Choosing a fishing kayak 10 years ago was as simple as walking into your local big-box sporting goods store and grabbing the only sit-on top they had to offer. Fast forward to the year 2015 and this simple one kayak decision has exploded into a head-spinning world of dozens, if not hundreds, of fishing kayak models. Don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed by the multitude of choices. I was able to happily fish from a cheap sit-in recreational kayak for several seasons before I went with an authentic “fishing kayak.” First and foremost, take your finances into consideration. If you’re capped at $500.00, don’t belittle yourself or think you can’t get on the water and slam some fish. There are ample ways to find an affordable kayak. The internet is littered with kayak “buy/sell/trade” groups, for these sites offer great deals on slightly used or blemished kayaks at a fraction of the MSRP price. Craigslist is also a fantastic resource for used kayaks, sometimes offering boats used only a couple times for 50+ % off retail. The major brick and mortar retailers such as Midwest Mountaineering and Hi Tempo also offer great deals on used and blemished boats and have fantastic staff that can help you through the process.
What kayak is right for you?
When attempting to swim through the sea of choices on fishing kayaks, the next thing you should consider is what is the RIGHT boat? The best way to manipulate this convoluted process is actually very simple…DEMO, DEMO, and DEMO. I can’t stress this enough. That Jackson Big Tuna or the Hobie PA 14 sure looks sexy hanging on that rack with all those beautiful accessories. Do you like the way the Tuna handles? Is the gear track placement in the way of your style of fishing? Does your 130 lbs self really want to propel a 100 lbs boat through the water? Are you willing to car top a large vessel all by yourself? Would you rather be using your feet instead of your arms? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself before making the decision to buy. Until one actually paddles or peddles one of these boats, one can never be truly sure.
The beautiful part of this is that there are ample opportunities to test run kayaks before making any major financial decisions.
Midwest Mountaineering offers several paddle days throughout the summer to try out the various models. If you’re more inclined towards the peddle power of a Hobie, Hi Tempo also operates on the water days as well. Both shops are also willing to allow you to rent a boat for the day simply to try her out. All major manufactures have their advantages and disadvantages from Jackson’s “ready to fish, fully-rigged” kayaks, to Hobie’s slick and quick Mirage Drive, to the idiosyncratic “wheel-in-the-keel” option on the Feel Free Moken. These are all great features on some amazing crafts, but they aren’t universal. Personally, I love the look and feel of a fully rigged Big Tuna and the Big Rig, but I’m a smaller guy and that’s simply too much boat for me.
It’s also important to consider your fishing style and water types, for many of these boats are now tailored to rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans. I tend to fish on a 50/50 blend of the Mississippi River and metro area lakes, so I went with a boat that is considered a good blend of both. It has a wider, relatively flat hull which makes it stable while not neglecting a quick turn radius. These “all-around” boats are perfect for MY style of fishing. These include kayaks such as the Jackson Cuda, Feel Free Moken, Hobie (most models), Ocean Kayak Prowler, Wilderness Systems Tarpon, Old Town Predator, etc. Generally speaking, it’s all in the aforementioned hull design with the flatter hull. Yet, if you’re more inclined to rivers a quicker boat with a rounder, sharper hull design would be a better fit. These include boats like the Jackson Coosa, Malibu Stealth, Native Slayer, and hybrid kayaks (like the ones mentioned above).
Again, the only way to know for sure is to DEMO.
Attend a on the water day, or rent a boat, bring a rod, and see how it feels. What’s right for me may not be right for you. Everyone has their own style, budget, and desires. Between demoing, this blog, the MNKFA forums, and sites like YakAngler, you’ll be sure to find enough information to make and educated decision on what’s right for you. Check out these links as well to see what’s out there.
In conclusion, enjoy the process and go slow. Take the time and effort to demo boats to find the perfect fit. We have many members with all types of different kayaks. Please ask questions and find what works for YOU.