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Kayak selection and fit out
  |  First Published: December 2016



With Christmas done and dusted there will be plenty of new kayaks out on the water, and also plenty of anglers looking for a post-Christmas kayak bargain from their local retailers. With this in mind I thought we’d spend this issue looking at some key criteria to consider when selecting a new kayak, and also some of the initial fit out options that will make your new vessel safer and more comfortable, and your fishing sessions more productive. Having just added a new yak to my current fleet, I have considered many of these criteria and also planned my future fit out – which I look forward to covering in a future issue.

Configuration

Firstly, you’ll need to decide if you’re looking for a single kayak, a kayak that can be used as a single or double, a genuine two-person kayak, or even a 2+1 kayak that can be paddled by two adults and a child. You’ll also need to decide whether you’re after a sit on top or sit inside kayak. The sit on top kayak has become the most popular option for general estuary and offshore fishing, with its open deck making it easy to enter and exit. The chance of swamping is extremely low with its sealed hull, ease of setup for fishing and also ease of landing fish. The sit inside places you lower to the water and offers better protection from the elements, including weather and vegetation in the water. Sit inside kayaks are still extremely popular in the colder environments of the southern lakes and rivers, due to the weather protection and warmth they offer. Specialised sit inside kayaks, with cockpit skirts, still remain the go-to for white water kayaking and long range kayak touring.

Construction

Without a doubt, the most popular kayak construction method is rotomolded polyethylene, as it is affordable, durable and low maintenance. Fibreglass, composite and carbon fibre materials are also used and can offer a more rigid, responsive and lighter kayak, but often with a higher price tag. One kayak category where these materials have become popular is the specialised, long offshore fishing kayak/skis that are used for surf launches, long range paddling and bait fishing, lure casting and trolling for offshore pelagic species and billfish.

Propulsion System

There is a range of propulsion options available to the kayaker (although not in all construction materials), including paddle, pedal and electric. Paddle is generally the simplest, lightest and most affordable option for a set kayak length. Pedal offers the advantage of hands free fishing, while also using the larger muscles in your legs to propel you, often extending the distance you can travel for the effort exerted. There are a range of pedal options that include finned systems and propeller driven units. Electric options include commercially available models that fit into the cockpit of certain kayaks, along with others that can be attached in place of a rudder and steered with the rudder foot pedals and steering cables. Simpler and cheaper options are also readily available that can be attached with an electric motor bracket and steered by hand.

Length

Shorter kayaks, from around 2.7m–3.3m are generally the preferred option for shorter range adventures in calmer waters, including lakes, rivers and estuaries. They are also ideal for paddling and portaging creeks in search of species such as bass and Murray cod. Kayaks of this length are generally lighter, more manoeuvrable and cheaper to purchase, however they often don’t track or glide as well as a longer kayaks. Stepping up in length to 3.6m–4.5m, and depending upon hull design, you have a kayak that is more likely to be suited to long-range adventures, offshore fishing and carrying gear for multi-day adventures. Many kayaks around this length will also have the option of a rudder to aid with manoeuvrability. Kayaks longer than 4.5m are generally specialised for applications, such as long-range offshore fishing, including surf launches and more hard-core kayak touring.

Width

Check out the width of the kayak to ensure that you can fit comfortably in the cockpit area as width can vary significantly across different models. Some kayaks are narrow, sleek, fast and track well, however this can be a trade off when it comes to stability. A kayak that is too wide can be difficult to paddle, and sluggish and barge-like in the water, and means much more effort to get it moving to cover distance. Many kayak brands will rate their different models in terms of speed, handling, stability, and more. and this can be a handy starting point.

Weight

Check the spec sheets when deciding on weight, as you need to be able to handle the kayak both on and off the water. Are you able to lift the kayak on and off a vehicle, and store it when you get home? In terms of configuration, length, width and weight, it’s a great idea to test paddle and handle the kayak prior to purchase. This can be done at an on water day offered by a kayak retailer, test pool in-store or by paddling a few friends’ kayaks until you find one that suits your needs – that is often the key phrase, the best kayak for you is the one that best suits your needs.

Capacity

Another important spec to check is the weight capacity of the kayak, ensuring that it is capable of handling your weight, along with the weight of any gear you are wishing to carry. You may not require a large weight capacity for general estuary fishing, however for long-range fishing and multi-day camping adventures, you’ll need to consider fishing and camping gear, and water safety equipment that you wish to carry.

Rudder

Does the kayak come with a rudder, or is there an option to fit a rudder at a later date? A rudder is a necessity on a pedal kayak, as it is your primary means of steering, while also being of benefit on a paddle kayak, as it allows you to correct your tracking with the rudder, rather than having to continually adjust your paddle stroke. Even when you’re not paddling, the rudder allows you to control your drift line, distance from structure or the bank, along with angle when drifting with the wind and fishing. Smaller kayaks are often rudderless due to their price points, shorter-range applications and manoeuvrability. Once you have narrowed down the kayak models to a selection that ticks the aforementioned criteria, you can then look at other less crucial features that may influence your final choice.

Storage

Storage comes in many forms, including hatches that access the hull, hatches that access sealed compartments, side pockets, seat pockets, rear wells, drink holders, bungy cord, dash boards, tackle tray storage and more. Consider whether the storage is adequate and suits your needs, and whether other storage options can be added to customise your kayak to suit your fishing.

Carry Handles

Are the carry handles adequate and sturdy enough for you to load and unload the kayak effectively? This can include nose, tail and side carry handles and these can be moulded into the kayak, or attached as part of the initial manufacturer fit out.

Attachment Points

What attachment points are available on the kayak (including deck eyes, bungy cord and deck lines)? These are points where you can attach leashes for rods, nets, and lips grips and other accessories, as well as points to strap down dry bags, crates, water drums and other gear. It’s also worth taking note of flat sections on the kayak, both intentionally moulded into the design and otherwise, where you can mount accessories such as flags, lighting, rod holders, sounders and so forth.

Rod Storage

Some higher end pedal kayaks offer laydown rod storage for half a dozen rod combos, while a basic kayak may not even offer a single flush mount rod holder. Rod holders on offer may include moulded in storage, flush mount rod holders or attached adjustable rod holders. Ensure the kayak has suitable rod holders for your adventures – or at least the ability to attach the rod holders that you require.

Other features

Other features that may sway your decision in terms of the model you select; include colour options, scupper hole placement, drink holders and extras offered such as paddles, seats and trolleys. My recent addition was based on the need for an inexpensive, smaller, lightweight kayak that was capable of carrying my 90kg frame plus gear, for making the most of short windows of time for estuary adventures, as well as the occasional overnight bass or cod adventure. The Viking Nemo with Angler Kit, ticked the boxes at 3.2m long, 79cm wide, with a weight of only 20kg and a capacity of 130kg. It features a stable hull that tracks well, centre hatch with bucket within easy reach, front bungy, plenty of storage on the rear of the kayak, grab line around the deck, paddle holder, four flush mount rod holders, Railblaza Rod Holder II adjustable rod holder, paddle, seat and a 30 year warranty. The addition of a hatch in the rear well and front of the cockpit allows gear to be stowed inside the hull of the kayak for camping adventures. If you were lucky enough to score a kayak for Christmas, or have a kayak that you use for fishing, here’s a few of the fit out options that I have planned for my new rig, to make my adventures more productive, safer and more comfortable

Anchor Running Rig/Anchor Trolley

An anchor is always handy, as it allows you to position the kayak to fish likely looking areas and hold position, even in windy conditions. An anchor running rig is basically a loop of cord that runs between two pulleys, one toward the front of the kayak and one toward the rear – it will either have a ring joining the loop, or a tag line coming off the loop where you attach your anchor line. This allows you to easily deploy and retrieve the anchor, while having the ability to move the anchor line to the front or rear of the kayak. I like to deploy the anchor and move the rope to the front so that the kayak swings nose into the current, allowing me to cast up current and work my soft plastics back naturally with the flow. In terms of anchors, the Cooper 1kg Nylon Anchor has served me well. This anchor running rig is also handy for attaching other anchor types, such as stake out poles, sea anchors and grab anchors.

Rod Holders

Rod storage will take some customising to suit how many rods you wish to carry and the environments you’re fishing. For example, if you are fishing tight creeks with overhanging vegetation, then you probably don’t want your rods sticking straight up in the air. Probably the most effective solution I’ve found is the Railblaza Rod Holder II adjustable rod holder. The reason why this option is so versatile is that virtually wherever you can attach a StarPort Mount, you can add a rod holder. These rod holders also have a full range of adjustments so you can control the position and angle of the rod when mounted. I will likely end up with two or three of these mounted so that I can have a selection of lures rigged and at the ready. If you wish to use the standard flush mount rod holders that’s fine, however to lift the reels further from the water, I will add a length of pipe that fits into the rod holder, with a slot cut in it for the reel seat to lock into. These rod holder extensions are also available commercially if you don’t want to make your own.

Navigation Lights

If low light or night adventures are on the cards, you may also wish to look at your navigation light options. I will again be fitting a couple of Railblaza StarPorts to my new craft, to house their 360 degree white light and Bi-colour Navigation Light. This lighting provides a level of light while fishing, while also ensuring you’re visible to other crafts. The pole used to attach the 360 degree white light is also ideal for attaching a flag to increase your visibility during daylight hours, and Railblaza offer the Visibilty Kit II, which includes mount, pole, light and flag for those looking for a one stop solution.

So that’s a quick look at a few things to consider when choosing a first kayak or simply looking to add to your current fleet, along with a few additions that can make you adventures more comfortable, safer and enjoyable. Remember the right kayak for you is the one that best suits your needs – so do your research, visit your local kayak dealer, attend a few on water days, and think about the fishing and adventures that you intend to undertake. I’m looking forward to fitting out the Viking Nemo over the coming months to suit my adventures, and hopefully there will be plenty of quality fish and camping adventure photos to follow. See you on the water.

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