By Don Gasaway
When man first crossed over the Bering Strait and began to settle North America he brought with him the kayak. It was nothing more than animal skins stretched across a wooden frame. The fragility of this craft no doubt cost some lives. But it was light and portable.
The kayak is no longer a means of transporting people across arctic waters or down raging rivers. Anglers are turning to the kayak as a lean mean fishing machine.
Fisherman Dave Mull fishes backwaters of a cove to avoid the high wave action found on the main lake.
The modern kayak is for all waters and particularly for the angler in search of quality fishing time. They come in a variety of lengths and widths and made of a variety of plastics, nylon and fiberglass. Some are best for running fast river currents while others will stand the rigors of ocean travel. The seating also can vary from one placed on the bottom of the hull to those with a mesh armchair like apparatus.
Kayaks will never replace the bass boat for travel and stability. But there are places where the fishing kayak reigns supreme. This might come in backwater coves, bayous or a farm pond. Kayaks come in a variety of models with relatively low price tags that make them an affordable option for the crappie angler.
Tournament anglers are turning to kayak divisions in such events as those sponsored by Crappie USA. They compete in their own divisions.
Modern kayakers have adapted many of the features of power boat anglers to their crafts. There are mini-power pole units just like the normal size ones. Water tight storage areas, live wells and pole racks can aid in the storage of tackle and rain gear.
As waters warm in springtime sunshine, phytoplankton and zooplankton begin to come alive in very shallow water. Be it in either a lake or pond, the nutrient rich skinny water attracts hungry crappies.
Due to the depth of water ranging in inches, most anglers tend to pass on this fishery or else they fish from shore. Most boats experience difficulty reaching far enough back in coves to reach the fish. Kayaks are the exception.
Jack Blakely of Tennessee, demonstrates the need for a pfd while fishing for crappies in Reelfoot Lake. Kayaks are becoming very popular in the shallow waters of Reelfoot for catching crappie around cypress stumps.
Today’s kayak constructed of manmade materials is much safer. Some are even available in inflatable models. The crafts are more stable thanks to wider beams and built in floatation systems. Topside watertight compartments permit the stowing of gear and rod holders. Additional gear can be attached using bungee cords. For the angler there are kayaks with live wells and numerous racks for additional rods. It is usually heavier than its predecessor and some even have carts that allow one to wheel the craft right up to the shoreline.
The inflatable kayak provides a “luggable” aspect to construction. Usually constructed of PVC-vinyl they have a reinforced underside. They are ideal for quick trips after work. Once the fishing trip is over, the inflatable folds into an easy loading rolling travel bag with a high capacity hand pump or an optional powered one.
The addition of comfortable low profile chairs with mesh seating allow anglers to sit comfortably while fishing skinny water and gliding over brush, weeds, snags, laydowns and rocks. Hobie kayaks have decks wide enough to allow for the fly anglers to stand up to cast while maintain stability. The Mirage Drive permits foot pedaling instead of the more traditional paddling. The unit is removable for instances when the angler wishes to paddle such as running a shallow river or fishing super shallow flats where the pedals would bottom out. A fingertip rudder control offers hands free steering.
California angler Morgan Promnitz is the Fishing Product Manager for Hobie and hosts the television program Hobie Outdoor Adventures. He fishes from kayaks in waters around the world.
Morgan finds that “Kayaks are quiet and stealthy so the fish do not hear or feel vibration from a trolling motor.” Kayaks allow one to have access to bodies of water that hold fish, but do not have boat ramps, according to Morgan. This might be a farm pond or a small creek. He explains, “It also allows one to access waters beyond small openings in the reeds or that would otherwise require portaging over shallow riffles. Skinny water is often over looked by those who do not want to get weeds and junk in the props of their motorized craft.
If you leave the pedals in place and the blades folded flush to the bottom of the hull by pushing one foot forward, it makes for a paddle kayak and a pedal kayak in one craft. Morgan believes this makes for the least amount of a chance for scaring fish since it is a lot quieter.
The ease in preparation for a day on the water appeals to Promnitz. He explains that his Hobie is relatively maintenance free and there is no fuel needed, except for the food he eats to keep his legs strong for pedaling. “It’s easy to transport in the bed of my pick-up,” exclaims Morgan. “I find that I end up going fishing more often, even if it’s only for a couple of hours after work.”
The lack of mechanical power limits the speed and range of the craft. If fish are not biting in one spot you may have to reload the kayak and drive to the next honey hole. Another limitation is you cannot carry as much gear on a kayak as would be the case with a larger craft. Stability may become an issue. Morgan explains that although there are some extremely stable kayaks on the market. But you will never find one as stable as a bass boat.
Morgan fishes suspended crappies in deeper water and resorts to a few special techniques. One of his favorite ones is slow trolling crankbaits thanks to the pedal system of his kayak. “Two angled molded-in rod holders separate my lines and I sit back and pedal along at the desire speed waiting for fish to bite,” reports the California angler. “If the fish are finicky, I hold the rod in my hand while pedaling along and this provides a better feel.”
Morgan also likes vertical jigging which would be impossible on a paddle kayak during windy days as you drift off of the fish and lose control of the lure. But by lightly pedaling to hold yourself in position in wind or current you can stay on top of the fish and maintain control of the lure.
Despite the practicality of the modern kayak, one still needs to consider safety precautions on the water. The pfd (life preserver) is mandatory on some waters but essential for all water. It is important to go out with at least one other person for safety’s sake. You should have a certain level of physical conditioning and ability to swim with confidence.
It is also advisable to have clothing that dries quickly. A dry bag can be stored on board either in below deck compartments or on deck with the use of bungee cords. The dry bag also doubles as a storage compartment for valuable electronics.
Regardless of its limitations, the kayak is a lean mean fishing machine that is gaining popularity with crappie anglers.