Friday, November 6, 2009

A guide to purchasing a fishing kayak

So, you're thinking about buying a kayak?

Good luck.

Realize there are dozens of brands and even more models from which to choose. There is a kayak for every paddler and, if you're lucky, you'll find the one for you.

Kayak fishing is the fastest growing segment of the sport. If you don't believe me, just take a look around the next time you're out on the bay or in the backcountry. You won't read this in your local newspaper, but paddle fishers are everywhere.

There are a number of reasons. Topping the list is that they're relatively inexpensive when you compare them to the cost of a boat, motor and trailer. And they don't guzzle gas.

They're also extremely fun. Tough to beat the feeling of hooking a big fish while sitting or standing in a kayak.

Not just any kayak will do, however. There are kayaks made especially for fishing. Most are sit on-top (SOT) boats and some are hybrid. Sit-inside kayaks (like the Eskimos use) aren't suitable for fishing. I'm sure some intrepid paddlers have made impressive catches from a SIK, but you'll be better off with one made for fishing.

Fishing kayaks are usually a little wider for stability and have features like rod holders and places to stow lots of tackle. I know some kayak fishers who tote along five or six rods on every trip.

Most use a milk crate that they place behind their seat to stow their tackle boxes and other gear. I added six rod holders to my milk crate.

Other accessories include anchor, anchor trolley, GPS, depth finder, live well, rudder, stakeout pole and push pole. My stakeout pole (Wang) doubles as a push pole.

The reason I need a push pole is that I stand in my kayak. My personal craft is a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5. It's a hybrid boat made by Legacy Paddlesports in Greensboro, N.C. I have two Ultimates and two 12-foot Heritage Redfish Angler SOTs.

Native Watercraft also makes the Ultimate in a pedal model. Foot power is becoming very popular in the market.

No matter what kayak you buy, make sure to test it out prior to making your decision. Remember that the best kayak is the boat the the person you're asking owns. That kayak might not be the best for you because people come in all shapes, sizes and weight.

I live in Sarasota, Fla., and Economy Tackle, the area's largest kayak dealer, holds Kayak Demo Days twice monthly at Ackerman Park (east of Interstate 75 and just south of Fruitville Road). If you're in the area, you can call Economy Tackle at (941) 922-9671 to find out dates and times. That's where I first paddled the Ultimate.

After you buy your boat, you'll need to get it home. So, you'll likely also purchase some sort of rooftop system. I used to have Thule racks and Malone gullwing saddles when I carried my fleet atop my Ford Expedition. But when I traded that vehicle in for my Toyota Highlander, I got rid of the racks and bought a four-kayak trailer.

You'll also need a paddle. A wise way to go is to buy the best you can afford. Good paddles are efficient, light and strong. They're made of carbon fiber and the blades can be feathered to cut through the wind better.

Your arms will thank you at the end of the day.

The best thing about kayak fishing is that you're reliant on no one. You can fish when you want, where you want, for as long as you and and for what you want.

And you don't have to buy gas on the way home.

You might find out like I did that fishing from a kayak increases your production. You're so quiet, the fish don't know you're there.

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