Easing along the bank of one of Jordan’s big “creeks” a few years ago, my rod bowed over suddenly as I passed a grassbed, and I quickly set my paddle aside to fight what turned out to be a three-pound largemouth. Holding my rod high, I reached down a few inches from my seat and plucked the fat fish from the water and immediately released her, glancing quickly over my shoulder.
The anglers I was sharing this creek with that day had caught the action, however, and eased their bass boat over.
“Nice fish” said one.
“Thanks,” I replied expansively.
“Where your cannons?”
He was referring to the Jolly Roger I was flying at the stern. My craft was laden with all manner of fishing and camera gear, rods and gear arms poking out everywhere, but I had no cannons aboard.
“No room,” I grinned. “I just fly the flag to let everyone know I’m serious.”
They laughed and wished me good luck, and I returned the salute sans gunpowder.
Such is life at the helm of a well-appointed fishing kayak. Though the boat I was using that day was a festive lime green, there was nothing Bud Light about it. With a comfortably padded, high-back swivel seat, gear tracks for a custom lay-out, and rod holders, tackleboxes, cooler and bait bucket conveniently positioned, I wasn’t giving up much to traditional craft except horsepower. Put all that together in a stable, relatively inexpensive boat and you’re going to generate a bit of interest from the competition.
Indeed, kayaking may be the fastest growing segment in the fishing industry. Fishing is definitely the growth sector in the kayak industry, and is reported to be the octane in the tank of the jet-ski industry. Yes, fishing jet-skis are a thing, believe it or not.
But back to kayak fishing: Companies that do nothing but cater to kayak anglers have sprung up from the ground, and others have spun off from parent companies to meet the unique needs and demands of the sport. While some efforts are more serious than others (every kayak company thinks they make at least one “fishing kayak” now), from an angler’s perspective we are light years ahead of where we were even five years ago, and 10 years ago was a veritable Industrial Revolution compared to the turn of the century.
The interest in kayak fishing in fresh or saltwater of nearly any type comes from several different angles.
First, the entry cost is relatively low, compared to outfitting yourself with any kind of powerboat. Many folks have backed off their boating activities as the price of fuel has risen over the years, and that is just one of the ongoing costs of ownership. Fishing kayaks can run on paddle power, pedal power or—for a not insignificant investment—gas, electric or even propane power.
They can be made very stable, and many will allow you to stand in them, something that cannot be said of the typical canoe or pirogue. This stability is very important when presenting baits to fish (often done better when standing), fighting fish or landing them, and so the newer specially-designed fishing kayaks often have an edge over other small boats of traditional build.
Secondly, kayaks can be a great fit for the solo fisherman who doesn’t need a lot of space or doesn’t want to hassle with a bigger boat’s transportation, storage and maintenance. Though the trend in fishing kayaks is to load them with features which increase the weight and bulk, they are usually still manageable by one person. A trailer is highly recommended for the bigger fishing kayaks that I like, but car-topping is possible with the smallest boats, stripped down, and pickup beds are a no-brainer for the mid-sized boats.
There is, of course, also the challenge of trying something new, and this undoubtedly attracts some anglers. Kayak fishing requires some adjustments in tackle and technique, to say nothing of strategy. Some converts realize this up front, and others are caught more than a little by surprise, but almost all will catch some degree of yak-fishing fever once they start figuring out the best approaches to gear, boat rigging and fishing in this new way. The sport is addictive in the same way that turkey hunting is—there is just something about it—and it has some of the same attraction to many people as fly-fishing undoubtedly has for others. It is a sport that can be approached casually, as any sportfishing can, but there are infinite layers of finesse and detail to peel back and try to master, if you are willing.
Possibly most important, it’s almost certain that a large part of the attraction of kayak fishing is the feeling it inspires, as you are so close to the water, so close to your quarry. A kayak has you almost swimming with the fishes, and makes a bass boat feel like a Carnival cruise ship by comparison.
I have a friend who loves to hunt around any type of water. It’s an AESTHETIC, not a strategy. The slight current in a creek carrying leaves downstream, the beavers or muskrats or otters, the silence or whisper or tinkle or gurgle …. These are why I bet I can find David’s tree stand on a creek and never bother to search the other thousand acres where he could be. The type of person who wants to get his own inner Aquaman as close to the sweet or briney as he can may not be able to explain why, but he will recognize the feeling and the urge.
He’ll also tell you that he hopes his kayak will get him to places other anglers cannot reach. This has benefits in solitude, peace-and-quiet, and sometimes better fishing than among the motoring masses. The type of kayak needed for the smallest or most remote waters may not be suitable for bigger adventures and vice versa, so the angler who fishes different types of waters may find himself with several different kayaks over time, just as he uses different rods for different circumstances.
There are models suited for nearly everything from small creeks to the open ocean, so a “first kayak” should be chosen to meet the immediate and most prevalent needs, always with the idea in mind that it is really—probably—only a first. Part of the fun of kayak fishing is finding and rigging “the perfect boat” for the conditions, but the buyer wanting to leave the crowds behind must concentrate on the nimblest and lightest models and leave the bigger, plusher boats for another day. Just a word of warning.
If you think kayak fishing might be for you, now’s the time to test some boats out at local dealers. On-the-water demos begin in late spring and can be arranged through local dealers, and summer sales and end-of-season clearances are things to look forward to now. Take your time and think through what you want and need in small fishing boat, and try to find the kayak that makes the best match. If you leave yourself some time for research before you buy and some budget for rigging the boat after, your first fishing kayak could be a game-changer. It will definitely be a blast. (Cannons optional.)