Evolution of a kayak fisherman E-mail
Wednesday, 07 October 2009 18:05

Evolution of a kayak fisherman. Special multi part series featuring the perspective of a fly fisherman and his experiences in salt and fresh water with a kayak.

Part 1: What's All This Yak'n About?

Why the Intrigue of "Kayak Fishing?" My experiences are not unlike many of yours - over the years we have done a lot of fishing, boating, canoeing, communing with nature and the like.  Well, kayak fishing combines them all into one and creates a unique system for successful fishing as well as enjoying some of Mother Natures' best.  The fishing kayak is easily transported, can be launched where you want to fish and is totally self-contained.  This fit the bill perfectly for me, as I regularly fly fish on inland lakes, rivers, streams, Lake Michigan and the coastal waters of Southern Georgia.

Our goal is to help simplify one's adventure into kayak fishing, and we will do that through my experiences.  Just for the record, my first kayak, purchased in late August, has been on the water about a dozen times thus far.   Some rigging has been added, and it appears I have just a hint about what I am doing.  So, we will take the ride together through my forays into this new sport.  Hopefully, for those who are a bit apprehensive, this will provide that needed nudge of encouragement for you to take the plunge - rhetorically speaking of course. 

Old or young doesn't matter. Just a month or two short of my 60th I have found Yak fishing to be a most enjoyable workout, though it does require some modest amount of effort. But what a return - more energy, fresh air, great scenery and a true Zen like experience.  Plus, you will find some great fishing opportunities.  Remember, many times you will be fishing where boats can't get to - guess where the pressured fish hang out.  Above all, have Fun!!!

So, where does one get started?  Well, getting that first Yak is most logical.  While it can appear overwhelming, we will strive to eliminate the mystery and reduce my 2+year search to a matter of weeks for you.  Next month we'll address the task of loading and unloading -- this was one of the great surprises encountered when we got the Yak home.  What I learned should make this task a "no brainer". 

Buying a Fishing Kayak:

  1. First, stick with a 13' Sit-on-Top (SOT) that is either rigged for fishing or can be easily modified (a topic for a future column).  My research and paddling indicates that a 13' SOT can be paddled at a reasonable pace, handles well, is adaptable to all styles of fishing, quite stable and keeps the weight manageable. 
  2. Make sure the Yak you select has sound initial stability.  On most SOT's one can even drape their feet over the gunwale and not tip.  The goal is to never flip and in future articles we'll cover that and other safety concerns.  Sure, some water will get in the foot wells from the paddle, waves, etc. but it should be minimal.  If you do take a wave or wake over the bow and the cockpit wells fill with water, simply pull the scupper plugs while padding and it will drain out.  Pretty neat!
  3. Try several brands and models - it is important that the Yak fit your body and that it is comfortable.  You will be spending many hours in it, so think your "recliner" or "couch" at home.  Seats and their configuration vary, so make sure it fits you.
  4. While an optional rudder is many times recommended, a kayak with a good hull design should negate the need.  If it is something that you desire later, it can usually be added.
  5. Consider buying from a local outfitter if at all possible.  When all is said and done, they are not only competitive, but offer a vast source of quality guidance. 
  6. They can assist with appropriate accessories and rigging. 
  7. Most have a variety of models available for water testing; a great opportunity to determine what works best for you. 
  8. Many times outfitters will have demos, rentals or trade-ins that may meet your needs at a significant savings.
  9. Their staff can offer some initial paddling lessons, which may even be included with a purchase or available for a nominal fee
    1. Try and find a package deal that includes a quality, comfortable seat, good paddle, anchor, scupper plugs, Scotty rod holder, storage bags and above all a wheel cart!!! 
    2. a.      I can't emphasize the wheel cart enough! 
    3. b.      Some models, like mine, have custom wheel systems that slide into the bottom of the scuppers and with wide, soft wheels can be toted through sand with ease.   
    4. c.      The wheels quickly detach and the unit can be stored in the Bow hatch area.   
    5. d.      Kayaks, while not overly heavy, are bulky and cumbersome to carry, especially any distance and wheel carts make this a non-chore - no need to be a "He Man or Wonder Woman".  


                         An Easy Stroll to the Beach and Fishing

 Make sure you can stretch out in the Yak and access rod and tackle locations with ease.  Most models have adjustable foot braces, which adapt to your needs.   

  1. Kayak fishing by nature dictates a minimum of gear and tackle, which, for many of you out there will be a big change.  Think minimalist!
  2. a.      Check to see that the cockpit also has a place to locate a GPS and/or Fish Locator, water bottles (dehydration can be extremely dangerous), anchors, paddle storage, open rear deck for Coolers, etc.
  3. b.      Some critical accessories include a PFD (and wear it!), USCG whistle, flares, compass, paddle leash, extra paddle, rod leash and tie downs for everything in the Yak. 
    1. Color is one's preference; orange, yellow and lime are said to be more visible to boaters.  If you plan to double the Yak for some waterfowl hunting then a darker color or camo may be your choice. 

10.  What should you expect to pay for your first venture into this sport?  For a basic new Yak and the needed accessories, somewhere in the neighborhood of a $1,000.  Good, used Yaks and basic accessories will be in the $500 to $800 range.  Obviously, you can always spend more.

Finally, don't get hung up on finding the "perfect" kayak for your initial experience.  Focus on the major manufacturers - they produce quality boats that will more than likely meet your needs.  Remember, we are looking at this from a beginners perspective; you can always change things down the road.  We want newcomers to have a positive experience and not "hang it up" because of some issue that could have been avoided.

 There it is in simple terms.  This is not rocket science, though some may argue that hull design



Ready to Hit the Waters of Green Bay

might border on it.  But, by staying with quality names you really can't go wrong as long as it meets your needs, fits your body style, etc. As noted earlier, the surprise came when we arrived home with my new "toy" as my wife refers to it.  She really helped me make a take the plunge with the "fish or cut bait" routine as she had enough - ad nasueam I believe she referred to my 2 years of research.  But her input led me to not only making the decision but simplifying the loading/unloading process, which will be covered in December.

My passion is fly fishing and while this column will address all styles of kayak fishing, my emphasis will tend towards fly fishing out of a Yak, covering a variety of conditions, situations and various species from both Fresh and Salt water.  In addition, being a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor, I will address some of the challenges fly fishers face when fly casting from a kayak.

We have a lot of topics to cover in future columns from fishing adventures, gear and rigging, clothing, safety, new products, plus some I am probably not even aware of at this point.  We welcome your comments and input as we want to help all kayak fishers enjoy this great sport, especially those just starting out.

So, until next month, safe paddling and tight lines.  Remember, "Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first."

Steve Osterhaus is a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor and lives/ fishes in Door County, Wisconsin and Tybee Island, Georgia (Jan - Apr). He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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