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I began fishing from a kayak 14 years ago and have enjoyed it over the years.  Sure, I love getting out in my Yar-Craft with Mercury Verado engine, but, there are areas that just aren’t appropriate for a boat like that.  And, there are times when being out in one of my Jackson kayaks is just what my mind, body and spirit need.

When giving my kayak fishing talks at shows and fishing clubs, the first thing I talk about is what kayak and paddle are right for “you”.  There are two primary types of kayaks. One is the traditional sit-in kayak and the other, the sit-on-top kayak made popular over the past decade or so for angling.  Fishing from a sit-in kayak can be great, but, you are limited on space for gear and sitting so low in the kayak, the lip of the cockpit can impede casting and reeling.  Some of the companies do have sit-in kayaks that have a very large cockpit opening like the Jackson Kilroy. This style kayak offers more storage and rigging options than a traditional sit-in kayak. 

Most kayak anglers prefer a sit-on-top kayak, which, offers a number of advantages over a sit-in.  The seat is on top of the deck, so you will be sitting higher, an advantage for fishing. Seats like Jackson’s new Elite and Ergo designs have you sitting higher, and, while fishing the seat can be adjusted even higher.  At the end of the day the Elite and Ergo seats can also double as a comfortable chair as you relax by the fire and reflect on the day of fishing. Recently, I had a chance to ask Damon Bungard, Product Development Manager at Jackson Kayak, a few questions.  One was related to the Elite and Ergo seats, compared to seats that sit right on the floor of the kayak. Bungard tells me, “Early sit-on-top kayaks weren’t made for standing and sight casting with getting up from a seated position that low is challenging and straining on the back and legs.  By raising the seat up to a more normal chair height, you are more able to engage the powerful muscles in your thighs to transition from seated to standing”. Along with more comfort and back support, I can tell, even if not needing to stand, the higher seat position enhances the fishing experience.

A very important feature of sit-on-top kayaks is how much easier they are to get in and out of compared to sit-in kayaks.  Most of us get in our kayaks in shallow water and with a sit-on-top, just sit on the seat and swing your legs in. I, like most have flipped a sit-in while trying to get in or out.  This is not an enjoyable way to start or end an outing. At many of the paddle sports shows, I’ve talked with many non-anglers who have knee or back problems, or just getting a little older and don’t move quite as well.  Sit-on-tops are perfect for this group who still want to kayak. 

Storage is always a concern for an angler with all that gear.  With a sit-on-top there’s storage in the tankwell in front of you and plenty of accessible storage behind the seat.  Popular with anglers is putting a milk crate style storage unit with extra rod holders attached in the storage area behind the seat.  Most sit-on-top fishing kayaks have flush mount rod holders on each side behind the seat, another very nice feature. Almost all fishing kayaks come with a track system to attach a plethora of optional items like extra rod holders, locator, anchor trolley, camera mount and more.  I’ve especially liked using a RAM Mount unit for my camera to get nice pictures of those big smallmouth bass. Along with the many kayak accessories that RAM Mounts has developed, I use their external rods holders to compliment the flush mount rod holders that come with my Jackson kayaks.  

What length kayak to get is always a big question.  In my experience, I feel many buy fishing kayaks that are too short.  My suggestion is if you are only going to be fishing small rivers, something in the 10’ to 11’ range is ok, but, if you plan to fish rivers and lakes, I would highly suggest looking at kayaks in the 11’ to 13’ category.  If you are only going to do lakes, you can even think longer, up to 15’. The shorter kayaks will be more maneuverable, but slower. Longer kayaks are faster and track better. Personally, I prefer longer sit-on-top kayaks, with my favorite being the Jackson Kraken 13.5, which is only 30” wide, yet very stable.  This boat will handle every situation I fish, with the possible exceptions of that very small creek. When I’m on the bigger waters of Door County, WI, I use both the Kraken 13.5 and 15.5. On the waters I fish, I don’t want to, or need to stand for my fishing.  However, many anglers do want to stand while fishing and most kayak companies have developed kayaks that making standing very easy and safe. These sit-on-top kayaks will have a pontoon style hull and will be wider in the 32” to 35” range. Jackson Kayak was one of the first to design this type kayak with its Coosa and Cuda series.  They’ve added the Cuda HD, Liska and Mayfly to this line-up the past two years.

The more recent fishing kayak twist that has become extremely popular is the self-propelled kayak.  Again, most of the top companies have added one or two such boats to their line-up. Most have a pedal system that turns a propeller situated below the hull.  I wrote an article on this subject a few years ago and noted the Merriam-Webster definition of a kayak, “a long narrow boat that is pointed at both ends and that is moved by a paddle with two blades”.  Well, I guess the new self-propelled kayaks would still qualify, as an angler still needs that paddle for quicker movements while fishing. In that article I noted that I’d decided to be a “paddle” kayak angler, with one of the benefits I love being the “exercise” component to my kayak fishing. 

I still love paddling for most of my kayak fishing, but, more and more I’m seeing a place for the self-propelled boats.  Especially when having to cover several miles of water to get to a favorite spot, having to paddle longer distances to get to a variety of spots and when paddling into a stiff wind.  Also, if you enjoy trolling, as many of our Lake Michigan salmon anglers do, or slowly fishing a shoreline as you would with a trolling motor.  All things a self-propelled kayak allow you to do.  I’ve also talked with people with arm and shoulder problems who can now give kayak fishing a try with the self-propelled boats.  I plan to continue to paddle for much of my fishing, but, I’ve become very excited about the Jackson Coosa FD, which I will be using for the first time this season on Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Jackson’s new Flex Drive System offers forward and reverse operation and includes a unique articulating system for deep and shallow water navigation. A dagger board protected tri-blade propeller combined with articulation gives the Flex-Drive a performance increase over other drives and helps with keeping the system clear of obstacles and easy to clean.  Very exciting for those who love the self-propelled movement, will be the ability to upgrade the Coosa FD to a new motor drive system available later this year.

Another question I asked Bungard was what goes into developing a new kayak at Jackson.  He said, “We design products to solve real world problems. For us to justify a new design, we have to define a need”.  A great example of this is the new Jackson Mayfly. Fishing kayaks on the market, including Jackson’s have features that snag piled fly line.  So, Jackson designed a completely snag free kayak to address this problem. Jackson took a little longer designing its Flex Drive system. Damon told me, “Jackson’s patented Flex Drive pedal drive system was developed to address problems with existing pedal drives on the market.  Primarily, their cumbersome nature and challenges beaching and launching. By developing a system with an articulating dagger board for the prop, Jackson solved the beaching and launching problem, and made cleaning the prop very easy”. He also pointed out, “We moved all the gearing above the waterline, and made the head unit detachable.  Doing so reduces the risk of water intrusion and allows for human powered and electric driven motor”. 

When I talk with potential kayak anglers, after asking what type of fishing and where they plan to fish, I always ask them how they plan to transport their fishing kayak.  Many have thought about it, but, many have not. Most traditional sit-on-top kayaks are going to weigh 65 to 90 pounds without the seat. And, self-propelled boats will weigh closer to 100 or more pounds.  With kayak fishing and kayaking in general taking off, all the top companies have developed great roof rack systems, some with assisted lifts from the side of a vehicle. If you have a truck, you’re all set and can put the kayak in the bed and if your kayak is longer, attach an extension that fits in a trailer hitch. There’s something out there for everyone. In 2010 I began using the Malone MicroSport trailer. This has made the transport of my fishing kayaks extremely easy, and, in many cases, it is so nice to just back the trailer to the water at a ramp and slide the kayak into the water.  A few companies make a nice kayak trailer that even a small car or SUV can pull. them.  Many times, you can get close to the water, but will then need to get the kayak from the vehicle to the water.  This is when using a two-wheel cart like the Malone Nomad is perfect.

After the kayak itself, the next big question relates to your paddle.  For years I have recommended buying the lightest, most expensive paddle you can afford.  Andrew Stern, Marketing Director for Bending Branches and Aqua-Bound Paddles tells me, “Lighter paddles are less fatiguing, meaning you can enjoy our time on the water longer and feel less sore at the end of a day. The formula is one-ounce savings in a kayak paddle equates to 100 lbs. per hour you don’t have to pull around. So, a 3-ounce lighter paddle saves you 300 pounds per hour”.  From my own experience, I use the 30-ounce weight as my limit and am using paddles in the 25 to 28-ounce range. For those of you using a sit-in kayak a traditional sized blade is fine, but, for the wider, heavier fishing sit-on-tops, look to getting a paddle with an oversized blade to push your kayak even better.  Two paddles that I’ve recommended over the years for kayak fishing are the Aqua-Bound Manta Ray and Manta Ray Hybrid at $189 and $139 respectively with the weight just under and just over 30-ounces. Paddle length is also very important and is based on your height and the width of your kayak. Most outfitters can help you with this.   

When it comes to what tackle to take when kayak fishing, that’s a very individual decision and based on what type of fish we are trying to catch.  When I kayak fish, I’m chasing smallmouth bass, so, I take the same type of rods, reels and lures that I’d be using in my Yar-Craft, just not as many.  Fishing from a kayak will teach you to down-size and narrow your lure choices to those that work the best.  Just like rigging your fishing kayak, each angler will figure out what works best for them.

Safely is vital for all kayakers is to always wear your Personal Floatation Device (PFD).  Sadly, each year, we hear of accidents where a tragedy could have been avoided had the kayaker just been wearing a PFD.  For me, comfort is important, and I don’t want much padding on the back of the vest, which pushes my torso out from the seat.  Starting last year, I began using the Astral Ronnie. This affordable PFD is fully adjustable, has a few pockets on the front and almost no flotation material on the back making it very comfortable while fishing or just paddling for fun.  Also, if you are kayaking alone, be sure to let someone know where you are and when you plan to be back. Also, for those of you fishing early and late in the season, be sure to wear proper cold-water apparel that will keep you warm and dry, just in case you have an accident and end up in the water.

Take it from me, fishing from a kayak is a great time!  I hope this article will help you in selecting the right fishing kayak, paddle and other items related to getting into this type of fishing.  When kayak fishing, even if you aren’t catching a bunch of fish, you will love being out in nature and on the water in your kayak.  And, as I said earlier sometimes this is just what the mind, body and spirit need.