At times it seems fishing kayaks are getting fatter faster than our waistlines, and with every extra pound they put on they become less versatile and capable of what a kayak does best.
Kayaks are meant to be lightweight, maneuverable, stealthy watercraft that can handle all but the worst weather conditions.
I have been kayak fishing since before it was popular, back then the designs were simple. If we wanted a fish finder, we had to epoxy the transducer onto the hull and then drill a few holes for a mount. Installing an anchor pulley system also required some modifications. The kayaks of the time were basically a blank canvas, and other than a couple of bungees and some included rod holders it was up to the owner to fit them out for fishing.
Fishing Kayak were basic simple designs that left a lot up to the ingenuity of the owner. Most importantly, they did not weigh a ton, and the early models put a preference on performance over stability and a dry ride.
At the start two, maybe three aspects attracted me to kayak fishing. Other than price, these were the ability to launch almost anywhere, and the relative safety of a good hull even in rough conditions. I wanted a boat that is just at home in a tranquil lake and a choppy sea.
Today’s flagship kayaks have gone in the opposite direction, they are now so heavy and bloated that the majority require a trailer or trolley to even get them to the launch site. Virtually any hull will be safe and stable when paddled in a millpond, but some of the barges being produced today are outright dangerous far from shore.
I am so disappointed in today’s models, that I still fish from an OK prowler elite that was made circa 2008. I simply have not seen anything newer that is better.
Fishing kayaks should not require a trolly or trailer to launch
Early generation fishing kayaks were light enough that with a bit of determination and some pain tolerance they could be launched almost anywhere. At the time we did consider them heavy, and with poor technique, it was possible to pull the occasional muscle loading them, but overall the weight was manageable.
One of the biggest strengths of a fishing kayak is the ability to launch almost anywhere you can walk. There was no need for a boat ramp or a nicely maintained walkway. When i was young and filled with the vigor and enthusiasms of youth I did not even need a trail. We use to slide them down cliffs, or throw them onto our shoulders and portage them long distances overland over uneven terrain. This allowed us to reach the launch spots few others ever fished.
Sure, when the water was calm large motor boats can access some locations, but the majority of the time they zoom off towards the horizon rather than motor along the coastline to fish some nondescript cove.
We even use to haul them into small backcountry ponds and lakes, sure there might be a trail to follow, but good luck towing a trolley along one. Some of these ponds have probably never been paddled before or since.
One of the key advantages to fishing kayaks was how easy they were to launch. Making a kayak to heavy to carry basically limits them to the some launching spots as a trailer boat.
Modern designs paddle (or pedal) like barges, they are less safe.
Many of the old hull designs were much safer to paddle than the latest and greatest.
Yes they were slightly less stable and wetter, they were a lot more sea worthy. The hulls were designed to be somewhat efficient to paddle and were somewhat capable of punching into a headwind or surfing along with a following chop.
When I started a 31” wide hull was considered wide, while 28” was more the normal. Some of the more tippy options went down to 21”.
I use to paddle a 28” kayak, it was just under 15ft long. By today’s standards, it was long and streamlined, but even these streamlined dimensions got me into a few challenging positions when pushing the limits of the weather.
I find 28” to be rock solid, my main kayak for ocean fishing is only 23” and I have not even been close to capsizing. My wife who is new to kayaking, can sit out in a side chop without a care in the world. For most of us, kayaks do not have to be like barges to be stable. Their width has gotten out of control, mostly to facilitate increasingly excessive seat designs.
In all my years of kayak fishing I have only capsized a fishing kayak once. Long story short, I was facing down what I call a freak wave, that dwarfed anything else I saw that day. I could see it rolling towards me from a good distance so I had time to plan.
I decided to attack it head on like in a surf launch and sprint straight up its towering face. My bow did not even reach the crest before my boat shot up like a rocket and I was flipped end to end. Great fun, wished it was caught on video. My mate who was in a much wider kayak, tried to take it at an angle, he also ended up in the drink.
Anyway, I went off on a tangent, Why are modern kayak designs less safe?
They are simply less seaworthy, the hulls are designed like barges, making them less efficient to paddle and difficult to paddle into a headwind, they also have plenty.
The sides are high, which catches the wind something wicked. A mate of mine even had his kayak lifted up out of the water and dropped by down when it was caught by a down draught. He was out fishing, when a violent updraught caught his boat.
No amount of secondary stability will prevent that, but low sides, a streamlined design and a low sitting position reduces the amount of wind caught significantly. The difference between paddling an aerodynamic hull and a badly designed one is like night and day. One gets pushed backwards by strong gales, while the other can inch forwards.
Kayaks are becoming too cluttered, with too much going on.
Modern kayaks seem to promote the use of endless clutter and accessories.
All of these features are meant to make kayak fishing more convenient, a place for everything and everything in its place.
But in my experience, it almost does the opposite. All these accessories and nice to haves simply increase the weight and encourages people to take everything including the kitchen sink out with them.
When I kayak fish, I usually bring two rods, landing net, and a small box of assorted tackle which I have organized the night before. In my PFD I carry the essentials like pliers, knives, sunscreen, cookies. If I don,t need it I will not bring it.
If I am fishing somewhere new, or going far offshore I might bring along a fish finder. I try to keep the clutter to a minimum.
All up, once my kayak is off the track. I can be ready to launch in under five minutes.
The other day, I arrived at the parking lot for a quick morning fish. I got there at the same time as another kayaker. He was just in the process of getting his monstrosity off the racks. I noticed he was struggling, so gave him a hand, before taking my own kayak down and strapping everything on, and dragging my kayak down to launch.
I paddled out to my spot and spent an hour or so casting and trolling, and enjoying the morning calm before the temperature got too high. When I got back to the beach I noticed the other guy was just in the process of launching. I have no idea what he was doing but it took him the best part of an hour to get ready.