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Kayak, canoe, which one for you
  |  First Published: December 2013



Working in a specialist kayak and canoe store really fires up your interest in more remote fisheries. It’s very rewarding to fish somewhere that powered boats can’t get to.

There are lots of other good reasons to get a kayak though, and there are plenty of kayaks out there that are good all-rounders, suited to a variety of activities and conditions. Other craft are designed to suit specific fishing applications.

When you’re a first-time kayaker, it’s easy to select a craft based on how it fits your budget, rather than thinking about what its main use will be. This is a problem, because when you start using it you’ll find it’s not really enjoyable. It will end up sitting idle in your garage, or worse – on the internet for sale.

Let’s take a look at some of the styles of kayaks and canoes on the market and what makes each one different from its close cousins. With all the variety out there, you’ll be able to find one that suits your needs without breaking the bank.

KAYAK – SIT ON TOP

This is one of the most popular styles of light watercraft on the market. It is easy to use, generally quite manageable to launch and can easily be transported on a set of roof racks.

These kayaks come in dual and single person versions, which makes them attractive to both families as well as anglers. Because you set on top of them rather than inside them, they can handle much rougher conditions. Due to the nature of these craft, you will usually be a bit higher off the water with no ‘gunwales’ to negotiate when casting or paddling.

Sit-on-top kayaks usually have drain holes that allow excess water that comes over the bow, stern or sides to rapidly drain away. The downside to this is that water will also slop up through these drain holes while paddling. You can stop this by adding scupper bungs – tapered plugs that you can push into the drain holes. If you do find yourself in a situation whereby the kayak takes on water, you simply yank the bungs out and the water will drain away. These bungs can be a big plus on cold mornings.

Sit-on-top kayaks can be used in a host of different ways, from the surf to calm water in both the salt and the fresh. When you’re buying one, look at the shape first. Models that are wide and short are harder to paddle, but are more stable. Long and narrow models are faster but less stable.

There are slight variations to this rule, depending on specific hull designs. Some of the major brands, which can be admittedly be more expensive, put a lot of R&D into their hulls to make them paddle faster while still being quite stable.

Another factor to consider is what material the craft is made of, because Australian conditions can be harsh on watercraft. Good quality UV stabilised polyethylene will rapidly increase the working life of your kayak, and ensure that it can handle many of the knocks that these craft often have to endure.

The storage in sit on top kayaks is limited to the amount of hatch or compartment space in them. Using dry bags is a must if you don’t want your gear to get wet.

KAYAK – SIT IN

Because you sit inside these kayaks rather than on top of them, you’ll normally have a lower centre of gravity. The fact that these craft have sides also means you’ll stay drier. It’s great in the colder months because you can rug up against the cold without having to worry too much about getting wet. The only water that you will get in your kayak will be drip from your paddles, but if you adjust your paddle stroke, and if your paddle features a good set of drip rings, you can cut this right down.

The downside to a sit-in kayak is that it’s not ideal for rough conditions. Unless you wear a quality spray skirt that fits over the top of your boat to make it watertight, you don’t want to use a sit-in around rough water.

Sit in kayaks are known for their exceptional paddle ability. They come in single and dual-person models, with the dual-person models usually preferred by touring kayakers that want to use the boat for extended paddles.

These craft are often the choice of calm water boaters due to the fact that you can store items in the seating area as well as in the designated storage compartments.

As with the sit-on-top kayaks, you’ll find that the better boats usually cost a bit more due to hull design and material quality.

CANOES

Even though canoes can be used to fish areas with rapids, they are usually a dedicated calm water craft. Canoes are favoured by boaters who want plenty of internal space, which is why these are such a good option for extended trips. They handle weight reasonably well and the large models (designed to carry two or even three people) can be extremely stable on the water. They are often designed to allow for electric or even outboard motors to be added, and can accommodate batteries and motor brackets.

A good quality canoe will paddle really well, and will be a pleasure to use when travelling long distances on our river systems.

The material they’re made from can greatly influence their lifespan and, to an extent, how they perform on the water. A good quality UV-stabilised polyethylene will allow your canoe to withstand the harsh Australian conditions, and if you step up to something like Royalex you’ll decrease its weight substantially.

RIGHT FOR THE JOB

Once you have chosen the model and make of your canoe or kayak, you need to get down to the nitty-gritty. As yourself whether you want it to be a fishing platform, or for exercise. You can opt for a craft that does both, as long as you bear in mind there will be slight compromises in certain areas.

If you want a dedicated fishing craft, you’ll be spoiled for choice. These models have rod holders, tackle storage features and stacks of other angler-friendly benefits. How much you want to add to your craft to make it more user-friendly is also entirely up to you. The kayak and canoe accessories are endless – anchors, drogues, rod holders, fish finders and sails are just a few of the accessories out there.

Another important question to ask yourself is, what are the seats like? You’ll be spending a lot of time sitting down so you want a comfortable seat. A backrest is very important as well. I recommend one that is adjustable and will provide lumbar support while you’re paddling or fishing.

One thing I cannot stress enough is to do your research. If one craft is more expensive than another, look at why. Check the material it is made of – is it buoyant or do you need to add flotation? These are the questions you need to ask yourself or the salesperson. You don’t want to be one of those people who has to put their canoe or kayak up for sale at half the purchase price because it was simply the wrong boat for them.

When you make the right choice, you’ll find that kayaking and canoeing can be great fun. It can take you to some of the most beautiful places around Australia – places that you would never have had the opportunity to visit otherwise. Just pick the right one for you and you’ll never look back.

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