Choosing the right fishing kayak can make the difference between a great outing or a miserable time on the water. Just remember that most kayaks weren’t built with the fisherman (or woman) in mind–this is especially true of whitewater kayaks.
If you don’t already have a boat, you have the advantage of being able to make the right choices the first time–unlike some of us, who’ve tried to convert our existing boats into fishing kayaks, with mixed results.
The first think to consider is the size and shape of your perspective boat. Ideally, fishing kayaks should be around 12 to 16 feet long and wide enough to be stable when you’ve got a lively fish on your line. Another factor is your size and weight — a boat that’s a great fit for a 5′ 8″ 160 lb person is probably not going to work for someone 6′ 4″ and 220 pounds.
If you’re lucky enough to have a kayak retailer in your area that rents boats, paddle a few different models and see which one work best for you. Another option is to ask other kayak fishermen which boats they prefer and why, especially if they’re your approximate height and weight.
Some additional considerations when choosing a fishing kayak:
Cockpit or sit-on-top? Sit-on-top kayaks are ideally suited for kayak fishing. They’re easy to get in and out of, they have a lot of room for stowing rods, tackle, and other fishing gear. The sit-on-top models are also great for beginners who are afraid of rolling and being trapped in the cockpit–a fear even experienced paddlers have felt at one time or another. And a sit-on-top model won’t swamp if it does roll in rough water.
The gunwale. Look for a wide gunwale on a fishing kayak. You’ll want enough room to mount a rod holder, along with any other aftermarket accessories like electronic fish finders, compasses, GPS units, and drink holders.
The seat. If you’re going to be sitting in a kayak for hours at a time, choosing the right seat is another important consideration. Make sure you choose a seat that’s comfortable and has good back and hip support. Try as many different models as you can, especially if you’re in a position to actually spend an afternoon in one out on the water.
Inflatables. Inflatable kayaks are another good option for fishing. They’re light, easy to store and transport, and they tend to be very stable on the water. And most have plenty of room for rods, tackle, and of course all those fish you’ll be catching.
In conclusion, the best thing you can do is take your time and try several boats first and look for a kayak that is both stable and roomy with plenty of flat surfaces for mounting accessories. Good boats don’t come cheap, and the last thing you want to do is buy one that will make your fishing adventures a wet and miserable experience.