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Kayak Propulsion Options: Paddle, Pedal or Power?

Paddle, Pedal or Power: What Moves You?

Fishing kayaks exploded onto the angling scene about a decade ago, and the sheer number of innovations since then is tough to keep track of. You can rig one to your specific needs and desires, no limits. Ultimately, fishing consumers wanted a more affordable personal watercraft with all the same—or nearly the same— bells and whistles an angler demands on larger gas-powered fishing boats.

Recently, kayaks have become more angler-friendly putting the portable boats in high demand. What makes them “angler- friendly?” Largely, the ability to customize and personalize is a very attractive component, but more importantly being able to operate them hands-free is a key to catching and staying on fish.

Originally, and early in the fishing-kayak craze, a paddle was the primary source of propulsion. Fishing requires intentional multitasking and attention to many details, especially boat control. Being able to effectively wield a rod-and-reel, make bait changes, tie knots and accurately place casts is critical to kayak- angling success. Those requirements have spawned a number of electric-motor and pedal drive innovations worth the attention and investment of any serious kayak angler.

Some drive systems can be mounted on various kayaks, but many drives must be paired with their unique rotomolded counterpart. In other words, some boats are designed to be propelled with an exclusive drive system. Let's dig in.


For those who prefer to paddle, there are plenty of options regarding boats, and paddles too. The Old Town Sportsman series has several models that are paddle- driven only, yet still offer ample customization options. Most would agree the paddle option reaches deep into the organic roots of kayak fishing, and those who prefer that method of propulsion will go out of their way to find the most technologically advanced—or traditional—paddle on the market. And as you'd expect paddles are not all created equal. Ultimately, it comes down to comfort and the required effort to get from here to there.

Picking a paddle for you kayak is an important decision, particularly so if this will be your main method of propulsion.

If you will be paddling consistently, investing in a quality carbon- fiber shaft paddle ($150-$300) is very much worth it. After a few long trips, the 6 to 12 ounces of weight savings over cheaper aluminum paddles will be much appreciated. Optimal paddle length—measured in centimeters—is basically determined by your height, but boat width must also be considered. Manufacturers offer sizing charts, but it's wise to discuss your objectives with an informed salesperson at a local kayak shop. “High-angle” blade styles, with broad faces to generate thrust, are commonly used with heavy fishing kayaks, but there may be an argument for other types, depending on your mission.


Paddles are fine. But somewhere along the line an angler got tired of fighting a continually drifting boat with a paddle before, during and after the cast. Enter the pedal-drive systems. While virtually all fishing kayaks can be adequately propelled with a paddle, now most alternative drives are pedal-powered. That means the user can drive the kayak in forward and reverse almost completely


Silent, hands-free propulsion via the MirageDrive pedal system keeps anglers on the fish—and the paddle mostly on the rack.

Hobie made a big splash in the fishing- kayak scene early on with the revolutionary MirageDrive. It was cool, and most folks couldn't imagine anything better. Well, as things typically go, innovations exploded and lots of different options became prevalent. Speaking of Hobie, let's start with their new and highly engineered drive system.


Paddles are fine, pedals are fine—but if you're done messing around and want to get from here to there as quickly and as easily as possible, there are options for you, too. There are several great electric propulsion devices available that come exclusively with certain kayak brands, but also a couple after-market motors that can be rigged on various kayak brands to maximize the time you spend covering water looking for active fish.

If you're looking for a completely hands-free experience, an electric drive might be the most appealing option.

Just understand the overall price tag will likely go up over $1,500 to $3,000, and you'll be adding weight and accessories—including a substantial battery— to the boat that will make it heavier and more complicated. I'll be the first to say it's worth it and takes the experience up another notch.


Perhaps you already have a paddle- driven kayak and want to add an electric motor to the mix. You don't necessarily need to buy an entirely new rig, rather consider the option of an externally mounted motor. There are stern and bow-mount options. The challenge will be rigging. If that's something you're comfortable doing, more power to you. If not, it might be wise to contact a kayak or boat rigging professional.


None of the above electric-motor discussion matters without an adequate power source. A standard 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery will suffice for most mild-use scenarios but they're heavy. With the advancements in lithium platforms, the longterm power options are extremely reliable—and lightweight. Lithium batteries are pretty expensive, but when you consider the validity of a long-term investment, like that of Dakota Lithium— backed by an 11-year warranty—the up-front cost makes a lot of sense. Dakota Lithium offers two batteries proven to stand up to the task. There are other makes out there, too.


The right choice of kayak all comes down to personal preference and how you plan on using it.

This all comes down to personal preference. If you enjoy the organic experience that comes with paddling from spot to spot and letting nature dictate where the wind may direct, that's perfect. But maybe you're a hardcore bass angler looking to get into tournaments and covering as much water as possible—in which case an electric trolling motor or pedal drive might be your thing. Also, perfect.

Regardless, you can do it your way—and that's the ultimate beauty of your drive selection. What moves you is up to you. So, move it, and get to propelling your kayak passion to full power. KFF

Want more kayak content?

For the full story and a list of propulsion gear, order your copy of Kayak Fishing Fun, or pick it up from a newsstand near you.

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