How to select the right fishing kayak

How to select the right fishing kayak

Kayak fishing provides a cost-effective way to access good fishing locations and offers the advantage of stealth, allowing users to sneak up on fish.

Another benefit is that kayak fishing provides exercise, and in a world where our lives are often ruled by activities that involve sitting down, this can be life changing. Exercise is also the catalyst for overcoming conditions like depression, so clearly using kayaks is good for the mind, the body and the soul!

When considering the options for this exciting sport, safety on the water is paramount. The platform supporting the angler – in this case a kayak – is no different to any other vessel: it must be fit for the purpose. In all cases, whether going off-shore or staying close to the coast, it is imperative that your vessel is seaworthy enough to ensure you are able to return to land.

One of the attractions for many who are considering kayak fishing is the cost of getting fitted out, which is commonly perceived to be cheap compared to other vessels. However, this is not always the case.

Another common misconception is that any old equipment will do, including the kayak itself. This couldn’t be further from the truth, with kayaks more vulnerable to wind and water than most other vessels used on our lakes, rivers and oceans.

Part of this vulnerability comes down to an individual’s physical capabilities, but it’s not limited to that alone, with equipment also influencing how well the vessel handles different conditions. Going cheap is not always a good idea, and when getting into kayak fishing it is in your own best interests to select the best equipment.

This summer has brought yet another wave of new enthusiasts to the sport and it is great to see so many taking up the activity. Unfortunately, some of them seem to favour the cheapest prices, which leads to them purchasing from importers, straight out of the container. Most such importers have little interest in the sport, so the potential purchaser often receives poor advice in terms of equipment and operating techniques. This is of concern because many newcomers are literally throwing themselves in at the deep end, leaving them open to all sorts of issues – including those around safety.

Select for quality and buyer beware

With demand for fishing kayaks on the rise, New Zealand has seen an increasing number of imports. Often these are copies or knock-offs of reputable kayak models no longer produced by well-known manufacturers. They are usually priced well below the better-known kayak brands and as a result are attracting a number of newbies.

Many models are also supplied with rod holders fitted, giving the impression they are designed for kayak fishing. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. To the uneducated such kayaks may look ideal, even though the model may only be suitable for inshore ‘play’ activities.

Internet shopping has become very popular, but it is not wise to purchase solely through the web, although the platform is invaluable for research purposes. Be skeptical of claims made on websites when it comes to products as some can be misleading, with the owners publishing details designed to persuade shoppers to buy.

Obviously, when browsing the you lack the ability to gauge a product’s quality first-hand, and you also miss out on any sort of personal interaction with the seller. Specialist stores will display details at their premises and share personal experience, unlike a number of importers who sell cheap kayaks straight out of the container as fast as they can land them.

Things to consider about cheap imported kayaks are design flaws that affect performance and stability. It is likely they will not be ideally suited to New Zealand conditions and they may also have missed out on any sort of testing prior to going into production.

This country’s marine environment, above or below the water’s surface, demands respect, or it can cost you equipment or even your life. This is why purchasing good-quality well-designed kayak models is so important. If you are considering a kayak for fishing, spend the money! If finances are tight, either save up until you can buy the kayak you want, or look at secondhand options. These are much better choices than a cheap, newly-imported kayak of an unknown brand.

The well-made fishing kayak

It can be daunting choosing the right kayak for the job, especially if you have little or no experience. To assist you with making better choices, consider the following before making a purchase.

Do your homework regarding the manufacture, make, and model of kayak. This should start by checking how long the manufacturer has been producing kayaks, information which is available on the internet or through the local dealer.

I don’t advise buying from new or unknown operators offering limited, or no warranties. For example, if a kayak comes with a warranty of one to three years, it’s likely its lifespan will be limited. This type of warranty rings alarm bells for me because it’s highly likely they have used much less UV stabiliser in the plastic used to manufacture the kayak than is found in a kayak with a lifetime warranty.

Then there are issues of parts and spares availability. Cheap imports often suffer from a higher rate of breakages due to low quality fittings. A visitor to my kayak fishing store in Coromandel showed me his imported kayak which had suffered damage to every single rod holder. Not only had they lasted for less than six months, the cost to replace them with decent ones would amount to half the new price of the kayak! The whole ordeal could have been avoided in the first place by selecting a decent-quality product.

Inspect the kayak thoroughly, looking for manufacturing flaws. Start by checking the plastic on the kayak for soft spots, as this can indicate uneven molding or using too little plastic during manufacturing. A kayak might be advertised as a light kayak that’s easier to load on the car, but a kayak is only lighter if it is smaller, or less plastic has been used to build it.

Some further investigation of the kayaks’ strength will indicate if the plastic is thin. Try pushing on various parts of the kayak, starting on the deck side. Look for areas that are easy to push in and any flex in the seating and cockpit area. On the hull side do the same and check the keel on the rear for flex. If it’s easy to push or flex the keel, the plastic is thin, making the kayak vulnerable to splits and holes as it wears from being dragged up the beach. Some brands of kayak provide a replaceable wear strip at the rear part of the keel which, is a good option.

Something else to pay particular attention to are the scupper holes. Again, look for soft plastic, especially in areas close to the hull and deck. If it seems thin or soft, avoid the kayak as it’s likely the plastic will suffer fatigue over time, causing the plastic to split.

Look at the overall finish of the hull, which should be flawless and without pinholes, ripples or any distortions in the surfaces. Any flaws will most likely affect the performance of the kayak. Rough or undulating surfaces produce drag that will slow the kayak.

Hatches offering access into the hull can allow water to enter the kayak so make sure they are good quality products that seal correctly. You can test this in the shop by pressing down on the plastic around the hatch area. This compresses the air inside the hull and it will always look for a place to escape, which will be the hatch if it doesn’t seal.

The hatch should also have solid attachments with a system that locks the hatch down securely. Hatch openings that are on an angle or positioned vertically are also more likely to let water enter the hull after capsize. Angled and vertical hatches need to be well secured to prevent them opening by accident.

Look at how any fittings above deck are attached to the kayak and establish if they are strong enough to stay firmly fastened over time. Manufacturers use various systems to attach deck fittings. Threaded brass inserts moulded into the hull during manufacturing are by far the best system, offering solid attachment points to bolt onto and 100% water tightness.

Bolts with Nyloc nuts also provide a solid fastening system, as long as they have a washer with a rubber seal. These are limited to areas with below-deck access, so you can tighten them. Rubber well nuts can be used where there is no under-deck access. They provide a water-tight seal, although they can pull out under extreme pressure.

Rivets also providing a solid, permanent fastening but they cannot be undone to fit a replacement part.

The last type of fastening used by some manufacturers is the self-tapping screw, which can provide a reasonable attachment when used correctly, but they can pull out over time, especially if used with fittings like carry handles. Like a bolt and nut, they don’t provide a totally water-tight seal and so will need a rubber washer to seal them.

The other pitfall with self-tapping screws is the sharp end that is exposed inside the hull. These can cause problems when storing things like camping gear inside the kayak. They can easily puncture items like dry bags.

Fittings like flush-mounted rod-holders that require cutting into the hull to install also need a seal to make them watertight. An adhesive gasket made from Eva foam is best, as this will fill any gaps between uneven surfaces of the hull and holder. Silicon rubber is not ideal when sealing rod holders or hatch mounts as the silicone separates from the plastic over time.

If the kayak you are considering has satisfied your inspection, the next step is try it on the water. This will confirm whether the kayak is right for you, as every kayak has its limitations and I have yet to find one model that is perfect for all applications.

During your on-water test, take the kayak for a good paddle, not just a quick session inside a calm, sheltered bay. Try to push it into rougher water because the kayak will handle very differently when wind and chop come into play. Most dealers will assist with an on-water test at a local beach, and if they won’t, it might be better to avoid the kayak altogether or find a dealer who will accommodate you.

I cannot reiterate enough that it is best to take small steps when entering the world of kayak fishing. It is easy to overlook things when selecting a fishing kayak and being over-keen can skew the emphasis towards fishing equipment rather than getting the right kayak in the first place.

It’s also important to remember that what works for one person may not necessarily be right for another. Only by trying different models and brands of kayak will you get a handle on performance characteristics and suitability.

There are a number of purpose-built kayak fishing designs to select from. Finding the right one for you is best done through specialist kayak dealers, but not all of them are equally knowledgeable about kayak fishing. Be sure to find the right person.

There is plenty of information on the internet, including forums, which can also be useful. At the end of the day, if you’ve done your homework before taking the plunge, the kayak you buy will most likely give you years of safe, trouble-free service.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

April 2018 - Rob Fort
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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