Written by Damon Bungard, Jackson Kayak
Editor’s note: Click here for Part I.
If there’s one question I hear more and more these days, it’s “Which kayak is right for me?” With the explosion in popularity of kayak fishing and myriad of products now available on the market, it’s an understandable question. In this article I’ll outline some of the factors that will help you determine which kayak is right for you, especially taking into the unique considerations of fly fisherman.
6) How Do I Want or Need To Transport and Store the Kayak?
Fishing kayaks weigh anywhere from 50 to well over 100 pounds. Their portability is a huge advantage, allowing you to get into watersheds that simply lack raft or drift-boat access, and fish waters others can’t even get to. But, you still have to get the the kayak there somehow.
That can be accomplished through everything from dragging, to carrying, to carts, but should be considered as you weigh options. If you have a home dock on a lake where the kayak will spend most of its life, the weight of the largest, most stable kayak isn’t a big factor. You can just walk out, push it in the water and fish. If you live in a small apartment, where for every trip the kayak will have to be unloaded from a wall rack in a garage unit, put on a car roof rack, unloaded at the water, carried to the water, and then all done again in reverse, you may think twice about weight, and sacrifice some size and/or features for portability.
There are myriad roof rack options for vehicles, carts for moving around by hand, or even kayak-specific trailers to pull behind vehicles that we’ll review in more detail in future articles.
7) Thermoformed or Rotomolded Plastic?
The past few years have seen an increase in the availability of plastics made from thermoformed, acrylic capped ABS plastic, versus the traditional rotomolded polyethylene. Thermoformed products are made in halves and seamed together, whereas rotomolded products are removed from the mold in one piece. Thermoformed plastic saves weight (helping both portability and paddling efficiency), have a clean, shiny appearance, but at the expense of cost and durability.
Thermoformed products would be favorable in predominantly obstacle-free fishing conditions where slamming into rocks or other jagged items would be infrequent, and where saving weight is a priority. Rotomolded products are extremely durable, and heavier, while being less expensive.
8) Solo or Tandem?
Whether or not to buy a solo or tandem kayak is largely a personal preference, but certainly one to consider. Jackson Kayak offers two tandem fishing kayaks—the Big Tuna, an SOT, and the Kilroy DT, a sit inside. Both can be paddled either as a tandem or in a solo configuration. That versatility makes them very useful for someone who prefers larger craft, and fishes alone most of the time, but wants the option to bring a friend, child, or spouse. Having a spotter in the back to find fish and control the kayak, while the angler in front casts is also a very effective combination.
Tandems will naturally be bigger and heavier than their solo-kayak counterparts, but are extremely versatile watercraft if that is a priority.
9) What Accessories Do I Need?
Just as there’s a wide variety of fishing kayaks on the market, the number of accessories is seemingly endless, and different kayaks may contain varying degrees of accessories as standard features. It’s important to understand what does and does not come standard with a kayak when shopping around.
Basic accessories, like rod holders, often come standard. Additional accessories that may or may not be standard include floor padding, tackle boxes, fish handling tools (like FishGrips), camera holders, etc. For fly fishing, my favorite rod holder is the RAM 2007 Style holder, which works well with all rod types.
Aside from what comes with the kayak, in general, you don’t need much to get started kayak fishing. You’ll need a paddle and a life jacket, whatever you need to transport your kayak, and a desire to have some fun.
Once you know what you do and don’t like, there’s a ton of accessories available to offer fishing advantages, from basic kayak-specific trinkets, to the latest electronic technologies that used to be reserved for only very expensive boats. There are holders for every rod type, phones, GPS units, nets, anchor lines, multi-functional tools like Buck Splizzors, tool retractors, and on and on.
You can mount coolers behind the seat, or in place of the seat on some models, standing on them to gain more visibility.
If you like photography, there are many camera options, such as combining RAM Mounting Systems components with GoPros for unbelievable self portraits and underwater shots. There are fish finders and navigation tools, like the Raymarine Dragonfly 5Pro, that let you practically see what’s under the waters surface to find holding fish, and map your favorite fishing locations.
One of my favorite newer kayak fishing technologies and a real tactical advantage when kayak fly fishing is the Power-Pole Micro Anchor. It’s a remote-controlled stake-out pole that basically lets you stop on a dime and focus on making the right cast vs spooking a fish or getting blown out of position. Somewhere like a tropical flat, you can paddle along, standing and looking for tails or flashes, while the pole tip hovers inches above the bottom. As soon as you spot your fish, tap a button on your life jacket and presto!, the pole goes down, stopping you quickly and quietly, letting you focus on the fish and making the perfect cast. A few Jackson Kayaks come ready to accept the Power-Pole Micro with no drilling required.
10) So What Does All This Mean?
So how does all this relate back to the original question of what fishing kayak is right for you? The answer is: That’s up to you. Ask yourself the questions we’ve outlined in these articles, and it will steer you to the right answer.
Wider, more stable, feature-laden models are well suited to short-distance applications, like bass fishing on ponds or lakes, or inshore salt.
Higher profile for water shedding, rockered, SOT’s are well suited to river applications, with some crossover appeal to lakes and inshore depending on the detail features.
Narrower, longer models are better suited to longer travel distances, both fresh and saltwater.
Tandem models are available in both styles.
Some models are highly specialized, while some are very versatile by design. Prices will vary widely, from roughly $1,000 for entry-level models, to nearly $4,000 for fully featured and equipped models from the factory. Shop and ask around a bit, visit a local dealer, and ask questions. You’ll find that kayak anglers are a passionate group, happy to share info, and get you out on the water.
Have fun out there.