Fishing equipment can be really expensive. There is always the next cool toy that will step up our fishing game, and we have to decide on each one whether it is worth the investment or not.
There is an old story that demonstrates a stereotype about fishing.
A salesman told his boss he sold $50,000 worth of stuff in one sale. He told the boss the man was going to buy fish hooks, so he sold him a rod and reel. After buying the rod and reel, the man agreed to buy a tacklebox. After buying the tackle box, the salesman convinced the customer he should buy a boat. Realizing he didn’t have a vehicle that could haul the boat, the salesman sold a 4x4 to haul it.
The salesman’s supervisor said, “a man came in for hooks, and you sold him a 4x4?”
“No,” the salesman replied, “he came in for a card and a dozen roses because he forgot his wife’s birthday. I told him since his weekend was shot, he should just go fishing.”
That story is obviously exaggerated for humor, but it really can feel like fishing is a hobby that always needs one more thing. We start out thinking it is a cheap hobby that even a kid can afford—get a rod and reel, some hooks, and some bait, and you are ready to fish. Then you find that next must-have piece of equipment that will make you that much better of a fisherman.
Deciding what tools to buy is tough.
Most of us will have to weigh the value of these tools with our budgets. There isn’t usually a budget debate over whether or not to buy a $5.00 lure. But a kayak can be anywhere from $600 to $4000 USD. Those are numbers that would cause most of us to pause.
The question we have to ask ourselves is “is it worth it” to invest that much in a kayak.
Versatility of Kayaks
30 years ago, kayaks were not a commonly thought-of option for fishermen. Many people had never even heard of a kayak other than as a relatively obscure Olympic event. White water kayaking was known in certain circles, but few Americans thought of the kayak as a go-to boat for fishing.
The American mindset toward kayaks at the end of the twentieth century is funny, considering that the kayak was literally invented for fishing and hunting. Inuit hunters have used kayak for spear hunting and net fishing for thousands of years.
For many Americans today, the kayak is a familiar vessel, but it is primarily considered a general recreational boat, not a fishing-specific boat. This is in part due to the fact that so many things qualify as kayaks. There are short-nosed whitewater kayaks, 18-foot long sea kayaks, and the currently popular sit-on-top kayak.
Unless you live near fairly big water, either the ocean or a very large lake, sea kayaks are not practical, even though they have huge amounts of storage. The turning radius of these boats is extremely wide, restricting them to fairly open waterways, and not terribly equipped for getting in close along shorelines where bass like to hide.
Whitewater kayaks are equally impractical for fishing. They are typically around five or six feet long, and have no steering stability, meaning a decent sized bass is going to be able to pull your boat around in circles. Let’s go ahead and take those off the list.
A very popular option in kayak models now is the sit-on-top. These are more like a thick molded surfboard with either a molded or attached seat. When people reference kayak fishing, they typically are referring to some variety of sit-on-top.
One way to decide if something is worth your while is its versatility. One benefit of these sit-on-top kayaks is that most of them are good for much more than just fishing. A sit-on-top can be used for a leisurely paddle downstream or even taken to the beach to splash in the surf. The average sit-on-top kayak is just as comfortable gliding through the Okefenokee Swamp as it is paddling through a narrow creek in winter.
Having the versatility to use your boat for more than just fishing makes the investment seem more worthwhile, especially if you have a non-fishing partner who is involved in the purchase decision.
Another nice thing about kayaks is that, unlike in our story above, a kayak doesn’t really take a specialized vehicle to transport. While you can’t get them around with a moped, the average sit-on-top is light enough to put two on top of a small car with a roof rack. They are also typically light enough for almost any healthy ambulatory adult to be able to load and unload one by themselves.
Kayaks Can Be Very Specialized
Many entry-level kayaks have several additional gear attachments, making them much more specialized than they seem at first glance. The average kayak will have a dry box area for some gear, as well as areas to strap on a creel and tackle box. Rod holders allow you to have multiple lines in the water, just like a bigger bass boat.
While the average multifunctional additions that sit-on-top of the kayak can be upgraded to be more fisherman specialized, there are kayaks out there that come already rigged for fishermen. As you begin to focus on these, the price does climb, so be aware, that the specialization gains price while losing versatility.
The best way to decide what level of fishing kayak you need is to talk to a professional who can offer advice based on your specific fishing style and needs.
One of the biggest drawbacks of kayak fishing is that you have to use both hands to move your boat. This means that if you get a good cast, and want to move around a little bit to change the direction your shadow is cast or to take the glare out of your eyes, you have to make some decisions: do you just deal with it and move before you cast again, or do you stick your rod on a rod holder and pick up your paddle.
This inconvenience can be overcome by getting a pedal-driven kayak. These models are exactly what they sound like—a kayak rigged for fishing that also lets you steer and drive the boat with your feet. This completely frees your hands up to focus on casting, even allowing casting while on the move, or allowing you to steer in closer to your catch while reeling it in, shortening your line without fighting.
Another benefit of pedal-driven kayaks is the ability to reverse. Fishing along a riverbank can make for some great catches, but having to paddle back upstream between casts is exhausting—you find the perfect spot, cast, paddle backwards, repeat. Your arms may be tired before you ever start reeling in the big one.
The biggest drawback to a pedal kayak is cost. While a basic sit-on-top can be picked up for $300 or so, a fully equipped pedal-powered fishing kayak can run between $3k and $4k. This is substantially more expensive, for a less versatile boat.
Kayaks Versus Other Boat Options
Using kayaks for bass fishing is a relatively new concept. Until recently, most people thought of two things for bass fishing boats: canoes and motorized bass boats.
Most people who are debating a kayak are probably not putting them head to head with a traditional bass boat. More than likely, someone shopping for a kayak either already owns a bass boat, and is looking for a smaller, more convenient option for part-time use, or they aren’t ready to put the money in for a full-sized bass boat.
The other main option would be a canoe. Canoes and kayaks have a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. The biggest difference is in size. A canoe can typically take at least one other passenger (although there are one-man canoes on the market). This means that everyone who fishes with you doesn’t have to also own a kayak, but it also means you have a much heavier, less maneuverable boat when you are out alone.
If you always fish with a partner, there are tandem kayak options available as well.
When it comes down to it, bass fishing from shore will always have its inherent limitations. A shoreline fisherman will always have some fish that are just out of reach. This means that to catch the most fish, you will eventually want a boat of some sort.
To summarize, kayaks are the perfect option for many bass fishermen. A kayak is smaller and more convenient than a canoe. A kayak also has a lower entry-level cost than pretty much any other type of boat that might be used for fishing. A kayak is silent running and much more easily maintained and transported than a bass boat.
If you have the budget to add a boat of some type to your bass fishing arsenal, a kayak is definitely worth it.