This summer marks my sixth season of fishing from a kayak, and I still find myself wondering how I ever got along without one. Ironically, it took a fair amount of arm-twisting for me even to try fishing from a kayak. I was sure any kind of serious fishing would be totally impractical from such a small plastic boat. But a friend from Erie County who owned several kayaks coaxed me into fishing with him up there one morning on Presque Isle Bay. Four very productive hours later, I offered to buy the boat I had been using from him.
My friend wasn't inclined to part with his extra kayak, so I headed to a sporting goods store the next day and bought myself a new kayak. And that purchase has made a most remarkable impact on my approach to fishing ever since. My enthusiasm for kayak fishing also proved to be somewhat contagious, and several other fishing friends have acquired boats of their own. Along that same line, I am frequently asked for recommendations from folks thinking about buying a kayak for fishing, so I'll offer a few thoughts on what to consider.
Because I fish the Juniata River most frequently, I prefer a shorter boat, something around 9 1/2 to 10 feet long. A kayak of this size is quite maneuverable and easy to handle in river currents. For stability, you'll want it to be 28 to 30 inches wide. There are plenty of reasonably priced models available in this size, ranging from about $250 to $450.
Most recreational kayaks come in two basic types: sit-on-top and sit-inside. Which type to go with is largely a matter of personal preference. Both of the fishing kayaks I have owned so far have been the sit-inside variety, while several of my friends do well with sit-on-top models.
Sit-insides tend to be lighter in weight. My 9 1/2-footer, for example, weighs a mere 36 pounds, while a comparable sit-on-top boat would be about 52 pounds. Since I often fish alone and frequently need to carry my boat to some favorite access points along the river, the lightweight boat is a blessing. To get in or out of a sit-inside kayak, you need to be in relatively shallow water, knee-deep or less, while it is possible to board or exit a sit-on-top model from deeper water. Tall folks seem to find sit-on-top kayaks more comfortable rather than trying to tuck their longer legs into a sit-inside.
Aside from the obvious mobility factor, the main reason I converted from a wader to a kayaker was the ability to carry more gear on the water. When wading the river for bass in the summer, for example, I operated with a single rod and reel and whatever tackle I could stuff into my shirt pockets and a small fanny pack or shoulder bag. Being the gear head that I am, the kayak allowed me to indulge my tackle desires as well as add a few creature comforts like a cold drink and a snack.
Therefore, when scoping out your own fishing kayak, give some thought to how much tackle and other things you will want to take with you and where and how you will stow it in or on the boat. Along with the obligatory paddle and life jacket, my typical complement of gear for a day of fishing would include: four rods and reels; a small to medium-sized tackle bag; a small watertight box to hold a compact camera, cell phone, car keys and other small items; and a small soft-side cooler for some drinks and a sandwich.
I've saved what I consider to be the most important piece of kayak-fishing gear for last, and I'll bet less than one in ten kayak anglers have one in their boat - an anchor. Simply put, I never make a cast unless I am anchored. I know it seems inviting to drift down the river, randomly casting here and there, but that approach is little more than taking your tackle for a boat ride, not serious fishing.
For me, kayak fishing is just wading sitting down. It's rarely about how much water you cover in a given day, but rather how well you cover the water. Whether I'm fishing a spot I know well or exploring somewhere new, I want to do so methodically and thoroughly. You can't do that gliding by and launching a cast every 100 feet or so. Get a good anchor and use it. Let a kayak elevate your fishing to a new level.