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Choosing a fishing kayak

James Ainslie
Kayaks provide a great fishing platform for the recreational angler. They allow you to fish waters that would be impossible to access from either the shore or a larger boat. They are also very easy to transport and handle to the water. With more and more kayaks appearing on the market, the kayaking angler is now faced with a bewildering choice of boats. Following are a few pointers that should help you choose a boat that meets your needs and provides years of enjoyable fishing.


Boat Materials
Boats suitable for fishing are generally available in either plastic or fiberglass. Nothing beats plastic for durability, lifespan and low maintenance. More advanced moulding techniques are being developed every day so plastic boats are becoming much more sophisticated in shape. For these reasons, plastic boats are by far the most common on the market and we will restrict the following comments to plastic boats.

About Plastics
All good plastic boats are built from polyethylene. But not all polyethylene is the same - it varies dramatically in quality, purity and UV resistance. This is one of the main reasons why boat prices vary so much. High grade polyethylene is stiffer, more impact resistant and holds shape better. This means you end up with a boat that is more structurally sound, generally lighter (as thinner plastic can be used) and bounces back from knocks better. Cheaper boats are made of plastic that has been "cut" with another chemical, with a resultant loss in the above qualities. UV from sunlight has a damaging effect on all plastics. The solution is to add a UV stabilizer to the polyethylene. Better plastics have plenty of stabilizers added. Many cheaper versions have too little, or worse, none at all. This result is a boat that will fade in the sun, and has the potential to go brittle, crack or craze and lose its overall form over time.

Shapes and Sizes
The big question is what style of boat to choose. The short answer is that different boats are suitable for different types of fishing. Consider the following:

- Boat Length - As a general rule, a longer boat will be easier and quicker to paddle in open water. This is an advantage if out on open waters or saltwater bottom fishing, but also helps if you estuary or river fish and need to paddle against current, the running tide or longer distances. Over the course of a day, these boats are also generally less fatiguing to paddle. Longer boats are often more difficult to turn and less maneuverable in tighter waters. They are also a little heavier and more cumbersome to load and unload (especially if you are on your own).  

- Stability - Stability is critical in fishing situations. This is where the quality kayaks will be far superior. Their whole design will achieve good stability without sacrificing kayak speed or maneuverability. Good recreational boats are plenty stable enough for fishing use. However, many of these are simply wide, flat bottomed boats that sacrifice speed and paddle efficiency. A more sophisticated hull shape will offer the best of both worlds.

- Draft - This is an area many anglers fail to consider. A lot of fishing, especially in the fresh water, is done in shallow water or around obstacles like logs and rocks. For this reason, a boat that draws less water is preferable. Rudders can also be a hindrance, and can be fragile if knocked against logs, rocks etc. For this reason, many of the pontoon style paddle boats with propulsion fins are also unsuitable for lots of fishing situations.

- Buoyancy - Check the recommended weight rating of the boat. Many of the smaller boats and sit on tops have weight limits of around the 100kg mark. A lot of us, unfortunately, are on or above that mark (even if we don't want to be)! Boats paddle very poorly if you get close to the upper limit of their weight rating. As a general rule, I would try to stay below about 80% of the recommended maximum.

- Sit on Top or Enclosed
- Sit on tops are easy to get on and off, easy to hose down, and provide good open deck space and working areas. They can be quite wet and cold because you are exposed to more wind and spray. Most sit on top kayaks are self draining but this does mean you will be sitting in water most of the time. More traditional "enclosed" boats provide better shelter and more secure stowage. Most recreational boats suitable for fishing have cockpits large enough to fish from, and provide easy unrestricted exit in the unlikely event of a capsize.

- Fittings and Fixtures
- Many boats with specific "angler" setups are now available. In general, I would avoid these, as many have been designed and fitted by suppliers that have little understanding of the needs of us fishing fanatics. Things like rod holders and the like need to be well placed so as not to hinder your casting or landing your catch. Some features are moulded and cannot be customized. I would be more inclined to buy a "bare" boat, use it a couple of times, and then add aftermarket accessories to your personal preferences. With plastic kayaks this is very easy as you can attach most items using stainless screws.

- Comfort - Again, many anglers overlook this. The paddling action places stress on the abdominals, lower back, buttock, thighs and calves. This can be apparent even after a short paddle. The seating setup of a boat can have a dramatic impact on how long you can spend in your kayak in comfort and with out developing cramps or pain. (And how you feel the next morning!). Check that the seat is adjustable, preferably in both height and rake. Adjustable under-thigh support is also preferable. Most boats have adjustable footpegs, but the better ones are easily adjustable when you're on the water.

The Final Word

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things to look for. Hopefully these pointers provide food for thought for the angler looking at getting into kayak fishing. With the above hints and a little bit of investigation, you should be able to select a boat that suits your fishing style and requirements. The old "you get what you pay for" rule applies to most things, and kayaks are absolutely no different. Stick with a reputable brand from an established retail store and you should have many years of fuss free fishing.

Some interesting hybrids are currently available - Wilderness Systems offer a "Pungo" which has an enormous cockpit and is one of my favourites for those big bays and estuarys. Mad River Canoe offer a "Synergy" which is an open boat but you sit deeper and more protected than in most sit ons and is a very dry kayak to paddle. (This kayak has been designed as a specific fishing kayak and is one of the best in the market to date. A very stable craft with great features for the angler ideal for fly or soft plastic fishing). Both these kayaks provide exciting angling opportunities.

James Ainslie - Tassie Tackle and Outdoor.