Kayaks take you where the fish are biting
Fishing kayaks provide anglers with versatility and accessibility
Roger Phillips / Idaho Statesman
You can stow gear in open wells for easy access, or in closed compartments for dryness and security.
Roger Phillips / Idaho Statesman
Some fishing kayaks are stable enough that you can stand up and paddle, as Ed Anderson demonstrates.
Roger Phillips / Idaho Statesman
Some fishing kayaks give you the option of raising the seat. Lower it for stability while paddling, and raise it for improved vision and comfort while fishing.
That's kind of a head scratcher because Ed Anderson of Boise is using his kayak for nearly all his fishing trips, as well as duck hunting and other activities.
Anderson is a fishing pro for Jackson Kayaks, a company well-known for whitewater kayaks, but lesser known by Western anglers for its fishing vessels.
Fishing kayaks have exploded in popularity in the East and the Gulf states. And when I say fishing kayaks, I don't mean a recreational or touring kayak with a rod holder added that some manufacturers try to pass off.
There are several companies selling kayaks designed by anglers for anglers, and that's one reason why they're gaining popularity.
Anderson said accessibility and versatility are two key benefits of a fishing kayak.
"You can make it work in so many situations," he said. "This is the only boat I own, and I can do most of the things I want to do."
Fishing kayaks are easily portable in the back of a truck or on a roof rack. They are easy to paddle, fast, stable and can carry a fair amount of cargo.
Fishing kayaks can be used on ponds, lakes, reservoirs and rivers that don't have big rapids. They don't require a trailer or a boat ramp.
So why aren't more anglers using them in Idaho?
The local culture
Idaho is pretty much the birthplace of the float tube, which is a standard craft for lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Float tubes have been joined on local waters by similar small fishing craft that are fairly inexpensive, portable and designed for a solo angler.
Idaho's fishing rivers are dominated by driftboats, jetboats and rafts. Many anglers own both a river boat and separate craft for flatwater, which leaves little room for a fishing kayak.
Traditional kayaks also have inherent challenges for anglers, especially fly anglers. You can't paddle and fish at the same time (unless you troll), and when you set the paddle down to fish, the kayak tends to wander off in the wrong direction or drift away from your fishing spot.
You're also sitting low in the water in a fairly tippy craft, so it's no wonder local anglers haven't flocked to them.
Taking another look
Fishing kayak designers haven't ignored those problems, and they've addressed them in different and clever ways.
For example, Hobie makes a fishing kayak with a unique pedal system. You can propel the boat with your feet and keep your hands free for fishing. Check them out at hobiecat.com/fishing.
Another example, Diablo Paddle Sports, makes what the company describes as a hybrid between a kayak and a stand-up paddle board for a stable platform for fishing. You can see them at diablopaddlesports.com.
Jackson takes more of a traditional kayak and rebuilds it from the water line up for anglers. Go to jacksonkayak.com to see how.
Prices for fishing kayaks range from about $1,000 to upwards of $2,500, so they're more expensive than most other solo fishing craft. But they're also rugged and durable. With reasonable care, one could easily last decades, if not a lifetime.
Testing the waters
I've been watching the evolution of fishing kayaks and wondering how they would do on local waters.
Anderson has a pair of Jackson kayaks, and we recently spent a day fishing at a local pond.
I already own a driftboat, a whitewater kayak and a "Float Cat," which is essentially a plastic pontoon boat for fly-fishing.
I have always enjoyed paddling a kayak, but the speed and storage advantages of a kayak could never overcome the advantages of other solo fishing craft, which have traditionally been more stable and easier to control.
The stability issue has been addressed with fishing kayaks -- they're now stable enough that you can stand in them, which literally puts you head and shoulders above a float tube or similar solo craft.
About five minutes after I paddled the 11-foot Jackson Coosa onto a local pond, I was standing and fishing. It not only gave me better vision into the water to spot fish or their hiding spots, but it also allowed me to cast in about a 180-degree arc.
Was it rock-solid stable? No. I've got fawn legs a few times, but I didn't capsize or fall overboard, and I quickly gained confidence in the kayak's stability.
The Jackson is initially tippy, but has excellent secondary stability, which means it's easy to tip side to side, but it takes a substantial shift in your weight to capsize it.
I discovered that after I missed a paddle stroke, lost my balance and shifted hard to one side. The boat tipped, and I was expecting to capsize, which would have happened in my whitewater kayak. But the fishing kayak tipped on its side and stabilized. I was able to regain my balance and avoid an unwanted swim.
Is it stable enough to stand in the middle of a big reservoir on a windy day? I doubt I would, but even under those conditions I could still comfortably fish out of it.
The Jackson and other fishing kayaks are equipped with elevated seats, which improves visibility and comfort and is a nice compromise between standing and sitting at water level.
But there are trade-offs. Fishing kayaks were widened to make them stable, which sacrifices speed.
If you're used to paddling a whitewater kayak or a sea kayak, a fishing kayak might feel sluggish. But if you're used to kicking a float tube or rowing a cataraft, it will feel faster.
Most fishing kayaks are also designed with lots of internal floatation so they won't sink if capsized. You can right the boat, crawl back in and paddle away.
Controlling a kayak while fishing is critical. With a float tube or cataraft, you can hold yourself in one spot and keep it pointed in the direction you're fishing with a few kicks of your fins.
You can control a fishing kayak several ways. Obviously the main way is by paddling it, but that ties up your hands.
You also can anchor the boat to keep it from drifting away from your fishing spot, but that doesn't keep you pointed in one direction unless you use a second anchor, which is a hassle and could also snag your line when you're landing a fish.
Having a 180-degree casting arc while standing in a kayak improves the situation, but Murphy's Law will still get you. At some point, the kayak's bow will drift in the wrong direction, and you will have to stop fishing and reposition it.
The Jackson boat is designed with a slick system where the anchor rests in a recessed well on the stern, and you can raise and lower the anchor from the cockpit. Anderson added an inexpensive retracting dog leash to his anchor line, which keeps the line from tangling.
Another option is simply letting the kayak drift, which allows you to cover a lot of water with no effort on your part. You fish whatever is in front of you, or off to either side.
Eventually you will have to reposition the boat, but you can quickly paddle back upwind or upstream and do it all over again.
I was surprised how quickly I could set down my rod, grab the paddle and take a few strokes, and get back to fishing. I even paddled while standing.
Bring it with you
Fishing kayaks carry a respectable amount of gear. The 11-foot Jackson Coosa kayak has a 350-lb weight capacity. Subtract your weight and that's how much cargo you could theoretically put on there.
Anderson said he's done overnight trips in his.
I took my entire fly-fishing bag, a small cooler and a camera bag, and I still had lots of space remaining.
One compartment was completely empty, which is where I would stash a dry bag with extra clothes. That would provide extra insurance if I took an unexpected dip.
Is a fishing kayak right for you?
Have kayak designs improved enough to retire your float tube or cataraft and get you to spend money on a new fishing craft?
That's up to you, but one nice thing is you don't have to rely on my perspective or anyone else's. You can try one and decide for yourself.
Boise boat shops Alpenglow Mountainsport and Idaho River Sports both have fishing kayaks for rent or demo.
Rentals run from $15 to $45 depending on the boat and how long you use it. You can rent one and take it to your favorite fishing spot and try it out.
Both shops also have free demos. Idaho River Sports is located next to Quinn's Pond in Boise, and you can take one for a quick spin there. For directions go to idahoriversports.com.
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