A high-powered bass boat gets a tournament competitor to a remote spot in a hurry. A kayak toted by a vehicle does the same for a recreational angler. But once on the water, the small craft offers a completely different experience.
Once considered a craft for running whitewater rapids or racing in open water, kayaks have evolved into effective fishing boats capable of taking anglers where no bass boat can venture. Exploring hard-to-reach areas with a kayak is a forte of Chad Hoover, author of the book, Kayak Bass Fishing, and co-owner of the Hook 1 Kayak Fishing Gear store. "You can't get a bass boat into probably 60 to 70 percent of the places I fish," Hoover says. "It's like I'm fishing private water because you can't get there except with a small craft."
Hoover believes today's fishing kayaks have advantages over larger boats, in addition to the huge difference in price. "Access, transportation, maintenance, and storage are easier with a kayak," he says. "The only disadvantage is reduced range. But if you do your homework, that's rarely a limitation. It forces you to do more research and scouting and preparation before you head to the water. That gets you more dialed in to potential fish locations." He adds that the limited range of a kayak also makes him fish areas more slowly and thoroughly.
The popularity of kayak bass fishing has risen fast in recent years. "We've tracked a slow rise for over 20 years but in the last six or seven it's spiked," Hoover says. His website, kayakbassfishing.com, has 9,000 members. The sport has even gone competitive with kayak bass tournaments throughout the country. Hoover runs the Kayak Bass Fishing Open, which in 2014 drew 120 competitors and paid out nearly $26,000 in cash and prizes.
The ability to fish while standing in a kayak has likely drawn more die-hard bass anglers to this style of fishing. "There now are pontoon-style hulls, which is like having an outrigger built into the hull," he says. Hoover has helped design new wider hulls and more convenient seats to accommodate anglers who want to stand while fishing.
He fishes out of Wilderness Systems kayaks including the Ride 115 or 135 and the Commander 120 or 140. He observes that Wilderness Systems kayaks, as well as Native Watercraft, Feel Free Lure models, and the Old Town Predator are the most common models in his tournaments.
The Old Town Predator XL won the 2014 ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades) Best of Show Award. This craft features three console options: Minn-Kota, a hands-free navigation system that utilizes a 45-pound-thrust Minn-Kota motor built into the console; Utility, an easily removable electronics management console; and EXO-Ridge, a flush-mount console that creates an open deck with more space for standing or spreading out gear.
Today's fishing kayaks accommodate accessories found on bass boats including trolling motors, sonar and other electronics, the Power Pole Micro-Pole anchoring system, and livewells.
These souped-up kayaks allow anglers to use much the same tactics as boat fishermen. "One of my favorite tactics is frog fishing," Hoover says. "I like to get back in the vegetation that's too thick for a bass boat. I often find areas that open up in the back end where ditches and creeks bring current that attracts preyfish, frogs, and bass."
Hoover paddles over and through submergent and emergent vegetation and uses a weedless frog as a search bait. When he finds holes in the vegetation he slows down and pitches or flips Texas-rigged softbaits, jigs, or spinnerbaits into the pockets. Yet Hoover does not hesitate to take his kayak on Kentucky Lake for some offshore structure fishing.
Features for Fishing
The allure of fishing remote spots from a small craft has hooked Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Card, who had plenty of experience fishing from a canoe when he worked for an outfitter in Minnesota. Fishing from his boat, Card frequently sees creeks that he can't access. "These spots sometimes hold big bass," he says.
For over a year, the Kentucky pro has been exploring such tight spots with a 14-foot Freedom Hawk Pathfinder kayak. "I've gotten into places I couldn't reach with a boat or from the bank," Card says. "Using maps and Google Earth, I can find a road near the spot, haul in the kayak, and explore."
The Pathfinder's patented outrigger system allows him to stand safely and comfortably while fishing. He paddles it like a conventional kayak with the Pathfinder's outrigger system in the closed position. "When you get where you want to fish, put the levers down and the outriggers come out. Now you're safe to stand," he says. "I always fish standing up. I can flip and pitch and do everything."
Freedom Hawk President David Rose says the Pathfinder's outriggers spread to the width of a jonboat. "With the outriggers deployed, you have the stability of a jonboat," he says.
The Pathfinder also has a casting brace that a standing angler can lean against, which makes it easier to turn around while fishing. "If a fish goes around the boat you can turn and play it, no problem," Rose says.
Television host and two-time Bassmaster Classic winner Hank Parker has become a kayak bass fishing fan. When his friend, Jackie Smith, a Hall of Fame football player and Hobie Cat marketing specialist, asked Parker to try a Hobie kayak about 13 years ago, he was skeptical. "I figured I'd tip over and have plenty of material for a bloopers tape," Parker says. When he finally tried one on his home waters of Lake Norman, he was surprised by the Hobie's stability, despite its narrow beam. "I didn't flip and gradually got pretty aggressive when fishing out of it," he recalls.
Parker became hooked on the Hobie MirageDrive system, which replaces paddling with a pedal mechanism so the angler can propel the boat and fish at the same time. Plagued with a ruptured disc in his back, he appreciates Hobie's adjustable high-back padded seat with an inflatable lumbar support. He claims he can fish comfortably in the seat all day without back pain by occasionally adjusting the position of the lumbar support.
Last February, Parker was introduced to the new 17-foot Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 17T and had the opportunity to test this two-man kayak with Smith at a private lake in Alabama. "It's almost like it isn't a kayak anymore," Parker says of the latest Hobie. "The two-man setup lets you to bring a friend. It helps to work together while traveling, fishing, portaging, and landing fish.
"That boat's amazingly stable," he says. "I was amazed that two big old guys (Smith is 6' 4" and Parker 6' 2") could fish that well. One or both can pedal at the same time." He also found he could fish the Pro Angler 17T in the same areas as smaller kayaks despite its increased length and width. "The draft is the same," he says. "We were able to get into skinny water just like in a small one." The company offers a trailer designed for the 17T as well as a foot-controlled trolling motor.
While bass boats remain the standard for bass fishing, kayaks have established a niche in the sport and a strong following among anglers wanting to get away from the beaten path. Secluded waterways, big bass, and lower fuel bills are only a few of their attractions. –