As across much of America, kayak fishing is on a roll, with tens of thousands of the tiny boats being sold to everyone from bluegill anglers fishing 2-acre ponds to adventuring coastal fishermen (and women) chasing tuna and marlin.
The big draw of the little boats is price, of course—a 12-footer fully-equipped for fishing goes for about $2,000, less than a fourth the price of even a small aluminum bass boat with 50-horse outboard and trailer. Because there’s no motor on most, and no need for a trailer, the savings are huge.
But the low cost would not be all that attractive if the boats were not effective for fishing. But they are—in fact, they’re deadly. They float in only 3 or 4 inches of water fully-loaded, and this allows accessing areas that powerboats can’t get close to—a big plus in fishing coastal flats, as well as getting back into spawning areas for bass and bluegills.
And they’re very quiet, under paddle or peddle power, and the minimal “footprint” makes them much less visible to fish, a big advantage in clear water lakes like Lewis Smith or Duck River Reservoir.
‘Yaks also have the advantage of trouble-free operation—there’s very little to break or get out of whack. And you can launch almost anywhere, including in waters where larger boats can’t get close. Haul one on the roof of your SUV or the back of your pickup and you’re ready to go fishing, anywhere, anytime. And you can stow the kayak on the back porch—you don’t need a dock or an oversized garage.
Though it somewhat defeats the simplicity advantage, it’s also possible to add plenty of conveniences to make fishing easier and more productive. A depthfinder is the first add-on most invest in, and these range in price from a few hundred dollars to as much or more than the price of the kayak. And the electronics need a battery to act as a powersource.
Many also like to add an electric trolling motor to greatly extend the range and speed of the kayak. Again, these can be pricey, and they require a 12-volt deep-cycle battery to power. You’ll also need a charger to recharge the battery after a trip.
Add various seats, stowage boxes, rod holders, paddle leash and more and the price can slide well north of $5,000—but you’re still way under the cost of a powerboat.
All this said, kayaks are not the perfect boat for all situations. For most users, range is limited to a few miles from the launch point, though peddle-powered boats or those with electric motors can reach much farther, of course.
Wind and waves are much more critical in these tiny boats, as well—anything over a 1 foot chop can get to be a problem in a hurry. And if you go out with the wind behind you, you’ll find that it’s much more difficult to come home paddling into that wind. The same goes for current or tide flow—moving with the flow is effortless, against it can be backbreaking. And fishing kayaks are not made for whitewater rivers, at all.
You can get a start in kayak fishing with a no-name ‘yak from a big box store, but most who get serious about it switch to name-brand boats with more features, more comfortable seating and paddles matched to their body size and strength. Hobie, Ocean, Jackson and Wilderness Systems are some of the best known, and Bass Pro Shops also sells their own brand, with various levels of equipment.