Picking The ‘Yak: That’s Best For You - The Fisherman

Picking The ‘Yak: That’s Best For You

kayak
Kayak fishing is one of the fastest-growing and most innovative niches in all of fishing. Photo courtesy of RI Kayak Fishing Adventures

Ask yourself the right questions and you will make the right choice

Over this past winter, I became much more interested in kayak fishing and how technology – along with a few decades of ingenuity – have shaped not just the sport but the kayak itself.

I think all of us have fished from an old sit-inside kayak that felt like floating around in a Rubbermaid trash barrel at some point in our lives, and it’s cool and interesting to see how much the kayak has changed from those early days. What used to feel like something you “settled for” because you couldn’t afford a boat, or found yourself taking the ‘any port in a storm’ approach while trying to sneak some fishing in on vacation, has morphed into a sophisticated lifestyle choice that has grown from a tiny niche to a powerhouse that fuels its own industry.

What I learned, after talking to many great anglers and the marketing folks who specialize in ‘all things kayak’ is that there are a handful of preferences that should govern how you choose the perfect boat for your fishing style. If you’re new to the sport, this may sound like an insurmountable task, but you can cut through the briars here by answering a series of simple questions.

3-waters
The 3 Waters Big Fish 105 is a great paddle option that won’t break the bank.

Weighting is the Hardest Part

It’s easy to fall in love at first sight with todays’ modern ‘yaks; the eyes and minds that design these things have really made them look slick. And when you see one all decked out with rod holders and a fishfinder and all of the accessories that go along with the burgeoning sport of kayak fishing, it’s hard not ‘want it all’. But the first thing you really need to consider is what you (and your mode of transport) can handle. That means paying careful attention to weight of the boat and how it will fit into, or onto, your vehicle.

ULTIMATE MANEUVERABILITY

Upping the ante yet again, Hobie has introduced their Mirage Pro Angler 360XR series which integrates a new steering mechanism that gives the power of propulsion and steering to your feet. Now you can rotate the Mirage drive as you pedal, directing your kayak wherever you want without using your hands at all! Videos show kayakers performing maneuvers you couldn’t dream of before this innovation was made available; basically, you can parallel park this thing! The Pro Angler 360XR comes in a 12- and 14-foot version that retail for $5699 and $5899 respectively.

Luckily, there are options out there for – just about – every possibility. And for those with space issues or those that prioritize the lightest-possible options, you can go inflatable or you can go with a hybrid kayak/stand-up paddle board (SUP). An inflatable kayak can be rolled down to the size of a large hiking-style backpack and most hybrids, like the Hobie Lynx, can be carried under the arm, like a surfboard.

Obviously, as the boat gets bigger and the accessories pile on, the thing is going to get heavier, so you’ll want to be honest with yourself about exactly how much you can deadlift onto the roof of your Corolla before slapping the old debit card on the counter. Even if you own a pickup truck, there are still things to think about, for example, do you really want to just bundle your $5,000 kayak into the back of your truck and tie it down with a ratchet strap? Probably not. So additional purchases may be required, like one of those T-bar contraptions that fits into your hitch receiver to effectively extend the bed of your truck.  Or, if you don’t relish the idea of having to wrassle your ‘yak over the bar and into your truck bed, maybe a kayak trailer would be a better option for you.

Hopefully, it’s becoming easier to understand why it is so important to consider size and weight before falling in love with that kayak of your dreams.

HOBIE-lynx
The Hobie Lynx combines the stability of a stand-up paddle board with the amenities of a fishing kayak, sure to be the king of the flats, backwaters and freshwater ponds.

Stability & Speed

I’m certain that everyone reading this article is going to list stability as a priority, and luckily, at this point in the evolution of the fishing kayak, you’re unlikely to find one out there that feels like you’re fishing aboard a floating cypress log. But, there’s a tradeoff. And this is something I – personally – didn’t put a whole lot of stock in before I spoke with the experts.

ULTRA-LIGHT

Those looking for the lightest possible option should look into the Hobie Lynx. This is basically a kayak built on a stand up paddle board (SUP), and what’s even better is that you can strip it down and use it as an SUP. At 11 feet with a 36-inch beam, the flat-bottom gives it ultimate stability and it’s super light (63 pounds fully-rigged, 47 stripped), offering maximum versatility. It comes transducer-ready and is powered by Hobie’s Mirage 180 drive system. A great multipurpose option for calmer backwaters or freshwater angling.

For example, while at the Hartford Boat Show back in January, I asked Matt Stone from Black Hall Outfitters in Westbrook, CT to give me a run-through with their kayaks and he repeatedly talked about one style being really fast, while others were really stable. I guess I assumed that the top speed would have more to do with the limitations of the propulsion system and, therefore, would be – more or less – similar from one boat to the other. “When you think about it though,” added Matt, “it makes logical sense. A wider boat will be more stable, but will also create more water resistance and it’s going to fight the current harder and catch more wind. A narrower boat will be faster and easier to maneuver, but you’ll sacrifice some stability.”

So herein lies the next question for you to answer, do you prioritize speed or stability? But before you blurt out the first response that comes to mind, consider your fishing style. How often will you want to stand up to fish? How often do you expect to be fishing in a swell? What species will you be targeting most? If you think you’ll be mostly fly fishing in calm waters, dropping jigs for tog or flipping jigs for largemouth bass, stability is probably more important. But if you envision yourself chasing bunker pods in the spring and running-and-gunning for albies in the fall, look for a faster boat and just know that you’ll sacrifice some stability.

Pedal, Paddle or Power?

At this point just about every kayak angler is fishing from a boat powered by something other than a paddle. But this does not mean that you have to go this route or that it’s just wrong to use anything other than foot for thrust. There are plenty of options out there for paddle-preferred fishermen that will be easier on the wallet and still provide a great fishing platform that can take on just about any customization.

The casual kayak caster will do well to check out 3 Waters Kayaks, these seem to derive their design inspiration from stand up paddle boards check out the Big Fish 105 that comes in several great colors, rides super stable and has tons of storage space, for just under $800. For the paddler that wants it all, check out the Bona Fide SS107 or SS127. These paddle-powered ‘yaks have all the amenities (and good looks) of the most expensive pedal boats but for about half the price. Anglers love the elevated seat and the ‘junk drawer’ that hides beneath it, their Boss Strap rod management system and the Drypod with transducer through-hull scupper. These boats also come Power Pole Micro Anchor ready and retail for $1,399 and $1,649 respectively.

BONA-FIDE-SS-127
The Bona Fide SS127 and it’s smaller sibling the SS107 are some of the more ‘decked out’ paddle options geared toward the kayak angler.

Another great paddle option is the Old Town Sportsman 106 which features premium adjustable hi/lo seating, a universal transducer mount and a lifetime hull warranty. The DoubleU hull glides effortlessly through the water and provides enough stability to make it perfect for standup fishing, made even better by the non-slip EVA deck pads, under-seat storage and it even comes with a custom tackle box. If you want all these features in a slightly larger boat, check out the Sportsman 120.

OLD-TOWN-SPORTSMANPDL120
The Sportsman 120 PDL is the most popular all-around fishing kayak offered by Old Town for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic angler.

Hobie too, has a paddle option that provides a versatile fishing platform, the Quest 12.5 retails for $1,199 and features a locking 8-inch hatch, forward accessory mounts and 12 inches of track space for whatever add-ons you would like.

old-town-sportsman-106
Old Town’s best paddle ‘yak for fishing is the Sportsman 106.

Just about everyone starts in a paddle ‘yak and then transitions to one with pedal power. “The hands-free aspect of being able to maneuver with your feet while fishing makes it a whole new experience,” said Lawrence Thompson, a recent convert to pedal kayaking, “I wish I had gone right to using pedal power!” Lawrence fishes out of an Old Town PDL 120 and says it’s changed his whole approach to fishing.

There are two main modes of pedal power, the Hobie Mirage Drive which uses a pair of ‘flippers’ to propel boat and the Old Town PDL style which uses a propeller. “For some guys it boils down to how the pedals function,” said Mike Murray a kayak salesman at Black Hall Outfitters when asked for tips on choosing the right kayak, “the Hobie functions more like a stair-step machine, the Old Town is more like riding a bike.”

OLD-TOWN-AUTO-PILOT120
Old Town’s AutoPilot series comes stock with a 45-pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor which will synch with your Humminbird electronics allowing yak fishers to utilize SpotLock.

Because pedal kayaks make up the bulk of the fishing kayaks on the market today, we’ll devote an entire section to the specifics between the most popular brands. But there’s a new horizon in kayak fishing and this one takes the physical aspect out of the equation by utilizing a Minn Kota trolling motor, complete with Humminbird-integrated Spot-Lock technology. Just imagine the power a 45-pound thrust trolling motor lends to a kayak that barely drafts a few inches! These things fly, and when you want to stop and fish a hot spot, the Spot-Lock keeps you right on those numbers.

Currently, only Old Town sells a fully-integrated motorized kayak. Their Sportsman iPilot series comes from the factory with the integrated Minn Kota trolling motor, and is available in three models the 10.5-foot Sportsman 106 ($3,499), the 12-foot, Autopilot 120 ($4,499) and the 13.5-foot, Autopilot 136 ($4,999). These boats come in four stock colors and – for a limited time – the Autopilots also come in a Firetiger pattern to pay homage to the popular lure color.

OLD-TOWN-Firetiger
New for 2024, Old Town is offering both of their AutoPilot boats in a limited edition firetiger pattern.

Pedal Prerogatives

Look around anywhere fishers are casting from kayaks and you’ll see that pedal-driven boats dominate in both fresh and salt water. Hobie was the first to introduce this technology with their genius innovation in the form of, Mirage Drive. Borrowing some technology from penguins, the boats are propelled by flippers that scissor in and out. Then Old Town came along with their PDL Drive system that utilizes a small propeller, this innovation offered instant reverse, simply by pedaling backwards. Hobie responded by adding a reverse lever, that functions sort of like shifting your car into reverse. “Both systems have their perks,” said Matt Murray, “the instant reverse of the Old Town is great when you’re fighting a fish, but the kick-up fins of the Hobie allow access to shallower water and will fold up and out of the way when they encounter an obstruction, with the Old Town PDL system, you can’t go as shallow.”

OLD-TOWN-BIGWATER132
The 13-foot Old Town Bigwater PDL 132 is a stable platform capable of handling rougher seas and bigger waters.

With all that said, let’s compare and contrast the two pioneers of pedal yakking. If you’re looking for speed, the best Hobie option is the Compass ($2,799). Sleek, yet stable, the Compass comes ready for battle with H-mount tracks for attaching accessories, a breathable seat that’s set at an optimal height for fishing, a universal transducer mount with through-hull cable plugs and molded in carrying handles.

HOBIE-COMPASS
Sleek and stable, the Compass is the fastest pedal kayak offered by Hobie.

Old Town’s answer for speed (other than those powered by Minn Kota) is the Salty PDL 120, described as “zippy and stable” the Salty is a great choice for fishing in moving water or chasing roving schools of fish. The seat is adjustable to accommodate paddlers of all sizes and offers superior lumbar support.

OLD-TOWN-SALTY
Old Town’s zippiest option is the Salty PDL.

For those looking for a stable boat that will provide a better platform for standup fishing, while also taking on rougher seas, Hobie brings a pair of heavyweights to the table in the Pro Angler 12 ($4,599) and the Outback ($3,699). The Outback has quickly become a favorite among saltwater anglers.  At 12 feet, 9 inches long and 34 inches wide, it’s a sizeable boat that strikes a balance between speed and stability. The Pro Angler 12 offers a bit more stability with its 36-inch beam and 12-foot length. Both come drenched in accessories and are powered by the Mirage 180 Drive with Turbo Fins, Hobie puts a lot of emphasis on storage and both of these boats have a ton of it.

hobie-outback
The stable Hobie Outback has become a fast favorite among saltwater anglers.

Old Town’s best option for stability is the PDL 120 ($2,899), taping out at 12 feet in length with a 36-inch beam, it’s also their most popular choice for saltwater anglers. Another great option is the Bigwater PDL 132 ($2,999); this 13-footer also boasts a 36-inch beam and is made to handle the rough stuff. These boats both come standard with Old Town’s superior seat design that is adjustable and offers excellent lumbar support, three rod holders, tons of storage and even a cup holder.

HOBIE-PRO-ANGLER
The Hobie Pro Angler is another popular choice among yakkers that want to conquer diverse waters.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when choosing a kayak. Hopefully this short list of questions for anglers to consider along with the specs of some of the best, will make it easier for you to sift through the possibilities and land on the perfect option for you and your style of fishing. Kayak fishing is here to stay and continues to prove itself as one of the most innovative angling niches. If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger… or perhaps push the pedal… now is a good time to dip your toe into the game.

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