A stalled economy and high oil prices mean more budget-conscious anglers than ever are looking for ways to get out on the water without spending half their paychecks on boat fuel. It’s one reason kayaks have become so popular in both fresh and salt water. For less than the cost of a season’s gas you can pick up a versatile fishing boat that puts you in your spots in stealth and in comfort. But there are a number of different paddling platforms out there, and each has its pros and cons. Which one is right for you? Here’s a quick breakdown (now with bonus tips on picking the right waterproof outerwear to use while you’re fishing from them!).
Sit-On-Top Kayaks: Your Floating Tackle Box While some traditional sit-in kayaks are still made for fishermen who venture into rough and cold water (such as the Wilderness Systems Pungo, $829), sit-on-tops far outnumber them today. Sit-on-top yaks let you change positions easily to rest sore parts. They’re also easier to get into and out of, are more stable, and are more customizable than most sit-in kayaks. All you need is a drill, a rivet gun and a tube of silicon to attach lights, anchor trolleys, extra rod holders, pontoon stabilizers, and a million other gadgets that let you tailor your boat to the places you fish. Disadvantages: These kayaks are generally slower and heavier than sit-in boats, making long paddles and headwinds a chore. They’re also difficult to fish from in a wind. You can mount a rudder to help you track while trolling, but the minute you set down your paddle to pick up your casting rod you’re at the mercy of any stray breeze, which means fewer shots at choice targets. Great for: Open water and light winds. Exercising. Empty wallets.
Bad for: Heart conditions. Long-distance paddling. Winds over 15 mph. Example: Ocean Kayak Trident 13 (MSRP $1,029.99)
Stability: 5/5**
Speed:** 2/5**
Range:** 2/5**
Weight:** 2/5 **
Fishability:** 3/5 **
Cost:** 4/5
Electric Power: The Lazy Man’s Kayak Kayaks with built-in trolling motors offer all the advantages of the standard sit-on-top with none of the drawbacks. These boats are stealthy, hands-free fishing platforms that can hover over prime spots in all but the heaviest wind or current, and let you troll for hours while burning zero calories. Hard-core yakkers look sideways at them, but who cares about exercise when you’re catching more fish? They do, however, have two big points against them. Disadvantages: First is that they’re generally very heavy. This matters little in the water when your prop is doing all the work, but hauling 130 pounds of yak, battery, and gear from your truck to a put-in can be a real drag over slopes and sand. Beach carts with balloon tires help, but cost money, which leads to the second disadvantage. Electric kayaks are expensive. The yaks themselves cost more, and you have to buy an expensive spillproof battery to power them. They’re still a whole lot cheaper than a boat, though. If catching fish is more important than improving your upper-body strength, an electric kayak is your best option. Great for: All fishing conditions. Gaining weight.
Bad for: Empty wallets. Car-top luggage racks. Example: Ocean Kayak Torque (MSRP $1,999.99)
Stability: 5/5
Speed: 1/5
Range: 4/5
Weight: 1/5
Fishability: 5/5
Cost: 2/5
**Pedal Drives: Hands Free Power
The strongest muscles in your body power your legs, which is one big reason why pedal-driven kayaks are so popular with anglers who love to troll, or who fish where strong winds and currents are common. Hobie’s patented Mirage Drive system of pedal-driven flippers is the most efficient muscle-powered way to cover water on the market. Period. Like electric kayaks, these boats let you keep your hands free to cast or change rigs without losing position in wind or current. They’re also much lighter than the electric variety, and they’re less complicated to set up once you get down to the water. Disadvantages: The only drawback is that you can’t pedal them in reverse. For that you have to use a paddle, which makes keeping your stern to the wind while casting a real challenge. This is a minor drawback — these are excellent fishing boats. Great for: Trolling. Long distances. Tides and currents.
Bad for: Tight water. Going backwards. Example: Hobie Outback (MSRP $1849)
Stability: 4/5
Speed: 5/5
Range: 5/5
Weight: 2/5
Fishability: 4/5
Cost: 3/5
SUPs: The Simple Option The polar opposite of the electric kayak is the Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP), which is just what it sounds like; a simple surfboard designed to be paddled from a standing position. There are a number of big, highly stable SUPs on the market that even large-framed paddlers can use with ease, and many of them were designed with anglers in mind. SUPs offer three distinct advantages over sit-down boats. 1.) Because you’re standing, you get to see more of the water you’re fishing, including more of what’s under the surface. This makes them an excellent choice for sight fishing. 2.) Standing up also means you can use your full range of motion when you cast, giving you the most distance and accuracy of any paddling option. 3.) SUPs are extremely portable. Even the biggest boards weigh only 30 pounds or so, and there are a few inflatables on the market you can easily check on a plane. They’re also extremely simple; you don’t need to fuss with straps, rudders, seats, batteries, or anything else. Just plop one in the water, step on board, and paddle off into the sunset. This comes in very handy when you’ve only got a few hours at the end of the day and the fish are biting when you arrive. Disadvantages: Drawbacks? Light breezes will blow you all over the water, so they’re best in sheltered spots or days when there’s very little wind. Good for: Still water. Sight fishing. Casting accuracy. Improving balance.
Bad for: Wind. Example: Starboard Fisherman (MSRP $1799)
Stability: 2/5
Speed: 4/5
Range: 3/5
Weight: 5/5
Fishability: 3/5
Cost: 3/5
Kayak Fishing Outerwear: The Pros and Cons of Wet Suits, Dry Suits, and Wader/Dry Top Combos If you fish from a kayak or a paddleboard during the spring, fall, or winter (or whenever water temps are low), your most important gear decision is how to stay warm when you get wet. There are three primary options: You can wear a wet suit, combine dry pants or waders with a waterproof top, or wear a full dry suit. Each option has its pros and cons. Picking the right one depends on the kind of fishing you plan to do, and on the kind of boat you plan to paddle. Wet Suit Wet suits keep you warm by allowing a thin layer of water to form between your suit and your skin. Your body heat warms this layer up, and the neoprene of the suit keeps that heat trapped in. The thicker the layer of neoprene, the more heat gets trapped. Wet suits are cheap (even top-end cold-water suits like Patagonia’s R3 series cost only $550, which is little more than half what you’d pay for a low-range dry suit). The major drawback to a cold-weather wet suit? You can’t wear one in anything other than cold weather. Despite this, a good wet suit is probably your best choice for shorter winter or early-spring trips when you know you’re likely to get soaked (i.e. launching through surf to fish through a morning tide, or riding a paddleboard rough water). Pros: Cheaper than a dry suit. Keeps you warm even if the suit gets cut or punctured.
Cons: Hard to put on. Makes you look ridiculous if you’re not in surfer shape. Restricts motion more than a dry suit or dry top. Not ideal for paddling longer distances. Try This: Patagonia R3 full wetsuit ($525)
Full Dry Suit The only way to make sure you stay warm and dry when you’re on a kayak, even in the harshest conditions, is to wear a full-body dry suit. Aside from the latex gaskets they use to seal your wrists and neck (which can feel overly tight until you get used to them), dry suits are extremely comfortable. Because you can wear them over layers of regular clothing, they’re also extremely versatile. Wear T-shirt and shorts underneath or layer up with lots of technical underwear to match the conditions you plan to face. These suits are expensive, though costs have dropped over recent years. Kokatat, for example, makes an affordable Gore-Tex suit (that features a handy crotch zipper for emergency access when you have to pee). Pros: Extremely dry. Very comfortable. Good range of motion makes them ideal for longer paddles or overnight trips.
Cons: Expensive. Small tears or punctures from hooks, shells, or other sharp objects can create big leaks that could turn catastrophic in the wrong cold-weather situation. Try This: Kokatat Gore-Tex Front-Entry Dry Suit with Relief Zipper ($975)
Waders with a Dry Top Pairing breathable waders or dry pants with a pullover dry or splash top is the most comfortable way to stay warm in a kayak in all but the most extreme conditions. As with the dry suit, this method lets you wear layers beneath breathable waterproof outerwear to regulate your temperature. But unlike with a dry suit, you can layer up or down while you’re still sitting in your yak, because you don’t have to stand up to take off your top. This makes the combination ideal for days when the mornings are cold but warm up quickly. Paddle out light, layer up to fish, then layer down as the sun gets high. The wader/splash top will keep you warm and dry through some pretty rough conditions — everything short of a serious dunking. This is not the ideal choice for extreme cold weather, but is more than adequate for most fishing situations. NOTE: If you’re wearing waders, always make sure to belt them properly. Waders full of water won’t cause you to sink, but will make righting your kayak and pulling yourself back on board much more difficult. Pros: Least expensive, most comfortable, and most versatile option. You can use the waders or dry pants for other kinds of fishing.
Cons: Not fully waterproof. Good chance you’ll get a little water down your front if you fall overboard. Try These: AquaSkinz Phantom Semi-Dry Top ($229), Kokatat Tempest dry pants ($179)