This month, and next, I thought I would share a few ideas about gear that can help your enjoyment and effectiveness while fishing from a kayak. I once read that all you need to make a regular kayak into a “fishing” kayak is a pair of pliers and a rod holder. That is true. Conversely, a quick search on the internet will yield pictures of kayaks with electronic fishfinders, trolling motors, live baitwells, outriggers and all manner of outlandish accoutrements. It really can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. So before busting out the Visa card, devote a little thought to a few questions: Where do I plan to fish? What conditions am I likely to encounter? What is my quarry? How far will I wander to find my quarry?
The first and most important piece of equipment is the kayak itself. There are two primary types. The first is the sit inside kayak (SINK), in which the sides and deck of the yak come up around your legs and hips. While very popular, I feel this is not the best choice, especially if you are inexperienced and/or plan to paddle alone. Instead, my preference is the sit-on-top kayak (SOT) that has scupper holes running through the hull for water to drain out. I have a strong bias towards SOT yaks for one reason: safety. Waves and boat wakes occasionally slosh over the side to deposit water in the cockpit. In a SOT, this water drains right back out. Furthermore, while capsizing is not commonplace, it does happen. In a SOT, you can easily fix this problem, even alone in deep water, by simply flipping the kayak right side up and climbing back aboard. The self-bailing scupper holes in the SOT hull will automatically drain the water from the cockpit and you’re good to go. In a SINK, similar to a canoe, there is no self-bailing feature. A capsize leaves you swimming next to a yak full of water and no easy way to clear it and right your vessel. In water over your head and strong current, you have a potentially dangerous problem. Because of this, I strongly recommend SOT kayaks.
It is very important to get a boat that fits you. Your height, weight and experience level will dictate which kayaks feel comfortable. Where and how you want to fish will further refine your choice of vessel. The most basic parameters of picking a kayak are length, width and weight. Longer, skinnier yaks tend to be faster and are good for covering distance with less effort. Shorter, wider boats turn quickly and are better for navigating tight spaces. Also, wider boats allow you to stand up and pole shallow water and sight fish. For fishing in the Florida Keys, I’ve found that kayaks in the middle of the spectrum work well - a length of 12-15 feet, a width of 26-32 inches, and a weight of 55-75 lbs. Much has been written about picking a kayak and some internet research will be time well spent. Try out friends’ kayaks. Rent or take a tour in a few different boats. Note the models and their dimensions. You’ll start to develop a sense of what you want. Talking to experienced yak fisher folk will give you ideas as well.
Next is the paddle. Choices abound. Again, checking the internet forums / reviews, asking other paddlers, and trying a few paddles from friends and outfitters will be helpful. The one specific thing I recommend for fishing shallow water is a durable blade that can handle pushing off rocky beaches and shorelines, or push-poling across shallow flats. After that it’s primarily a matter of weight. Less weight equals less fatigue equals more time paddling before getting tired. And when out alone, I always store a spare paddle (cheapo is fine) inside the boat, just in case.
Many SOT yaks come without a built-in seat. This is good! A wide variety of seats are available to cushion your butt and support your back. Don’t scrimp here. Get cushy for your tushy and you’ll be comfortable on longer outings. Some seat models have rod holders built into the backrest which I find very useful. The placement puts rods within easy reach, yet out of the way of a normal paddling motion.
Always have a life jacket or PFD on your vessel. Wear it or have it within easy reach. I wear it when alone in deep water. On the flats I generally don’t wear it, but can grab it easily from my seated position. Some models have great storage spots on the front for lures, pliers, flies, knives, etc. And in cooler weather, the PFD is another layer of warmth.
To finish up part 1 of our gear discussion, here is a list of common sense items I take with me on every kayak trip.They aren’t specific to fishing, but are very important to safety and comfort while on the water:
These items are stowed in the kayak in waterproof bags or cases (if necessary) or in a mesh dive bag.
Next month I’ll have part 2 of our gear discussion covering items specific to fishing. Until then, get out there and enjoy our majestic Keys waters! And give me a shout if you need help, advice, or want to book a kayak fishing charter. Until then, good luck and catch ‘em up!
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