Selecting a fly-fishing kayak - Kayak flyfishing

Select the right kayak for fly-fishing
Selecting a kayak
Safety first
All pictures

By Martin Joergensen

I have seen many recommendations - many different recommendations - and I must admit that I personally hesitate to recommend any particular type, make or model of kayak.

Most fishers, myself included, have chosen a so called sit-on-top model, that facilitates getting in and out, but 'real' kayaks of the arctic/greenlandic design with a deck and a hole are just as well suited. The drawback is a bit more difficulty in entering and leaving, while the advantage is superior speed in many of the closed models.

Two types - The two basic types of kayaks: open type, sit-on-top (top) and the traditional type (bottom). Apart from one being open and the other closed, it is typical that the open type is shorter and wider than the slender, arctic type, which often is faster and more suitable for long trips.
The shapes and profiles are simplified and generalised.
Two types

But still, judging from books and magazines the open ones seem to be preferred by most fishers. I would not exclude one for the other, but give both designs a try before I bought. I chose the open one because my kayak is not only a fishing vessel, but also a means of transportation, and I want to be able to get in and out with no hassle... and with my waders and large wading boots on.

No matter what you do, make sure you get a stable model. These are typically slower and a bit harder to paddle, but nothing that will have influence on your fishing. Stability will! The more stable, the more maneuvers you can do unpunished. Go for stable hull shapes and wide kayaks.

Some kayaks are or can be fitted with a rudder. That is worth considering. Kayaks float high and tend to drift and turn in the wind. A rudder, which is operated with your feet, is a great help in keeping position and direction.

I will not recommend specific brands or models either, because there are so many out there and I have tried so few. The only things I will recommend is aiming for light weight and easy maintenance. Most modern kayaks are made from some kind of polycarbonate, which is both light and very sturdy. Kayaks can also be made in wood or glass fiber, which is heavy, and more exotic materials such as carbon fiber, which is expensive, or fabric over a frame, which is indeed charming (and lightweight), but also more vulnerable than any of the other materials.

Folding kayaks are an option if you need to pack really compact, but not in itself a benefit to your use of the vessel.

Other kayak gear

  • Paddle
    You need a paddle. Take what the dealer recommends within your price range. You might consider a two piece paddle for easier transportation, but a one piece has offered me little hassle over the years.

  • Life vest
    A personal flotation device is a must if you want to travel or fish over deeper, colder water. You WILL roll over! Be prepared. A tight fitting sailor's vest or small self inflatable vest is the right choice. Make sure it does what it is supposed to. Try it in warm water. The best ones have radar reflectors, a whistle and other stuff that you will appreciate when you are in. Do not go cheap here! See the chapter on rolling over below.
    If you fish warm water only, and you are an able swimmer, the life vest is not necessarily a must.
    I will cover more security equipment in the section on security.

  • Seat
    Some kayaks come without a soft seat. Judge for yourself whether you need one or not, but I find my soft seat very comfortable. It offers soft cushioning and a backrest plus a large pocket that usually holds my thermos, drinking bottle and lunch pack. Seats are fitted in different ways. Mine detaches for washing and drying and I usually stove it indoors.

  • Clothing
    You can buy kayak clothing, which will set you back hundreds of dollars. Specially designed wet suits, breathable jackets, soft shoes and what-have-you. If you fish cold water and have the money, go for it. I personally use my usual fishing garments: neoprene or breathable waders, wading boots and fishing jacket. It works fine!
    If you fish deep and in waves, get something that fits tight. Loose, breathable waders will fill with water if you go in. Tight neoprenes will help you float and not fill up with lots of water. And do not believe anybody who says the waders and sailing do not combine! You will not turn upside down, but float nicely with your legs in the surface.

  • Anchor
    I have always brought an anchor. It is convenient and keeps you in place in wind and current. It is also a safeguard. If your kayak rolls over the anchor drops to the bottom, and the kayak is fixed. A small kilo or 1 lbs. anchor will hold the kayak. A small piece of chain just above the anchor will aide its grip.

  • +
    Anchor, open - A small  kilo or 1 lb. anchor like this is more than enough to keep the kayak in place - in particular when mounted with a piece of chain like here.
    Anchor, open
    Anchor, closed - The small anchor collapses to become even more compact, and - not least - to tangle less with fly lines and other gear. I fix the rope somewhere on the kayak and slide the carabiner up and down the rope and attach it so that the kayak swings in the direction I want.
    Anchor, closed
    Watertight bag - Watertight bags like this one from SeaLine are very nice for storing sensitive stuff such as cameras, mobine phones - and lunch packs.
    Watertight bag

  • Dry bags
    Keeping stuff dry is important. Clothes, food, gear. Dry bags are available in all sizes and shapes. After having rolled over with a 500 dollar cellular phone in my pocket, I now even have a small one for the phone! Cameras, phones and the like does not take a dunk in the water lightly.
  • Rod holders
    Whether you intend to fish from the kayak or just use it as transportation, rod holders of some kind is necessary. You can basically select two strategies: vertical or horizontal.
    Horizontal usually means simply strapping the rod down over the deck. Make sure the rod tip is free of the water if you point it forwards, and prefer a location behind you with the tip pointing towards the rear. Here the rod is less exposed and you can paddle freely. The disadvantage is access. If you suddenly want to grab the rod and fish, finding and freeing it behind you is of course less convenient than in front of you. A strap system with velcro or rubber band will help you.
    Vertical rod holders compromise of a vertically mounted tube with a slot for the reel. You set the handle and reel into the tube and strap it down with velcro. The tube(s) can be mounted away from you in the front of the kayak or right behind you. Accessing the rod is usually convenient and quick. Two rods can be mounted pointing each their way.
    Do not mount them close and parallel! Fly rods and lines have an amazing ability to tangle when carried close for a long time. And the distance to that tangled tip is even longer when sitting in a kayak.

  • Other odds and ends
    Straps and bungy cords are a very nice addition to the equipment. Straps over the deck or open spaces offer easy attaching of all types of equipment - for a longer duration while you sail or just for a minute or two while you do something else with your hands.
    Ice boxes or other types of lidded or open boxes can be very practical. Most standard boxes of a limited size can be fitted on the kayak. Closed kayaks have limited on deck space, while open ones can house even large boxes. Something waterproof is of course preferable.

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    User comments
    From: david · dayhut·at·  Link
    Submitted June 30th 2013

    Most fly anglers prefer to stand up when casting. It gives them a better view and make casting easier.
    However, the sea going kayak designs simply are not made for it.
    I WILL stick my neck out and recommend a wide, stable Sit-On-Top kayak design for fly casters. Look for a design that has a seat mounted on a frame separate from the hull. They not only are easier to achieve a standing position from, but they prevent the dreaded "swamp @ss" one gets when in a hull-molded seat.
    These will start at about $1000USD - and go up from there. But they are purpose designed for fly casting and there is little substitute. Try one once and you will see what I mean.

    From: Pit · alepitrenz·at·  Link
    Submitted September 25th 2012

    Just a few points I want to add:
    the slim seakajak is much faster and with a sidebar/outrigger(I dont know the word, but it is like a 2nd little slim boat attached to the side of the kajak) it cant roll over, unless you go out when a tornado is on its way. 10 miles durin a day is nothing. its flat and slim . Wind cant blow it away as a sit on top.
    Paddlers usually wear a Longjohn - a neat combination of neopren covering your body . If you fall into the water a thin layer of water will come in and will be warmed up. So you will have 2 isolations against cold water.Wear this part instead of neoprene waders. Its more flexible, shoulders are covered and in any case it is more secure when swimming.

    Use a roofrack with an extendable/pull out rod. to place a kajak on the roof of the car just pullout the rod; then lift the front part of the kajak onto the extended rod. Then lift up the rear part of the kajak and push the whole kajak onto the roofrack. its totally easy. Even a 10 year old boy can take down or push up a 35 kilo kajak. even with slipped disks in your back you can mount any kajak. In case of wind you will hav severe problems to bring up any kajak onto the roof of your car. besides you avoid scratches and bumps in your car.

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