kayak launch

WaterLine photo by Les Beery

Kayak launches like this cost a lot of money and look great — but in actual practice, a sand or shell ramp is usually way easier to actually use.

Kayak enthusiasts in Southwest Florida are blessed with a plethora of water and shoreline to paddle and fish. Unlike boating anglers, we do not have to deal with the crazy boat ramp situation as too many anglers try to launch boats all at once.

We know many kayakers launch at boat ramps, and in a pinch we will too — but avoidance is a good option. In addition to the “hurry up and get out of my way” attitude at boat ramps, there is the oil and gas residue that must be scrubbed off after takeout. Launching somewhere else is usually a better way to start a relaxing day on the water.

Kayak launches vary from deluxe with washdowns and drive-up convenience to those where a dolly is necessary to haul your boat hundreds of yards to the water. Others are close to a road but feature only a small cut in the mangroves, with nowhere to park. Some spots that have been recommended to us are on private property, and we don’t advise trespassing. There are other places where leaving your car for the day might result in it being towed or broken into.

Most of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) launches that government folks are required to build are difficult to use, even for kayakers without any issues. Two popular types involve a dock with slots for kayak launching.

One uses rollers that are supposed to get a kayak up onto a dock. Having used these on the Cocoplum Waterway at the Dallas White Park, we recommend a strenuous exercise routine for your upper body before use. Of course, a small lightweight kayak might be easier, but we found it takes two strong kayakers to use these launches in a tandem kayak. Our fully loaded Ocean Malibu Two kayak weighs in around 100 pounds without us in the seats. With us aboard, it’s a lot of weight to pull up onto a set of rollers.

In addition, the roller launches on the Cocoplum Waterway above and below the spillway are designed to enable a portage between the brackish/salt water below and the fresh water above it. Unfortunately, the connecting ramps between these two roller launches include numerous switchbacks and handrails that longer kayaks cannot negotiate.

The other (and even more problematic) ADA launch uses a slotted dock without rollers. This type of launch requires entering the kayak from the dock, either by sitting on the dock and “scooching over” or stepping down into the boat. The launch at Bob Johnson’s landing on U.S. 41 at the Myakka River uses this setup.

A complicating factor here is that a heavier kayak must be wheeled onto the dock and turned 90 degrees to get to the slot, then turned another 90 degrees to align with one of two slots in the dock. Needless to say, a small dock and a large kayak don’t work well together. All the various handrails and supports get in the way while putting a kayak in the water. Trying to maneuver our fully loaded kayak around these obstacles without falling into one of the launch slots was tricky.

One of these slots has a suspended floor to “beach” a kayak on. We found, with our larger kayaks (12 feet, 4 inches) that the bow hit the dry slope before we could even reach the dock rails to pull up onto the partially submerged floor, making it worthless for takeout. If it were possible to hit the slot at a high rate of speed, it might be doable. But the slot is pretty narrow for that type of approach.

The folks that design these structures should actually try them sometime to experience these issues for themselves. We ended up taking out at another small launch area down the creek. The bottom was muddy, with riprap under the mud, but it was doable.

For added inconvenience, the restrooms are 200 yards away from the launch, which leads to the frequent use of the nearby bushes before launching. A closer option would be a nice touch. They do have a very nice kayak wash and drinking fountain, though.

With paddlecraft so popular, it continues to amaze us that more kayak launches don’t feature a simple sand and shell beach. Our favorite launches are simple to maintain and don’t require more than a couple of truckloads of shell or sand to create a shallow beach. Compared to the expense of building and maintaining boat ramps or fancy ADA docks, a truckload of sand is easy and cheap.

This type of launch makes sit-on fishing kayaks easy to board. Simply wade in calf-deep, then sit down from the side. Once seated, swing your feet aboard and you’re under way. Too easy, I guess.

Check out our “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida-Sarasota Bay to Pine Island” to see 30 of our favorite launches to start a day of kayak fishing in Southwest Florida.

Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.

Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.

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