Featured Image Credit: Scott Beutjer
The growth in kayak bass fishing, due in part to the relatively inexpensive startup costs, doesn’t appear to be slowing. The boats are small and light; can be stored outside, in corners of garages or even in apartments. There are models to fit almost every personal preference and fit about every budget. It is only a question of choosing the correct kayak for you. Selecting your kayak gear up can be as simple as a quick trip to a big box store, or can be the culmination of hours and hours of research.
The first kayak in my adventure was bought at Caney Fork Outdoors in Nashville. After only a couple days of research my wife and I walked in with money to buy a Jackson Big Tuna, two paddles, an Astral life jacket for her (I had an old one), a rudder kit and a shirt. She had been in a kayak, I had not. We loaded it up, took it down the road from our house to Yellow Creek; and my life was changed.
That simple trip was an effort to find something that allowed us to fish while on camping trips or to explore waters across the country. To be honest we had no idea what we needed, but had a very clear vision for what we wanted. The only things we still use from that first purchase are the Astral PFD, and the shirt. It only took a few months to understand the paddles were too heavy and the tandem kayak was not going to work for us. In less than three years since that purchase, things have changed. We now know there are more than “want” factors in the decision process if you are going to truly enjoy the day on the water.
Kayak Gear: PFD’s
Photo credit: Caney Fork Outdoors
I started my kayak tournament career in a life vest designed for water skiing, it was all I had at the time. I almost smothered to death paddling in the Tennessee heat – and it was early in the Fall. A kayak PFD choice is one you need to really spend a little time considering before purchasing. You are required to wear a PFD during all major kayak bass tournaments, so you will be spending hours on the water with it strapped to you; Winter, Spring, the hottest days of Summer, and Fall. They can be very restrictive, impractical and uncomfortable.
My choice today is the NRS Chinook. It allows movement while casting, is cooler than many models, and has a ton of storage options. I can keep my phone handy for pictures, store small amounts of terminal tackle, attach a knife (clips, hook remover, scissors, etc.); allowing me to use all available space in the kayak. It is adjustable, allowing for different body types while providing safety. I personally am not comfortable with a self-inflatable model, and fear slipping in some water and setting off an auto inflating version.
There are about as many choices for PFD’s as there are choices for kayaks, and the same advice holds true for both; demo them.
Not all bodies are created equal, not all fishing styles are the same. You may find that an auto inflatable model works for you, or a self-inflating model. No matter what you “want”, make sure it will fit you correctly because it is meant to protect you in an emergency situation.
Instead of rehashing a lot of details about styles and benefits, I am providing a couple of good sources for more info. NRS has a lot of information available: Choosing a life vest, then there are more information links on the site. REI also has an extremely informative article: REI Expert advice.
Kayak Gear: Paddles
Photo credit: Bending Branches
Paddle, pedal, or powered are the options for tournaments. Some allow motors, most allow pedals, and all will let you paddle. Unless you are truly confident that you will only fish one trail or that you will never find yourself in shallow water or thick grass with your motor or pedals, it would be advisable to carry a paddle. Whether it be a full, half, or a Backwater Assault style paddle, the time will come when you need it.
I carry a full Bending Branches Pro Carbon paddle because of my fishing style. Often, my kayak ends up in the skinniest or shallowest of water and the pedals become less practical. I have also seen folks blow out their pedal drives or tear the fins on stumps whizzing across the water, so it is good to have a backup propulsion method.
Even if I am in deeper creeks, I will use my paddle to push me off banks and from under obstructions.
Wood, metal, plastic, composite… combinations of them all are available. Shape, length, weight paddle size and angle are all variables to consider. They are plain, multi-color, with and without images.
What type of fishing do you choose; shallow creeks, reservoirs, ponds or rivers?
Choosing the paddle can be a simple as walking in and saying “that one!” or it can be like taking a physics exam depending on how you approach the purchase.
Ryan Martin at Caney Fork did an excellent job of explaining the differences in length and weight… white water vs fishing… during our first purchase, but it really took several trips to understand what we really expected from a paddle; those original paddles are now on a shelf in my garage. So, when you start looking, pick up several; and if you can demo them.
Kayak Gear: Tackle and Gear Storage
Having come from a bass boat with lots of storage space, I underestimated the amount of downsizing that would be required to fish from a kayak. Everything I owned related to fishing was stored under the deck, so I always had what I needed. When I laid that gear out on the deck of my kayak it didn’t take but a couple of seconds to realize I had a problem.
I picked up a milk crate, strapped it down and headed out on Kentucky Lake one early Saturday morning. I guess to be more accurate; I loaded up a small amount of my gear, my rods, my lunch and drinks… then flipped my kayak about twelve inches off of the ramp. My wallet and keys were submerged, my tackle was floating in Plano boxes, I could feel my rods under my feet (under the water), my lunch was gone (Diet Pepsi was floating) and I had no dry clothes.
Fortunately, it was late spring so I didn’t get cold… more fortunately, I learned that I wasn’t prepared before I was too far from shore.
I immediately (well, after drying out and getting home) upgraded to a tackle storage option that had a lid, picked up a cooler that would float and bought a dry bag to hold dry clothes… or keys, cameras, phones, etc..
Kayak Gear: Crate Options
There are a lot of “crate” options for kayak fishing with the YakAttack Black Pak being one of the favorites among anglers. You need to find the one that fits the amount of tackle you carry, the number of rods, and the size of your kayak. Several options are listed in this ANGLR article about the favorites among many kayak tournament anglers – top 5 Kayak Crates.
Kayak Gear: Rod Holders
Outside of selecting a crate, you will want to consider rod holders also – or be prepared to lose them if you flip farther than 12-inches off a ramp. There are several ways to store rods… most crate options have integrated storage… and several ways to use them while fishing different techniques. A few are addressed in this ANGLR article – Rod Holders, but watch other kayakers and you will find several good options, many homemade.
Kayak Gear: Dry Bag
A good dry bag for gear can be essential while kayak fishing. We hope that we never need it, that we never roll and watch our gear create a debris field in its wake; but it does happen. If you end up at some remote launch alone and lose your wallet, camera, phone… and keys, it might make for a very long trek to find help.
In cooler water, this can be extremely important. Hypothermia can overcome you, so first is dressing correctly and being prepared (cold water fishing in a kayak), second is having a change of clothes and some essential items readily available and dry.
I personally carry a Magellan Outdoors dry bag for clothes or emergency gear and a Watershed Ocoee bag for my camera when I plan to take pictures from the kayak. I would never opt for the more expensive bag just to keep some extra clothes, but for your more valuable possessions go with something like the Watershed products; excellent bags that seal up very well.
Kayak Gear: Measuring Boards
Ok, to this point, everything listed is required to just be on the water. Technically you could probably make it without crates, rod holders, or a dry bag; but at some point you will even add those for day trips with friends. They just make keeping things together on the kayak a lot more efficient.
But, if you are going to be a tournament kayak angler, you will need a board to measure your catch.
Rulers, tape measures, golden rules, marks on the side of your kayak or even the tattoo down your leg are not acceptable. Most kayak tournaments require one of three measuring boards; the Ketch Products board, the Hawg Trough or the Yak Gear Fish Stick. Make sure to check the rules of the tournament trail you are fishing, most do not allow the Yak Gear version; and none allow anything else to be used at this time.
The Ketch Board is quickly becoming the favored measuring device among serious anglers due to its durability, but that comes with increased weight. If you purchase this option, make sure you pick up a lanyard of some type. Once this board goes over the side without it being attached to the kayak with some device, it will go straight to the bottom.
The Hawg Trough is much lighter, but many anglers have broken them measuring bass of any size. They also do not float, but placing a bit of weather stripping in the grooves along the back of the board will resolve that issue. You may still want to consider a lanyard, if this goes overboard, it can be blown away or the current can take it quickly.
Well, add a few rods, and some tackle, the items above will have you (at least from a basic needs standpoint) ready to tournament fish from a kayak. I will repeat it again, make sure you read the rules for whatever tournament you fish to make sure this meets their requirements… KAST rules for example also requires that you have a flag like the Yak Attack Visipole; and if fishing between sunset and sunrise, a 360-degree light is required.
Hope to see you all out on the water!