If you put some time and effort learning about what you need and can afford before spending your hard earned cash you can save a lot of money and heart ache in the long run. There are also a number of factors to consider to make your adventures fun, enjoyable, and safe.
Buy the Best Kayak you can Afford
This is one of the best pieecs of advice I got after buying my first (and wrong for me) kayak. I had another kayak in between which was great and suited my needs but it wasn't my forever kayak, which I own now. I am sure there will be more kayaks in my future but this one is my long term yak (at least until the boss lets me buy another one).
There will be an obvious link between price and features and so a more expensive kayak will likely have more or better features. For example, the addition of sponsons for storage, better seating options which make for a more comfortable day on the water, and better in hull storage among other features. Having said that I know plenty of people who are more than happy to keep it simple and have a simple kayak, one rod, and a small tackle bag. It very much comes down to personal preference and whether you have the finances. Not everyone can afford to buy a Hobie.
At the least you want to look for a couple of important things:
1. Storage options: As in a boat, having stuff floating around the floor or in the wells is not ideal and can get in the way or cause all sorts of tangles and mess. Not only do you want to have some good options for in hull storage to keep things like batteries, keys, and wallets safe, having side sponsons or holders for bags of plastics and other things can help keep things in easy reach.
2. Rod holders: At least one rod holder is a must, or at least space to install one of your own using Railblaza or similar mounting systems. I like having a rod holder each side of the seat with Ralblaza mounts and my Old Town has one on each side just behind the seat. I have one RB mount facing backward which holds my net, keeping it in easy reach, and one facing forward to hold a rod, mostly used for trolling but if I hook up I can also throw a rod in their while I am removing the hook and measuring the fish. Some clever fishos mount one right forward on the bow facing back to them. They put the rod in there if they have to rig up on the water after getting busted off.
3. Stability: Stability is a must. A kayak that will roll easily if things turn bad will not only see you wet and miserable, but may also result in your expensive gear ending up on the bottom. Features like raised seats will all impact stability, as will your height, weight, the amount of gear you carry, and the type of water you fish. A more stable kayak can give you better options for sight casting. There are two types of stability to consider here. The first is primary stability which really boils down to the stability of the kayak in flat waters, while secondary stability is the ability to stay upright when the kayak is tipped on the sides such as would happen on rolling or rough water. Primary and secondary stability is mostly dictated by the hull shape. Rounded hulls have better speed and good secondary stability; V-shaped hulls cut through the water, track well, and are fast though they can tip easily; flat hulls offer good primary stability and are nice and stable as well as manueverable; and lastly, pontoon hulls have the primary stability of a flat bottom kayak with the good secondary stability of a rounded kayak. Pontoons are considered the most stable all around. Another type known as cathedral hull is a modification on the pontoon hull.
4. Weight rating: This is where I came unstuck with my first kayak. Not only was it too short for me (3m), the weight rating was not high enough for myself and my gear. Say you weigh 100kg, you may think that a 120kg rated kayak would be sufficient. But add your food and water supplies (for a longer trip), your rods, tackle, and anything else you may carry and your freeboard will soon be low enough to take on water should the wind or water whip up increasing your chance of roll and severely restricting your tracking.
Check the Weather Reports
This will all depend on where you are going of course. Heading into an estuary will present greater problems than going out in a local lake if the wind turns wild. Having said that I have been on a dam when the wind turned up and the roll on the water was just as bad as I experienced in the estuary at Talle during a storm. Don't let fresh water fool you into thinking the weather is less severe there.
Things you want to consider are fog, wind, rain, temperature, the potential for storm activity, and the barometric pressure (there is some debate over whether this impacts on the bite, but the science for it is definitely there).
I have seen some guys on paddle kayaks really struggle to make any headway into a 30kmh wind, so something like your kayak choice will dictate how much you might struggle on the water.
Speaking of barometer, how does this change the bite? The science behind it is fairly simple but is dictated by other factors too such as water depth with deeper water being more impacted than shallow water. Both air pressure and water pressure have an effect on fish bite patterns. Pressure is caused by the weight of the medium on the medium below it. So air pressure on the ground is really the weight of the air molecules above ground level. Air pressure at sea level is greater than that up higher in the atmnosphere. Water pressure works the same way. The pressure at depth is the result of the weight of the water above that depth.
When the pressure is high, this places pressure on the swim bladder of the fish causing it to shrink. The swim bladder for nearly all fish sits right above the stomach. When the swim bladder shrinks, this causes an increase in the overall volume of the stomach leading the fish to get hungry. You may have heard the saying "1020 fish aplenty" and that is what this is referring too. When the air pressure is low, there is less contribution to the water pressure and the swim bladder gets bigger, placing pressure on the stomach causing the fish to feel less hungry. In the first condition they will be "on the bite", in the second condition less so. Fish are also subject to rapid pressure changes. So when the barometer goes from high to low quickly, the fish anticipate the lack of appetite and will feed quickly. A few weeks ago some mates and I were out on North Pine Dam when a rain squal passed over. The fish went nuts for 45 - 60 minutes until the rain had passed and the bite died down again.
The air pressure may change the depth the fish sit at in the water column. When the pressure is high they may sit higher up in the water column. When the pressure is low, they may sit deeper down using the water pressure to alleviate the discomfort on the stomach caused by an expanding swim bladder. These things will potentially change how deep you sit your lures for the hook up. deeper down to alleviate the discomfort of the swim bladder pressure on the stomach
Paddle or Pedal?
That is the question. This is another matter for personal preference but it does have a lot to do with fishing comfort on the water. There are lots of things to consider here, though many people I know who went from pedal to paddle have said they will never go back. But I know plenty of paddlers too who will never give up their blades for the pedals. Here are a few things to consider in this debate:
* You can generally go further and faster on a pedal yak
* Pedals free up both hands for fishing and allow you to fish all the way beack to the launch point especially in windy conditions or strong currents
* Pedals give you more overall control in the wind and current
* A paddle yak takes less time (generally) to get on the water
* Pedal yaks are as a rule more expensive
* Pedals require greater draw, that is the depth they sit in the water. It really depends on the model but this is usually at least 30 - 45cm. A paddle yak sits much shallower
* A pedal yak adds another mechanical part to go wrong or potentially break
* The above means increased maintenance time and cost
* Pedal yaks can create extra noise or water disturbance so may spook some species more easily
* You can always forget your pedals! To be fair, you can also forgot your paddle...
After Sales Service
Buying a new yak is a great experience. But after the sale you may have a little more trouble getting help if you need it. Put another way after sales service can be non-existent. Talk to others who have bought a kayak through the same retail outlet and see what their experience has been. Ask about their warranty and what it covers and does not cover. Find out how long the company has been in business and look for things like a change in trading hours that may signal a downturn in trade. This may mean they are out of business before your warranty expires leaving you with a busted yak and a bill for private repairs.
Another important thing to consider is their turnaround time. They may have excellent after sales service but if they import their yaks you may have to wait days or weeks to get replacement parts if they come from overseas. The other aspect to this is cost. Should you break a part which will not be covered by warranty the cost of importing that part may be prohibitive. I broke a steering handle on my yak (owing to not being careful when tuyrning it over) and the part if $34.95USD. By the time I pay to import this part it costs nearly $130!
Should you plan on fishing in the early morning hours then you need to consider some lighting options . This means you can see better to rig up should you get busted off and it also means it will be easier to find things when dropped, and some argue it makes it less likely that you will get a hook stick from not being able to see what you are doing.
More importantly, you need to check with local regulations about illuminating your kayak to other vessels on the water. There are numerous mounts for these though some are more expensive than others. As a rule you don't need a red/green light on your kayak but an all around white light is required in some states. In Queensland a head torch is sufficient for kayaking, but again check with local laws to make sure you are not only compliant but safe.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
This is another local legislation issue. In Qld for example you do not need to wear a PFD, but across the border in NSW you do. Over and above legislative issues are those of safety. Many wear a PFD even when they are not requied by law to do so in the event they end up in the water. This could be because some thoughtless individual in another watercraft has come too close and washed you out, or a medical issue could see you go overboard and end up in the drink.
This rasies the issue of what type of PFD to wear. Some like manually inflatable types though these are a problem should you be unconscious or generally not able to engage the device. An automatic device is good for situations where you may not be able to deploy it but these can also accidentally engage, or may not engage if they are faulty. These also need to be serviced and maintained and can be more expensive. I use a vest style with floatation pads built in. It doesn't matter if I am unconscious the device will still work, plus it gives me a heap of useful pockets. Though be warned it gets mighty hot wearing one of these in summer!
Portable Horn or Warning System
Not everyone on the water is mindful of kayaks, and some people are downright negligent. Passing too close, too fast, or washing out kayaks is a common occurence. As a result some yakkers have taken to carrying a personal horn like you might see at sporting events to warn approaching craft of your presence.
The generul rule is that powered craft give way to unpowered craft, and the minimum safe distance is 30m. Should someone come to close or not see you at all you can give them a blast of the horn to let them know you are there. Should things like this happen on the water, consider taking a video of this and uploading it to the water policer website in your state. They will often issue warnings or fines based on unsafe behaviour of boaties or jet skis.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
A PLB is an excellent idea if you are going out wide or if you are going into areas where mobile receeption will be questionable or non-existent. If you get into trouble you can toggle the beacon and it will emit a signal through GPS and GNSS services enabling emergency services to come and find you. Some models also offer a water trigger so if you end up in the drink and are not able to trigger the device it will automatically fire off your signal. They are also equipped with a light, strobe, and IR strobe to allow you to be found in day or night.
A handheld UHF radio is a great way to not only increase your safety on the water, but also a great way to stay in touch with your mates. If you are separated or want to fish different areas you can keep each other up-to-date with the fishing conditions. Or you can just get on with that all important smack talk while on the water. These radios are more common for land based communication but they work perfectly well on the water and are good for yak based communications. They come in different radio configurations, with a 5W handset offeing much greater distances than a 1W or 2W system. Uniden and a few others make a combined UHF/VHF handheld which is not much more expensive and gives you both options.
Another piece of tech that is very much personal preference is a sounder or fish finder. These come in a vast array of shapes, sizes, features and prices. Some like to use them, some prefer to find the fish without them. Smaller sounders can set you back a couple of hundred dollars and come with basic features. If you want depth, water temp, and traditional sonar these will be more than enough. They typically have a portrait only screen, meaning that even if they can do split screen this will be crammed into a slim display making it harder to read. Bigger models are better for split screen, with a 5" being a recommended minimum for split screen running (between say traditional sonar and down scan or mapping), Bigger models again (7", 9", or a massive 12") will be more suited to splitting the screen three even four ways. But these units are much more expensive.
Be warned though, a bigger unit or one with side scan or real view will require much more power which might see you upgrading your battery before you planned. My older 4" and 5" models had a power drain of about 1/2 an amp meaning my 7ah batter last about 14 hours or two 1-day trips. My newer Raymarine 7" needs nearly a full amp if running sonar and sidescan or real view. My 7ah battery now only got me about 7 hours needing to be recharged after every use which potentially reduces its life span.
The functions will differ greatly between units. Traditional sonar can give you basic depth etc as well as the typical fish finder screen view. Down scan gives you a much more detailed view of the bottom and the structure below the boat. On traditional sonar a tree will look like a stack of pancakes that gets increasingly smaller towards the top. On down scan you can make out individual branches. This article here shows you some good examples of the differences between the two technologies. Newer and more expensive technologies provide mega chirp and similar which gives super clear images owing to the higher frequency pulses of the transducer. Real view is another cool technology that gives you a real time view of the bottom in a much clearer way than other sonar tech can.
Like so many things kayak related, the choice of battery comes down larely to price. There are a number of very important things to remember or think about with batteries. Saving now could cost you more in the long run.
The main choice comes down to two different battery techs: SLA and lithium. There are obviously more options than these two alone such as AGM but this is similar to SLA in many ways in the same way LiFePO4 is similar to lithium. This can get very confusing and I will do what I can to make it simple if you aren't familiar with the types. Warning: This may lose some of the finer details.
SLA is a sealed lead acid battery and are the typical batteries seen in cars and boats since they were invented. They create a charge through an electrolyte between lead plates. They are typically big depending on the ah rating and are roughly the size of two shoe boxes with one stacked on the other. They are also one of the cheapest options around costing just a couple of hundred dollars for a 100ah battery. But they are super heavy usually rating between 30 and 40kg for this capacity. Something to consider when buying that yak! AGM is absorbent glass mat and they are a type of SLA though they cost a little more for the same ah capacity as an SLA though they are usually lighter. For both battery types you can usually only achieve a 50% discharge meaning a 100ah battery will only really give you about 50ah of power.
The other technology is lithium and all its variants. Lithium technology is relatively new next to SLA/AGM and as a result it is much more expensive. More than many are willing to spend on batteries for their yak. However, there are some benefits of lithium over SLA/AGM. First of all is the most glaringly obvious: the weight. Compared to their counterparts lithium batteries are super light with a 50ah battery weighing a measly 3.2kg (or thereabouts). This is about 1/10th of the weight of an SLA and still much less than an AGM. They are also much much smaller, being about 1/2 to 1/3 the size of an SLA/AGM and so they take up much less room. The biggest con for lithium batteries though would have to be their price. The 50ah comes in at about $600 which is 2 - 3 times more than their SLA cousins.
However, there are some significant benefits above the weight and size. First is that a lithium can be run to pretty much 0% meaning for a 50ah battery you get pretty much 50ah of power out of it.n . You get the power you are paying for. The second is charging cycles which relates to the overall life of the battery. Depending on the battery quality, a lithium will also get nearly twice as many charge cycles as an SLA/AGM before it is due for the scrap heap.
Bang for buck, and weight for weight, and size for size, my money is on the lithium every time.
Training For New Kayakers
One of the hardest things about being a new kayaker is finding information about kayaking. Good informationi at least. That is why Yak Hunters is such a great organisation, because we are huge and full of people with plenty of know how! And that was the reason behind the Yak Hunter e-magazine also.
Some companies offer a try before you buy service or will have try out days on the water where you can give their yaks a go and see how they handle. This will definitely help to know which one will suit your needs.
But you also need to think beyond this. What will you do if you have a malfunction on the water, or how will you right the kayak if you flip? Some will tell you the first thing you should do with a new yak is to take it out clean skin (that is no gear) and deliberately flip it. Then practice turning it up the right way and remounting it. There are devices out there to help you with this, and Yak Safe by Skulldrag Industries is one. It is a simple strap that attached to the handle of your kakay which you put your foot into. You then use your weight to to press down on the strap and this flips the kayak back the right way. Best thing you can probably do for yourself is talk to people who have the same yak you do, or get out on the water with them and show you what you have learned.
We hope these tips help you buy a yak and enjoy your time on the water!