October 13, 2015
Smooth. Stealthy. Sensational.
Kayaks offer panfish anglers one of the most economical and versatile options for exploring small and big waters alike. Kayaks are lightweight, go-anywhere watercraft. They can be stored in small places, transported easily, and launched wherever access to the water permits. Their shallow draft allows for cruising through ultra-shallow water and for accessing remote settings beyond the reach of standard fishing boats. Plus, they provide anglers with unparalleled stealth to sneak up on trophy panfish.
If you're looking to get started in kayak fishing, modern sit-on-top models are the perfect introduction to the sport. These rotomolded polyethylene craft are low-maintenance and highly durable. They're easily customized and offer a stable and dry platform from which to stalk panfish.
With an array of fishing kayaks currently available, selecting the right one involves weighing multiple factors, including the user's body size, shape and weight, strength, type of water to be fished, and fishing style. If you're smaller in stature, a compact Ocean Kayak Venus 10, which weighs just 37 pounds and measures 10 feet in length, is a great option. These small and nimble kayaks are especially useful in small-pond settings. On the flip side, bigger anglers or those fishing larger waters can benefit from a high-capacity kayak such as the Ocean Kayak Prowler Big Game II. The 13-foot Prowler offers plenty of leg room, multi-positional seating, 600-pound maximum weight capacity, and ample latched storage space for gear.
If extended paddling is in your plans, the longer and narrower Ocean Kayak Trident 15 Angler offers easier paddling and better tracking when moving between spots. Alternatively, for those looking to take the easy route or if ultra-long journeys are necessary to reach your panfish hot spot, a motorized kayak like the Ocean Kayak Torque may be to your liking. It has a fully integrated Minn Kota electric trolling motor and foot-operated rudder system for true hands-free operation.
If your favorite panfish waters are far from a road or launch site, multiple hand-cart/trailer options are available for transporting kayaks from vehicle to water. Popular models include the Ascend Cart with 10-inch inflatable wheels and the C-Tug Cart equipped with puncture-proof solid wheels to traverse almost any surface. These lightweight carts make hauling kayaks a snap and conveniently store on the back platform of the kayak when not in use.
Once on the water, fishing gear should be kept simple, organized and at your fingertips — much like when wading or shore-fishing. For this reason, a fishing vest or a tackle pack comes in handy. Also, keep in mind the motto "leash it or lose it." That means putting a safety rope on essential gear such as your paddle, fishing rods, tackle trays, waterproof camera, and phone. As a side note, most popular fishing kayaks are ultra-wide — generally in the 27- to 33-inch range — which allows anglers to stand and fish with ease. From a seated position, modern kayaks require a serious degree of operator error to flip.
Keeping gear simple, I like to pack just two rods less than 7 feet long while targeting panfish. Shorter rods make it easier to steer and land fish alongside the kayak. One rod and reel combo is rigged for casting artificials like spoons, crankbaits, spinners, and flies with casting bubbles. The reel is spooled with 4-pound-test Berkley Nanofil, which provides maximum casting distance and constant feel of the lure.
The other rod-and-reel setup is for fishing with livebait under a bobber, or working a jig and Berkley Gulp! combo. This outfit is spooled with 2- to 4-pound-test Trilene XL monofilament for a more natural sink rate with livebait and slight line stretch when big panfish hit. Other essential gear, like line cutters and hemostats, are kept on my person, along with a Plano Compact Jig and Fly Box that has 32 mini compartments for keeping various size hooks, split shot, snaps, jigs, and bobber stops separated and organized.
In my Plano Softsider Waist Pack, a 3500 ProLatch Stowaway tray is loaded with an assortment of tiny Rebel poppers, Custom Jigs and Spins Slender Spoons, Dynamic Lures HD Ice Jigging Lures, Johnson Thinfisher bladebaits, and Bandit 100 Series crankbaits. With this assortment of lures, all depths can be covered for everything from bluegills to crappies and perch. These artificial baits regularly out-produce livebait for trophy-size panfish.
If you're after crappies, you can tow a Frabill Flow Troll Bucket full of minnows behind the kayak with minimal resistance, which provides oxygenated water to the bait. It's easily stowed inside the kayak when traveling from spot to spot. Keep other bait options simple, such as a pack of Gulp! Maggots. These flavorful baits appeal to all species of panfish.
The ability to customize angling kayaks is one of their major draws. If your panfish pursuits take you to shallow mucky backwaters for spawning bull bluegills, a YakAttack ParkNPole stakeout pole, with boat mounting clips, may be a more functional option than an anchor. Simply push the stake into the substrate and tether it to the kayak for a secure hold. For anglers working deep outside weededges, an anchor and pulley system is a better option and allows the anchor's tie off position to be changed from the front to the back of the kayak with just a tug on the pulley rope.
In deep water, a depthfinder increases effectiveness and can be installed easily. Multiple permanent and portable options are available, including Vexilar's innovative Sonar Phone T-Box. This wireless system provides WiFi sonar transmission to your Smartphone (packed in a waterproof case). This eliminates the need to permanently install a sonar unit on the deck of the kayak. For mounting the transducer, RAM makes a flexible transducer arm mount suitable for any portable sonar unit. If additional rod holders or a camera mount is desired, companies such as YakAttack make low-profile track rails that accommodate mounting brackets to position accessories anywhere along the track system and allow for their removal in seconds.
Whether you're hopping into a stock kayak to periodically fish a neighborhood pond or customizing an advanced fishing kayak to explore larger or remote fisheries, kayaks are a great means of enjoying the sport and catching more panfish in the process. –