It’s a question as old as well… kayak fishing itself. Each day at work I sit behind the counter at the kayak shop and at some point in the day I watch a car pull up, watch the owner of said car get out, walk through the garage doors into the shop and look my way. I stand up, smile and offer the usual “What can I do for you today sir/ma’am?” A good portion of the time they will reply with “I’m looking to get into kayak fishing.”
From here I can pretty much recite the next lines of the conversation as if it’s scripted:
“Well- approximately what are you looking to spend?”
“About $600-$800 maybe?”
“Okay, well have you looked at the Wilderness Tarpon?”
“I had looked at it, yeah. Oh but that one next to it has a nicer seat.”
“Yes, that’s the Feel Free, it’s a bit pricier though.”
“Oh that one over there has pedals, doesn’t it?”
“It certainly does, but it’s also $2,000 above what you initially wanted to spend.”
I’ll go on talking to them anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours more as they see different options and develop more questions. They then either buy a kayak for an amount more than they initially anticipated, or, in the more likely scenario, they go home with more questions than when they walked in the door and have to try to sort through all the information they just received.
Now don’t mistake me and think that I don’t treat every customer as an individual, because I do. I want to expand the great sport of kayak fishing, and I want everyone who is looking to become involved to become addicted the same way I have. It’s an unfortunate reality that no matter the amount of questions I answer for someone, they will still probably leave with more confusion, because that’s the nature of the beast.
When thinking about how to write this article, I tried to break down in a logical order, the things one must consider when attempting to pick their dream yak. It’s a tough thing to conceptualize and boil down to a science because like many other things, circumstance and personal preferences are large parts of the process. In my thinking, I decided on 3 major considerations, in order, for how to make the process of finding the right kayak for you, a little bit easier.
Knowing Your Budget
First and foremost, you can’t buy what you can’t pay for. This isn’t to say if you don’t have a grand to drop you should shy away from buying a kayak, not at all, but the point is that you get what you pay for. A $500 dollar Perception Pescador 10 or, if you want a few more upgrades, a $720 Wilderness Tarpon 100 (which is a very popular entry-level model) will certainly get you on the water and able to fish, but a 6’3, 200+ pound man will probably not feel comfortable in the relatively confined cockpit both of those kayaks offer. Even the smaller person who may not be pressed for space in these boats may find themselves feeling uncomfortable after some time spent in the kayak and desire an upgrade.
As I previously mentioned, I frequently encounter people who wind up finding themselves spending $300+ more than they initially anticipated and this is because they quickly realize they can’t have a boat that they can stand up on, has elevated seating, and plenty of gear storage for under $1000… again, you get what you pay for.
There’s also the consideration that if you buy a lower priced kayak, you’ll quickly find yourself very aware of everything else you wish you had and you end up buying an upgraded model shortly after buying your first yak when you could have just gotten the upgraded model to begin with. If this scenario happens to you, it’s not the end of the world- kayaks hold their value very well and a craigslist add for a lightly used kayak at a slightly discounted price will usually sell quickly.
Again, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying as telling you that you have to spend a ton of money you don’t have to start kayak fishing, there are plenty of options at various price ranges. the bottom line is: don’t cheap out on yourself, but buy what you can afford.
The second priority is transportation. It does you no good to have a great kayak you can’t get to the water. You can have the money to drop on a brand new, fully rigged Hobie Pro Angler 14, but that 14 foot, 200 pound boat doesn’t fit too well on top of a Honda Civic. Again, if you drive a sedan or even SUV for that matter this is not saying you can’t have a great kayak that may be a little bit heavier, but if you truly want that boat, you may have to spend an extra $1000 or so to buy a trailer to transport that kayak on. If you’re not in a position to spend that extra money, a smaller, lighter weight boat like a Diablo Chupacabra, which is 10 feet 6 inches long and weighs a measly 56 pounds, might be the better option for you as this boat can be lifted with relative ease to set on top of a car with an appropriate roof rack.
If you’ve got buddies going with you who can help you get a big 100+ pound kayak on and off of your car, then great, but if you’re like me and more often than not are fishing solo, you might have some trouble doing that by yourself. Let me give some context for this, I fish out of a Native Watercraft Slayer Propel 13, a great boat, but also a 140 pound one. It absolutely would not be possible for me to fish alone in this boat if I did not drive a truck.
A truck allows me to back up directly to the boat ramp, get out, and slide my kayak partially into the water (albeit with some dragging, but you learn to get over scratches). When I’m ready to go home, I back the truck up to the ramp again, climb into the bed and grab the front handle of my boat then pull upwards and walk back into my truck bed to get the kayak to sit flat again. If you do not drive a truck, short of jerking this same 13 foot, 140 pound kayak over your head and sliding it on the top of a jeep (which believe it or not I have seen), you may want to think lighter.
Top-of-the-line kayaks with all the upgrades you hope for are inherently heavier, and it’s important to be able to move and transport the kayak by yourself or you will not be doing much fishing at all.
Now that you have your budget and transportation parameters established, you can begin truly deciding what kayak suits you best. Now that your price point is established, you can get a good feeling of your options at that range and can begin to truly analyze the differences between these options.
A large portion of the time the first thing that every person trying to buy a kayak wants to know is “How stable is it?”
This question doesn’t necessarily have an easy answer because stability is a relative term. By general rule of thumb I say anything that is wider than 32 inches is about as stable of a boat as you could need. That’s not to say that the thinner boats will cause you to turtle every time you’re on the water, which I think is a common misconception a lot of people have. It’s actually a bit more difficult to flip most kayaks you’d want to be fishing out of then people think; you have to really be doing something at the right moment to cause the boat to flip, but that being said, I feel a lot more comfortable turning around to get something out of my gear box in my 33 inch wide kayak than I would in a kayak that was 28 inches wide.
Along with stability comes “standability”. These 2 terms are pretty closely related, but the fact is that whether or not someone can stand up in a kayak all depends on the individual. Typically the bigger you are, the more you should be concerned with finding a wide boat with plenty of room for you to stand if that is important to you, but again it all depends on the person. Some guys can stand up in a sit inside kayak while some can’t stand on a 35 inch wide boat with a standing platform. It’s usually pretty clear whether or not a kayak has a standing platform- it will have a section of the cockpit that is flattened out generally with some sort of rubber padding to aid in grip. Standing is always a nice feature, it allows you to make different casts and get better positioning, but the truth is the main thing that standing in my kayak has allowed me to do, is retrieve my lures when I’ve made a bad cast into a tree. 95% of the fish I catch in my kayak I catch when I’m sitting down, so while standing is a great feature, it’s not the end all, be all.
Other Kayak Considerations
The next few things that one should consider with their preferences are length, gear storage, seating, weight, and type of propulsion to name a few. Length is pretty easy to explain, a longer boat will generally be faster and have better tracking (tracking means that the bow of the kayak will stay straight at higher speeds when paddling rather than shifting side to side with each paddle stroke). Shorter boats are usually more agile and along with that lighter weight and more easily transported. Going back to transportation for a moment, a lighter boat is of course much easier to move around and handle by yourself than is a very large boat that has a ton of features.
Seating is another big focus point for many people, and it is very important. When you’re out on the water for 8+ hours, a bad seat without much padding or back support can make your day very uncomfortable. Each brand of kayak generally has its own seating options and most of the top companies have attempted to make seats that are elevated as well as comfortable, but of course with improved seating, comes increased price. Whether you have a $300 Wilderness Air Pro Max seat, or a 30$ back rest, some sort of back support is very important.
Gear storage is also a big component, be it compartments, dry storage, or rod holders. Most kayaks have at least some form of a compartment to store your phone, wallet, whistle, or other commodities in, and will have some sort of access to the hull. Many people I speak to become concerned that a kayak does not immediately have any flush mount rod holders. These are installed easily enough and are a nice way to hold your rods, but what most kayak anglers like to have is some sort of gear box like a YakAttack Blackpak. This is my gear box of choice and I use 5 removable and adjustable rod holders which is plenty for me, but more can be added if need be. The box also allows me to store all my soft plastics, tackle boxes, and all other necessities for a day on the water. If you’re not too keen on spending $100+ for a designed gear box, the old milk crate will do just fine.
Lastly, the type of propulsion for a kayak is an important consideration. Now this is pretty much a 2 way path: paddle or pedals. Pedal propulsion for a kayak is a great feature for any kayak but you certainly will pay for that feature. I paddled my first kayak for a long time and have no issues with doing so, but in terms of tournament fishing, pedals allow you to travel distances with much more ease than those paddling which can make a big difference, but of course some guys can paddle their hearts out no problem and more power to their shoulders for it!
Deciding on the right kayak can be a very confusing process, but don’t panic or shy away from the sport because you may be a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes the only way to gain knowledge is through experience, and you may have to go through a couple yaks, or trying out rentals/demos to know what truly fits your needs.
Kayak fishing is a fast-growing sport and I can’t wait to see how far it goes. I hope this article makes you a little more prepared for when you decide to pull the trigger on your first kayak and jump into this great community!