We all thought spring was here, but the weatherman had different ideas. Cold, freezing temperatures and even April snow have been reported in our state. For those of us looking forward to getting out on warm water fishing trips, this means another few weeks of delays. It also means a few more weeks before large purchases are made in preparation for the upcoming season.
Kayaks have become increasingly popular for all anglers. It is nearly impossible to head to the beach without seeing fully rigged and loaded kayaks headed to fish big water or the flats. Likewise, our rivers are becoming increasingly populated with fishing and recreational kayaks replacing large bulky canoes. I imagine that the lower entry-level price point and the ability for one person to navigate the shallower water is one reason, the other I imagine is simply how easy they are fish from.
With the influx of kayaks on the water, is often difficult to find one that you like and can afford. I know my first kayak was a cheap two person that I found online for what I truly believe was miss priced. The seats were junk and the thing was heavy. I managed to fit a Larry Chair into, but being fat and clumsy, I went swimming every other time I took it out. But still, it served me well for over three years, and I passed it on at what I thought was a very fair price. I would suggest, for those that are not sure if they are going to enjoy kayaking to do the same. Find a new or used starter kayak and get on the water. For those that are actively looking for a kayak and have been on one before, I would follow a few rules.
Know your water: Water depth has a lot to do with what kind of kayak you want. Length and drafting are critical if you are on small water. You need to be able to get through those spots that are 6 inches or less without hopping in and out. Likewise, skinny water often means trees, roots and other debris in the water. Shorter boats will maneuver much better in these situations. This also has to be considered with just how big a guy you are. You can get some small kayaks for really skinny water, but a 250lb guy in a kayak for 200lbs is not going to get you down the stream.
Know your fishing style: Certain boats like the Jackson Mayfly and the Diablo Paddlesports Amigo were made with the fly fisher in mind. I have not been on a Mayfly, but I can attest to the open deck and ease of standing on an Amigo. The boat offers a very spartan design and has nothing to catch line as you strip it onto the deck. Being a stand-up paddleboard hybrid means you can easily stand on and walk on the wide long deck. It is even possible to stand on a solid cooler on the bow if you are sight casting or bow fishing. I would highly recommend this kayak for anyone that has a focus on stability and standing. The only downfall is speed. You are not going to cut across a large lake or win any races, but most fly fishers I know are slowly making their way down a river sight fishing. For those that are gear fishing and enjoy lakes, there are a variety of boats including the Wilderness ATAK and Radar. The Radar has the option for pedal and motor drive. In Missouri, the motor would require you to license the kayak, and I am not a fan of that. The ATAk is a bit larger boat, but both have nice, comfortable seats and storage are well thought out. The decks are not super clean, and fly casting is a bit more difficult. However, they are fast and nimble and can be fished from all day. The Jackson Coosa is also a nice boat for the recreational user and part-time fisher.
Know your priorities: How many times a year are going to use the kayak? If you are not on the water the majority of the weekends in summer, you can tolerate a lesser kayak. I was on the water at least one day every weekend last summer and did just fine with my tank of a big box store kayak. It was slow and heavy and I had to portage more than my friends, but it worked for what I had. I made the decision to save up some money and look for a kayak that would better fit my needs, but you might be perfectly fine with a less expensive kayak. I will warn you, however, you get what you pay for. Spending less will often time result in more frustration, especially if your friends are in quality kayaks. If you are on a limited budget, I would strongly look at visiting a reputable dealer and speaking about used inventory. Pick out a kayak or two that you like, try them out, and discuss a price range you can afford and have them keep an eye out for a used yak. Most dealers will keep you on a list and contact you when what you are looking for comes in.
In the end, it is up to you on what water you are going to fish, the type of fishing you plan to do and the budget you look at. Kayaks are like any other sporting equipment. You can buy a Sage, Orvis or Temple Fork fly rod, the rod will not catch any fish if you don’t use it or pair it with the type of fish you are targeting. Similarly, most any centerfire rifle will take a deer, some are nicer in look and feel, but they all have one function. I guess even a better comparison would be on a personal floatation device. Some are large, bulky, and seem to get in the way, others are made for sitting in a chair and some inflate when you hit the water, it all comes down to comfort and use.