Choosing the right kayak will make for longer lasting enjoyment of kayak fishing.

Choosing a Fishing Kaya

If you're in the market for a new or used kayak whether it be your first one or you're upgrading to get more serious about your kayak fishing, this guide offers a lot of information and pointers from a kayak expert.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Jackson is 20-year veteran of competitive kayaking, avid angler that competes on the FLW Tour and owner of Jackson Kayak. He provides a perspective on building kayaks as he was instrumental in building the first kayaks specifically for fishing as well as angling from the recreational and competitive side.

Chances are that if you have been out fishing in recent years, you have been seeing more and more of a special kind of boat on the water being used for fishing: kayaks. Kayaks and fishing have been around for as long as the eskimos have been using them, but mass produced kayaks only had fishing prowess as part of their designs as an afterthought until recently.   

BACKGROUND

If you haven’t really researched fishing kayaks lately and checked out the top selling models in the past three years, you haven’t really seen the modern fishing kayak.   

First, the best fishing kayaks are now designed with elevated seating for better visibility and comfort. They are also designed for stand-up fishing these days. Both are innovations introduced by Jackson Kayak, specifically the Coosa Kayak in 2011.

Photos courtesy of Eric Jackson

REASONS KAYAK FISHING IS GROWING

Some of the obvious reasons that kayak fishing has become so popular in recent years include the following:  

  • Affordable
  • No gasoline costs
  • Accessibility to smaller unpressured bodies of water
  • Quicker and constant upgrades
  • Adaptability

With the increasing number of kayak brands offering boats for different purposes, it can be difficult to decide on your first kayak. So you’ll want to consider some design factors, styles of kayaks, and some of the other helpful or necessary items on a kayak setup for fishing. 

Standing up along a current run in a river shows off the stability of modern kayaks.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASE

Price - The best kayaks, new, will cost you $1,700 or more without the paddle and PFD, or any additional accessories. If you want a pedal kayak, instead of a paddle-powered kayak, you will spend another $1,000 on top of that.

Pedal or paddle - Paddle driven kayaks offer more versatility, as they draft in super shallow water, over trees, through mud, and more. While pedal driven kayaks are for open water. If you are only going to take your kayak in open water, then the pedal drive is worth considering as you can fish and pedal at the same time.  Also, while paddle-driven kayaks feature lighter weight faster speeds, you have to put the paddle down to fish.

Design considerations - Like anything else in life there are quality fishing kayaks and cheaply made fishing kayaks. And fishing kayaks made for a wide range of fishing applications. So be sure you like the design, layout and durability of the kayak for your type of fishing before making a purchase as well as a reputable brand that will stand behind their product.

Having plenty of room and everything at your finger tips makes kayak fishing nice

Layout and accessories - The fishing platform around the fisherman is quite well designed on many kayaks.  There are often features that you would not think about if you are buying your first kayak. However, you should know about them so you don’t overlook some of the best new innovations in the sport.

TYPES OF FISHING KAYAKS

Author with a nice bass out of a Jackson Kayak Big Rig

Small (rivers and ponds - 10 to 13-foot kayaks)

These kayaks are shorter and are more maneuverable than longer boats. Many of the very cheap kayaks you find in the chain stores are in this category. Make sure they are designed for stand up fishing and have seats that are at least 6 inches off the floor of the boat to keep you dry and be more comfortable for easier fishing.

If you are on a budget, I suggest you buy a higher quality used kayak instead of a cheaper quality new one.  The original boat that set the kayak fishing market on fire in this category is the “Coosa” by Jackson Kayak. 

An obvious consideration with smaller kayaks is your size. If you’re 6-foot or taller and carry some weight, you will want a wide, stable kayak. The kayak’s stability is dependent on your size. Bigger folks need wider kayaks. One example is The Big Rig which happens to be the biggest in this category and the most stable.

This category of kayaks average about 3 mph with no wind and a good cadence.

Protected medium (lakes and bays - 12 to 15-foot kayaks)

These are longer, faster and better tracking kayaks for covering some distance. If you have a larger lake, or bay and want to cover distance (2 miles one way or so), you’ll want a kayak that glides better and goes straighter for lower energy paddling. The downside to these kayaks is that they are not as stable for standing up in, and don’t have as much storage on your sides as they are narrower.  

This category of kayak is very popular and there are MANY options in both the new and used markets. Jackson Kayak’s “Cuda 12 and Cuda 14” were some of first to the market in this category and plenty of used boats are available. Every high end brand has something in this category that will work for you.

They average about 3.5 mph with no wind and a good cadence.

Ocean and big water kayaking in the Jackson Kraken

Open large (ocean, big lakes and long-distance paddling - 15 to 16-foot kayaks) 

Few people want to go that far in a kayak, but for those who enjoy the paddling part, and like a workout, or for those fishing shallow flats for redfish, for example, and want to get where the “flats boats” can’t go, this is the right option.

Narrower and less stable again, only athletic people can stand up in them with good balance.  They can average about 4 mph in no wind with a reasonably good cadence.

Single or Tandem - One final consideration in the types of kayaks is for a single person or two people.  There are very few new, well-thought-out tandem kayaks, but they do exist if you want to fish with a family member, friend, etc.

A GOOD FISHING KAYAK HAS … 

  • Tackle storage - The top fishing kayaks have much easier access to your tackle than the bigger bass boats. You don’t even have to get up. Most top-end kayaks have a place to put your Plano style boxes under the seat, in the seat, or next to the seat, and some have all three. These locations allow you to grab your boxes without getting up or moving around; just reach and choose. Some kayaks don’t have that and getting to your tackle can be difficult. 

  • Rod tip protectors - Since kayak fishing affords you access to very shallow water, weeds, and heavy cover, paddling into those areas without catching your rods is very helpful. The top kayaks have a place to put your rod tips that allow you to go through brush and not catch.  
  • Internal storage - Some kayaks offer a place in front of your seat to access the inside of the kayak and store extra rods or tackle.   This is a great feature if you only want a couple of rods on the deck but want to bring more.   The Jackson Kayak Cuda has this feature. Most of the top brands have internal storage for off water access through the front hatch.  


     

  • Lockdowns - Look for a boat that has obvious rod storage and lockdown (usually a bungee) on the deck for going in rough water, dragging the boat through trees to a pond, or any other situation where you don’t want your gear falling out.  
  • External accessory options - One of the beautiful things about kayaks for fishing is that some can be accessorized to suit specific needs. Many come with the accessories standard.
  • Rod holders - RAM/YAK ATTACK make rod holders of all types that attach to “Ram Balls”.  Some kayaks come with “gear tracks” that allow you to place your rod holders anywhere you want — i.e. in front, on the sides, behind you, or all three.   

    Mounts for Raymarine, GoPros, Ram mounts for phones and more are available as standard now.
  • Electronics - Fish finders, shallow water anchors and video mounts are feature additions on the top of the line kayaks. Makers like Jackson Kayak have partnered with companies like Raymarine, Power-Pole, and GoPro in the design of most of their kayaks. The transducers for the fish finders fit nicely into the bottom of the kayak, and the Power-Pole Micro is plug and play on several different designs, which makes the fishing experience even more productive and fun. GoPro make capturing the fun of kayak fishing simple.

    All brands and all kayaks can be accessorized with these features, however using drills and mounts as an afterthought is more difficult and makes the kayak less sellable when you are ready to trade up.  

  • Drag chains - A cool non-electronic feature for an anchor or brake is the drag chain.  It consists of a retractable dog leash and a length of heavy chain. Running this off the back of the boat makes fishing in shallow water easier in the wind or current. Some kayaks are rigged from the factory to install them with nothing additional needed.  

Choosing your first fishing kayak or you next fishing kayak can be as simple as you want to make it. But the advances and innovations put into the higher-end models will definitely give you many years of productive and fun kayak fishing experiences. In my next article, I'll delve into getting started kayak fishing after your purchase. 


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