First Fishing Kayak

First Fishing Kayak
Surf kayaking is best approached in a boat designed for the job.

Every year around this time I start getting calls and e-mails from folks about to jump into kayak fishing. Most have been thinking about it for quite a while and have done a bit of research on what boat to buy and are trying to narrow down their choices. Others have no clue and simply ask, "What's the best kayak for fishing."

That's a tough question these days as there are so many fishing-appropriate kayaks on the market. Back when I started it was merely a matter of choosing narrow and fast or wide and slow. To say the choices were limited would be an understatement. Since that time the manufacturers have responded with a myriad of kayaks aimed squarely at the fisherman.

With so many choices it can be quite confusing to those first tinkering with the idea of fishing from a little plastic boat. Fishing kayaks now come in lengths from ten to sixteen feet and widths from twenty-eight to a whopping thirty-eight inches. You can choose to paddle or pedal and there are even models factory-equipped with electric trolling motors. At the end of the spectrum is the motorized Surfango with a 9.5 hp jet drive engine allowing you to zip along at over 30 mph and then paddle into your honey hole.

Along with increased variety, the price range has also increased dramatically. In the past most of the acceptable models were within $100 of each other, so cost generally wasn't much of a factor in the decision. Now you can pick up a no-frills kayak for under $300 or you can drop close to four grand for the Surfango. The most popular range is $800 to $1200. You can outfit a top-line kayak and be ready to start fishing for around $1500, very affordable when you compare with even the most economical powerboat.

So with all these choices and options available, how do I answer the question? I begin by asking a few questions of my own. What kind of fishing do you plan to do? Where do you plan to fish? What is your budget? And lastly, how big a fella are you?

The answer to the first two really need to be honest. Different conditions and styles of fishing require different models. Everyone gets into this sport with thoughts of fishing all sorts of places, they want to do it all. Being honest about where you will spend the majority of your time will result in getting a kayak that is best suited for what you will truly be doing. Being less than honest will result in a boat that is right for a style of fishing you might only do occasionally and will not suit the majority of your trips.

If you are planning on sticking to the marshes chasing reds fairly close to the launch point; I tend to steer towards the wider and more stable models. These might not be as efficient or easy to paddle, but a kayak that is stable enough to stand up in is a valuable tool in that environment. If the angler is looking at paddling longer distances or fishing the open bays; I'll lean more towards the longer, narrower boats that are much more efficient and tend to track in a straight line much easier when faced with a crosswind. Fishing the surf is best done in a kayak designed with a more upturned bow and increased stability to allow safe launching and landing in rough conditions. Don't get me wrong, all of the available models will take you fishing. However, if you buy a surf boat because you might occasionally hit the beach but will spend most of your days in the marsh, you aren't getting the most for your money.

And speaking of money, the next question that needs to be answer is about the budget of the buyer. As stated above, you can get into this sport on a slim budget or you can spend a little more and get real quality equipment. One of the questions I get all the time is in regards to the price of the various boats. As with many other things, you get what you pay for. The lower end boats will use cheaper or thinner plastic and have fewer amenities while the higher priced boats use better base materials and have more features. Also, the method for attaching eyelets, footpegs and other hardware will affect the price. Less expensive boats will use rivets as connectors while the higher priced boats use stainless bolts and nuts. Not only do those little things add up in cost of materials, they also require more man-hours to assemble. For me, quality equals durability and I'm pretty tough on my equipment. I expect it to work as designed and withstand the everyday abuse of fishing in saltwater without failing.

That last question, "how big a fella are you?" often gets a laugh. But it is an important factor. A really big guy in a fairly small boat will seriously affect the paddling and stability. Also, a person who is undersized for the boat they choose can have issues because the kayak sits too high on the water and is adversely affected by wind. Most manufacturers express some sort of weight capacity in their literature for the various models. The problem is that there is no industry standard regarding this issue. While one company may list the maximum weight for their boat to perform at an acceptable level, another may list their max as the point at which the boat will remain safely afloat. Listed weight capacities can be little more than a general guide. You'll also have to keep in mind that your gear can add a good deal to the total.

While I can generally help somebody narrow down their search to a few models by answering these questions, the only real way you'll know what kayak fits you best is time on the water. Most kayak specialty retailers have rental programs that will allow you to take a boat out on the water for a day or two. Many of these shops will also apply that rental fee towards the purchase of your kayak if you end up buying from them. Rental fees are cheap and well worth it if they keep you from making an expensive mistake. If you can't do the rental, at least attend one of the many kayak demo days that are held each spring. I just spoke with three of the major shops in Texas and each have plans for demo days in March or April.

Once you've picked the perfect kayak you can begin considering accessories, but that's a whole other topic for another article.
Good luck and welcome to the kayak fishing addiction.