I have played around with boats, float tubes, canoes, stand-up paddle boards, and various other watercraft over the years, and despite learning to paddle in a canoe I keep returning to Kayaks.
While all watercraft have their strengths and weaknesses, I have found kayaks to be the best compromise at least when it comes to trout fishing. They are not perfect, and not for everyone but no boat is.
So, why do I like Kayaks, well for multiple reasons really.
Maneuverability – ability to access tight places
I like to use my kayak to access small lakes and parts of rivers that are rarely fished. This often involves paddling up narrow, overgrown outlets and overflows. Sometimes the channel is blocked by low hanging vegetation, submerged logs that provide only a few inches of clearance or culverts so narrow I occasionally have to crawl. Sometimes I use my paddle to push myself away from obstacles.
I call it battle paddling and it is messy, slow but heaps of fun. I work my way into places few others ever venture and I find a sit-on-top kayak is the perfect boat for such trips. They are extremely maneuverable, can almost turn on a dime, and when the water gets too shallow I can always jump off and tow by hand.
It allows me to get into some very hard to reach lakes and ponds that have not seen a boat based angler before.
I accept some other watercraft can also access similar places, such as small canoes or stand-up paddle boards but I personally feel kayaks do it best.
Kayaks are (should be) relatively easy to carry
I do not like heavy kayaks. Many now weigh more than a dinghy, they are turning into a joke.
I have a strong preference for kayaks that are not a barge, If a kayak weighs more than 70lb it automatically falls out of consideration.
Why do I like lightweight kayaks? So I can carry them into places that trailer boats can not access. I hate the competition and the noise they produce.
I expect to be able to pick up and carry my kayak a reasonable distance without breaking my back. I can carry my kayak and fish a pond that is a 10-minute walk from the parking lot. Yes, I complain a lot and my muscles hurt, and vow never to carry a fishing kayak so far ever again, but the effort is generally worth it, and I forget the pain once I am on the water.
Sometimes I bring too many rods, boxes of tackle, fish finders, and my foam seat which usually requires a second trip. I am too lazy to go back and forth too many times, so I have become very efficient and only bring the essentials along. Normally one or two rods, which I can store in the hatch or strap down securely. The rest of my gear fits inside the pockets of my PFD.
I then rest the kayak over one shoulder, while carrying my paddle in the other hand. O longer portages, I will strap the paddle onto the kayak itself, freeing up both hands. I switch sides when the discomfort gets too much, and take plenty of breaks. When the ground is soft I might even drag it along for a while.
The furthest I had to carry a fishing kayak before launching was a little under a mile, while I am not keen to repeat that experience it was possible.
Fishing kayaks are silent and stealthy
I like how quiet fishing kayaks are when allowed to glide along the surface. One stroke every few seconds barely creates a ripple on the water and causes minimal disturbance.
So the stealthy nature of kayak fishing is one of the main reasons like them for trout fishing so much. Trout can be wary fish, so I try to make as little noise beneath the surface as possible. This allows me to sneak into shallow bays and backwaters without the trout even realizing.
One of the most magical experiences I have had trout fishing from a kayak is just to be gliding along while watching trout rise around me. I have had trout hit the kayks bow while am going at a fair pace. A mate of mine also had one leap out and bounce off his deck.
The stealth of a paddle-propeled kayak is very hard to bet. A larger, less efficient boat will certainly spook more fish when close to shore.
They are fast enough
When fishing for trout, there is little need for speed and a slower more relaxed pace certainly gives more time to enjoy and observe the surroundings. I have caught some very nice fish very close to the launch spot, in locations many boats zoom past.
Other than fun and ego, there is little need to race to fishing spots or to paddle along at a high rate of knots. Most ponds and lakes have enough water for everyone, If someone reaches a spot I can always fish elsewhere.
When trolling for trout, slower is nearly always better than faster. So with very minimal effort, I can seat back and relax while trolling all day, just a paddle stroke every few seconds so I glide across the surface.
Unlike the likes of float tubes kayaks are also fast enough to push upstream against most currents, sure, I am not getting up rapids without portaging but the normal flow of a river is no obstacle. I can also paddle into the wind with little difficulty.
Well designed fishing kayaks are safe
It is almost impossible to swamp and sink a fishing kayak. Most stay buoyant even with a hull full of water.
This is the main reason I prefer Kayaks over the likes of canoes, I do not have to worry about them getting swamped in rough weather.
The low sides, and streamline design also limit the amount of windage. In windy conditions, canoes can get pushed and blown around something awful. A fishing kayak, is much more manageable.
Canoes are great in calm conditions, and for a man powered craft their storage capacity is legendary, but once the waves start to pick up, and water starts splashing into the hull they become somewhat of a liability.
I also know my kayaks can handle almost anything a lake can throw at it, even if I am unlucky enough to get capsized, fishing kayaks, with practice are very easy to remount and get going again.
When conditions become rough there are no similar size boats I will rather be in than a sit-on-top kayak.
Paddling is an excellent source of exercise and relaxation
I enjoy paddling just for the sake of it. Out there on the water, surrounded by water and nature is a great place to calm the mind and rest the sole.
It is also excellent exercise that is extremely gentle on my body. I am plagued by back and knee pain, and paddling seems to be one of the only activities that does not make it worse.
The light, repetitive synchronized workout that kayaking offers slowly strengthens the core and engages muscles I probably rarely use otherwise.
I can not say it is a weight loss routine, the more I paddle, the heavier I get. When I first got into paddling I weighed around 185lb, now when I am extremely paddling fit I weigh around 205lb. It is because I turn fat into muscle, and at the same time I get hungry and snack constantly while on the water.
Fishing kayak are not too expensive.
One of the main reasons I initially got a fishing kayak was because of the price. A good, basic fishing kayak is not too expensive. It is certainly a lot cheaper than owning anything with an engine.
Kayaks are also light enough to throw onto roof racks, saving the expense and hassle of needing a trailer. Plus on busy days in summer, finding a parking spot can be challenging. Finding a parking spot for a trailer is harder still.
I normally buy my fishing kayaks second-hand, a well made kayak can last for decades and a good quality second hand kayak can be hundreds of dollars cheaper than new. I have even seen good used kayaks sell for under $300.
They are so cheap, that it is possible to own an armada of fishing kayaks for the price of a brand new hobie. The more kayaks the better. Longer, skinner ones for bigger trips, and short tiny ones for portaging long ditances.
When buying a kayak, the best deals are usually to find a slightly used kayak that someone purchased before realizing it was not for them. Such deals often come with a pile of accessories.
Want to know how to paddle a kayak faster, check my advice here
My thoughts on paddle, pedal, or motor
I like to kayak with a paddle. A paddle provides more than enough propulsion, when paddling I get to engage my entire body, not just my legs. I can also use the paddle to brace and stabilize myself when kayaking in choppy conditions.
The addition of a pedal drive or a small electric motor also adds weight and complexity. Two of the biggest strength of a fishing kayak is that they are portable and maneuverable. I do not see it as a worthwhile compromise.
The moment, I include a pedal drive or most battery motors the weight skyrockets, meaning I will need a trolley to move it around. I am not strong enough to carry a fishing kayak with a pedal drive installed, this means I either take multiple trips between car and beach or use a trolley. Most pedal kayaks are designed like barges, with ridiculously high sides that capture the width and excessive width to allow for a higher sitting position. I don,t like them.
Pedal yaks also require a trolley to move them away, A trolley greatly limits the number of locations they can be launched. Not to mention the alternative propulsion systems are certainly a lot more limiting when in extreme shallow, weedy or log-filled water.
Limitations of fishing kayak
Fishing kayaks do have a few limitations, no boat is perfect.
Despite my fishing kayak being lighter than most, I still complain about the weight every time I have to throw it onto the roof racks, especially if the wind is blowing. Although, I suppose lightweight kayaks can get blown away when it is windy. So and pros and cons.
Being able to stand is also a massive compromise, standing does make fly casting easier, and it does provide a better vantage point for sight fishing. Not being able to stand while fishing is simply a sacrifice I am prepared to make.
Finally, some pedal and electric-powered boats are better when fishing strong currents. It is possible to remain almost stationary when fishing a productive spot. While paddle kayaks keep having to loop around.
What are some fishing kayaks I recommend?
I like basic fishing kayaks that are not too heavy. When fishing I have no need to take everything including the kitchen sink.
I prefer kayaks under 30” in width. It is a kayak, not a raft. While wider boats are more stable, they are also heavier and feel more sluggish through the water. Unless a wide kayak is absolutely essential, skinner is my preference.
Unless fishing in an extremely wind prone area, most trout lakes and ponds rarely get rough enough to require much in the way of secondary stability. Thinner boats also seem to track better, making going down currents and riding low grade rapids easier and safer.
I like most of the Ocean Kayak range. The new Tetra 12 Angler seems to be one of the best of their current bunch. But, I probably advise looking for a used prowler or trident in good condition. They are an excellent hull with one of the best rare tank well in the business. If you need a central hatch, then their trident lineup is also nice. One reason I like the prowler line up so much is that the big front hatch is perfect for camping.
Cobra, based out of California also has some excellent designs. Mostly unchanged from the early 2000s, this means used models can be picked up for a few hundred dollars. The cobra fish and drive is an excellent choice for bigger paddlers, and they typically weigh under 70lb. The Cobra Marauder is also another extremely stable design that has withstood the test of time. The Pro Fisherman is nice, but I prefer the front hatch on the Ocean Kayak prowlers.
There are also a few canoe/kayak hybrids that I like. For example the Old Town Sportsman Discovery Solo. It weighs light enough to be sensible while providing a nice flat hull allowing well-coordinated people to stand and sight fish.