Finding the right kayak
NZ Fishing World
December 19, 2019
Kayak fishing is one of New Zealand’s fastest growing water sports with more and more people taking it up every day, and more and more offerings in the market. There are many factors to consider when setting out to buy your first fishing kayak. Here’s a few of the key ones to get you started.
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.
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 east coast, you might not be looking for the same features as someone who is fishing from the surf- ridden west, 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.
Handling a beast like this way out at sea requires a stable platform provided by the popular Viking models
The type of fishing will also have some influence on your kayak selection. Are you an old school bait and berley angler, or are you more into the modern artificial lures and baits favoured now by most kayak fishermen?
If you love using lures then a kayak with multiple rod holders, and a lot of safe storage for all your kit should be considered. If you intend to troll lures or cover a lot of distance you may consider a longer narrower kayak such as a Stealth Fisha or Viking Reload, that will maintain speed with less effort.
If you are a fan of using live baits to target kingfish, big snapper and john dory, the Stealth kayak range include models with self-flooding live wells that will keep 10 or so live baits going for as long as you can stay out on the water.
This is a superb design that is not reliant on separate pumps and batteries.
Some Viking kayak models use a removable centre ‘pod’ unit that can be converted to a live bait tank using a pump system.
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?
A large kayak can be quite heavy, loaded with gear including fish finder batteries and ice etc, it is only able to be handled by a fairly strong adult. This includes trying to manage getting it on and off a car.
Today there are fishing kayaks suitable for everyone, 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 capacity is another critical 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.
Thirty 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.
Handling a kayak to and from your launch spot, dragging it up the beach after a hard day on the water, or paddling it great distances are all considerations affected by the kayaks overall weight (hence the only thing heavy on a racing kayak is its price).
Light vs might.
Most kayaks are made from rotational moulded plastics, which are very sturdy and resistant to damage induced from banging around on rocks etc. It’s a safe choice and a proven material for fishing kayaks.
Some anglers who prefer a bit more racing stripe in their boat, will like yaks made by relatively new brand Stealth Kayaks. http://www.stealthkayaks.co.nz
These boats immediately look like the Ferrari of fishing kayaks, and are constructed with vacuum moulded epoxy fibreglass, which is a notably lighter and smoother material. The Stealth design is sleek and attractive, and cuts through the water very efficiently.
Naturally the trade off for the higher performance is that this material is more sensitive to impacts and sharp objects so respect needs to be given to the way you treat it.
Stealth kayaks in action overseas on some bigger game
The style of the Stealth models is quite distinctive, and this may be enough to sway you by itself. If you are a lighter paddler, or looking for speed, and are prepared to be careful in the way you treat your kayak, you should look into the offering from the Stealth stable.
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.
It can be tiring paddling for into currents and wind, and it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew until you have gained the confidence and paddle strength required to get the best out of the kayak.
Often it is safer to opt for a wider more stable kayak when you are first buying, as these feel much safer especially when you first experience rougher water and following seas, at the compromise of speed.
Once you become fitter, and more aware of how the boats perform during fishing conditions you might then upgrade to a more advanced design.
Keen kayak fisho Drew Wilkins releasing one of many big snapper caught on Catch fishing lures
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:
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 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.
Jason Kemp tied to a good kingfish using his rudder to navigate
Rudderless and adrift
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.
Rudders also allow you to steer your craft while your hands are busy playing a fish that is towing you in the wrong direction towards a reef.
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 and more kayak to try and clear with a wider paddle stroke.
Paddle or Pedal
Most kayaks are paddle driven, but there are brands such as Hobie, that can be paddled by pedal driven mechanisms. These options are very efficient, you are harnessing far greater muscle groups, and your hands are always free to hold a rod and reel. Devout fans of the paddle kayak would not have anything else, and can cover some massive distances.
Pedal kayaks also might suit those that want to fish from a kayak but have had shoulder operations or other upper body issues.
They can also be paddled if required, although they are often a wider and bulkier design.
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 affect 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?
Storage of your catch is also a key consideration, and the use of insulated bags with salt ice has meant you can stay out fishing all day. Viking go one further and design a dedicated ‘chill pod’ that is essentially a formed chilly bin that fits into the rear well.
Probably most important is the fishability of any kayak. By this I mean how suitable or well designed a kayak is to fish from.
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.
As kayaks start drifting into areas that deviate from the simplicity of a ‘pure’ and simple boat and paddle they become a more complex beast, sprouting all sorts of remote camera booms and other paraphernalia.
Modern battery and electronics technology has made the likes of retro fitted electric engines now a common and popular option. Most notable is the Bixpy Jet Motor which simply attaches to the rudder and is controlled from within the cockpit by electronic remote.
This system is not cheap at around $2,000 fitted (the cost of some kayaks) so is not for everyone, but to others it is totally worth the money.
This system allows a massive boost in power to be achieved for several hours and is extraordinarily efficient and minimalist.
Bixpy owners rave about the added value to their paddling range and lack of exhaustion at the end of the day.
One word of warning though, be mindful about getting yourself into a situation at sea that is totally reliant on an engine getting you home, as electronics in the ocean are not 100% reliable 100% of the time, and the Bixpy is no exception.
Try before you buy
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!