Selecting your first kayak is much like buying your first house. You want the dream house on the beach, but your budget doesn't quite get you that. You can't get everything you want with a kayak. Catching fish in a little boat is challenging. The first challenge is deciding what to buy. This article should help you choose wisely.
Let's begin by explaining that kayaks have 4 attributes. Weight – Speed – Stable – Affordable When deciding on a kayak you need to decide which of these attributes is important to you.
The first thing you should do is think about the waters you fish most often and the type of fishing you do most often. Panfish, small ponds, short paddles, only sitting down. Is a different kayak than inshore saltwater, 3-mile trips, standing to sight fish. You can do most fishing from most kayaks, but it is a good idea to choose a kayak that is best suited for what you do most often.
Weight- The term HEAVY is relative to the paddler. What shape are you in and how much can you lift. 15 years ago a 70-pound kayak was considered heavy, now it's considered “light”. The weight of the yak is mostly for transport. Is your kayak going on a trailer, in a truck bed or on the roof of a car? If you are putting your yak in a truck bed or on a trailer, weight isn't much of a concern. I don't think I would want to lift a 90-pound yak over my head onto a roof rack.
Speed- Speed is important in a kayak. No, it's not a race out there, and it's not a BASS tourney where they are running wide open to get to their spots. You are the propulsion. So a fast kayak is an efficient kayak. It means you can paddle further with less effort. Fast kayaks often track better in the water as well. Faster kayaks are generally longer kayaks, longer kayaks like to go straight.
Stable- Stability in a kayak can be a tricky one to decide on. Especially if this is your first kayak purchase. Most new paddlers like a stable kayak, because of the fear of falling out. In a Sit On Top (SOT) kayak, you have a very stable platform under you. You have “Primary Stability” which is sitting upright in the water with minor rocking left and right. And then you have“Secondary Stability” which is when the kayak catches itself when you lean far in one direction. Many paddlers choose a very stable kayak at first and then become very comfortable on the water after a few trips out. Then that “stable” kayak they had to have is slow and doesn't track well, and they upgrade sooner than expected. In the past 5 years or so the kayak market has seen a huge change in hull designs. Many anglers want to stand up and sight fish. This evolution of the kayak angler changed the way 90% of the kayaks on the market look now. Most kayaks today have a flat floor in front of the seat for standing. Additionally, the bottoms of the kayaks have changed as well. To allow for additional stability to stand up, while not compromising speed too much. Stability is also relative to the paddler, like weight. Someone 5'5” and 135 pounds doesn't need as much stability as someone 6'2” 250. So test paddling a kayak is a very good idea.
Affordable- Finally to the attribute that is the most important. What can you afford? Kayaks range from $300 to $3500 new, and the used market is a great place to find a kayak without breaking the bank. I recommend deciding on your budget first. You don't look at houses you can't afford. I wouldn't recommend looking at kayaks that are outside your comfort level of spending.
So let me tell you a little story about how I chose my kayak (this is back in 2006). I had a budget of around $800. I fished ponds for bass mostly, occasionally small rivers. I also fished inshore saltwater as well. I needed a kayak that was fast because we paddled 2-4 miles when we fished inshore. I wanted a kayak that was light because I have really bad shoulders. Stability wasn't a real big issue for me because I didn't really stand up too often. I had my eye on the Wilderness System Ride 135. Back then that was the yak to have. It could do it all. But it was just out of my price range. I tried to find one used, but the guys who had them didn't let them go. My other options were Wilderness System Tarpon 120 and the Ocean Kayak Prowler Series. What I ended up with was a kayak I wasn't really excited about. It was a color I didn't like, it was a little longer than I wanted. I bought the OK Prowler 15 (15 feet long) and it was dark green. The deal maker was the price. $385 brand new! I couldn't pass up the price. 11 years later and I still have it. It's still my only kayak and I wouldn't trade it for anything.