There are a variety of reasons to fish from a kayak. In some states, public access to fishable water is limited so you may not be able to bank fish. You may not like wading, or just wish to enjoy the serenity of a day on the water without the hassle, smell, and noise of a powerboat. At any rate, you’ve decided that you want to fish from a kayak. There are several things that you should pay attention to when shopping for the right boat.
The first thing you should note is that there are two basic types of kayak from which to fish. There are sit-insides (SINKS) and sit-on-tops (SOTS). From the perspective of getting you out on the water, either choice would work, but for fishing the SOT is usually the kayak type of choice. There are several reasons for this. The first is the accessibility to your gear that a SOT offers. In a SINK, almost all your tackle will have to be stored below the deck in a hatch or in the cockpit. In a SOT, all your gear can be stored at arm’s reach above deck, so when you need something in a hurry, like your landing net, you’ll have it. Sit-on-tops also have the advantage of allowing the paddler to sit side-saddle or get out and wade easily. There are many times when you’ll need to stretch out your legs and this feature of a SOT makes it a lot easier. Sit-on-tops also offer the advantage that in rough seas, you don’t need a skirt. The scupper holes in the bottom make the yak self draining, so that whatever comes in over the side will drain right out the bottom. In a SINK, if you were in rough seas, you’d need a skirt to avoid filling the boat with water. Once you have the skirt on, it’s difficult to access any of the gear you have stored in your cockpit.
So, now that you’ve decided on a kayak for fishing, the next step is to determine which one is right for you. This will depend on a number of things, including:
• The type of fishing you intend to do
• Your weight and physical condition
• Your budget
Depending on the type of fishing you do, some kayaks may be a perfect fit, while others will be a huge disappointment.
If you fish offshore and must pass through the surf, you’ll want a kayak with a lot of rocker to ride over the waves going out and coming in. Typically most people involved in this type of fishing don’t go more than 1 mile out. So, it’s a pretty short trip and a short kayak with a large amount of rocker is ideal for this situation. For this style of fishing, look at the Cobra, Malibu, and Ocean Kayak brand of kayaks. Specific kayaks to look at would be the Cobra Fish and Dive, the Cobra Marauder, the Malibu Mini-X and X-factor, and the Ocean Kayak Prowler 13, and Trident 13 and 15. Although the X-factor and Trident 15 are a little long, they will work for getting through the surf and back ok.
Here's a picture of the Cobra Fish N` Dive XF. Notice the curvature from bow to stern, called rocker:
If you’re fishing inshore or in large lakes where you’ll cover a lot of water, you’ll want a longer kayak with less rocker. The idea behind this is that longer kayaks with little rocker have a better glide and take less effort to paddle long distances. A few kayaks that should be considered here are the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 and Tarpon 160, Hurricane Aquasports’ Phoenix 140 and 160, Perception’s Search 13 and Search 15, and Ocean Kayak’s Prowler 13 and 15 and Trident 13 and 15. The ideal length for this type of kayak is 13-16 feet.
If your intention is to fish mainly in small bodies of water, including smaller rivers, lakes and bayous, you can pretty much get away with almost any of the kayaks listed above, however you will probably want to limit your kayak’s length. In this situation, the kayaks I’d look at would be the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120, the Perception Search 13, Heritage Redfish 12, and Ocean Kayak Caper. Ideally you want something about 12 - 14 feet in length.
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 (below) is an ideal fishing kayak for many situations.
Your weight also affects what kind of kayak you’ll want to get. Each manufacturer puts a weight capacity rating on the boat, so you’ll have to figure your weight plus the weight of the boat and all your gear. There are a lot of “big boy” kayaks on the market now, such as the Malibu X-factor and the Ocean Kayak Prowler Big Game, so there is truly a kayak out there for everyone.
Many beginners want a “stable” boat. I don’t think this is the right attitude to take and let me explain why. While nobody wants to swim when they could paddle, the tippiness that you typically find when you get into a kayak for the first time typically doesn’t last very long. After a short while in your new kayak, you’ll find your balance. It will become second nature and before long you won’t even think about it. However, if you’re 150 lbs and get something as stable as a Prowler Big Game, you’re going to regret it as soon as you are comfortable with your stability and are looking for speed.
Many people purchase the wrong kayak because it is short and will fit in the back of their truck. Or it is lightweight on land. This is the wrong way to look at it. You want to get the kayak that fits your fishing style, not the 5 minutes you spend moving it around on land. You can always get a cart if needed. If you buy a 9 foot kayak because it’s lightweight and easy to transport and try to do a 12 mile bay trip with it, you probably won’t stick with kayak fishing very long.
I mention price last because it’s the most controversial. Obviously not everyone can afford a Kaskazi Dorado, even though they’re nice boats. There are two schools of thought on this. The first is that if you can’t afford to buy the right kayak, save your money until you can afford to. This thought has merit in that if you buy the wrong kayak, you may not like it and an inexpensive kayak like the Pelican 116DLX won’t have the same resale value that a Search 13 may have. I tend to believe the opposite. Buy what you can afford. If you are a diehard fisherman like I am, you’ll put up with some discomfort in an effort to catch that trophy. If all you can afford is a Pelican or a Frenzy, buy it and make short trips. Get the hang of it and when you can afford to, get the boat that best fits your style. But most importantly, get on the water and catch some fish.
Fish really don't care which kayak you choose. Here an angler catches a nice redfish using an inexpensive Pelican 116DLX.
And here’s a final note. Most reputable shops will have demo days where you can try various kayaks. This is a great opportunity to try a number of different models before you buy. A lot of times you’ll find that what you thought you wanted wasn’t actually the kayak for you.