Guide To Buying A Fishing Kayak

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Fishing from a kayak might not be as easy as you think. For starters, it requires organizing your supplies so that things aren’t always getting caught on one another as you’re reeling in a fish.

Kayak fishing also requires great balance and core strength. As you start going for larger fish, the effect that they can have on you and your kayak will only increase.

While stories about fish dragging kayakers miles out into the open ocean are rare, they are possible. But with the right skills, techniques, and kayak features at your disposal, you can avoid becoming front-page news.

When it comes to buying a fishing kayak, you’ll be faced with a lot of eye-catching bells and whistles. Your task will be to keep your eye on the most important considerations that will help you select a fishing kayak that suits your needs.

In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to buying a fishing kayak. We’ll also briefly define some key fishing kayak jargon and expound on some key buying mistakes to avoid.
Table of Contents

How To Identify A Fishing Kayak

Fishing kayaks are almost always more feature-laden than their recreational or whitewater kayaking counterparts. In other words, most experienced kayak anglers aren’t fishing from a “basic” kayak model.

One feature that is almost universal on fishing kayaks is rod holders. Some are mounted flush to the deck of the kayak while others can move and set at different angles.

Fishing kayaks come with different amounts and styles of rod holders, but this is a must-have feature when you’re shopping for a fishing kayak. Simply put, you need a place to store your rod when you’re paddling.

Now, there are a number of other features that will make your life easier as an angler. We’ll get to many of them in the latter sections of this article, but if a kayak doesn’t have at least one fishing rod holder, it isn’t going to serve your fishing needs very well.

Jargon Buster

As you dive deeper into our buying guide, you’ll run into a few terms that might not be familiar. So we’re going to start by defining some of the key kayak jargon you’ll need to know later in this article.

Deck

The kayak’s deck is the top area in front of, and behind, the cockpit. In many fishing kayaks, this area is used for dry or wet storage.

Keel

The keel of a kayak is a fin-like plastic component that extends down into the water from the hull of the kayak. This feature plays a role in a kayak’s stability, ability to track well, and overall speed.

Hatch Cover

A hatch cover secures a watertight compartment in a kayak. They also make the compartment accessible when you’re on the water.

But not all hatch covers truly live up to their “watertight” billing. This is why it’s so important to test a kayak before buying, and you can place a non-essential item in the kayak’s compartment to truly test how watertight it really is.

D-Rings

Usually made of stainless steel or another durable metal, D-Rings are metal loops that give you a secure place to attach accessories to your kayak.

Gunwales

The gunwales on a kayak are the sides to your left and right as you sit in the cockpit. The height of a kayak’s gunwales largely determines the amount of water that enters the cockpit.

On a fishing kayak, the gunwales are often where flush-mounted and articulating fishing rod holders are found. Many fishing kayaks also place attachment points for accessories here.

What To Know Before You Buy

Before you go down the rabbit hole of side-by-side comparisons, there are some basics that you should learn. In this section, we’ll touch on what you need to know before making a buying decision.

Length and Width Dictate Stability

The dimensions of a kayak play a large role in how that kayak feels on the water. Longer kayaks can generally achieve higher top speeds and shorter kayaks tend to be more maneuverable.

When it comes to a fishing kayak, a wider design offers more stability. But length and width also work together to dictate a kayak’s stability, not to mention the design of the keel, which we’ll touch on later.

To give an example, let’s imagine two kayaks that are both exactly 31 inches wide. One of these kayaks is just nine feet long while the other is a full 16 feet in length.

As you might imagine, the shorter kayak from this scenario is typically going to offer greater stability than the longer version. As kayaks get longer, wind and currents have a larger impact on their performance and stability.

As you begin comparing kayaks against one another, keep in mind how length and width work together to determine a kayak’s stability. For many anglers, extra width that guarantees more stability is one of the most important things they look for in a fishing kayak.

That being said, narrower and less stable kayaks tend to be easier to paddle. That’s why anglers who like to troll or want to cover a lot of distance tend to prefer this type of kayak.

Storage Should Be Secure

Anglers tend to bring a lot more on their kayak in the way of gear and supplies. From extra tackle boxes to personal gear to a cooler with lunch and beverages, anglers need ample storage space on their kayak.

But you can never quite know when you’re going to hook into a large fish and start a long fight. And when this moment comes, you don’t want half of your gear falling out of your kayak as it tips slightly.

A quality fishing kayak has multiple storage areas for your stuff. And those storage areas must be secured by either a watertight hatch cover or durable bungee deck rigging.

Bungee deck rigging is great for keeping larger items secure in the open compartments on your kayak’s deck. And watertight hatches should always be thoroughly tested before entrusting them with any valuable items that absolutely can’t get wet.

Keel Design

There are many keel designs out there depending on what the manufacturer is going for. But in fishing kayaks, we’ll largely see an integrated keel, retractable keel, or no keel at all.

The type of keel design that’s best for you depends on where you’ll do most of your fishing. For those most interested in fishing open water, deep water, or trolling, a kayak with an integrated or retractable keel is best.

This is because it will make your paddle strokes more efficient over the long run. The main benefit of a retractable keel over an integrated keel is that it can adapt if you enter shallower water and help you avoid running aground.

But if you know you’re only going to be taking your fishing kayak out in shallow, rocky streams or rivers, you’ll be best without a keel. This is also true for kayakers fishing in close quarters or those who prefer to fish primarily from a standing position.

Propulsion

Most average fishing kayaks require the use of a traditional kayak paddle to get from point A to point B. But some higher-end models offer a pedal drive propulsion system that allows you to use your legs to propel the kayak forward.

This type of fishing kayak also typically has a retractable skeg attached to the stern to help you steer. Many of these skegs have a hand control in the cockpit so you can make micro-adjustments easily.

The major benefit of a pedal drive propulsion system is to keep your hands free to manage your fishing rod. It also allows you to use the larger muscles of your legs so you don’t tire your arms out so quickly.

Pedal drive propulsion systems are also great for trolling a line behind your kayak in deeper water or in the ocean. You’ll be able to set a line and wait for a fish to bite while your kayak glides gently over the water and you appreciate the scenery.

Where pedal drive propulsion systems get tricky is when you’re primarily fishing in close quarters. It’s harder to maneuver this type of kayak quickly and the pedals underneath the kayak can run aground in shallow water.

Because they also take up a lot of space in the cockpit, they aren’t the best solution for folks that want to fish from a standing position. A kayak with a more open cockpit design would be best for this type of fishing.

Buying Guide

Sit On Top Versus Sit Inside

Sit on top kayaks tend to be more popular for saltwater and calm, flat water fishing. They give you much more room to move about in the cockpit when you’re dealing with a fish.

Sit on tops also tend to be more stable than sit insides, especially for novice and intermediate paddlers. They give you the freedom to throw a leg over the side of the kayak to counterbalance a large fish, if needed.

Most sit on top kayaks also come with self-bailing drain ports in the kayak’s hull. This allows any water that enters the cockpit to exit swiftly without building up and affecting your kayak’s performance.

This is also an essential feature if you happen to capsize, which is inherently possible when you’re concentrating on reeling in a fish. Sit on top kayaks are much easier to turn over and climb back into if they capsize, which generally makes them safer than sit insides.

However, sit inside kayaks almost always offer a drier ride than sit on tops. Because you sit down inside a cockpit and the gunwales of the kayak are higher on either side of you, less water can enter the cockpit as you’re paddling and fishing.

The trouble with many sit inside fishing kayaks is accessibility to your gear. Because they’re generally made for touring or expedition purposes, most sit inside kayaks won’t offer easy access to your tackle or gear while you’re on the water.

Accessories and Attachments

A good fishing kayak should be able to adapt as your fishing techniques and desires change. As you gain experience and learn about the different equipment that can help you be more successful, you’ll want a way to securely attach those accessories to your kayak.

Many fishing kayaks offer D-rings or mounting points where you can keep gear at the ready. This includes places to install a fish finder, attach pliers and other tools, or even install a compatible trolling motor.

It’s highly likely that how you fish now won’t be exactly how you fish a year from now. So you’ll need to carefully choose a kayak that can adapt as you gain experience and expertise.

The ability to install additional accessories and attach useful gear is a feature that most of the best fishing kayaks boast. And it’s a feature that will allow your kayak to keep working for you for years to come.

Portability

Because they boast so many features for anglers, fishing kayaks tend to be among the heavier kayak options on the market. This means that transporting them to and from your put-in locations will require a little extra thought and preparation.

If your favorite launching spot requires you to carry your kayak over a considerable distance, you should be sure to look into transportation alternatives. A heavy-duty rolling kayak cart is a great way to avoid lifting or dragging your kayak to get to the water.

If you’re looking for a fishing kayak that you can carry without a cart, you might consider a sit inside or even an inflatable fishing kayak. These tend to be much lighter and better for multi-day kayak fishing trips where you’ll need to portage a few sections.

Comfort

The importance of comfort cannot be overstated in analyzing fishing kayaks. Unlike recreational kayakers, anglers tend to spend long periods of time searching for the right fishing hole in the right conditions.

Spending more time in the cockpit of a kayak means that the seat better be comfortable. Ample padding on the seat bottom and seat back will help you avoid the discomfort that comes with sitting on a hard plastic surface for multiple hours.

If you fish in warmer, humid climates, look for a seat back with mesh netting. This type of seat back breathes much better and will help to keep your body temperature down on extra hot days.

A comfortable kayak always has a seat that you can adjust while you’re sitting in it. Most experienced anglers know that it can be hard to find just one position that’s always comfortable.

The ability to recline back or sit up straighter will allow you to adapt to how your body feels on the water. Being able to make these micro-adjustments is often the difference between extending your fishing session or feeling like it’s time to go home because you’re so uncomfortable.

Also on the comfort note, a quality fishing kayak should either have multiple molded-in footwells or adjustable foot braces. Both of these options are great for paddlers of varying heights.

What they do is allow you to push against a hard surface as you paddle and keep your knees slightly bent. In doing so, you’ll be able to engage your core muscles and maintain a more ergonomic paddling position.

Over the course of a full day on the water, the ability to engage your core to help you propel your kayak will greatly reduce fatigue on your arms and shoulders. Again, this feature will keep you more comfortable so that you can extend your fishing sessions.

Buying Mistakes To Avoid

When it comes to buying a great fishing kayak, it’s just as helpful to know what NOT to look for as it is to know what TO look for. In this section, we’ll cover a few mistakes to avoid when buying a fishing kayak.

Not Sampling Your Choices

A good kayak retailer will allow you to ‘test drive’ the kayak you’re interested in buying before finalizing your purchase. As a kayak angler, you’ll be spending a lot of time in your new watercraft, so testing before buying is key.

Think of it a little bit like purchasing a new car. You probably wouldn’t hand over your money before you’ve had a chance to see how it actually feels to sit behind the wheel.

Take that same thought process into buying a fishing kayak. If you haven’t actually been on the water in the kayak you’re buying, how can you be sure it’s going to be comfortable and suit your needs?

With today’s online economy, it’s a great practice to head into a retail shop to sample a few different models to see what feels best. Then, you can head home and do some price shopping online to see where you can get the best deal.

In some cases, you might even be able to go back to your local retailer and see if they’d be willing to reduce their price to match what you’ve found online. This is an option to help you get a better price while still supporting your local economy.

Going Cheap On Your Paddle

Despite the fact that you’ll probably be spending most of the time in your kayak with a fishing rod in your hands rather than a paddle, you’ll still need to navigate efficiently to get to your favorite fishing holes.

A quality paddle is an easy thing to overlook when buying a fishing kayak. But spending a little extra on one of the best kayak paddles will prevent your paddle from breaking and you being up a creek without a paddle to get you home.

Falling For Unnecessary Features

Fishing kayaks can get expensive very quickly. While quality comes at a price, especially if you want your kayak to last, you should also find a balance between paying a reasonable price for a quality kayak and overspending on a kayak with unnecessary features.

Features like multiple rod holders, secure tackle storage, and a paddle holder would be considered by most to be essential to kayak fishing. But depending on the type of fishing you want to do, you might not need a pedal drive propulsion system and an umbrella stand.

Especially when you’re starting out, it’s best to keep things simple and stick to features that you know you’ll use. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to identify the few extras that you want on your next fishing kayak!

Forgetting About The ‘On-Land’ Aspect

As we mentioned above, it’s really important to see how a kayak feels and performs in the water before making your purchase. But it’s also necessary to remember that you won’t spend 100% of your time with your kayak in the water.

You’ll also need to store your kayak in a safe, secure place when it’s not in use. And you’ll want to have a strategy for easily transporting your kayak from home to your desired fishing locations.

When it comes to storing a kayak, pay attention to its size to make sure you have enough room to store it comfortably. It’s best to store a kayak in a covered area, so you might even consider building a quick kayak shed for safe storage.

In terms of transporting your kayak, you might need to look into a kayak roof rack. If the kayak you want seems like it will be too heavy to lift onto the top of your car, you can also go for a kayak trailer that you can tow behind your vehicle.

Final Words

Whichever you choose, make sure you familiarize yourself with proper techniques for securing your kayak before you set out.

Safely handling your kayak on-land is essential to guaranteeing that it stays in great shape when you finally do hit the water.

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