August 13, 2020
The air is silent as you make your way toward the shallow flat in the back of the creek, the still surface interrupted by the flickering of baitfish. As dawn breaks, you’re in the moment, as bass begin to break the surface, taking advantage of favorable feeding conditions. The hum of your buzzbait hangs on the air as you work the area, weaving through the tufts of sedge grass that pepper the flat. It’s a scene anglers are universally familiar with; we just use different strokes to paint our picture. This particular picture happens to be painted from a kayak.
The sport of fishing has grown over the past few decades, partly driven by competitive angling at the professional level, and now at the high-school, collegiate, and club levels. They all require a 17- to 22-foot boat powered by gas and electric motors and weighing over 1,000 pounds.
Today, it’s difficult to drive down the highway without seeing a fishing kayak strapped to the top of an SUV or nestled in a truck bed. It’s also becoming more common to encounter kayak anglers on the ledges of Kentucky Lake or fishing the grass flats of Lake Guntersville. Kayak fishing has found its niche as the segue into the sport. It allows anglers the ability to experience fishing in a different way, and more anglers are paying attention as the trend continues to catch fire. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest factors that have contributed to the popularity of these little plastic boats.
For the average angler, analyzing the capital and operating costs of a traditional fishing boat can be a bit daunting. Do I have adequate storage space? Do I have the proper vehicle to transport it? Can I afford the cost of the boat, plus fuel, insurance, and other expenses? These concerns become almost irrelevant when it comes to kayak fishing. Imagine having the ability to throw your vessel and your gear inside the bed of a truck in a matter of minutes. Consider the efficient loading and unloading process, and the amount of money and space one would save owning a kayak as opposed to a bass boat. These aspects alone appeal to a large percentage of anglers, many of whom started bank-fishing and are looking to take the next step toward accessing new waters.
Kayaks provide many advantages on the water. Because they can operate in as little as six inches of water, they offer unparalleled access to nature’s most precious and rare gems. Some of the best fisheries in the country aren’t accommodating to motorcraft but can be accessed via kayak. Many river anglers started kayak fishing simply to have the ability to navigate shallow shoals and float miles of pristine waters. Others purchased kayaks to fish local parks, many of which have motor restrictions. Another plus is that there are virtually no restrictions when it comes to where you can launch your kayak. This allows anglers to launch from their campsites, lakeside pull-offs, and off-the-beaten-path roads with dirt ramps.
Once on the water, kayakers have the freedom to explore areas other boats can’t get to—a big advantage when bass push up shallow, often in areas just out of casting reach. Imagine being able to get behind the last row of standing timber to flip untouched cypress stumps or paddling across the heavy mats to reach an area you’ve seen surface activity.
Or maybe the usage is more seasonally influenced. You find yourself maneuvering under fallen trees to access cooler springs in the dog days of summer, or navigating through thick brush to find bedding fish that have successfully eluded most anglers. This has proven to be advantageous on highly pressured waters.
Then there’s the simplicity and intimacy kayak fishing offers. In our fast-paced, modern world, we often feel cut off from nature, and therefore long for that temporary escape. For outdoors enthusiasts, we savor those moments that allow us to take refuge from our suburban realities—moments when we can flee to the wild. As anglers, we accomplish this on the water, where the act of fishing satisfies both our sporting and therapeutic needs. In a kayak, those elements are amplified. Because of the close proximity to the water, kayak anglers are able to experience fishing in a way that’s unavailable in other styles.
It’s like having the best seat in the house at your favorite show. There’s no better feeling than watching a 6-pound smallmouth breach the surface, putting on an aerial show before charging the boat. In a kayak, you’re so close to the action that you can feel the water hit your face as the bronze fighter makes one final jump inches from your boat.
The same connection applies to an area. In a bass boat, you have the advantage of running spots that may be miles apart. While some may think this limits kayak anglers, it forces them to slow down. In doing so, they’re able to develop the ability to break down an area and dial in on the bite. It teaches patience and fosters intuition, as you learn to watch for subtle nuances within the area you’re fishing.
The allure of kayak fishing goes well beyond tangible benefits—it’s the kayak community that sets the sport apart from all other means of fishing.
Kindness, generosity, and camaraderie are woven into the kayak community, something its members are most proud of. We’ve had a few professional anglers participate in national-level kayak tournaments over the years, and they’ve all said the same thing: The kayak fishing community is unparalleled. It’s where friends who are cut from the same cloth become family. The community is welcoming and eager to help newcomers and grow the sport, whether at the grassroots or national level, and regardless if there’s a good chunk of change on the line.
Allow me to share a scene from the Hobie Tournament of Champions on Lake Ouachita last fall, where 50 of the best anglers from around the country competed for a $40,000 purse. When one would enter the tournament headquarters, they would be greeted by bellowing laughter and fellowship. Conversation flowed freely among the anglers, unimpeded by the strain of competition as they shared knowledge regarding Arkansas’ diverse fisheries.
National entities such as KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing), Hobie BOS (Bass Open Series), and now B.A.S.S. offer a variety of tournaments with lucrative incentives for anglers wanting to put their skills to the test. These series have allowed kayak anglers more opportunities to pursue the sport full time.
Perhaps being in its infancy has allowed the kayak-fishing community to be able to uphold its reputation. As the sport continues to grow, one might wonder whether or not these values will be compromised, and the purity of the sport lost as the tournament purses continue to get bigger. One may also wonder how long this trend will continue, or if it will gain more credibility on a larger level. Time will tell, but one thing remains: Whether you fish from the bank, a bass boat, or a kayak, it’s important to remember that while our styles, platforms, and preferences may differ, we as anglers will all continue to speak the same language.
*Nebraska resident Kristine Fischer is an exceptional angler, traveling the country to fish kayak tournaments. A freelance writer, she has previously contributed to In-Fisherman magazine.