Your overall kayak fishing experience depends first and foremost on your physical well being – You want perfect 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 fishing kayaks.
Comfort is multi-dimensional – like yourself, 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?…
Native people have been using small, personal paddle craft for fishing out of necessity, as means for survival but this is probably not your case, so 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 fishing 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 most people who fish from paddle crafts still prefer canoes and other traditional boats for fishing since those are usually made bigger than kayaks… Nevertheless, fishing kayaks offer some advantages that most canoe and other traditional boats don’t:
Ease of use- speaking, 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.
Less windage – Most canoe models 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 maneuver. 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 lasting, 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 physical condition, experience in paddling and experience in fishing from small watercraft. 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 people who have to spend long hours in fishing kayaks.
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 defense – 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 all but unnecessary – On the contrary, it is a critical factor that must be integrated in any planning for unexpected problems, which eventually never fail to materialize.
Two examples may clarify this:
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 defense (i.e. reaction strategies) that may or may not work. Interestingly, what is the prevalent approach in evaluating the seaworthiness of watercraft 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…
Redundancy in reaction: The obvious example for applying redundancy in your second line of defense 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 for others to see, it is also very low above the water and therefor even more difficult for others to perceive. Your kayak can easily disappear behind the waves, especially if light conditions are not optimal. As for radar, you shouldn’t count on those devices to detect you since they can’t always do it.
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 colors on the water.
You may also consider the advantages of fishing standing or sitting in a higher type of kayak.
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 comes your well being and comfort.
The main questions you may want to ask yourself are:
Do I feel secure and confident in this kayak, or is it good just for flat water?
Will I be comfortable after sitting more than an hour in it? Discomfort, fatigue, leg numbness and back pain tend to amplify with time.
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?
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.
Do I want to go through the hassle of manipulating a rudder? No you don’t, but with most kayaks you’ll have to.
If I feel numbness in my legs can I change positions? Some kayak anglers 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.
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.
Is this kayak easy for me to launch, or do I have to struggle to enter it?
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.
What kind of gear am I going to take with me, and are storage solution offered by ordinary kayaks acceptable for me? You want take whatever gear you feel like, and access it anytime you want, but storage hatches won’t let you do that.
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 might be that you don’t need or want a kayak at all, and you may be better served by another type of paddle craft (e.g. canoe, pirogue), 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, which can be very dangerous if you go overboard in water that’s too deep for you to stand in.
You may also want to consider the fact that traditional, native kayak fishing was done mainly in protected waters such lakes, rivers, estuaries and bays, while native arctic fishermen were more likely to use large-size and stable canoes called Umiaks for their Ocean fishing and whale hunting expeditions.
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 perceive you and either run you over or what is more likely simply cause you to overturn by the effect of its wake hitting your kayak. Such event may turn out to be anything from funny to fatal.
Another factor that should not be taken lightly is marine life: Every year there are divers, surfers, swimmers, wind surfers and paddlers being attacked by sharks. Fishing in shark infested waters from a small watercraft that offers no protection at all is risky by definition, especially in view of the fact that sharks are attracted by the shape of the kayak that similarly to the shape of a surfboard resembles that of a fat seal, and by the scent of bait and fish. Jellyfish, worms and bacteria are sometime abundant in warm waters, and may present other risks.
Cold water can be extremely dangerous, as well as exposure to cold from the combination of spray and wind – Water and weather can kill, and they do.
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, stabler 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 created from inexpensive materials offered in hardware stores.
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 may 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 greatly 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 (it’s 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 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 fishing kayaks are smaller and cheaper than motorboats, they should be versatile enough. A kayak that’s not versatile is an under performing one, and nearly all fishing kayaks on the market are such.
List of Busted Fishing Kayak Myths:
First fishing kayak myth busted:“A kayak can get you where other boats can’t”
-This statement is not very accurate since those who claim so ignore a wide range of small water crafts including motorized and human powered pirogues, canoes, dinghies, rafts and more. Both whitewater canoeing and down river canoeing are still practiced by many, and so is fishing from canoes, dinghies etc.
Second fishing kayak busted: “A kayak is faster than a canoe”
–This statement is based on an erroneous comparison between some faster kayak models and the most common canoe models that are usually large and very stable, while in fact fishing kayaks are rather slow by nature and some racing canoe models are very fast.
Third fishing kayak myth busted: “Kayaks are more stable than canoes”
-This statement is false, and canoes are still popular for fishing, mainly because they are usually wider and offer more stability. You can sometime see people casting standing in a canoe if water and weather permit, but have you ever seen someone fishing standing in a kayak? (in reality, not on a vendor’s website or brochure) -It is said that very small and lightweight people can, but this is certainly out of the question for the overwhelming majority of people. Try it (in shallow, clean and warm water…) and you’ll see for yourself.
Fourth fishing kayak myth busted: “The Sit-On-Top (SOT) is a new type of kayak”
–Wrong. The first commercial SOT models were introduced on the US market in the beginning of the seventies. Native peoples all over the world have used small sit-on-top paddle crafts for millennia, often with double blade paddles.
Fifth fishing kayak myth busted: “Kayaks were the fishing boats of choice for native people of the arctic circle.”
-In fact these people preferred large and stable canoes called Umiaks. Kayaks were used more often in protected waters, and mainly for hunting.
Sixth fishing kayak myth busted: “Modern kayaks are both stabler and faster”
-Totally false: Paddle sports are generally slow, and the slowest kayaks are those designed for fishing. The reason for that being that the monohull design is constrained by the laws of hydrodynamics to a tradeoff between speed and stability, and since fishing kayaks are required to offer more stability than other kayaks they are slower. Furthermore, Sit-On-Top (SOT) kayaks are even slower than sit-in kayaks are since their scupper holes substantially increase drag.
Seventh kayak fishing myth busted: “A good kayak seat is very important”
–The fact of the matter is that the original native people’s kayaks never had seats, and the whole concept of kayak seat is rather misleading since leg numbness is the result of bad circulation in the legs coming from being seated in the “L” kayaking position, which most of us stopped using since we were toddlers. As for lower back pains, they result from the legs pushing your body against the seat’s backrest (AKA ‘lumbar support’) in an attempt to prevent your body from sliding down. Expensive, cushioned seats advertised as being ‘ergonomically designed’ may delay these annoying and potentially dangerous physiological symptoms, but eventually they will appear simply because kayaks offer you just a single, unusual and non ergonomic and therefore problematic sitting position, without any option to switch to other paddling or fishing positions.
Eighth fishing kayak myth busted: “Kayak fishing is a water sport and therefore you have to get wet!”
-Not acceptable. First of all kayak fishing doesn’t necessarily have to be wet if you use a sit-in kayak on flat water. Second, getting wet and staying wet for long hours is not an option in colder climates and waters, that is in about half of the US territory. Third, being wet for hours is unpleasant even in warm climates and waters, and can cause rashes and infections. Conclusion: You don’t have to listen to SOT manufacturers’ excuse for not having found better solution to “wet ride” and “soggy bottom” problems that are plaguing people who fish from SOTs, and are a main turnoff for those who want to fish from kayaks. And just for the record, you don’t really want to wear waders while in your kayak, not just because it’s uncomfortable but because it’s dangerous.
Ninth fishing kayak myth busted: “Scupper holes drain the water from your SOT.”
-Yes but since kayaks are not static and they move both up and down as well as laterally the scupper holes also let water into your sitting space, which is the main cause for the infamous ‘wet butt syndrome’ that’s typical of kayak fishing and paddling from SOTs.
Tenth fishing kayak myth busted: “Kayak stability is important only for beginning fishermen.”
–Not when it comes to fishing kayaks, since the overwhelming majority of North Americans have neither the skills nor the physical attributes that Inuit and other native kayak fishermen had, and SOT kayaks are essentially less stable than comparable sit-in kayaks since their center of gravity (CG) is higher. Therefore, modern, recreational kayak fishermen are exposed to a much higher risk of capsizing than the original, native kayak fishermen were. You may get used to fishing from an unstable kayak until the inevitable moment comes when you’ll capsize in unsafe or unpleasant conditions. –Some people can ride a mono cycle quite easily but that doesn’t mean you should try it…
Eleventh fishing kayak myth busted: “SOTs are more versatile than Sit-in kayaks.”
–Not if you would even consider fishing with a SOT in cold water and/or cold weather, -conditions that are common in much of the US and Canada, and present even in the South in winter. Also, SOTs offer you little or no protection in the surf, and are less maneuverable than sit-in kayaks, which elevates the risk of injuries and accidents even in warm waters (e.g. shark bytes, jellyfish etc.)
Twelfth fishing kayak myth busted: “You can roll a SOT.”
-In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who paddle kayaks nowadays can’t even roll a sit-in kayak, although it’s basically easier than rolling a SOT, so it would be a waste of time for you to try to roll a fishing SOT, considering the fact that in order to do so you’ll have to strap yourself to your boat, which is unsafe, especially in the surf where capsizing is more likely to happen.
Thirteenth fishing kayak myth busted: “You can fish standing in a kayak.”
-Do you really believe this one? Few people do, and rightfully so.
In fact, most kayak fishermen don’t even feel that confident just sitting in or on top their kayak.
This myth keeps being mentioned on Internet forums in discussions about stable fishing kayaks, and some fishing kayak manufacturers go as far as claiming that certain models they offer enable it, and even show pictures. Technically speaking, children and small size adults can sometime stand in a kayak, usually a wide sit-in since it has a lower center of gravity than a SOT does, and always on perfectly still, flat water. However, no full size adult can stand in any monohull fishing kayak confidently enough to cast in full comfort and seriously fight strong fish. As hard as you may try you won’t be able to find any proof to substantiate such claims, because they are not true.
The problem is simple, and has a lot to do with ‘what if’: Some people can cast standing in large-size canoes, some can fish standing from kayaks outfitted with a pair of fairly big outriggers on both sides, and practically anybody can cast confidently and comfortably standing in a Wavewalk kayak, as demo videos and customer reviews prove.
So what? -Stuff happens (that’s the rule in boating), and sooner than later any stand up kayak fisherman is bound to find himself destabilized by a fish, a wave (or boat’s wake), wind or simply a wrong move in a moment of distraction – and things like that happen all the time, and to everybody.
Since neither SIKs nor SOTs offer any ‘plan B’ solution for such cases, such stand up fisherman is bound to go overboard, and is likely to do it while overturning his kayak. Such accident could be quite unpleasant, cause loss of equipment, etc. Even those rare daredevils who insist they can fish while standing on top of their wide SOTs admit they ‘go swimming’ from time to time, or in other words: have frequent accidents, which is not acceptable because sooner or later one of those accidents is likely to turn ugly.
In summary, you’d better trust your basic intuition and common sense in this case.
Things are very different in Wavewalk kayaks not just because they are overwhelmingly more stable than other designs are, but also because in case of destabilization while standing you’re likely to simply drop down on the 14″ high saddle, and find yourself in the Riding position with both your feet planted at the bottom of the hulls, several inches below waterline – as stable as possible.
Fourteenth fishing kayak myth busted: “Rudders solve your tracking and maneuvering problems.”
–Although many would like to believe so, the reality is more complex and not particularly encouraging one to use a rudder: Native kayakers never used rudders but Kayak manufacturers introduced rudders with the intent to improve kayaks’ directional stability (i.e. tracking) and maneuverability.
Keeping any monohull including kayaks going straight (i.e. tracking) is a problem, and zigzagging makes the boat go a longer distance. Constantly correcting the kayak’s course requires energy and time from you. Moreover, tracking becomes more difficult as water and weather conditions deteriorate. But looking only at (unpublished – one can only wonder why…) results of hydrodynamics tests shows that rudders increase total drag by up to 10%, and considering the constant mental and physical effort that manipulating the rudder requires from the paddler it is possible to say that rudders reduce effective speed by about 25%. Naturally, the more experienced the paddler the less effort is wasted, but the less the rudder is required the better.
As for maneuvering, a rudder can make a noticeable difference especially if the kayak is very long (e.g. 16’-18’ long sea kayaks) and the paddler inexperienced, but its effectiveness is dubious in shorter (i.e. more maneuverable) kayaks.
Fourteenth fishing kayak myth busted: -“Modern fishing kayaks are so stable you can hardly tip them over, even if you try.”
-This is an absurd falsehood: The only people who are not in danger of tipping a modern fishing kayak are small children who sit and behave nicely in their kayak. In fact, when you need to struggle with a big fish kayaks are impractical since they can offer little support to your pulling effort. Only few kayak anglers are capable of catching big fish from their kayaks without any assistance.
Fifteenth fishing kayak myth busted: “Most kayak anglers fish at sea.”
–This image doesn’t fit reality, where most people who use kayaks for fishing tend to do it in protected waters such as estuaries, rivers, flats, lakes and ponds – and for obvious reasons.
Sixteenth fishing kayak myth busted: “Kayaks are very mobile.”
-While this may be true compared to boats that require towing, it’s not necessarily true within the class of paddle craft since kayaks are more difficult to get into and out from than canoes are, and consequently also more difficult when it comes to launching and taking out.
Seventeenth fishing kayak myth busted: “SOTs are stabler than SIKs.”
-Quite the opposite: SOTs offer paddlers to sit in the unstable “L” kayaking position on top of a deck, while SIKs offer them to sit it that same position at the bottom of the hull. This difference in the center of gravity (CG) height works against the SOT and needs to be compensated by a wider hull.
Eighteenth fishing kayak myth busted: “Hatches offer practical means for storage.”
-Few thing could be further from the truth: In fact, hatches are small and you can’t access what’s inside them from your seat, and in most cases the hatches fail to be totally waterproof.
Nineteenth fishing kayak myth busted: “SOTs are very safe kayaks.”
-This is partly true: SOTs are self bailing, which means they are designed not to let water in the hull even if the kayak is capsized. The problem is that eventually some water can get in through small cracks or mainly through holes made in the hull for attaching various accessories. When this happens you can’t notice the leakage until it’s too late.>
Twentieth fishing kayak myth busted: “Foot activated pedal drives offer hands free fishing.”
-…Unless you need to go somewhere, and then you’ll be required to steer using a hand activated rudder system, so you’ll be left with just one hand to hold a fishing rod.
But reality doesn’t stop here, and if you happen to observe pedal kayakers you’ll probably notice that in most cases they hold their kayak’s sides with their hands while they pedal, and that’s because recumbent pedaling (even in recumbent bikes) requires some kind of extra support and stabilization.
Twenty first fishing kayak myth busted: “Tunnel hulled monohull kayaks are stabler than other monohull kayaks.”
-Not really. In fact, most SOT kayaks have some kind of groove or tunnel (often more than one) at the bottom of their hulls. This reinforces the bottom and somehow helps correcting poor directional stability.
Such tunnels can be very narrow (1″) or wide (1 ft), but as long as the design is a monohull, meaning that it does not feature two distinctly, full size and fully separated hulls, the kayak will be unstable simply because nearly all its buoyancy is distributed along its longitudinal axis, where it offers minimal or no stabilizing effect.
Kayak fishing is becoming increasingly popular, but many people who fish from kayaks end up going back to more traditional forms of fishing because of the problems described here. Kayak anglers as well as people who are considering fishing from kayaks need to be informed, and we bring this information to you as food for thought.