July 06, 2016
The sit-on-top kayak in the 12- to 14-foot range has become the most popular paddle craft for fishing, and for good reason. These boats are stable, relatively fast, virtually unsinkable and have plenty of room to move your body while fighting a fish. Modern sit-on-tops are hollow and molded from polyethylene, with sealed holes through the hull. The deck, as it were, is above the water line, so any waves or splash-in water simply drain through scupper holes.
The standard design allows you to spin and hang your feet over the side, convenient when fighting a fish and great for getting in and out of the boat. Some anglers trick out their kayaks with rod holders, anchors, baitwells, 12-volt power for electronics, ice storage, and tackle storage. Let's look at some of the basics.
For starters, shop for a kayak that was designed with fishing in mind. One indicator is flush-mount rod holders—a good sign that the manufacturer was at least thinking about fishing. There are certainly “fishing kayaks” out there that don't come with flush mounts and some are pretty good. But if you are just starting out, stock flush mounts make sense in that you won't be tempted to drill holes for custom rod holders before you know where you want them. That said, plenty of flat deck space where custom rod holders can be mounted is important, too. There are several mountable rod holders to choose from. Scotty and Ram Mounts are a couple that come to mind.
If you are a big fella, it makes sense that you are gonna need a bigger boat. Height counts just as much if not more than weight here— comfort becomes an issue after a few hours, and when the bite is on, you don't want to be thinking about your aching back or sore keester. Conversely, if you are buying a boat for your diminutive spouse or kids, they will be able to handle a shorter, thinner boat much easier.
If your boat doesn't come with goodies like a rudder system or foot braces, does it at least make room for you to add them? I mentioned pre-set spaces for rod holders. Some boats were designed for simple accessories. For example, the Heritage Redfish 14 has a space right behind the seat that perfectly fits a standard milk crate, which can be a fantastic portable gear tote.
Kayaks with foot pedal propulsion systems are especially useful if you plan to fish afloat often in open water. The Hobie Mirage Drive and Native Propel systems are gaining fans in parts of Florida. Try one!
“Rocker” refers to the amount of curve at the stern and bow. A kayak with a sharp curve forward will turn easier than a kayak with a straight rocker that cuts the water with a pronounced “V.” Conversely, the straight rockers will track better, meaning you lose less energy when travelling long distances. Ocean paddlers like straight tracking; river paddlers need the maneuverability.
Don't leave your new boat outside in the sun. While these hulls are tough as nails on the water, the sun can slowly degrade the integrity. Garage space is best, but at least shoot for covered, off the ground, and in the shade. Building a rack from PVC pipe is a cinch.
Fishing rivers or canals but still want the freedom to delve into bigger water? A shorter kayak might be to your liking. The Coosa by Jackson Kayaks comes to mind. Designer Drew Gregory is a river angler who got to tinkering. “It's stable, like any sit-on-top designed for fishing, but it has more maneuverability due to its shorter length [11'3”],” Drew told me. But it goes further than that—rod storage inside the hull, a retractable drag chain to slow-drift rivers, and “rod stagers,” notches where a rod can rest in while you paddle.
If you're used to fishing from a canoe and just can't get past the idea of leaving the open hull design, fear not. Hybrid kayaks offer the best of both worlds: single-layer hulls with an open top like a canoe. But like the sit-on-top kayak, they offer a very low profile which allows you to cut under the wind when paddling. The Wilderness Systems Commander 140 is an example of a hybrid kayak designed for anglers. While these hybrids aren't self-bailing and therefore might not make sense to take into the ocean, they can handle just about any other kind of fishing. Because you sit lower relative to the water, these boats offer more stability. This model has running tracks along bottom that stabilize the boat for standup fishing—not something I would try on most kayaks. Probably the most obvious advantage of the hybrid design is the massive amounts of gear storage areas. Like a canoe, you can fill the wide-open bow and stern areas with more than a week's worth of camping and fishing supplies. Just remember to waterproof your gear! FS