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Finding the right kayak

By Jason WalkerNZ Fishing World
Finding the right kayak

Kayak fishing is one of New Zealand’s fastest growing water sports with more and more people taking it up every day. There are many factors to consider when setting out to buy your first fishing kayak. Jason Walker gives some pointers to help you find one that will suit you best.

The Kayak

The single most important piece of equipment you need to take up kayak fishing is of course the kayak. Your kayak selection will be based on many factors including; where you plan to fish, the type of fishing you intend on doing, who is using the kayak, and your budget. All of these factors will give a weighting to the selection of kayak models you have to choose from.

The Factors...

Where you plan to fish will have quite an influence; not only the type of kayak but also the features on the kayak that you may require. For example if you plan on only fishing from your kayak in the relatively calm Hauraki Gulf, you will not be looking for the same features as someone who is fishing from the surf- ridden west coast where you will need lots of safe and secure storage for your rods and tackle and a kayak that will ride up and over the waves.

Stability is also a factor that will be high up on your list if you intend on spending a lot of time fishing in rough water as will be speed if you intend on doing lots of medium to long distance paddling.

The type of fishing will also have some influence on your kayak selection, are you an old school bait and burley fisher, or are you more into the modern artificial lures and baits? The storage requirements for today’s modern fisherman are far in excess of the old bait and burley fisho, needing storage for those soft baits, jigs, blade lures, and other current fishing bling. Compared to just needing enough space for a kilo or two of frozen pillies, a small container for a few sinkers, a spool of leader, and a handful of 7/0 hooks.

Who’s using it?

Also one of the biggest factors in your kayak choice will be who is going to be using the kayak, is this a kayak that just you will use or your kids, your partner, or the whole family? Obviously a large kayak can be handled and paddled by an adult more easily than a child, and you can’t safely fit a dad and two kids on a kayak designed for one person (with an 80kg weight limit).  

Today there are fishing kayaks suitable for all of the above groups, small fishing kayaks for young Johnny, big single person kayaks for Dad, and double kayaks that are capable of being used by Mum and Dad or an adult and a couple of small kids (although three people fishing at once off one kayak is probably pushing it a little too far).

Weight

As mentioned above, weight capacity is another factor you need to consider. Kayaks by design will only support a certain weight before they become unstable and may even become submerged. Manufacturers will state a load capacity figure - this will give you a guide of the maximum weight the kayak can handle.

When looking at this weight don’t forget there is not only your own weight but you also need to add a good margin for all your gear. Think about your rods, reels, tackle, bait, electronics, anchors, clothing, PFD, etc; you’ll be surprised how much there is to consider and how quickly it all adds up.

Twenty kilograms or more is not uncommon. Oh and don’t forget to factor in your catch added to the total weight, that 10kg of freshly caught snapper you are paddling home with needs to be included in the total weight too.

Experience

Another consideration is the level of fitness and experience of the paddler. You cannot just go out and buy the longest fastest sleekest kayak and think you can just jump in it and kayak 10km off shore 

and troll for tuna all day if you are the fisherman packing a keg rather than the six pack! The kayak like any vessel will only perform if the motor (you) is up to scratch. You wouldn’t put a 15hp outboard on the back of a 20m gin palace would you? So you may need to look at starting out on a smaller kayak and upgrading to that longer beast once you have been paddling for a while and have gained the confidence and paddle strength required to get the best out of the kayak.

Budget

Budget will always have some influence on all choices in life and buying a fishing kayak is no exception, luckily there are many options to fit differing budgets. As with starting any new sport there is always a level of investment to get you in at the bottom and from there the sky is the limit. Of course there is no harm in starting out in an entry level kayak and upgrading after a season or two.

Thankfully, because of the manufacturing process (rotomoulding) most of the fishing kayaks are made from polyethylene which is very durable so the resale market is very healthy and you can often get a very good price for your old kayak. Some New Zealand manufacturers will even do trade-ins on your old yak for a new one.

Kayak Features

So now we have covered what factors you need to consider before buying a kayak, we need to know about the kayaks themselves to help you make the decision about what kayak best suits your needs.

The features you will be interested in to help you make your decision are:

Length

The length of a kayak has a direct influence on a kayak’s speed through the water. As a general rule the longer the kayak the faster it will be. Speed is not really the factor you are interested in though; well not unless you are an Olympic-trained paddler! Rather you can use a kayaks speed as an indication of the ease of which the kayak can be paddled through the water, the faster the kayak the less effort needed to paddle it. Just be aware that the length you are interested in is the waterline length, this is the length of the kayak that is actually in the water and not the total length.

Hull design

Hull design will have an influence on both speed and stability. A hull with a defined keel will give a kayak good line speed and tracking (ability to paddle in a straight line) but can be at the expense of stability unless hard chines have been integrated into the design.

A flat hull will give you much better stability but at the expense of some ability to cut through the chop. Stern design is another factor to review, a stern with an extended keel will give better tracking and a longer waterline but at the expense of manoeuvrability, whereas a scalloped stern drops the waterline length and will make turning the kayak much easier.

Talking about manoeuvrability raises the question- do you put a rudder on your kayak? Well some kayaks are designed to not require a rudder but there isn’t a kayak out there that can’t have a rudder fitted. You’ll also find that most people who have a rudder fitted to their kayak wouldn’t go back to paddling without one and those without one are normally happy without.

A rudder is great for the recreational paddler who can use the rudder to help correct any inefficiencies in their paddle technique or to correct any windage issues without using corrective paddle strokes.

Width

Kayak stability is influenced by hull design but by far the biggest factor to influence stability is width, the wider a kayak the more stable it will be. Of course there is a cost to the extra stability - speed, as a wider kayak means more kayak for the paddler to push through the water.

Weight capacity

Weight capacity was covered to some extent earlier, the higher the capacity the more weight a kayak can carry. However you also need to take capacity into account as this can work against you sometimes. If you do not load a kayak up to near capacity you will find the kayak can sit high in the water which will make it very susceptible to windage (being moved around by the wind) as of course more of the kayak will be exposed above the water.

Storage

Storage, and I’m talking about storage areas on the kayak for the likes of tackle etc not where you store your kayak at home! Whilst storage won’t directly affect your kayak’s performance on the water, it will directly effect how you use your kayak. There are kayaks with minimal storage and some with vast expanses of storage.

Over the last couple of years most manufacturers have picked up on the fact that storage is by far the most important factor to most kayak anglers. Hey we need space to take all that extra tackle with us don’t we, or to safely store those expensive rods and reels out of danger when we come in through the surf?

Cost

Then of course there is the big factor that may or may not be in your control – budget. Yes you can get a kayak with everything but if the bank manager says no and there isn’t an unlimited budget then you have to look at other options. Thankfully the kayak manufacturers have realised this and there are now fishing kayaks designed for all budgets.

Some manufacturers have even brought out models that are essentially the same kayak but in different lengths with the smaller versions being cheaper than their bigger brothers. And as mentioned above, the second-hand market can be a great source of cheaper kayaks. But be warned, kayaks do hold their value so getting a bargain is quite rare.

Fishability

Finally and probably most importantly is the fishability of any kayak. By this I mean how suitable or well designed a kayak is to fish from. You could go down the bach and drag out the old family play kayak you’ve used for years for the kids to play around in and pull out the long line off the beach. But does it have a rod holder, somewhere to put the catch and is there room to store tackle?

Today’s fishing kayaks are designed from the ground up with one thing in mind - fishing - so they will tick all the boxes - rod holders, tackle storage, fish storage, safety features, accessory mounting points, and even special mouldings to assist with the fitting of fish finders and GPS units.

As I mentioned before, kayak manufacturers have realised that we all fish in different ways and there are those that like to paddle 10km out to sea carrying 10 rods and there are those that only venture 200m off shore with one rod and a jam jar full of tackle, so there are plenty of options.

The final and the most important key to making a decision on which kayak to buy is to get out there and try them, most retailers and manufacturers will have demo kayaks that you can borrow or hire so you can go for a paddle and see which one feels right for you - try before you buy!

We are very lucky here in New Zealand as we actually have several kayak manufacturers making kayaks right here at home (many of which are exported all over the world). So buying NZ made is easily achieved by those that wish to support the local economy. There are also many kayaks imported into NZ that are also suitable for our sea conditions. 

Hopefully this has given you an insight into kayak selection, next time I’ll look at what else you need to get you out on the water including the essential safety equipment. 

Jason Walker is the creator of New Zealand’s largest kayak fishing community website www.KayakFishingNZ.com

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