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Kayaks for Fishing
  |  First Published: September 2005



Ever since the first Inuit tribesman lashed together some driftwood and whalebones, covered them with sealskins, and discovered it would float as well as protect him from the icy waters of the Arctic, people have been fishing from kayaks.

Modern kayak fishers have the choice of a much superior range of materials (including polyethylene and fibreglass) from which their kayaks can be constructed and because of the flexibility afforded by the latest manufacturing methods, can also choose from a multitude of sizes and shapes for their craft.

Another spin off from better manufacturing techniques is that these days kayaks are quite inexpensive, and, when compared to the costs associated with buying and running a powerboat, anglers of all ages are increasingly being attracted into this exciting sport.

In Australia it is becoming more common to see kayakers fishing inshore reefs, mangrove creeks, shallow banks, freshwater lakes, and even surf beaches that cannot easily be accessed by using conventional boats. It is not unusual to see a fishing kayak fitted with multiple rod holders, sounder, GPS and maybe even a livebait tank. Safety equipment such as flares, EPIRB and VHF radio can also be stowed on board.

Kayaks used for fishing are usually classified as sit-in kayaks or sit-on-top kayaks.

The Sit-In Kayak (SIK)

The SIK is based on the traditional Inuit design with a cockpit in which the paddler sits with legs extended into the space under the deck.

Because the paddler virtually wears the kayak, excellent protection is afforded from the elements, particularly if a skirt is used to seal the space between the paddler and the rim of the cockpit. The SIK is an ideal craft to use when fishing in cold waters or in the rain, as the paddler, when properly dressed, can keep warm and dry.

The deck usually has deck-straps fitted and is an excellent platform to attach fishing accessories such as sounder, net, gaff, tackle box and rod holders.

Sit-in kayaks tend to be longer and narrower than sit-on-top kayaks and most of the touring models are quite fast and easy to paddle, which is a major benefit when doing a lot of trolling or travelling to distant fishing grounds in lakes and rivers. A decent rudder system is recommended to enable easy manoeuvring of a touring kayak.

Like all paddle-craft, a longer and narrower kayak will be faster than a shorter wider model and, for kayak fishing, finding a good compromise between length (speed and tracking), hull shape (seaworthiness, stability and speed), width (speed, stability at rest and working space) and weight (carrying and lifting) should produce an all-round craft suitable for a range of fishing tasks.

A good locally-made touring kayak that can be set up for lake or estuary fishing is the Rosco Tidemark which, at 4.65m long, 65cm wide and 18kg, is stable, efficient to paddle and simple to carry on the shoulder or lift onto car roof-racks.

The Sit-On-Top (SOT) Kayak

A SOT kayak has a hull like a regular or sit-in kayak, but instead of a cockpit has a moulded seat depression and foot-wells.

Scupper holes go through the hull so that it is self-draining, which means any water taken aboard drains away instead of filling the sitting area.

This self-draining capability makes SOT kayaks particularly suitable for rough conditions; for example, they can be launched through the surf without fear of being swamped. In the event of a capsize it is not too difficult to clamber back on board and continue paddling, with no specialised skills such as Eskimo rolling needed.

This ease of getting on and off is great for launching and landing but also makes crossing shallow sandbanks a breeze as you can jump off and drag the Kayak into deeper water before re-boarding.

SOT kayaks are commonly designed for recreational purposes and are therefore made wide enough to provide good primary stability and short enough to be easy to manoeuvre. However, first-time paddlers often choose a kayak that is too stable and compromise on speed and manoeuvrability.

Remember when you first learnt to ride a bicycle? It was impossible to balance and it seemed like you always fell off, but it soon became second nature. The disadvantages of overly stable kayaks are that they are slower, require more effort to paddle, and, in the event of capsize, are more difficult to right. A kayak may at first seem too easy to tip, but after paddling it a few times you’ll soon feel right at home.

There are a number of SOT kayaks that have been tried and proven by kayak anglers: the Perception Swing, Ocean Kayaks Prowler, Ocean Kayaks Scupper Pro TW and the new Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160i, which is only just making it to our shores.

The Perception Swing at 4m long, 76cm wide and weighing 24kg, with the addition of rod holders and other accessories, has become one of the most popular SOT kayaks used for fishing.

Choose your Fishing Kayak carefully

If it floats you can fish from it, but some kayaks are more suited to fishing than others. Kayaks of around 3m in length, while fun in white-water, the surf or for a short paddle on smooth water, can suffer from limited storage space, limited fit-out options, low carrying capacity and poor tracking. Once you start looking at kayaks around 4m, you are getting into models that can offer serious fishability.

Before rushing out to buy a fishing kayak it is a good idea to do a lot of research as well as test paddles of several brands to decide what style of craft will best suit your needs. Whether the traditional SIK or the more versatile SOT kayak appeals to you, be sure to visit several dealers and check the internet to get feedback from existing owners of similar craft.

Think seriously about the type of fishing you want to do then take a look at what people who are a similar size and weight to you are using for particular purposes. An excellent starting point to gather such information and to link to a good selection of related sites and discussion forums is the local website Kayak Fishing in South East Queensland (http://members.optusnet.com.au/aus-kayak-fishing/index.html) which is a non-commercial site edited by local kayak fishing identity Tony Smith, who has also kindly contributed a lot of the information used in this article.

If you currently are a shore-based angler or are tired of boat ramp hassles and soaring fuel prices, then do your research well on the kayak fishing concept and hopefully we will see you out on the water before the warmer weather arrives, enjoying your fishing more than you ever thought possible, and most likely improving your fitness level at the same time.

And don’t ever think that you’re too young or too old to get involved in kayak fishing, as this exciting sport seems to attract as many retirees as it does teenagers!

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