Kayak Fishing on the Gulf Coast

Published in Changes magazine, June 2007

It’s no secret that the sale of kayaks has gone up dramatically in the gulf coast area over the past couple of years. This is partially due to people discovering paddling as an avenue for exercise and recreation but a sizable portion of the sales are driven by one of the fastest growing segments of the fishing culture in the gulf area: kayak fishing.

Kayak fishing offers a numerous advantages over the traditional motor boat, wading, or casting from shore.

Frugal Fishing for Anglers on a Budget

For one thing, it is a very economical way get in some quality fishing. For roughly one thousand dollars you can purchase a top quality kayak fully outfitted for fishing. No trailer is required. If you own a pickup truck, just put down the tailgate, slide the kayak in and tie it in.

Don’t forget the red flag. If you don’t have a pickup roof racks will do. The state won’t stick you with an annual boat licensing fee either.

Another way you’ll save money is by not having the gas and maintenance overhead that a motorboat requires. Not consuming gas or oil makes kayaking a very “green” activity. No exhaust fumes and no oil slicks on the water.

Two Flavors of Kayaks

There are two types of plastic kayaks: the ones with a cockpit that you slide your legs into (sit in) and the sit-on-top (SOT). For fishing, the SOT is the way to go. It gives you freedom of movement and your legs won’t suffer from lack of air circulation. SOT’s are also self-bailing; they have scuppers so that any water that enters the cockpit drains directly out through the bottom of the boat.

How do you know which models are suitable for fishing? That’s easy; the dealer will let you know. Fishing kayaks have gotten enough market share in the industry that most manufacturers have engineered models with the stability and features that anglers need. Many models are equipped with rod holders so the customer doesn’t have to add them.

Accessorize by Outfitting Your Boat

Which accessories should you get? A paddle and a PFD (personal floatation device) are essential. You’ll need rod holders, built-in or installed by yourself. Most fishing kayaks have a stern well for storage.

You will probably want a small ice chest to fit in this area. An anchor comes in handy when you’ve found a place where they’re biting. Many anglers are starting to use fish finders and GPS devices.

A paddle keeper is a must have item. Trust me; if the kayak didn’t get one installed at the factory, installing one will be at the top of your priority list after your first day of fishing! And speaking of paddles, you’ll need a paddle leash. Eventually the time will come when the paddle will want to get away from you.

Think Small and Get a Fly Vest

Kayak fishing is something of a minimalist sport. Leave that suitcase-sized tackle box in the garage and get something smaller. A fly vest is perfect. If you are planning on taking a camera or cell phone, get a floating waterproof container. The Pelican Company makes them in a variety of sizes.

Kayaks have a very shallow draft; just a few inches in most cases. This is a huge advantage over motorboats when the redfish are tailing in shallow water. There are times when the most productive water is at the mouth of an estuary and a larger craft just can’t navigate the shallow water.

Selecting your kayak can seem like a daunting task once you start visiting shops and doing research. Where you shop is almost as important as the kayak you settle on. You’ll want to work with a merchant who will explain things to you and share the pros and cons of individual models. Steer clear if you sense that he is just after a “quick deal”. Most shops will let you test drive the kayaks.

Comfort is one of the basic things to look for; you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting in it. If the boat is not already equipped with a seat you’ll want to get one. Can you get to the forward hatch comfortably? Is the stern well accessible?

Consider whether or not you want a rudder. This is a personal preference issue and to some extent where you will be fishing is the guiding factor in the decision. The windier it is the more useful they are.

Finally, just be prepared for the fact that kayak fishing is addictive. Even on days when they’re not biting, nothing beats a day on the water!

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