A few years ago John Eichelsheim started paddling a kayak – and has never looked back. In this, the first of a two-parter on kayaking basics, John discusses kayak options and the main components involved in the setup.
While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve found myself spending more and more time kayak fishing over the last few years, to the point where my boat is beginning to languish in the driveway.
That’s because I not only enjoy the whole experience, but the convenience, simplicity and relatively cheap nature of kayak fishing appeals, too. It takes much less effort to get my kayak ready for a fishing session than organise and launch my trailer boat; the kayak doesn’t use petrol, just muscle power, and I can manage it by myself, launching and retrieving from pretty much anywhere there’s water access. The cleanup at the end of the day is quick and easy, too.
Most of us use sit-on-top roto-moulded polyethylene kayaks for fishing: they are tough, cheap to buy, stable in the water, and available in dozens of different lengths, brands and models.
Quite a few are designed specifically for fishing, but most sit-ontop kayaks can be used to fish from at a pinch. In general, longer boats take less effort to paddle and track straighter, while wider boats are more stable – an important attribute in a fishing kayak. Kayaks designed for fishing tend to be a compromise between length and beam. They’re usually between 3.5m and 4.5m long, with hull sections that provide maximum lateral stability.
All the big kayak brands offer useful fishing models: Ocean Kayak, Viking, Cobra, Hobie, Phoenix and others. Many have built-in tackle storage, provision for fish-finders, rod holders, removable pods to store the catch, bait-boards and more. Some will accept sails or pedalpowered propulsion units. Electric propulsion is also an option for many fishing kayaks.
There is a raft of cheap boats of varying quality imported from Asia and plenty of used kayaks on the secondhand market, sometimes sold with everything you could possibly need for kayak fishing.
I own two kayaks, one larger, more expensive and considerably better equipped than the other. While the larger of the two certainly offers superior speed, sea-keeping, stability and ease of paddling, I find myself regularly using the smaller kayak because it’s easier to manage. It still paddles well and is quite safe in most sea conditions, but unlike the larger, heavier boat, I can easily lift it on and off the roof of my car for transport.
The larger ’yak is several kilos heavier and almost a metre longer, making it more of a challenge. The recent purchase of a high-roofed SUV has made getting the kayak on and off the roof even more of a mission – I’m not getting any younger.
To make life easier, I bought a height-adjustable, pivoting T-bar arrangement that clamps onto the car’s tow ball and cantilevers the ’yak onto the roof, but it’s a bit of a rigmarole to fit and tricky to use.
Convenience and simplicity are among the things that drew me to kayak fishing, which is why I so often choose the smaller, lesswell-equipped kayak.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say you don’t need to spend top dollar on a fishing kayak with all the bells and whistles to enjoy kayak fishing. A simple boat, simply equipped, is quite adequate for most coastal fishing and will get you onto plenty of fish.
It’s nice to have a fancy boat, but it won’t necessarily catch you more fish, and anyway, you can always add accessories or upgrade your ’yak at a later date. It’s possible to get a decent, safe boat that’s ready to fish for around $1000, and pay even less for a secondhand model which may already be very well equipped.
Investing in a good quality paddle is money well spent. Most budget kayaks are sold with very basic paddles, but a few dollars more will buy you a paddle that’s more efficient and nicer to use.
Weight is a factor, especially if you paddle for long distances. I own two paddles, but tend to use just one: a better quality paddle with a carbon composite shaft. It is lighter and seems to paddle better than the basic paddle that came with my smaller boat.
A comfortable seat is the key to enjoyable kayak fishing. Here again I’ll contrast the two kayaks I own, one of which retailed for more than twice as much as the other when new.
The seat on my Ocean Kayak Prowler 4.3 is integral to the boat. The seat base is nylon-covered, high-density neoprene, contoured and quite thick. The padded seat back has an anodised aluminium backing plate and is adjustable for height and rake; I can sit in this seat for six hours or more with minimal discomfort. And much better kayak seats are now available.
My budget Phoenix kayak is equipped with a much more basic drop-in seat with minimal padding on the base and a seat back that relies on four adjustable straps for support. The seat attaches to the kayak via clips on the ends of these straps. Although basic, the seat is actually quite comfortable, but my butt starts to feel numb after three to four hours in the saddle.
Back support is critical, because without it your lower back quickly becomes tired and sore.
Some kayaks have rudders and some don’t. A rudder is nice to have but not essential, especially if your boat is less than 4m in length. A rudder certainly makes it easier to keep a kayak on track and makes longer boats much easier to manoeuvre.
My small 3.6m boat doesn’t have a rudder, but I don’t really miss it. It was manufactured so that a rudder assembly can bolt straight on, but so far I haven’t felt any pressing need to go out and buy one. The only time I wish I had one is when there’s wind and sea on the beam, pushing the boat off line, which I guess is reasonably often. To keep the boat headed in the right direction means applying more force with one paddle than the other, and that can become tiresome, but it’s never greatly impacted on my fishing pleasure.
If you regularly paddle long distances, a rudder is a sensible choice, allowing you to steer the boat without having to vary the amount of effort applied to one paddle or another. My 4.3m boat is much easier to manage with the rudder in the down position than with the rudder up, and most boats of this length or longer are sold with a rudder.
Most sit-on-top fishing kayaks weigh around 30kg plus – more if fitted with a lot of gear. So, if transporting the kayak on your vehicle’s roof, it can be a challenge to lift a long, bulky 30kg-plus object over your head by yourself. The taller your vehicle, the more difficult it becomes.
Fortunately, there are several mechanical devices to make this easier, including simple roof-rack side extensions against which you rest one end of the kayak while lifting the other end onto the roof. I have a clever swinging T-bar pole that clamps onto my tow ball, allowing me to cantilever my kayak over the tailgate of my SUV and onto the roof.
Kayaks are usually stripped of fishing gear and equipment to make them lighter before loading onto the roof. They need to be rigged waterside before use and de-rigged again before reloading onto the roof, all of which takes up fishing time.
The best solution is a dedicated kayak trailer. A trailer can transport your kayak fully loaded and ready to fish. The low-loading deck makes launching and retrieving easy, and some custom trailers can transport two kayaks or more.
Getting the ’yak from the vehicle/trailer to the water is most often accomplished using a trolley. Trolleys are easy to fit and easy enough to use. Many have wide wheels to cope with soft sand, and the better ones can be broken down at the water’s edge and stowed inside the kayak’s front hatch.
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