How to Demo a Fishing Kayak
Thursday, 03 September 2009 15:07
First, I would like to say that I am not part of the crowd that believes demoing a kayak is the end all solution in choosing a fishing kayak. In fact, I have seen over and over people find their way into the wrong kayak by way of the results and info they obtained at a kayak demo. I do believe that it is a valuable part of your decision making process but there are certain problems with relying on your instincts when you demo a kayak. Before we discuss how to approach a demo to gain the correct results, let’s talk about the more important homework you need to do before you even get on the water.

image002 You should already have an idea of what kayaks you are thinking will work for your kind of fishing, your environment and your size. No sense in wasting time trying kayaks that are clearly not viable for you needs. The demo itself should be the final stage of your research. Finding out what other people are using that have similar needs for the same fishing environment is best done by researching some of the local kayak fishing message boards and asking what others are using.


So you have it narrowed down to 3 or 4 kayaks and you are ready to take them for a spin.  It is a good idea to print the fact sheet on each of the prospective models and bring them to the demo so you can make notes.  Ask (the people running the demo) what models are being brought down to the demo because a dealer might not take the entire fleet and also might not take a kayak that happens to be out of stock – the last thing they want to do is showcase a kayak they don’t have available to sell.

You should be ready to put some time in and that means you should make sure you have the right stuff along so you will be comfortable.  Items like water shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather you’re expecting are essential.  If you show up with a pair of jeans on, when you get wet you are going to want call it a day. Kayaking is a water sport - so be prepared to be wet. Also keep in mind that weather on the water can vary quite a bit from where you are.  Especially if you are inland and you’re going to saltwater or a large body of water.

You first impression of any kayak is going be how it feels around your body and if you’re comfortable in it. Most of the time this is more a function of the seat than it is the kayak, so make sure it is adjusted correctly and ask the people working the demo to adjust it if you feel it needs tweaking. Remember most fishing kayaks come with pretty basic seats but they can be upgraded so don’t completely abandon a kayak just because the seat is not comfortable.  You can work that out with an aftermarket cushion or a complete seat upgrade. Check the foot braces, if they’re too close or too far you will not be able to really get the feel for the craft. Is the kayak you’re testing equipped with a rudder?  Are you planning on getting one if you choose this model? Does it operate smoothly?

image004You have adjusted the kayak so now what should you be looking for? The first thing you should do is move around the cockpit – does it feel like fishing from this platform will be easy or hard to move around? Today’s fishing kayaks are loaded with features like consoles, hatches, storage bins and much more to help the kayak angler be organized and efficient on the water.  So go ahead and check out these features and see if they really are usable on the water.  This should be done close to the launch and in very shallow water. This is when you should move about and see how fishing ergonomics are. Reach behind and see how access to the tank well or the stern of the kayak is, this is where you’ll put you gear and being comfortable getting to it – this is important. Sit sidesaddle and mimic fishing – this is a position that you might find very important during your kayak fishing outings. While still in shallow water, it is now time to see how stable the kayak is so you might want to play around a bit and shift your weight side to side to see how it feels. As mentioned earlier sometimes a demo can put people in the wrong kayak and this is the reason, new kayakers are always so focused on stability and most times it is much more stability than they need. Think about the balance problem you had when you first started to ride a bike and how quickly you overcame it – the same applies when you first kayak and this is why most people will hold stability as the most important factor in choosing their first fishing kayak. I remember doing a demo some years back and that day almost all the kayaks sold were big super stable kayaks that were really not right for the people who bought them, but it is hard to tell somebody that stability, to a degree won’t matter after a few times out. It is a new kayaker’s natural tendency to gravitate toward a stable kayak. One time I tried a super narrow and long racing kayak and the guy told me that he’d give me five minutes before I flip it.  Well he was wrong, it only took a minute before I was in the drink but after that I paddled it around for a couple of hours and wondered how I ever could have flipped it as it seemed rock solid after some time in it. You make an unconscious adjustment and balance is no longer an issue.

Take the kayak and paddle or pedal around, go at different speeds to see how well it moves and the amount of the effort it takes to maintain a nice pace. If you have a handheld GPS you might want to use it to compare speeds. Don’t be so quick to get it back in to try another kayak – take your time and really see how it handles. Demos are usually held in nice protected waters so remember that kayaks react very differently in varying conditions.  You can have two kayaks that seemingly are similar in speed during calm conditions but you take those same kayaks into rougher waters and one can outperform the other. This can be better explained by a story. At a past demo a person had taken a liking to the 11 foot Ocean Kayak Caper. Knowing the area he wanted to use the kayak in I had recommended that he move up to the 13 foot Ocean Kayak Prowler. He decided on the Caper and he came back into the store the next week to pick up a few other items and told me how wrong I was and how well the kayak performed. A couple of weeks later, he phoned to ask me if he could trade in the Caper for the Prowler.  He explained how the winds kicked up one day and as he put it “he almost didn't make it back”. There will never be a time when you will be out on the water and say, “I wish had the smaller slower kayak”.  Better performance in a kayak will make you safer on the water and make your time there more enjoyable. Of course for the person who only plans to fish within a very short distance from the launch, this is not a concern.


After you’re back off the water you should inspect the kayak to see if you like the workmanship and see how well it is holding up.  Demo kayaks are typically abused so it paints a picture of any issues that might arise with this model during its tenure. Take a look in the hatches and see if any water is leaking in. Next, grab the kayak by its handles and get a feel for the weight.  Some companies are very accurate with their stated weights but some aren’t.  Also sometimes where the handles are can make a big difference.  You’re going to have to load, unload and move the kayak around.  Next, ask any questions you might have about the kayak to the people running the demo.  Keep in mind often a lot of times demos are run by the kayak company reps and they will always lean toward their brands.  When speaking with shop people they will give you better insight on comparing different models from different brands.

Kayak demo’s can be a great place to test fishing kayaks and help make the right choice.  However I often read online anglers telling others it is the end all in choosing the right kayak but you have to take other factors into consideration.  As a new kayaker being able to understand what you really need might not be what feels right during the demo. Demo days are also great ways to meet others in the sport of kayak fishing and to exchange ideas – so get out there and have fun.



+2 #1 Guest 2010-02-24 08:13
Demo season is coming up adn I am ready now!
-6 #2 Guest 2010-03-06 00:20
How wrong could this guy get about the Caper. Its way better than other OK's like the Prowler.

To each their own.
+4 #3 Guest 2010-04-17 17:44
Most important of all: A demo lasting 15-20 minutes won't tell you much about how your back and legs would feel after paddling and fishing a kayak in the infamous L position for a couple of hours or more.
Think painless kayak fishing
+1 #4 Guest 2010-07-21 23:17
Demoing before buying may not be the end all method but not demoing the kayak you just bought seems realy dumb.
0 #5 Outback Angler 2011-02-22 04:56
This a wonderful aid. I have a friend whom is headed to do a kayak demo in April and it's his first. I am going to recommend this site to him.
0 #6 Guest 2011-03-07 06:15
Nice article
0 #7 wisyakman 2011-04-18 07:35
Great info here. So far I have had a native ultimate 14.5 solo, tarpon 120, and an ocean kayak prowler 13 and I am still looking for that just right boat for me.

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