Hints for Gift Buyers

Hints for Gift Buyers
Carbon fiber kayak paddle from AT; strong, light and ergonomic design.
Don't look now but Christmas is right around the corner. It is truly odd how the years seem to pass so much quicker. The best explanation might be that as 10-year-olds a year was one tenth of our life. As we age, a year is still the same amount of time but an increasing smaller percentage of our life. Makes sense to me.

This has been an odd year in the fishing biz. It got a slow start with old man winter overstaying his welcome and then came the BP oil spill and the uncertainty it cast over everybody and everything along the entire rim of the Gulf of Mexico. Throw in the sluggish economy and let's just say I'll shed no tear over the exit of 2010.

On to bigger and better things in 2011 and what better way to start it off with than unwrapping some new fishing and kayaking gear on Christmas morning. Outdoorsmen are predisposed to be gadget junkies. I open every outdoors catalog that arrives only to find something I really need. Okay, I don't really need it, but I want it. Like you, I've got enough gear and toys to open my own store but there's always room for an upgrade.

The glitch in the system is communicating to gift buyers that even with the pile of stuff we already have there are still things we want or need. So here is my gift to you this holiday season; a list of ideas. This is by no means a complete list but hopefully it will spur your brain into coming up with something to put on your wish list. Feel free to make notes or circle something on this page and leave it on the kitchen counter as a hint...or risk another year of unwrapping sweaters and cologne.

Let's start with safety gear. I have a SPOT GPS tracker on my list this year. This device fits in your pocket and tracks your location via satellite. You can set it up to send a pre-programmed message to up to ten contacts as a "checking in" function with the push of a button communicating GPS coordinates of your location. In the event a non-emergency situation arises there is a "help" button that tells your contacts you could use a hand. For more serious situations there is a 911 button that gets professional assistance headed your way. Another feature allows contacts to track your progress on extended excursions. Many of us rely too heavily on our cell phones. Cell phone reception can be patchy and they are notorious for getting zapped in wet conditions such as an unexpected dunking. The SPOT is always in contact and waterproof.

Another important piece of safety equipment is the PFD. Beginning paddlers often grab any old PFD and while these will certainly work, there are better options. A PFD designed specifically for paddling or preferably, one designed for kayak fishing, is much better. A kayak fishing PFD will have the flotation cut away from the lower back to improve comfort in the seat. Owning a comfortable PFD means you'll be more likely to wear it and that's a good thing. Any paddling specialty shop should have these in stock.

The most basic piece of equipment beyond the kayak is the paddle. Folks spend a great deal of time selecting a kayak and then buy a less than ideal paddle I did. An inexpensive paddle will work but a good paddle will work better. I started with an aluminum shaft/plastic blade variety but once I put my hands on a lightweight carbon-fiber unit I learned what I was missing. A quality paddle will make your paddling more enjoyable and less fatiguing. Do yourself a favor and put this on your wish list, then stash your old paddle inside the hull as a backup.

Kayak carts make life easier. If you launch very far from where you park, chances are you simply drag your kayak to the water. If that area happens to be a concrete or gravel parking lot you could be scuffing and damaging your hull. Do it often enough and you might find yourself slowly sinking as the yak fills with water one day. There are many carts on the market; all have two wheels and a frame that attaches to the kayak allowing you to grab the front handle and wheel your way to the water. Prices vary based on materials and quality of construction. One note; the softer the terrain you traverse the wider the wheels you'll want.

I recently tried out the new Humminbird 385ci Kayak Combo Kit. This is a combination GPS/fishfinder designed for kayaks. It comes with a thru-hull transducer, mounting kit, small 12V battery, wiring harness and charging cord. Initially I wasn't all that interested in having a depth finder on my kayak as I generally fish shallow but I've changed my mind after locating deepwater structure I had no idea was there. With winter fishing coming on I've got those places marked on the GPS and will be visiting them again in the next couple of months.

After paddles and PFDs, probably the most common accessory found among kayak fishermen is the milk crate. With the addition of PVC pipe and tie straps you've got a pretty handy carry-all for a variety of essential gear. However the milk crate is not without drawbacks. Large holes allow smaller items to escape and there's the problem of legally securing a genuine heavy-duty milk crate. Several companies picked up on this and have come out with some really cool upgrades. There are models encased in canvass or mesh to hold in small items, pockets for securing tools, quality rod holders and even a lid to prevent everything falling out should you happen to flip. I like the fact that I can store virtually everything needed in one place for spur of the moment trips instead of frantically searching for those missing pliers.

Waterproof boxes and bags are always a safe bet as gifts for kayak fishermen. Kayak shops offer near endless sizes and styles to keep most anything safe and dry. I've got everything from soft bags for extra clothing and first aid kits to small hard-cases for my phone, wallet and keys. I use a rather large Pelican case for my camera and extra lenses when I head out to do a photo shoot. A huge plus is that these bags and boxes have enough air trapped inside to float should they happen to fall overboard.

For those on limited budgets I suggest visiting your local paddle shop and reviewing the accessory display. It is amazing how far this segment of the industry has come in the past few years. Back when I started there was very little accessory equipment designed for kayak fishing. Much like the old milk crate, we fashioned what we needed from whatever we could find. Now there are endless racks holding every piece of gear you could possibly need along with a good many items that I doubt I'd ever need.

Some of these accessories are specific to brands of kayaks, a trend that started a couple years back when manufacturers began adding built-in docking points for a variety of equipment. Wilderness Systems has the "Slide-Trax" rails on their SOT models that allow accessories to be easily mounted and then removed for transport. Hobie has upgraded fins for the Mirage Drive, livewell systems that fit their tankwells and even sailing kits. Native Kayaks has a mind-boggling assortment under their Watertrail brand.

So as 2010 winds to a close I'd just like to say that I really appreciate all you folks who follow my ramblings on this page. It's very rewarding to get stopped at the tackle shops or at the launch and have folks commenting how much they enjoy the articles. The phone calls and e-mails asking for tips or additional information are really cool too. So if you see me out and about, feel free to introduce yourself or drop me a line...particularly if you've got a super-secret spot loaded with redfish that you'd like to share. Have a great Holiday Season.