Three things fishing kayak manufacturers have apparently learned recently:
• Not all kayak fishermen are 22 years old, weigh 145 pounds, and will happily sit flat on their asses with their legs straight out for 10 hours at a time.
• Not all kayak fishermen agree that less is more in terms of kayak gear, kayak complexity, or kayak weight.
• Some kayak fishermen want to be able to go home and watch video of themselves fishing from a kayak. Even if we admit to wearing footgear referred to as booties.
At least that’s what I established after attending Paddlesport 2013, the largest consumer kayak show on the East Coast, in Somerset, New Jersey last week. Sponsored by Jersey Paddler in Brick, New Jersey, the show featured more than 150 exhibitors for three days, and drew a crowd of well over 5,000, some from as far away as Maine and Florida.
“Kayak fishing was the leading draw at this year’s show,” said John Durrua, owner of Jersey Paddler, who keeps more than a thousand kayaks in inventory and allows potential buyers to test-ride kayaks on a nearby lake. Durrua knows kayaks—52 years ago his father sponsored what might have been the first kayak consumer show ever, and John has been in the business his entire life. If there’s a show where you can see everything that’s new in the world of kayak fishing, it’s Paddlesport. I saw plenty there, but the following nine new products were most interesting.
Hobie puts a toe—a long, wide, weighty toe—on the line that separates kayak from boat with the introduction of the Pro Angler 14, a craft powered by the company’s unique and efficient pedal-operated Mirage Drive system. The first Pro Angler, a 12-footer, was introduced with great success a year and a half ago. The PA14 (which actually measures 13 feet 8 inches long) is 38 inches wide and has all the features available on the 12, including a removable height- and lumbar-adjustable seat, integral tackle box storage, accessory mounting boards, rod holders, and the stability that allows you to stand up while fishing. Options include a live well, a grab/leaning bar, and perhaps most innovative, the “Lowrance Ready” plastic panel that fits flush with the hull and holds a built-in transducer. No drilling for wires or squirting masses of Goop on the hull when installing a fishfinder. All this comes with a price besides that on the tag: weight. The hull is 110 pounds and scales 138 pounds when rigged.
The Takeaway: I can vouch for the efficiency and utility of the Mirage Drive unit, having fished with a Hobie Outback for a week in the Florida Keys. The unit allows you to hold position in a current by pedaling while you use both hands to fish, and I could not have fished the swift current beneath the Keys bridges so effectively without it.
While the PA14 is a well-designed craft, the size and weight will limit its portability. Unless you regularly hit the weight room at the gym, you’ll need a partner to help you lug it to wherever you take it, and I suspect it’s not nearly as fast and agile on the water as a kayak. If those aren’t concerns, and if you’re a big guy who likes his room, the PA14 may be just right. MSRP: $2,949; Hobiecat.com
Native Watercraft has its own foot-driven propulsion system, the Propel Pedal Drive, which allows the operator to instantly move forward or backward by pedaling. That’s been around for several years and is available in seven models, but it’s the company’s Slayer model, a standard paddle kayak, that I found most interesting.
Available in 12- and 14 ½-foot versions with 31- and 30-inch widths, respectively, the Slayer has some subtle yet smart designs that benefit fishermen: a bow storage well that is easily accessed while seated, a very comfortable seat that is easily raised onto a higher secondary base to allow for a better vantage and an easier flyrod backcast (as well as making it easier to stand up), solid handles (that won’t snag hooks so easily), standing stability, a waterproof battery compartment, and sound dampening. One other plus: a fixed wheel on the stern that allows fishermen to roll (as long as the bank isn’t muddy or swampy) the 70- and 75-pound ‘yaks to water’s edge.
“We’ve listened to what fishermen wanted,” said Mike Hooks, a Native representative, and from my perspective on the showroom floor, it showed.
The Takeaway: Kayaks are a study in tradeoffs, meaning that for every advantage built into a boat, a disadvantage is added. If you want stability, for instance, you need width, and thus weight. No craft is perfect, but the Slayers appear to offer numerous advantages that many fishermen want. MSRP: $1179-$1279; nativewatercraft.com
If you can’t stand up in your kayak, you’d better be comfortable if you plan on being on the water for more than a couple of hours. Wilderness, the maker of the fishing-friendly Tarpon and Ride model kayaks, realized this and has developed a way for you to happily keep ass in seat with the Phase 3 AirPro. Several versions of the AirPro are available, including the lumbar-adjustable AirPro Advance, which is a bit elevated and has a convenient storage area with custom trays beneath it (available on the Ride Advance models only). All AirPros have cushioning, a flexible backrest, and “leg lifters” that raise those portion of the seat on which your thighs rest. This last is very important because it allows you to adjust the angle of your legs when bracing your feet against the footpegs. According to Wilderness Systems, that feature reduces the chance of numbness, cramping, and even sciatica.
The Takeaway: I have experienced that numbness, cramping, and even sciatica after paddling for most of the day, so the AirPro should be a huge plus for those of us who spend a lot of time in our ‘yaks. The seat certainly felt comfortable on the showroom floor. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear if fishermen who own an early-model Tarpon (as I do) or Ride can purchase these seats separately and install them. I’ll get details and report back. Available on Ride and Tarpon kayaks; MSRP: $699-$1139; Wildernesssystems.com
I’ve always maintained that kayak fishing is 95 percent paddling, 5 percent swimming. It’s impossible to kayak-fish without getting wet, sometimes a little (Wind-driven spray in your face! Water running down your paddle and onto your arms! How refreshing!), sometimes a lot (I’ll just kneel, lean over the transom a bit, unzip, and badword-kersplash-pause-badword). That’s not a big deal if you’re fishing in shallow 78-degree water on a calm July day, but it’s another matter entirely—and a very dangerous one—if the water is cold. You could get hypothermic in minutes if you’re not protected.
Some fishermen put on neoprene waders and a semi-dry top, cinch everything tight, and head out. While this alternative is certainly a less expensive route, it has a risk of leaking.
The alternative is a dry suit, which is a nearly waterproof one-piece suit that allows mobility and comfort as well as protection from body-heat-sucking cold water. The drawback is the cost--real-world prices for dry suits made with Gore-Tex start at around $800. And those suits are not designed for fishermen.
Kokatat’s new Supernova Angler suit obviously is, and costs about $200 less than Gore-Tex models. Made with a proprietary waterproof-breathable material called Hydrus 3L (for three layers), it has a neoprene neck gasket (for comfort), latex wrists, a flexible plastic front-entry zipper (also for comfort, most suits have metal zippers) and a relief zipper (isn’t technology wonderful?). There is a hook-point-repelling cordura layer from the waist through the knees on the front of the suit as well as on the butt and elbow sections, which should go a long way toward keeping this dry suit a dry suit.
The Takeaway: Jeff Turner, Sales & Design Manager for Kokatat, told me that Hydrus 3L material is “slightly less durable and breathable” than Gore-Tex—but also costs less. I neglected to put one on and drive over to the Raritan River and jump in, so I can’t tell you how it fits, feels, and performs. But the price is certainly attractive. MSRP: $605; kokatat.com
Parent company Johnson had the Ultra 4.3 developed in New Zealand by a design team that makes kayaks for use on the big open waters off that country’s coast. The 4.3 Ultra (which refers to its length in meters; it’s about 14 feet long), according to representative John Oast, sits lower in the water and thus is ”wetter” than some other kayaks, but is extremely fast because of the hydrodynamic hull shape (the better to avoid pods of killer whales, I suppose). The sit-on-top has features found on many fishing kayaks—rod and cup holders, paddle keeper and the like—but the smartly designed central hatch cover is unique. A fishfinder can be mounted on the reversible cover so that if you’re encountering rough water, you can simply rotate the hatch, lock it down, and keep the unit safe and dry inside the hull.
The Takeaway: Oast had only one 4.3 at Paddlesport on display, and one show visitor liked it so much he bought it on the spot, so I couldn’t take a photo of it when I returned the next day (manufacturer photo shown here). You may not need to outrun orcas while chasing bluefish behind the breakers at the beach, but if a feeding frenzy is a half-mile distant and moving away, you need a fast ‘yak, like this one supposedly is, to catch up to it. MSRP: $1,600; Oceankayak.com
Lightweight paddles aren’t cheap, but I learned the hard way last year that they’re worth the investment, when a day of hard paddling with a heavy model gave me wrist tendonitis for the rest of the week. Your choice of paddle can also provide other benefits.
“Kayak fishermen want to be seen or unseen,” rightly noted Andrew Stern, Marketing Specialist with Bending Branches paddles. That is, if you’re paddling in big water that’s also used by power boaters who may have started the morning with a couple of beers, you want to use a bright, flashy, easily visible kayak paddle. On smaller waters, though, with fish that easily spook, a subtle color is more suitable. That’s why BB expanded their line of kayak fishing paddles to four types. The paddles weigh from 30 to 37 ounces; have blades in various combinations of fiberglass, nylon, and carbon; and are available in orange, black, sage green, sea green, or camo. All have tape measures on the shaft, and three of them have a small “hook retrieval” notch on the paddle, which is designed to let you follow your fishing line down to your snagged hook and use leverage to free it.
The Takeaway: I haven’t used one of these paddles so I can’t vouch for their efficacy, but the lightweight versions felt wonderful at the show. And of course the hook retrieval slot would only work in depths not much deeper than the paddle itself. But BB gets props (so to speak) for designing paddles specifically for fishermen, and for use in varying fishing situations. MSRP: $99-$299; Bendingbranches.com
Few kayak manufacturers offer electric trolling motors as options, which is where BassYaks comes in. The company provides retrofitted motors, including the necessary brackets, throttle controls, lift kits, and the like for just about any kayak on the market, including new models. The Minn Kota motors and shafts are sealed and treated with a corrosion preventative. You can order a kit and install it yourself in three to five hours, says BassYaks owner Steve Komarinetz, have a dealer do it, or buy a completely outfitted kayak.
The Takeaway: The motor adds weight—16 to 21 pounds, according to the company—and you’ll have to lift the prop and paddle through any shallows. It also means more gear to deal with, after a sizable outlay of money. But a motor will allow you to get where you’re going without strain, and will allow you to stay in place or current or wind. It’s a personal choice. MSRP: $500-$1,200; bassyaks.com
No one keeps written fishing diaries anymore. Instead, we mount small video cameras on any piece of tackle large enough to hold a mount, film ourselves on the water, set the footage to music that isn’t copyrighted, and post it on YouTube.
Jackson Kayak has made such modern fishing record-keeping easier this year with the introduction of GoPro mounts on several of their kayaks, including the Cruise 12. Representative Matthew Trucks says that the Cruise, with its clear, open layout in front of the seat, is ideal for flyfishermen (no hatch hinges or accessories that will snag flyline). The GoPro mount sits forward, allowing you to film either yourself or the water you’re casting to (garage band recording not included).
Many Jackson kayaks also have integral RAM mounts. The new Cuda 12 has four of them, allowing you to customize your rod-holder arrangement without drilling. Other fishermen-friendly features on the Cuda include standing stability, a high-low seat, and a rod tip protector (pictured above). This last is brilliantly simple: a shield over the bow into which you slide tips from rods that are held in slots on the port and starboard sides.
The Takeaway: Upright rod holders are useful, but many times (navigating under low bridges or brush, when launching or dragging through shallows, when a thunderstorm is approaching) laying the rods down is a smart idea. The Jackson tip shield is the best system I’ve seen on a kayak for doing this, and the Cuda 12 seems an extremely functional boat for the money, at least from my showroom-floor perspective. MSRP: Cruise, $899; Cuda, $1,199; jacksonkayak.com
It’s not always a cinch to climb back into a kayak from the water, even in warm conditions (I know this from experience). Cold water will only make it more difficult, and if you’re wearing boots or boot-foot waders, you may not be able to kick and hoist yourself high enough to re-board. That’s why lightweight booties exist, and Stohlquist says that their new Tideline model provides the perfect balance of grip and comfort. The 5mm neoprene booties can be worn against your skin or, in one size larger, over a drysuit sock. It’s shaped to fit closely against the foot to minimize the chance of water pockets developing, which would sap warmth.
The Takeaway: Like other Stohlquist products, these look to be smartly designed and well manufactured. But we kayak fishermen need to come up with a better name for such important footgear. “Booties” are something you’d wear on your feet while you’re snuggling under a blanket with your girlfriend while watching The Notebook and wondering what your buddies would say if they ever found out. Footsuits? Wetshoes? Yakpeds? Let’s help the kayak fishing industry remedy this terrible problem. MSRP: $45; Stohlquist.com