for miles. The PFD: Safety equipment includes: an ICOMM M34 VHF that floats, a Garmin 76c GPS, signal strobe, and PFD. Use a leash to keep rods and the paddle in the boat. Surf to Summit’s rod leashes attach with plastic clips that can quickly be connected and disconnected. Possibly the most important piece of equipment a kayaker owns is his Personal Flotation Device. Look for a PFD that has the floatation on the shoulders and mesh on the lower back to accommodate the high-backed seats used in sit-on-top kayaks. The front of the PFD should have small pockets that do not impede the kayaker’s paddle stroke. Be sure to choose the correct size PFD and adjust the straps so it fits properly. This is one piece of equipment that a ‘yaker always carries and hopes never to use. Safety Equipment. While the U.S. Coast Guard only requires kayakers to carry a PFD and a light, most ‘yakers go well beyond these requirements. Other safety equipment should include: Personal Floatation Device White Navigational Light on a 20-inch pole Whistle Emergency strobe light. 12 foot tether Compass Paddle Leash Rod leashes Safety Knife ACR Personal Locator Beacon Personal Locator BeaconP A Personal Locator Beacon is a mandatory safety item for any kayak angler who paddles out farther than he can swim home. This ACR ResQfix is small and light and has an internal GPS to pinpoint the user’s location. VHF Radio A VHF radio qualifies as both fishing and safety equipment. Not only will the chatter of other anglers help you find fish, but a VHF radio can also be used to monitor the weather and contact emergency services. Choose a unit that is small enough to fit in a pocket or clip to your PFD and powerful enough to reach help in an emergency. The best units are waterproof and float. Always carry extra batteries and keep the radio attached to your PFD. GPS While every kayaker should carry a marine grade compass, safety conscious ‘yakers will also use a handheld Global Positioning System. Not only will a GPS show the angler where he is, where he’s been, and where he’s going, but it will display the paddler’s speed and the distance to his destination. This information helps the kayaker control his pace and conserve his energy. Of course, a GPS is a great fishing tool, too. Anglers can mark the location of fish and structure and view the track that they traveled during the day. Best of all, the information from the trip can be downloaded to a computer and added to a fishing log.

kayaking_dry bag transducer

Dry bags hold a 12 volt, 4 amp sealed battery and the extra cable from the fishfinder transducer.

kayaking_duct tape dam

To mount, make a dam out of duct tape just larger than the transducer puck.

kayaking_lexcel sealent

Adhere the dam to the hull below the water line. Use Lexcel sealant to stick the transducer to the deck.

kayaking_dry bag transducer

Dry bags hold a 12 volt, 4 amp sealed battery and the extra cable from the fishfinder transducer.

kayaking_anchor trolley

Anchor Trolley Kayak anglers are good problem solvers and anchoring a kayak is one of the toughest problems to solve. If the ‘yaker were to simply chuck his anchor overboard and secure the rope to the side of his boat, the pressure of current and waves would quickly flip his boat. The challenge is running the anchor rope to the bow or stern of the kayak without leaving the seat. To accomplish this, kayak anglers use a trolley system that moves the anchor rope to the bow or stern like running a flag up a flagpole. Start with enough rope to run from the bow to the stern and back again. Cut the rope in half. Use a deck loop to attach a small stainless steel carabineer to the bow, another at midship, and a third on the stern. Loop one piece of rope from midship to the bow and back and the other from midship to the stern and back. Tie a medium-sized carbineer between the ends of the rope so that pulling the rope will run the carbineer to the bow or the stern. After deploying the anchor, clip the rope in the carbineer and run it to the bow or stern depending on which end of the boat you want pointing into the current. After the clip is at the end of the boat, continue to pay out rope until the anchor catches. Then, secure the anchor rope to a cleat or cam located near the seat. Anchoring in swift current is one of the most dangerous maneuvers in kayak fishing. Be sure to practice in sheltered waters before attempting to anchor on the open sea. An anchor trolley allows the angler to run the anchor rope to the bow or the stern of the kayak. To anchor the boat, clip the anchor line in the carabineer and slide it to the stern.

kayaking_vertical pole holders

Rod Holders The main difference between a fishing kayak and a regular kayak is a fishing kayak has rod holders. Rod holders come in three varieties: vertical, flush-mounted, and adjustable. Vertical rod holders are used to carry fishing rods to and from the fishing grounds. Whether you zip-tie 2-foot sections of 1 ½ inch PVC to a milk crate or purchase a fancy storage system, it is good to transport rods vertically to keep them out of the way. For added security, be sure to attach a rod leash to each vertical holder. Flush mounted rod holders have two advantages: first, they do not stick up above the deck and they are stronger than other holders. Place two flushmount holders in the bow and two in the stern for trolling. To install flushmounted holders, start with a plastic rod holder that has a rounded lip at the opening. To keep water from entering the kayak through the holder, use Lexcell sealant to glue a cap on the bottom. Trailer bearing covers are the perfect size for this application. Use a hole saw to drill a 2 ½ inch hole in the kayak and push the holder through. Run a bead of sealant around the base of the holder and attach with either stainless steel bolts and lock washers or pop rivets. There are several models of adjustable rod holders that will accept a variety of attachments and can be infinitely adjusted. These rod holders allow the angler to change the position of the rod as needed while keeping the reel out of the water. Be sure to place the rod holder where it will not impede paddling or fishing.
Transportation and Storage A good kayak cart will make transporting the boat a breeze. This Roleeze cart uses balloon tires to traverse sand, gravel, curbs, and rocks. Kayaks are easy to store and easy to transport. Major cargo rack manufactures make models for every make of automobile on the planet. Look for a system that will allow a single person to load the kayak on top of the car. Use web straps to secure the ‘yak to the rack. To get the ‘yak to the water, use a kayak cart that can be stored inside of the kayak. Look for a cart that is lightweight and durable with all-terrain wheels that can conquer any obstacle the angler might encounter. Kayaks don’t take up much storage space, either. Suspend the kayak from the ceiling with a pulley system, hang it on the wall with brackets, or place it on the ground on foam supports. To keep the hull from warping over time, make sure that it is properly supported – the strongest point on the boat is usually at the scuppers.
Kayak Buyer’s Guide These inflatable kayaks will get you to the lunkers whether you’re fishing the surf or whitewater It’s game on for fishing season and it’s your duty to get on the water and catch them. If you’re short on car space and house space consider an inflatable kayak. They can pack down to fit in the trunk of a puny hybrid and underneath your bed, but, when they’re full of air, they are fishing machines. Seriously. You’re probably thinking, “Inflatable? In cold water? That’s like taking a puppy to a dog fight.” What about flipping or sinking? I had the same fears. What if I hit a sharp rock? Would they deflate leaving me with a hypothermic swim to shore? Luckily, the answer is no. New inflatables are built with so much reinforcement and smart materials you don’t have to worry about reenacting the Titanic. Aside from sinking, the biggest question I had was how long would it take to prep each for use. With my plastic ‘yak I can yank it off the car top and go. But blowing these guys up would take ages. Not so. I timed myself inflating them, and believe me, I didn’t rush it. You’ll be surprised by how quickly they inflate. These boats were tested in small rapids on the James River and the big water of the Chesapeake Bay. Each one was safe, sturdy and capable of handling big fish. Hobie Inflatable Single i12 This is the Padillac of inflatable kayaks. Carving through the water with the ease of a destroyer, Hobie has built a boat with the ability to fish every condition save for big whitewater. Then again, you’re not going to hook anything casting in Class IV rapids. Most striking about the i12 is the new hybrid hull design. The bow resembles a deep-v, which then flattens out to a sit-on-top kayak. The reasoning? A v-bow takes on heavy chop and keeps the boat heading in a straight line, while the flat midsection and stern offer extra stability. Hobie’s signature, though, is the pedal propulsion system and a retractable rudder. For fishing this is a must because you can keep moving or steer through the current without tying up your hands. The rig comes with a special pump, which, though bulky and hard to store, can move more hot air than an Infomercial host. I had no problem pumping up the three chambers in under five minutes. Of courses, there’s one little drawback and that’s the pack-down size. Fully deflated it still is takes up the area of two large suitcases. Inflating Time: 4:08 Dimensions: 3’x12’ Weight: 53 pounds $1,799
Stearns Spree Stearns makes two versions of the Spree, a single and a double. The rule of thumb for inflatables is to supersize if you have the option, so I’d recommend almost always going for the tandems. Why? Well, it’s an inflatable, so you’re not adding much in weight, but the extra length provides more storage room and more stability when paddled single-handed. Stearns reworked the bow and stern design for this model, keeping them closer to the water and more streamlined. Seating in the Spree is lower than most inflatables, so a longer paddle is helpful. A nice feature on the bow is the retractable spray skirt. When I tested this model on the Chesapeake, it was windy, choppy and cool. The skirt kept my bare stems dry and warm. Inflating Time: 4:51 Dimensions: 3′ x 11’7” Weight: 27 pounds $498
Sea Eagle 330 Larger blow up ‘yaks without skegs can track all over a river, swerving like a politician behind the wheel after drinks with a lobbyist. That’s especially problematic when you’re trying to navigate a current or rapids. And problems in kayaks usually mean taking a bath in cold, fast-moving water. Shrinkage anyone? With dual skegs on the hull, the Sea Eagle handled the Class II rapids in the James River without a problem. And in a fast current I could easily make hard turns. My only complaint: The bow and stern of this model flair up, making the whole rig look like a gondola in Venice. The aesthetic effect is fine, but when retrieving my lures they would sometimes get stuck on the Viking ship bow. Luckily the polykrylar is thick enough to take a few pokes with a treble hook. Inflating Time: 5:47 Dimensions: 3’x11’2” Weight: 26 pounds $249
Qayak Cutting through the water like a bright yellow torpedo, the Qayak is one of the most nimble one-person inflatables on the market. It’s also the most bare bones, with nothing more than a seat attached to a kayak. That said, there’s plenty of room behind the seat for a tackle box and rods, but no built-in dry storage. The self-bailing system works well, thankfully, since the low-rise bow has a hard time repelling water in a steady chop. To its advantage, though, the Qayak packs down smaller than any of the others, making it an attractive option if you have a long hike to a fishing hole or a tiny spot in your gear closet to store it. Inflating Time: 4:23 Dimensions: 3’x10′ Weight: 24 pounds $214
Advanced Elements Straigtedge This inflatable kayak is built for big water and big adventure. The bow and stern are partially rigid, reinforced with aluminum ribbing. That framing improves tracking by making the front and the back solid and stable. It also improves speed. The Straightedge model caught my attention because a promo photo showed an angler with a 100-pound sailfish strewn across his lap. The thought of a slashing billfish close to me sitting on a floating balloon doesn’t seem appealing, but the reinforced PVC Tarpaulin can handle it. Oh, and one other nice feature, this is the only kayak to come with rod holders as part of the package, not as an option. Fish on. Inflating Time: 5:04 Dimensions: 3’x9’8” Weight: 34 pounds $700
Pakboats Puffin Sport The most un-kayak of the boats I tested, the Puffin looks more like a canoe than a ‘yak. But with tall sides and no cockpit or covered deck it has ample room for a fisherman’s best friend: tons of gear. Four rods, a beer cooler and two tackle bags barely made a dent in the available square footage. Also a design touch that differs from most of the other inflatable kayaks is a lightweight aluminum frame that runs the length of the hull. This gives the boat a defined keel and keeps it stable in rough conditions. The manufacturer, Pakboats, redesigned the model for this year and was able to trim off a couple of pounds. At 17 pounds, this is one of the lightest kayaks available. The Puffin is not a true inflatable in that the aluminum frame is wrapped in a synthetic fabric and the only air-filled tubes run down either side of the boat for buoyancy and support. Inflating Time: 3:49 Dimensions: 2’5”x10’6” Weight: 17 pounds $675

The kayak fishing craze is sweeping the nation, here’s how to get in on the fun.