Once you start checking into kayaks for fishing youll learn there are basically 2 types of kayaks. There are Sit On Top (SOT) and Sit In Kayaks (SIK). Each type has models that fish well and ones that dont. The SIK is the traditional style of kayak that comes to most peoples minds when they envision a kayak. The occupant sits inside the kayak and there is usually a skirt that goes around the waist and seals the inside of the kayak from the elements. Without a skirt the kayak becomes a fair weather craft as any water entering the kayak becomes trapped and has to be physically removed. This is accomplished while out on the water by the use of a sponge (for small amounts) or a pump that is carried in the kayak. SIKs are considered traditional kayaks and make up the majority of the kayaks purchased around the world. Theyre used for touring, general recreation and whitewater. SOTs are the new breeds. Theyre essentially glorified surfboards. Rather then sitting in the kayak, as one does in a SIK, you sit on the kayak. The kayak is a hollow tube that has posts that run from the top of the kayak to the water. These posts are called scupper holes. They are what make a SOT kayak what it is because they allow water that enters the kayak to drain. There isnt any need for sponges or pumps as the kayak is self-bailing. SOTs were created as recreational kayaks that were originally used at warm water resorts as play vessels. Theyre popularity has been increasing each year and besides resort use theyre also used for general recreation, kayak surfing and fishing.
SOTs are the reason kayak fishing is growing the way that it is. When the first southern Californians started flirting with the sport back in the 80s they initially used surfboards and paddled out beyond the breakers with a fishing rod and some gear. You cant take much with you on a surfboard and when they started investigating something better the SOT kayak is what they found. The ability of SOTs to transport the fishermen and their gear into the ocean is why this sport developed. So even though the SIK has been around for a long time its the SOT thats responsible for the sport, as we know it now.
We most often hear from fishermen considering the sport that theyre looking at a SIK because they want to be protected from the elements. This is a flawed view of kayak fishing and shows that they really havent considered the sport as its practiced. Kayak fishing is a water sport. If you dont want to deal with water either stay on land or get a boat. A kayak is not a boat so dont think of it as one. It is one of the most versatile vessels youll ever use and will allow you to access all kinds of places, which hold fish.
The majority of fishermen who purchase a kayak for fishing do so because they want to catch fish and sometimes the best place to catch fish isnt while sitting in the kayak.
Flats Fishing: One of the best things about a kayak is the access to shallow flats that it provides. There are lots of these types of environments especially on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Some flats are shallow and dont have much of a tidal differential. The farther north you go the more differential. Imagine that youre fishing a flat and youd like to get out and wade fish. There are a few reasons why you may wish to do this.
So youve decided to get out of the kayak. Depending upon where you are makes a big difference. If the waters warm it doesnt matter nearly as much but if its cold then youre most likely going to be wearing some sort of protection from the elements. The best item for wading is waders. Nothing comes close. Its what theyre designed for and do the job extremely well. If the water depth is only a foot or so this doesnt present a challenge in either type of kayak. Now lets see how things change in a couple feet of water with an incoming tide. Theres a good chance when you decide to get back into the kayak it could be 3 feet deep. In a SOT you sit on rather than in the kayak so getting in and out is actually getting on and off. Its easy to do. Conversely in a SIK it isnt so simple and your chances of capsizing the kayak is much greater. Its also much more difficult to do. Im fairly athletic but I wouldnt want to be getting back into a SIK in 3 feet of water. Getting back onto a SOT is easy under the same circumstances. Now imagine that youre wearing waders, which raises the degree of difficulty.
Accessing the Ocean: When you fish the open ocean youre either going to need to get to it via an inlet or launching through the surf. Sometimes the surf is so calm that youd think you were at a lake however this is unusual. Its great when it happens but dont count on it. So you need to anticipate and be prepared for waves. As you go out through the breakers a wave might break over the kayak. When a wave comes over the bow of a SOT the cockpit briefly fills with water and then it drains. It happens quickly and by the time youre beyond the surf the water that came into the cockpit is no longer there. Once beyond the surf you retrieve whatever gear youve stashed below and youre ready to fish. Having the ability to store gear away from the elements below deck is invaluable in keeping items protected. Should a wave knock you off a SOT youre just off and your gear is where you left it. All you need to do is repeat the process. Conversely a SIK needs a skirt to go through even moderate surf. Otherwise should a wave come over the bow of the kayak it will fill with water and by design it doesnt have the ability to drain. Once beyond the waves youd have to remove the water from the kayak. This would require pumping the water out. Should you go through the surf and misjudge the wave it could flip the kayak. The best thing that can happen is that you and the kayak part company. Should this happen then the skirt will pull away from the kayak and go with you. It would be impossible for the kayak not to fill with. So figure that the kayak will fill with water if you have a mishap in the surf. Many SIK models dont have bulkheads, in other words all the gear is now exposed to the water and the surf. Any gear that was in the cockpit is either floating around in the surf or on the bottom. In or rather on a SOT you simply fall off and go retrieve the kayak. In a SIK you are in the kayak and should you flip none of the consequences are good. In the very least you have a kayak full of water and in the worst scenario youre upside down and still in the yak with your gear bouncing around with you in the surf. When a SIK flips the popular wisdom is to do an Eskimo roll. Thats OK if youre in calm waters with a narrow kayak but most SIKs that are used for fishing are often wider and they dont roll under ideal conditions and the surf is as far from ideal as youre going to get. We dont know about you but wed rather not be in such a situation.
Shallow Rivers: A kayak will take you into so many environments that are difficult if not impossible to reach via any other means. A shallow river is just such a place. Sometimes you can paddle and at times youll need to drag the kayak up, around or through objects. These obstacles can be rapids, waterfalls, trees, logjams, and all sorts of things. Often youll find that youll be getting in and out of the kayak a lot. Its much easier to get off of a kayak rather than out of one if youre doing it on a regular basis. In some situations it will be like our flats scenario and you need to get on or off in a couple feet of water or more. The more you find yourself leaving the kayak the more appreciative youll find a SOT.
Keeping Fish: If you like to take fish home than you need a place to keep your catch. If its smaller fish this isnt a big deal but if the fish are big it is. In a SIK its either in the cockpit or on a stringer. A stringer is OK in freshwater areas where you dont need to travel very far. A stringer full of fish provides drag and isnt good if you need to cover distance. In some places it can attract predators. In the south you have to be concerned with alligators and in the salt its sharks. Neither is a good way to encounter these animals. A tank well is a great place to keep fish. You can either place a cooler in the tank well or simply put the fish in it and cover them with a wet burlap sack. Many SOTs come with tank wells. Another place to keep your catch is inside the kayak. The water is generally cooler then the air temperature and under these circumstances provides a cooling effect. A soft cooler is a great way to go as it can conform to the space you have and with the addition of a few cool packs works extremely well inside the hull. Obviously the larger the hatch the easier its going to be to put a cooler inside the kayak. Hatches vary significantly from kayak to kayak. Some are enormous while others are so small that theyre impractical.
Comfort: A SIK is an enclosed vessel and because of this your freedom of movement is restricted. Your legs are stuck and you dont have much choice on where you can put them. Since you sit on a SOT its easy to change positions. You can sit sidesaddle and put your legs over the side. In hot weather the SIK can really heat up. With a SOT its easy to dip ones feet in the water and on a hot day it feels fantastic. SIKs come with a fixed seat. Some are very comfortable but some are awful. With few exceptions SOTs utilize after market seats. These seats run the full gambit from basic to incredibly posh and comfortable. Some models even have pump up lumbar supports.
Both types of kayaks will enable you to catch fish. A SIK is like only fishing
with top water lures or using a floating fly line. You will catch fish, but
oftentimes therell be the need to go deep to catch fish. SOTs allow you
to fish all environments. So if theres an environment you want to fish
your kayak wont limit your ability to do so. The greater the versatility
the more fish youll catch.
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