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Selecting a Kayak for Fly Fishing

Updated on February 1, 2015

Some Basic Questions About You

Are you a fly fisher who is contemplating your first kayak purchase? There are a number of fly fishing specifics you need to know before taking the kayak plunge (pun intended). Rather than jump into details about kayaks, lets look at you first and then consider the kayaks that are available to fit you as an individual. Consider the following questions: 1) Are you a large person? 2) What type of water will you be fishing – saltwater, creeks, rivers, or lakes? 3) Will you frequently be getting in and out of the kayak? 4) Are you a catch-and-release fly fisher or do you keep your fish? 5) Will you generally be fishing in a cool climate or a warm climate? 6) Do you fish with a lot of equipment or are you a minimalist? 7) Will you be fishing in a windy environment? 8) Will you need to do a lot of paddling (say over two miles) for any given outing? 9) What gender are you? 10) How will you transport your kayak? 11) How physically strong are you?

The first nine questions determine if a sit on top (SOT) kayak or a sit in (SI) kayak is more appropriate for you while the last two questions will help you decide on the length of your kayak.

Kayak Types

A SOT - tandem
A SOT - tandem
A SI with covered hatch.
A SI with covered hatch.

A SOT Or SI Kayak?

For fly fishing, your first decision is whether to pursue a SOT or SI kayak. A SOT kayak is just that, you sit on top of the deck of the kayak. This design affords stronger stability and stronger buoyancy. It is hard to capsize a SOT and if you do, it floats just as well upside down as it does right side up. Furthermore, once you flip it over, you can climb right back in it. These two factors make a SOT nearly a must for saltwater fishing, especially if you will deal with surf. A SOT will support a larger person better as it has more buoyancy. If you plan on getting in and out of the kayak frequently to fish the saltwater flats or point bars on creeks, it will lend itself well. Some SOTs are even designed to stand on. All this mobility/stability on top of the kayak has added advantages to include untangling line that gets wrapped on the kayak – hooking the carrying handles is common. Also, in all seriousness, if you are on open water and the shore is too far away and you are a woman who has to urinate – the whole procedure is easier on a SOT. A SOT has most of the deck available for storage, so you can keep your fish in a portable live well or on ice, not to mention space for landing nets, portable fish finders, and maybe another rod and reel.

A SI kayak means that you sit on the hull of the kayak and have the deck above you. This design affords a stronger keel so that the craft can slice through the water rather than ride above it. You also have five points of contact with the kayak – both feet, both knees, and your butt. The multiple points of contact and strong keel all translates to better energy transfer through the water as you paddle. If you have long distances to paddle on still water or will have to paddle against a current, a SI is favorable. Also, because you have the deck above you and your legs are below the water line, you are better protected from the elements. The wind also has less influence on you with regards to drift because you sit lower in the water. Seats in a SI are supported by the sides of the kayak and generally are comfortable and adjustable. There are two features with a SI you need to consider up front and probably should include them. First is a large, open cockpit. This feature allows you more movement in the kayak and the ability to handle objects without loss if you drop them because they will land in your lap or on the hull of the kayak. As opposed to an open cockpit, a tight cockpit means the deck is over your lap and anything you drop will hit the deck and roll off into the water. The second feature is stored air compartments. Many SI kayaks have a sealed bulkhead in the stern with a sealed hatch cover on the deck. This keeps air trapped in the kayak so that if you should submerge the kayak it will still float. Not all kayaks have sealed bulkheads. If you get a kayak that does not, you should purchase inflated or foam floats to place at the ends of the kayak (bow and stern) to prevent the kayak from sinking.

No matter if you purchase a SOT or SI kayak, the question of length needs to be addressed. Most fishing kayaks range from 8 to 14 feet. Longer kayaks track better and result in less energy to paddle. Shorter kayaks turn faster thus making creek travel easier. Shorter kayaks are less expensive. A real factor to consider is how strong are you and how will you be transporting your kayak? If you are a small person packing a kayak on top of a van, you will have a challenge getting a larger kayak on top of it. There are various tools on the market to help you lift a kayak if you are by yourself, but the bottom line is you are still working against gravity and ten to fifteen additional pounds makes a big difference. Most kayaks are plastic and relatively heavy. Some SI kayaks are built of lighter material making them easier to manage.

Several manufacturers feature fishing kayaks. What this usually means is that they have built-in rod holders. These are designed for spinning and casting rods and will not support a fly rod, even if the fly rod has a fighting butt. If you plan on using these types of rods, the rod holders are worth the extra expense, otherwise avoid them if you can.

Finally, the debate of brightly colored fly lines spooking fish carries over into kayaks as well. An earth tone or sky blue color for your kayak will suit you better if you are in the spooking-the-fish camp.

If you have never had kayak lessons, take them. You will learn how to paddle efficiently and how to take safety precautions. Try to find a dealer that gives lessons. Often times they will apply the cost of the lesson towards a kayak. They also will allow you to try several models. It is amazing how differently they all respond based on length and keel design.

This is the first of five articles in a series. Links to the other articles are listed below.


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    • Tod Zechiel profile imageAUTHOR

      Tod Zechiel 

      5 years ago from Florida, United States

      Unless you fish fairly fast water, I cannot think of a better way to get around. Best of success selecting the right kayak. There are more and more kayaks on the market applicable for fishing.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 

      5 years ago from Missouri

      Very informative! I am a fly fisherman, and while I have enjoyed wade fishing, I will admit this interests me. I will look into these craft.

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