We like to keep our advice in the positive side of the discussion. That being said, here are a few thoughts we wanted to share with beginners when they start kayak angling.
First, do your homework and decide what you want in a kayak. Read everything you can find about the plethora of boats that seem to fit your needs. Then rent a couple of different kayaks and see how they paddle. Are they stable enough? Are there accessible areas for your gear? Larger kayaks with a wider beam are more stable than skinny ones. They are also slower and heavier.
Avoid buying a kayak just because you like the color it comes in. It may be pretty, but if it doesn’t fit you it will be too unstable. We saw that happen to a friend of ours as we watched her tip over while getting into her new boat for the first time. That turned her off to kayaking permanently and she sold it soon afterwards.
Newer specialized fishing kayaks have lots of built in areas to secure rod holders, anchor trolleys and paddles. Some even have a motorized option (but that’s cheating). Adding a motor makes a kayak a boat that requires registration. It also adds considerable weight, expense and limits access to shallow water.
Paddles are still the “motor” of choice for most kayak anglers. Kayak kits usually include paddles that are too short. If you upgrade to a longer paddle, we like a composite shaft for its light weight and fiberglass blades that are tough enough to push off seawalls, dock pilings and oyster shells without breaking.
Speaking of weight: Be honest with yourself about how much weight you really want to lift over your head to the roof of your vehicle. You might prefer a trailer, but some launches aren’t accessible with a trailer. We designed a receiver hitch extension for our Subaru Forester that supports the kayaks. After we launch, the extension fits securely inside the car.
Also, consider storage at home. We tried wall straps to conserve floor space but found they are a challenge to buckle while lifting kayaks, and wall space in a garage is limited. Don’t just lay them on the floor. They will flatten on the bottom, which affects their tracking. We built a rack that extends 30 inches from the wall for our kayaks. It holds three boats. We pile our PFDs, seats and other debris on each kayak.
Seats are another place to consider upgrades. Most factory seats offer only marginal comfort. Some newer angling kayaks have suspension seats similar to a lawn chair that let the angler sit above the deck with legs slightly below the hips. This keeps your rear high and dry in a wet kayak.
The only drawback to these elevated seats that the center of gravity shifts upward, which makes any boat less stable. Experienced paddlers are usually OK with this, but someone just starting out might get a little nervous. Think about big boat wakes when making your decision. Whatever seat you choose, make sure it will be comfortable for several hours. Some areas you fish may not have anywhere to get out and stretch your legs.
Don’t bring everything you might use on a kayak angling adventure. Easily accessible space is limited in kayaks, so limit it to tackle you know you’ll use. Other items on a “might need” list will fit into a hatch somewhere, but they’re not easily accessible. Don’t forget to save room for a soft cooler with beverages and snacks. If you’re feeling really lucky, bring an insulated bag with ice packs for your catch. Remember that snook, redfish and trout are catch-and-release only at this time to help them recover from last season’s red tide disaster.
These are just a few ideas for anglers interested in fishing from a kayak. We enjoy both shore and kayak fishing, but find that more often we opt for the range and access a kayak offers. Kayaks are the ideal solution for low-cost, shallow-draft access to lightly fished waters in Southwest Florida. Getting started with the right gear is easier than changing equipment later. We hope these ideas will help you get off to a good start kayak angling.
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.