Once upon a time, a kayak was a craft for whitewater adventurers who got their kicks from 360-degree flips in mad rushes through man-eating gorges. Watching helmeted heads disappear in crashing spray and bob back up 20 yards downstream made exciting spectacle, but it also kept the kayak cult small and elite. No more. Kayak evolution has broadened the user base, and no group has done more to drive changes in the quiet craft than fishermen. From "extreme" fishing for sharks and tarpon in Southern seas and stripers in the Northeast to stealthy pursuit of smallmouth in midsize streams and largemouth in cypress swamps, kayak fishing has generated new styles with a wealth of benefits and treasure trove of excitement.
"The kayak brings you back to the essence of fishing … the thrill of exploring, the adventure of being out there, that special joy," says avid kayak angler Jackie Smith, NFL Hall of Fame tight end and spokesman for Hobie Cat Co. "That's its real appeal.
"Less is sometimes more in the modern world, says Smith, who fishes bass waters large and small in his home state of Missouri as well as coastal sea waters for larger piscatorial game, maintains that kayak fishing's simplicity provides a close-to-nature intimacy that we sometimes lose.
Guys who fish out of kayaks look at fishing a little differently, Smith maintains. Their conversations revolve not around the biggest fish or sack weights but the rigs, places and trips they've taken — not to mention the chance of what Louisianans call "a Cajun sleigh ride," a wild run precipitated by an oversized fish.Two-time Bassmaster Classic winner and angling legend Hank Parker was the first to popularize kayak bass fishing with his family's televised adventures in a Hobie Outback. He sees the kayak's clearest advantage on waters that are small or tough to reach or navigate."I just love to fish the Broad River near my home in South Carolina," says Parker, rhapsodizing on his favorite kayak haunts. "It's waist deep and full of rocks and rapids. ... I also like tidal waters where I can draft in 2 or 3 inches of water and get into shallow creeks and have a ball."
Stealth and exercise opportunity are two other virtues of kayaking. And with Hobie's pedal-driven MirageDrive, Smith adds speed and range to his kayak outings. He has covered up to 25 miles in a day. "How far you go is only limited by how much time you have," he says.
But access seems to trump all other advantages. Stock pond, natural lake, river or impoundment, kayaks make waters that can't be reached in big motorized boats suddenly accessible.Texas kayak angler Jeff Herman likes stream fishing for Guadalupe bass near his Houston home. He also hunts lunkers on Lake Amistad and fishes local reservoirs such as Lake Conroe and Lake Livingston — the latter a lake "notorious for eating motors," he says.The cool thing is that some guys drag a kayak to an area with their powerboat and then get in," says Herman.Ironically, the modern bass boat itself has been one of the biggest influences on the evolution of kayak design and accessory development. With sonar devices, expanded rod and gear storage, rod holders, and even livewells mounted on remarkably stable craft, kayak anglers argue that they have the best of both worlds — stealthy back-to-nature fishing with the trimmings of a modern bass boat.
One perceived disadvantage of kayak bass fishing is that it keeps the angler so close to the water that sight fishing and conventional pitching and flipping approaches require modification.Parker adjusts with roll casts and a wider use of spinning tackle than he would normally use in his Ranger. He also opts for shorter rods and limits his rod-and-reel arsenal to three. His tackle selection is "confined, simple … and carefully selected."Need your electronics? No problem. Choose from a range of compact sonar devices and mounts. Herman mounts an easily removable Humminbird 747 near the bow of his Ocean Kayak. The craft contains a scupper (hole) molded for precise transducer fit.
Two-wheel carts simplify portaging and general overland transport (see page 18 to make your own).
For holding position, kayak anglers employ trolley anchors and stake-out sticks, the latter ideal for depths to 3 or 4 feet. Tying to stumps and timber is another option. Drift socks enable a controlled drift under windy conditions.
FORGET THE 360
Most fishing kayaks are remarkably stable, enabling an angler to move toward bow or stern with relative ease. Although manufacturers might be reluctant to recommend the practice, a number of models are stable enough to stand in."I stand up all day long and flip and pitch … and fly fish, too," says Herman, who owns Trident 13, Trident 15 and Big Game models from Ocean Kayak. "Today's kayaks are that stable."Platform devices built around outrigger pontoons can make a kayak nearly unsinkable.
BACK TO OUR ROOTS
With tough economic times upon us, kayak anglers are also enjoying the low cost of operating their craft. A roof-mounted kayak costs far less to haul than your 21-foot bass boat. Couple that with access to waters and areas off-limits to large craft and the unique experience that kayak fishing provides, and the reasons for the steep growth curve of kayak angling become clear"I'm a serious bass fisherman, and you just can't beat the platform of a bass boat for fishing," says Parker. "But it's the change-up of kayak fishing that I like. … The fact that it enables you to reach new water, get back to nature, is very appealing.It's a whole different experience, and it keeps fishing fun."
Plan, plan, plan — Plan long trips or outings on big water carefully. Consider weather and water conditions and places to stop in case of emergency.Weather, man! — Carefully check weather, wind and water conditions prior to your outingPlay the wind — Some waters are more adversely affected by winds than others. Plan trips accordingly.Carry a GPS — A GPS unit can be a godsend in fog and on big waters — and at night!Secure your rods — Consider rod holder extensions and leashes to keep rods from going in the drink.Watch your backcasts — Rods set in vertical rod holders are vulnerable to careless backcasts.Paper trail — Leave a note on your car with information on where you've gone and when you plan to return. Contact park or other local authorities beforehand when you plan overnight outings or other extended trips.Stake pole — Carry a stake pole for simple and silent mooring in shallow water.
Stream advice — Learn to read moving water. Challenge yourself progressively, making sure you can handle your kayak in moderate rapids before taking on the chutes.
LOOK, MA! NO HANDS!
Hobie Cat Co. (Oceanside, Calif.) changed the face of kayak fishing with the introduction of the MirageDrive. The alternating pedal steps of the MirageDrive activate fins that operate like a penguin's flippers as they sweep back and forth. Coupled with a retractable rudder, the MirageDrive frees hands for fishing. It also enables the angler to retain control of the boat in wind and current — or while casting or fighting fish. A simple shift in pedal position tucks the propulsion fins under the craft in shallow water.
EXPAND YOUR RANGE
If you are fishing large bodies of water, you might want to consider a new trolling motor designed specifically for kayaks. The Torqeedo Ultralight (15 pounds, including battery) is a featherweight, short shaft troller that can be mounted to all rigid hull kayaks. The motor uses a hand throttle, which includes a display for battery life and speed. The motor offers propulsion equivalent to a 1-hp outboard. The high-tech lithium battery is smaller than a shoe box, recharges simply by plugging into a wall outlet, and offers anglers up to four hours of continuous use at medium throttle. If you like having your hands free to fish and a little insurance in case you get tired of paddling, this little motor is worth a look. For more information, visit www.torqeedo.com.