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Kayak Buying Tips

Updated on July 12, 2017
White Bass boiling forward of the bow!
White Bass boiling forward of the bow!

Question

We received a question from a viewer on our YouTube Channel: COAF Field Team, specifically,

"Would you consider doing reviews on the different types of kayaks you fish with and what you like about each style?"

Answer

As we have fished with only two kayaks - a Heritage Feather Lite 9.5' and an Emotion Spitfire 8', we do not consider ourselves kayak experts.

With that in mind, we thought it best to list the things we do and don't like about the two kayaks, taking the approach of what we would consider when buying our next kayak.

Also, we included our thoughts on Sit Inside Kayaks (SINKs) and Sit On Top Kayaks (SOTs) since the Heritage Kayak is a SINK and the Emotion Kayak is a SOT.

In response to the question, we replied...

The following sections below detail what we do/don't like about our Heritage Feather Lite 9.5' and Emotion Spitfire 8' kayaks.

Heritage Feather Lite Angler 9.5'

Our Heritage Feather Lite Angler was manufactured by Heritage Kayaks in Bristol, RI and purchased from Academy Sports in Plano, TX.

Heritage Kayaks declared bankruptcy but was later purchased by Legacy Sports in 2006 and manufacturing was moved to North Carolina.

The Heritage Feather Lite Angler Kayak currently offered by Academy Sports has different handles and deck rigging and a third rod holder mounted forward of the cockpit compared to our kayak, else all appears to be the same.


SPECIFICATIONS

  • Length: 9 feet 6 inches
  • Width: 30 inches
  • Weight: 38 lbs
  • Weight capacity: 300 lbs
  • Style: SINK


Lightweight...

Stable...

Fish Finder...

Texoma...

Versabrella Mounted to PVC
Versabrella Mounted to PVC

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Lightweight. We can lift it with one arm and rest it on our shoulder, making for ease of launch. At times, we forego the boat ramp and park our vehicle, opting to carry the kayak to the launch point (see "Lightweight" video in the sidebar).
  • Stable. Although we have not stood up in the kayak, the kayak does not feel "tippy" and can handle rough conditions at times (see "Stable" video in the sidebar).
  • Maneuverable. The kayak is easy to paddle and tracks nicely especially noticeable for longer distances. Although it does not have a rudder, we were able to maintain our heading with minimal effort.
  • Fishing Function. The kayak came with two recessed rod holders aft of the cockpit. The newer model comes with a third rod mount, forward of the cockpit. In our case, we added a third mount - a Railblaza II Rod Holder. Short of purchasing paddles, the kayak was ready to fish!
  • Deck Rigging. We liked the deck rigging and its mounts used to hold the rigging in place. We use the deck rigging to secure our fishing net aft of us, making the net readily available while fighting a fish. Also, we use the deck rigging mounts to secure our portable depth finder (see "Fish Finder" video in the sidebar).
  • Paddle Leash. When we purchased the kayak, it came with a paddle leash, so we did not incur the added cost. Although relatively inexpensive going for under $10, we liked spending the money on other fishing related things... more lures for kayak trolling!
  • Rod Holders. We like the recessed rod holders located aft of the cockpit. We originally used them as rod holders while trolling, but have started using them to mount our cameras, a Versabrella for shade, and as a light pole. Using varying lengths of 3/4" PVC pipe, 45 degree and 90 degree elbow connectors, and tee connectors, we have been able to mount our gear securely in the rod holders.

Note: We liked the Versabrella as it provided ample shade, did not impede our ability to paddle the kayak, and could be adjusted easily while on the water. Moreover, we could troll and cast lures with the Versabrella deployed. The key factor was mounting it securely. When we use the PVC mount, the Versabrella stayed fast and secure!


WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Surf/Beach Launch. Our plan was to fish for sharks from the beach while on the Texas Coast. We would use the kayak to deploy our baits past the third sandbar. However, we were not comfortable with our skill level paddling a SINK style kayak like the Heritage Feather Lite in rough surf conditions. Subsequently, we were disappointed but understood the kayak's limitations.
  • Larger Lakes/Ocean. Although we have fished with the kayak in rough conditions, we limit ourselves when fishing large lakes like Lake Texoma to protected coves and leeward shores. When conditions are right, we will head for deeper waters that are less protected. But, as a rule, we do not fish open water when the forecast calls for high winds. See "Texoma" video in the sidebar where we are fishing windy points for Striped Bass in less than ideal conditions.
  • Cockpit. For taller members of the Field Team, the kayak's cockpit tends to rub their legs while paddling. As a workaround, we have added padding using a foam pool noodle.


Colder Temps...

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON SINKS

  • We tend to stay drier in a Sit Inside Kayak. Moreover, if we add a spay shield and wear insulated wading pants and raincoat, we are able to extend our kayak fishing season into the colder months of the year (see video "Colder Temps" in the sidebar; morning started in the mid-40s).
  • Keep a bilge pump, baling container, or large sponge in the kayak. As there are no drain holes, once water enters the kayak it does not go away.
  • Capsize the kayak in a controlled environment wearing the clothes including shoes that you will be fishing in and a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Then, right the capsized kayak, re-enter the cockpit, and bale out the water to the point that you can paddle the kayak to shore. Do this with a safety observer monitoring your progress and who can render assistance immediately in case you are unable to accomplish the task.
  • Assume you will not be able to right a capsized kayak, determine what options you have available for a given situation. It may be better to use the capsized kayak for additional flotation and then swim it to shore.
  • Always wear your Personal Flotation Device (PFD)!


Railblaza 04402011 Rod Holder II Star Port Kit - Black
Railblaza 04402011 Rod Holder II Star Port Kit - Black

Railblaza II Rod Holder with Star Mount as mentioned in the article. We mounted forward of the cockpit and chose it over others because it has a locking mechanism prevents the rod from falling out and can hold fly rods.

 

Emotion Spitfire 8'

Quoting Emotion Kayaks...

The Spitfireâ„¢ 8 Kayak is designed for stability, performance, and affordability. The ST Performance Hull gives this shorter kayak a surprising amount of speed and tracking without sacrificing stability. It is equipped with great features like our CRS padded backrest + molded-in seat for comfortable paddling. The rear tankwell has bungee lacing to secure loose items and the molded-in carry handles make the kayak easy to transport to and from the waterfront. The extra volume and high capacity (up to 240 pounds) make this kayak the perfect fit for just about any size paddler from kids to adults (retrieved from http://www.emotionkayaks.com/product/detail/245/spitfire-8#features).


SPECIFICATIONS

  • Length: 8 feet
  • Width: 31.5 inches
  • Weight: 39 lbs
  • Max-Capacity: 240 lbs
  • Style: SOT

Manufacturer also notes...

  • Best for: Slow-Moving Rivers and Waterways, Calm Bays, Lakes, Ponds
  • Level: Beginner


WHAT WE LIKE

  • Lightweight. Although heavier than our Heritage Kayak by one pound, we still like the Emotion Spitfire's lightweight for the same reasons we liked the Heritage Kayak.
  • Stable. The kayak is stable within its length limitations. That is, we would not stand-up in the kayak, but we have used it in rougher waters compared to the Heritage Kayak. We do heed weather conditions and have capsized more than once but it was due to miss-timing a breaking wave in the Texas surf and not the kayak's stability.
  • Seat Back. The seat back is padded and adjustable, so it can accommodate shorter and taller members of the Field Team with minimal adjustment.
  • Deck Rigging and Tank Well. When we purchased the Emotion Spitfire 8' it came with a bungee style deck rigging over the tank well. Newer models use a mesh style mat over the tank well. In our case, we like the bungee style deck rigging as it holds fishing gear like jug lines, cast net, and tackle bags securely in the tank well but is still readily accessible.


WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • Fishing Function. We used the kayak to deploy baits from the beach. Using it for fishing was more an afterthought. When we did use it for fishing, we either tucked the rod in our PFDs or used a hand-line (see "Hand-line Anyone" video in the section below). Later, we added a rod holder - the Railblaza II which made the kayak more fishing ready.
  • Length. For taller members of the Field Team, the kayak's 8' length becomes an impediment. When a rod is placed in the rod holder installed forward of the cockpit, the rod tends to "bump" ones head. To alleviate this, we plan to install a second star mount aft of the cockpit, so we have the option to use the rod holder either forward or aft of the cockpit.
  • Handholds. When we lift the kayak the handholds are not adequate for carrying over our shoulder like we do with the Heritage Kayak. As a workaround, we use the seat straps to carry the kayak to the launch point. We also have a kayak carrying strap that will do this; however, most times we forget to bring it with us. For a longer term solution, we suggest adding a handle over the handhold.
  • Storage. Short of the tank well, there is no storage compartment. Our solution was to install a hatch cover. The solution works well and with a hatch container, items will remain dry (see Emotion Spitfire 8' picture above; hatch cover is to the right of the cup holder).
  • Wet Seat. SOTs in general are a wet ride; however, we seem to never stay dry in the Emotion Spitefire 8'- especially in the seat. We use scupper plugs to lessen the amount of water that enters the kayak, but we seem to end each trip with our shorts soaked.


Hand-Line Anyone?

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON SOTS

  • Overall, we noticed Sit On Top kayaks (SOTs) are easier to recover from a capsize compared to SINKs. They are self-draining and have a number of scupper holes to quickly remove water in the cockpit.
  • That said, the scupper holes tend to make for a wet ride as we mentioned in our dislikes about the Emotion Spitfire 8' kayak. Fortunately, we use our SOT kayak during the Summer when the Texas heat has us looking forward to a "dunking" or two!
  • Paddlers sit higher on the water compared to a SINK; subsequently, stability decreases for the SOT. But, since we use them in the Summer, we don't mind the decrease as we don't mind getting wet and can readily recover from a capsize.
  • Newcomers to kayaking are able to paddle a SOT more readily than a SINK in rough conditions like the surf zone along beaches and river rapids.
  • If you desire a pedal-powered kayak, the more popular models commercially available are built as SOTs. There are SINKs that have been customized by some, but the want is for a pedal-powered kayak, then you will likely be choosing a SOT kayak.

Repeating the last three bullets in the "General Thoughts on SINKs" section, the same three also apply to SOTs!

  • Capsize the kayak in a controlled environment wearing the clothes including shoes that you will be fishing in and a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Then, right the capsized kayak, re-enter the cockpit, and bale out the water to the point that you can paddle the kayak to shore. Do this with a safety observer monitoring your progress and who can render assistance immediately in case you are unable to accomplish the task.
  • Assume you will not be able to right a capsized kayak, determine what options you have available for a given situation. It may be better to use the capsized kayak for additional flotation and then swim it to shore.
  • Always wear your Personal Flotation Device (PFD)!


The following section below details what we would consider in our next kayak... as it relates to fishing of course!

Our Next Kayak

...will hopefully be on sale like our other two kayaks! That said, we plan to consider the following items for our next purchase of a kayak for fishing:

  • Weight. If our current mode of transportation remains unchanged - a compact pickup truck, we will opt for a lightweight kayak that can be carried easily.
  • Transport. If we trade-in the compact pickup truck, our next kayak will be dependent on the vehicle. Another compact pickup truck or a small SUV like the Subaru Forester will mean another lightweight kayak that can be car-topped easily. A larger vehicle or opting for a trailer to haul the kayak will mean a serious look at the heavier pedal kayaks!
  • Storage. We will limit the length of the kayak to 12' or less due to storage limitations. We can currently store two kayaks and one vehicle in our garage. There is ample room for a third kayak but it cannot exceed 12'.
  • Fishing Function. We will look for a kayak that supports the fishing we do. Currently, we tend to fish local lakes either trolling lures or setting jug lines. Additionally, we will sight cast to fish breaking the water's surface as well as jig submerged structure for fish lurking below. However, if things change as they often do, and we move to another area, then we will adjust our fishing to that area as well as the next kayak we purchase!
  • Key West Kayak Fishing's Video and Tips! We subscribed to Key West Kayak Fishing's YouTube Channel earlier this year. The host provides a wealth of knowledge about kayak fishing in Key West. Moreover, the knowledge, tips, and suggestions he provides oftentimes apply to kayak fishing in general. In particular is the Channel's video titled, "What Kayak to Buy for Fishing - Helpful Tips"! (see video in the section below).

Retrieved from Key West Kayak Fishing - March 2017
Retrieved from Key West Kayak Fishing - March 2017

Rules of Thumb

When buying a kayak for fishing, be sure to follow these "rules of thumb":

  1. Must be easy to carry to/from your launch point.
  2. Can quickly load/unload from your vehicle.
  3. Stored without additional expense.
  4. When stored is readily available for use.
  5. Supports the way you fish!

The point of these rules is to ensure you buy a kayak that you will use and not a kayak that gathers dust.

Better yet, these rules align well with Kayak Fishing Key West's Helpful Tip #1 quoted below!

"Buy the kayak that you will use the most. A kayak that is too expensive to mess up, too much of a headache to use and put away, too heavy, or just plain inconvenient is not going to be used after the "honeymoon" period. Focus on picking a first kayak that you will have no issues with getting on the water through your orientation period." - Key West Kayak Fishing March 18, 2017

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