Things to Think About When Selecting a Kayak

I am not an expert on kayaks. I did put a lot of thought into purchasing a kayak a number of years ago, and I am often asked about kayak selection criteria. I’ve fished a lot from my kayak, and have determined that some of my initial criteria were good, others not so good. The first step in the process is to determine what kind of fishing you will be doing from your kayak. If you’re out in California and paddling out to fish the kelp beds, I can’t really provide any useful information. If you’re interested in fishing coastal shallows, the information below should be useful. I use my kayak to fish shallow saltwater flats (and occasionally freshwater ponds and lakes). Here are the questions to answer when selecting a kayak:

What distances do you intend to paddle? I typically paddle away from the launch point for a while (20 minutes is typical) before starting to fish. I do this because I don’t like to fish around areas with boating/kayak traffic, and to get to areas that receive less pressure. Why is this important? The longer distance you typically paddle, the longer and more streamlined you want your kayak to be. If, as you paddle, the kayak’s bow swings from side to side, you are wasting a lot of paddling effort. In general, the longer the kayak the more your paddling effort goes toward pushing the kayak forward (less wasted energy). I’ve fished with friends who have shorter kayaks, and if we paddle a moderate distance to and from the launch point they are typically more tired than I am at the end of the day.

Do you intend to stand to fish? I often will stand in my kayak, using the paddle as a push pole, This is a great, stealthy way to sight fish for redfish and snook that are laid up on shallow sand flats. Many kayaks are stable enough that they are pretty easy to stand up in. For other kayaks you need to rig or purchase an outrigger system that makes the kayak more stable. Although I am able to stand in my kayak, it’s only barely stable enough, so I made a small, detachable outrigger system with PVC pipe and Styrofoam floats. The materials cost less than $20.

Do you plan to fish in areas where kayak position is important? For example, do you think you’ll be fishing along shorelines, or casting to cover along shorelines? I fish a lot along mangrove shorelines, casting into the cover provided by the mangrove branches that hang over the water. It’s important for me to keep the kayak in the correct position relative to shore (the correct distance, the kayak parallel to the shoreline). To control position, when I purchased the kayak I had the shop install a rudder that I can raise and lower. Using the foot pedal controls, I can steer the kayak left or right as needed. If I can get a drift going with the wind and/or current, I can stay parallel to shore at the desired distance. The rudder also helps to keep course when paddling in windy conditions. If it’s not windy, I usually paddle with the rudder in the up position because the rudder does create noticeable drag. If you fish in situations where you are casting to open areas or drifting across open areas, then a rudder is probably not necessary.

Does the kayak contain sufficient dry storage space? My kayak has two hatch covers that provide access to plenty of space to store things I don’t want stored on the surface. I still put need-to-stay-dry things in dry bags, but storing them in the kayak is a grat way to make sure they stay dry and to keep the items out of the way. Dry storage space is also great if you plan to make longer trips and for keeping water containers out of the sun. If you only do short trips in fair weather, then dry storage is probably not that important.

Does the kayak have sufficient topside storage space, and is the space easily accessible from your seat? How much gear do you need access to while fishing? Is there a place where you can mount a rod holder that is within easy reach from your seat? Will this rod holder location be in the way of fly fishing (will it entangle fly line)? Most kayaks have topside storage wells behind the seat. Make sure the well is large enough to hold what you need, and that you can reach it from your seat. (In most kayaks, the dry storage hatches are not easily reachable from the seat, and require stepping out of the kayak in shallow water or beaching the kayak to get access.)

Is the deck of the kayak immediately in front of the seat clear of things that will catch a fly line? While this can be overcome somewhat by spreading a towel across your lap and the adjacent deck area, you'll occasionally forget the towel, so a clear deck for fly line is essential.

How heavy a kayak will you be able to lift onto your kayak rack or into the back of the pickup, etc? The biggest drawback to my kayak is that it’s heavy (65 pounds, I believe), so not the easiest to get onto the racks on my truck at the end of the day. I do have rollers on the back rack, so I lift one end onto the rollers and then push the kayak up from the other end.

What kind of launch locations will you primarily be using? Easy, shallow-sloping shorelines close to parking or loading/unloading places are the best case scenario. In these cases, heavier kayaks are no big deal. But if you have to carry your kayak any distance or launch off rocky or steep shorelines, a lighter kayak is advantageous. In general, you’ll pay more for a lighter kayak. If you have more than a short distance from the loading to launch location, it may be worthwhile to purchase a set of wheels, available at most kayak shops.

Might you fish in windy conditions? If so, avoid kayaks with high bows. A friend has a nice kayak, but the bow is a bit high and he has a tough time keeping course on windy days.

Get the lightest, best paddle you can afford. It makes a huge difference during a long day of fishing and paddling. - Get as good a seat as you can afford. Many hours of sitting in a kayak can wear you out if the seat is not good quality. Good back support and some cushioning are desired. - On the paddling stroke, remember that you are pushing with your upper hand as much as you are pulling with your lower hand, with the center of the paddle handle as the central point of rotation. If you just pull with the lower arm, you don’t get as much power and you’ll tire out faster. - I use a 4 foot section of ½” PVC as an anchor when fishing shallow water. Just shove one end into the bottom and slip a loop of line attached to the kayak over the pole.