Kayak Buyer’s Guide

Kayak Buyer’s Guide

Every time I begin to think about the sport of kayak fishing, I can’t help but think how far it has come in such a short time. I know when I began ten years ago, the idea of having a cheaper alternative to a power boat was quickly gaining traction in the fishing world. By the time I got into it a few manufacturers were offering a handful of options. Prior to me getting into a plastic boat, the older anglers who had been fishing from paddle boats made do with the few brands and the few options available at the time. All of that has changed.

Kayak fishing has now become a worldwide sport and it never ceases to amaze me what anglers are accomplishing in these tiny boats. Hell, earlier this month, an angler in Panama fought and landed a 600-pound black marlin. The fight lasted a little over six hours and the angler was dragged around for seventeen miles. If that’s not pushing the limits then I don’t know what is.

The sport seems to be limitless and, thanks to anglers telling manufacturers, “this is what we need,” they are designing and offering kayaks for virtually every kind of fishing.

I would like to discuss the various types of kayaks and explain some of the variations and options available in the market today. Presumably, for those new to the sport and contemplating their first kayak purchase some of this might be a bit overwhelming.  

So, first off, when you look at kayak designs, one of the main differences is in the way they are made. One of the ways is where a mold is constructed for the top half of the boat and another for the bottom half. The halves are then thermally-fused to become a kayak. The other primary method of construction is a process called rotomolding. This is where plastic pellets are placed into a mold, the mold is closed and then rotated as heat is applied. When the process is completed and the mold cools, it is opened and a one-piece kayak with uniform wall thickness is removed. The greatest advantage of rotomolding in kayak manufacture is the inherent durability of the product. You can drag them across oyster reefs, boat ramps, to and from your vehicle for launching, and a host of generally rough treatments without causing structural damage. I have even seen one launch from the top rack of a truck doing 70 mph and sustain only minor scratches. The downside is that roto-molded kayaks tend to be a bit heavier and cost a bit more. Personally, even if I was going to purchase an economy-priced starter kayak, I would definitely opt for a rotomolded boat versus any other option.

Another key factor when selecting a new kayak is the matter of length and width. I have had many people ask my opinion about buying a ten-footer and I will say this. If you are buying a kayak for an adult, I recommend one at least twelve feet length. Ten-footers are OK for youngsters or smaller adults, but adults of average size and larger need the extra two feet of length. The reason being is that the length of the kayak is directly related to how well it tracks. With every paddling stroke, the bow of the boat will be pushed in that direction. So, the shorter the boat the greater the tendency to cut a zig-zag path with each forward stroke. This leads to more paddling as you must then include a stroke to correct the last stroke you made. Conversely – the greater the length the greater the tendency for the boat to go forward in a straight line. Moving on to width, it can be generally stated that the wider the boat the more stable it will be. This allows for standing and sight-fishing, greater seaworthiness in choppy waters, and also the ability to accommodate larger people without the tendency to be tippy. It is hard to say which width is the most ideal for any given individual as it also includes size and weight of the paddler and their level of athleticism and balance. Having said that, though, length is everything.

Now for the age old question – paddle vs peddle?  

I say age old but, besides Hobie, almost every major kayak brand has begun offering peddle propulsion of one design or another during the past few years. In my opinion the type of fishing you are planning to do most often should be the main consideration in the paddle vs paddle decision. If you fish mostly for bass, like to fish offshore, or cover large distances in open water, I would say a peddle drive boat would be your best choice. If you fish mostly shallow water chasing reds in the backcountry and on the flats where you frequently encounter oyster reefs, clumps of oysters, and heavy grass in shallow water, paddling is definitely the way to go. In the end though, what it actually boils down to is the way you fish most often and personal preference…and there is no wrong answer.  

When it comes to paddling, there are some great offerings out there worth considering. My personal favorite brand is Jackson Kayaks and they offer a range of paddling boats to fit most every angler’s needs. Their new YuPIK looks perfect for the way I like to fish – it’s length is 12’-2” and the 35” width provides plenty of stability. I also like the open deck concept so I can lay my rods in front of me. It also provides a great platform for fly fishing if I choose to do that. Viking Kayaks are another brand of paddling kayaks that have come a long way. Their Profish Reload is a slender kayak that will be quick on the water and will cut easily through chop. The length is 14’-9” and the width is 30”.

For peddle-crafts, Hobie was the original and they pretty much nailed it from the get-go. ‘The Mirage Outback is a middle of the road model and a very good all-around fishing kayak. The length is 12’-9” and the width is 34”; a good compromise for both speed and stability. Another peddle-drive that is gaining a lot of attention is the Blue Sky Boatworks. It is a dual-hull catamaran-style craft with the Jackson Flex Drive. The length is 13’-4” and at 48” wide tipping over is not likely to be a concern. It is actually a quick boat for its size and can still cut through chop with ease. If you are approaching middle-age and not completely confident in getting in a smaller kayak, I would highly recommend that you take a look at this one.

I could go on for pages about all the boats available today and the various attributes of each. But there are three main factors to consider in a kayak; speed, maneuverability, and stability. You can have any two in most any brand and model but finding all three in one boat is nearly impossible – there simply is no perfect boat that does it all. However, if you have any doubts,  always demo a boat before purchasing. If you have any questions on anything I have discussed here do not hesitate to reach out to me and I will try to answer any questions you may have.

Tight lines and be safe on the water!