Which Kayak For Me – The Basics

Choosing to spend money on any big item is never easy, whether it’s related to fishing or not. Bill Dunn gives some great advice on choosing a Kayak that will help with the decision making process.

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Back in my teens, my brother and I built a couple of fibreglass white water kayaks, based on the Lettman Mk4 design used in the Olympics in the early 70’s. We used those Kayaks all round southern NSW, in lakes, creeks and rivers. I taught myself to eskimo roll, and used to enjoy finding a set of rapids to explore on the weekends, it was a little dangerous and very exciting.

I was also into fishing, not in a serious way, it’s just that I seem to remember that I have always fished, but I don’t know when or how it started, only that it dates back to my primary years. I also really enjoyed camping, which came from Cubs and then Scouts so at some stage, we got the bright idea to combine all three. We had some cracker weekends, and I remember dragging a line from my rod, behind my yak as I headed down river – I don’t recall catching anything in the Kayak though.

Fast forward way too many years and I now have a wife and 4 kids, and the usual trappings like mortgages, loans, careers and so on, but somehow, I’m back doing the same thing all over again. How did that happen – because I can’t seem to remember missing it for all those years, but now – I don’t know how I would do without it, strange?

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About 6 years ago I started looking at some of the kayaks in the stores and realised that there was such a thing as a fishing kayak. I bought a magazine and started thinking about the idea. I went with a fisho friend to a shop that sold such things, and we talked that it would be a good thing to get into, but another year or so passed before I took another mate into see a couple of yaks in a camping store, and we have never looked back from that day, and now both of us are addicted – as our wives would say.

By now it’s mid 2016. Yak fishing has exploded and there is so so much choice now – and it seems to be growing exponentially. I have been through several yaks to get what I now call my ‘ideal setup’. My friend is the same, but his latest yak is very different to mine, and yet so similar. Because when I had been into slalom kayaking I needed to learn all the skills around that, I have had a more technical view of what I was wanting in a fishing yak – in other words I lean more toward the kayak side than the fish side – so to speak.

So what did I learn about the yaks over those years, and how did it influence what I have arrived at today?

So let’s start with the most important, or painful part – COST. You can only buy what you can afford at the time, simple. But, you can always upgrade later on, that’s what I and others I have done, and it works. We all have only so much we can afford to spend, so the trick is buy the best that you can afford. You can, and likely will, modify your fishing yak anyway. Using this rule generally means you don’t have a piece of junk that’s hard to sell when the time comes.

The vast majority of fishing kayaks out there today are a Roto moulded plastic. Fibreglass still exists, and is much lighter than an equivalent Roto kayak, but needs more care in use. Kayaks that are being bounced of rocks and logs, dragged across pebbly beaches, and left outside all the time need to be pretty tough – and you will see a large discrepancy between the cheaper and dearer boats – the thickness of the hull, and how well it is supported being a large part of the difference, the rest is the design, so how well it handles and how good is it to fish from.

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Let’s assume you have already owned a fishing kayak. Let’s also assume it’s a sub $800 kayak from a chain type outlet, not crap, just average and it’s got the obligatory rod holders, seat and storage – and came with a paddle. You love using it, its heaps of fun – and you have got bug, but now you are thinking it might be time to upgrade to something better – but what is better, and is it really justified when it’s going to cost you 2, 3 or even 4 times more.

When I was faced with the truth that I was addicted (because by now you are) I made a list of priorities – so what mattered the most to me, and then I narrowed my choices down using that list. What was important to me won’t suit everyone, but at least a few of the criteria will, so what were they. I can break that into 4 simple categories – and then explain each, and these would be relevant I believe to anyone wanting to purchase a kayak – regardless of whether you are upgrading or a first timer, but as an upgrader you already know a lot of what you want, you just need to define it.

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So, the budget has been sorted, what next?

The Hull – Wind or Wave. The top of the hull is divided in to two basic types, Sit In or Sit On kayaks. This is very much a personal preference, and what you feel most comfortable in. Each style has its benefits. The side of the hull, from the bow to stern will affect how the Yak works in various conditions, like breaking through surf, choppy water or windy days. Look at the kayak, and try to imagine what those forces would be doing in those areas of the hull. The bottom side of the Hull affects how the kayak tracks in the water, how well it does or doesn’t turn, as well as how stable the kayak is. It will also determine how easy it paddles and how fast the kayak is in the water.

A simple rule to remember – an increase in length or width will make for more a stable kayak, so a 14 ft kayak the same width as a 12 ft model, should be more stable.

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The Seat, is probably the most overlooked, but most important part of the kayak, other than the hull. It will make or break your day on the water. So what’s the difference between the seats, well frankly – the cost. More dollars usually means more seat. The best seats will allow you to be on the water ALL day, with minimal fatigue, and they are worth it. The seat affects how you sit (no really!), and just like your car – or your office chair, if it’s not right – you get aches and pains. When you’re kayaking  you are also paddling or pedalling, there-by putting far more strain on you buttocks, thighs, lower back and shoulders than any office chair will. The better seats are very adjustable, ventilated, self-draining and ergonomic. Some are even adjustable in angle and height, whilst others can be moved forward or aft to trim the boat so that it handles better. The seat is king!

Paddle or pedal – the argument here I suspect is not going away anytime soon. Simply – paddle kayaks are usually much cheaper and lighter than the equivalent quality pedal kayaks. Pedal kayaks allow ‘hands free’ fishing – so you can keep your hands on your fishing rod – not your paddle. Paddle kayaks are generally more manoeuvrable than equivalent pedal kayaks, but Paddle kayaks are more of a challenge when you’re hooked onto the fish, so if you like challenges, they are the go. Paddle kayaks are far better in faster flowing, shallow water, due to their weight and no appendages hanging under the boat.

Transporting your kayak – sounds simple, but the bigger it is, the heavier it is, so the harder it is to car top it, so that’s were trailers come into the picture – so it depends on where you intend to use it the most. Of course there are roof rack systems that aid you in loading, but they are a cost, as is a trailer – so before purchasing your kayak, take that in mind.

Be realistic, and do you research. Having worked out your budget, and where and how you intend to fish, it’s time to hook up with some experienced kayak anglers, who are usually more than happy to give you advise or even let you test ride their pride and joy, or see if the shop you are buying it from will let you test it – most selling quality kayaks will.

Bill Dunn

About Bill Dunn

Me....well my first fishing memories are at lakes Entrance and Bright, both in Victoria with my family when I was about 10-12 years of age. Since I have always taken a rod and reel when away,and whilst never been good at it, i find it very relaxing. Yak fishing started for me when i was in my early 20's on the rivers and coastal areas around the ACT, I would take my fibreglass slalom kayak and a rod, tent etc.

About 6 years ago I got a bit more serious and started looking into yak fishing again and it didnt take me long to realise it was a fast growing version of the sport.

These days, I still live in Canberra, and a few kayaks on, I still find it theraputic and at the same time challanging. More recently I have been helping new comers into the sport with advice and tips on kayaks and set up, the fishing I leave to them.

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