By Jerry White
Since you're reading this article you're obviously interested in the sport of kayak fishing. Chances are that you already fish. Good news, almost everything you currently use to go fishing can be used or adapted to work from a kayak. But if you currently fish from a power boat you will have to give up some things. Yeah, gotta give up those boat loan payments, insurance premiums, maintenance bills, storage and launch fees. I think this is a sacrifice you can deal with though - be strong. You still need a kayak though. So, let the journey begin.
Learn about the sport:
The information highway can lead you to some pretty secluded waters too. While cruising the Internet, if you phrase the questions properly when you search, you can find enough information to quickly overwhelm you. A great way to start is to search by typing "kayak", "fishing", and "your_state" or "your_favorite_fish_to_target". Often you'll find that kayak fishing clubs have already been established in your area, kayak fishing guide services are available to take you to your target species, and discussion forums are buzzing with curious folks like you, as well as seasoned veterans sharing advice. All of these things are available to you long before you ever buy a kayak. But soon you'll have a good idea what successful kayak anglers are using - and why. As you unearth all this information you'll also find a lot of self-professed experts. Listen to them and learn from their experiences. This is a relatively new sport, but you'll find that most who participate are very passionate about it. They may not offer up their "honey holes" but they aren't shy about sharing general locations for launching, and tips about gear. And man, do these folks take pride in their kayaks ! Most fishing kayak owners consider the kayak they own to be the best on the market, and they are correct. The fishing kayaks on the market today normally are available in "angler" versions (rigged, just add water) or stock versions (you rig it). As a result, paddle casters often rig their boats to fit their individual personal needs and wants. And, in the end, THAT is what makes the best fishing kayak.
Be honest about your goals:
Will you be fishing fresh water, salt water, farm ponds, huge lakes, slow moving rivers, offshore, warm water, or cold water, launching through the surf, or from a dock, or a tiny opening in the shoreline, or a combination of all of these ? Will you be content with taking minimal gear, or will you sometimes want to take a family camping ? Start your journey with the end in mind, and that will help narrow the list of choices. Once you whittle your list down, certain types of fishing kayaks will begin to emerge from the crowd. One of those is yours.
Speed versus stability, length versus width, and other trade-offs:
This is battle of good and evil, so to speak. Longer kayaks are normally faster than shorter ones. Wider kayaks are normally more stable than narrower ones. Kayaks that have some "rocker" (upswept bow) do well in waves and current but not as well on flat water. Don't blame the manufacturers. Blame the laws of physics that pertain to all things that float. Often, new paddlers realize that the boat that seemed stable in the beginning soon appears to be slow. That's because the paddlers balance and confidence improved with experience - they're simply getting better at the sport. It's like learning to ride a bike. So, as you test kayaks, keep in mind that over time your abilities will improve.
Inside or on top:
Most kayak anglers prefer the sit-on-top variety of kayak. This allows them to easily add accessories, and also enables them to get out and wade. However, this can be a wet ride at times. So, some choose to fish from "cockpit" style kayaks, which are basically a traditional sit-inside kayak with a much larger cockpit opening. The cockpit boats are great when fishing cold water, and can be a much drier ride. And, since you're actually down inside the boat, your center of gravity is lower, and stability is often improved. But, being down inside a boat of this type makes it harder to get out should you decide to wade.
Consult the experts, try before you buy:
Seek out a kayak shop in your area, ask some questions and advice, and take a test paddle in as many kayaks as you can, even ones that you don't think you'd like. Many kayak dealers will allow you to rent a kayak and then apply all or part of that fee toward a new kayak. It's hard to make an informed decision about what fishing kayak is best for you based on a short paddle or simply the opinions of others. These dealers can often provide a class about paddling technique as well. Even though your goal is to fish, you still need to get there in the most efficient way possible. Another fantastic way to really see what kayak fishing is all about is to hire a guide. This will be money well spent for a number of reasons. The guide will put you in a kayak rigged to make fishing as easy and efficient as possible for a beginner. They can give you all the tips you need for having a safe and productive day on the water. Normally it's their gear you'll be using, so you don't have to worry about dunking your favorite reels. Most importantly, they want to enable you to catch some fish. After all, that's what this is about anyway.
Transportation and storage:
Once you finally decide on which kayak is right for you, you'll need to figure out a way to get it home. The dealer where you make your purchase will probably carry whatever you'll need to load it on your car or truck - they really want you to be able to get it out of their showroom. I made a rack for my truck using materials found at a home improvement store for about $80. There are also many companies that sell via mail-order and the Internet. Search and you shall find. Once you get it home, you'll need to figure out a good place to store it. Since most people don't want a plastic coffee table that's 14 feet long, the new addition to the family will probably sleep outside or in the garage. Once again, the Internet will be valuable here. There are numerous storage solutions out there. Just always remember that plastic doesn't like prolonged direct sunlight and heat. Most kayak manufacturers will offer storage suggestions either on their websites or it will be included in their warranty packet. I keep a pair of my boats on my truck rack at all times. You just never know when you'll have a few extra minutes to go wet a line. Plus, it makes my truck easy to find in a crowded parking lot at the mall.