Tips on Buying a Kayak for Fishing
A viewer on our YouTube Channel, COAF Field Team, asked us:
"Would you consider doing reviews on the different types of kayaks you fish with and what you like about each style?"
As we have fished with only two kayaks—a Heritage Feather Lite 9.5' and an Emotion Spitfire 8'—we do not consider ourselves kayak experts.
With that in mind, we thought it best to list the things we do and don't like about the two kayaks, taking the approach of what we would consider when buying our next kayak.
Also, we included our thoughts on Sit-inside Kayaks (SINKs) and Sit-on-Top Kayaks (SOTs) since the Heritage Kayak is a SINK and the Emotion Kayak is a SOT.
The sections below detail what we do and don't like about our Heritage Feather Lite 9.5' and Emotion Spitfire 8' kayaks.
Our SINK: The Heritage Feather Lite Angler 9.5'
We got our SINK first, a Heritage Feather Lite 9’6”. It was listed at $499 from Academy Sports in Plano, but we got it for $299 because it was marked wrong. It was made by the original Heritage Kayaks in Bristol, RI. Heritage declared bankruptcy, but was bought in 2006 by Legacy Sports which moved manufacturing to North Carolina.
The Heritage Feather Lite Angler Kayak currently offered by Academy Sports sells for under $300 and has different handles and deck rigging and a third rod holder mounted forward of the cockpit compared to our kayak. Otherwise, everything appears to be the same.
- Length: 9 feet 6 inches
- Width: 30 inches
- Weight: 38 lbs
- Weight capacity: 300 lbs
- Style: SINK (Sit-Inside Kayak)
We like the Versabrella as it provided ample shade, did not impede our ability to paddle the kayak, and could be adjusted easily while on the water. Moreover, we could troll and cast lures with the Versabrella deployed. The key factor was mounting it securely. When we used the PVC mount, the Versabrella stayed fast and secure!
What We Like About the Heritage Feather Lite Angler 9.5'
- Light weight. We can lift it with one arm and rest it on our shoulder, making for ease of launch. At times, we forego the boat ramp and park our vehicle, opting to carry the kayak to the launch point (see the "Lightweight" video below).
- Stability. Although we have not stood up in the kayak, the kayak does not feel "tippy" and can handle rough conditions at times (see the "Stable" video below).
- Maneuverability. The kayak is easy to paddle and tracks nicely especially noticeable for longer distances. Although it does not have a rudder, we were able to maintain our heading with minimal effort.
- Fishing function. The kayak came with two recessed rod holders aft of the cockpit. The newer model comes with a third rod mount, forward of the cockpit. In our case, we added a third mount - a Railblaza II Rod Holder. As soon as we bought paddles, the kayak was ready to fish!
- Deck rigging. We like the deck rigging and the mounts that hold the rigging in place. We use the deck rigging to secure our fishing net aft of us, making the net readily available while fighting a fish. Also, we use the deck rigging mounts to secure our portable depth finder (see "Fish Finder" video below).
- Paddle leash. When we purchased the kayak, it came with a paddle leash, so we did not incur the added cost. Although relatively inexpensive at under $10, we liked spending the money on other fishing-related things like more lures for kayak trolling!
- Rod holders. We like the recessed rod holders located aft of the cockpit. We originally used them as rod holders while trolling, but now use them to mount our cameras, a Versabrella for shade, and a light pole. Using varying lengths of 3/4" PVC pipe, 45 degree and 90-degree elbow connectors, and tee connectors, we have been able to mount our gear securely in the rod holders.
Railblaza II Rod Holder with Star Mount as mentioned in the article. We mounted forward of the cockpit and chose it over others because it has a locking mechanism prevents the rod from falling out and can hold fly rods.
What We Don't Like About the Heritage Feather Lite Angler 9.5'
- Launching in surf. Our plan was to fish for sharks from the beach while on the Texas Coast. We wanted to use the kayak to deploy our baits past the third sandbar. However, we were not comfortable with our skill level paddling a SINK-style kayak like the Heritage Feather Lite in rough surf conditions. We were disappointed but understood the kayak's limitations.
- Larger lakes and the ocean. Although we have fished with the kayak in rough conditions, on large lakes like Lake Texoma we limit ourselves to protected coves and leeward shores. When conditions are right, we will head for deeper waters that are less protected. But, as a rule, we do not fish open water when the forecast calls for high winds. See "Texoma" video below where we are fishing windy points for Striped Bass in less than ideal conditions.
- Cockpit. Taller members of the Field Team find that the kayak's cockpit tends to rub their legs while paddling. As a workaround, we have added padding made from a foam pool noodle.
General Thoughts on SINKS (Sit-Inside Kayaks)
- We tend to stay drier in a Sit-Inside Kayak. Moreover, if we add a spray shield and wear insulated wading pants and a raincoat, we can extend our kayak fishing season into the colder months of the year (see the "Colder Temps" video below, of a morning that started in the mid-40s).
- Keep a bilge pump, baling container, or large sponge in the kayak. As there are no drain holes, once water enters the kayak it does not go away.
- Test yourself: capsize the kayak in a controlled environment wearing the clothes (including shoes) that you will be fishing in and a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Then, right the capsized kayak, re-enter the cockpit, and bail out the water to the point that you can paddle the kayak to shore. Do this with a safety observer monitoring your progress who can render assistance immediately in case you are unable to accomplish the task.
- Determine what options are available in the event you aren't able to right a capsized kayak. It may be better to use the capsized kayak for additional flotation and then swim it to shore.
- Always wear your Personal Flotation Device (PFD)!
Kayaking in Colder Temps...
Our SOT: Emotion Spitfire 8'
We bought the SOT, an Emotion Spitfire 8’, for kayaking baits while surf fishing from the beach. It’s not the optimal choice for the beach but it worked for the trip we had bought it for … plus we picked it up from Cabelas for $125 back then. It’s mostly a backup kayak when we fish from Lavon when someone wants to fish with me. If not, we would use the SINK. We have fished with it on Lake Texoma, but on Lavon or larger lakes I would go with a larger kayak.
A 10’ SOT would be better for stability than the 8’ I used in the video. If you can test the one you want to use on a large lake before purchasing, that would be best.
- Length: 8 feet
- Width: 31.5 inches
- Weight: 39 lbs
- Maximum Capacity: 240 lbs
- Style: SOT (Sit-on-Top Kayak)
Quoting Emotion Kayaks...
The Spitfire™ 8 Kayak is designed for stability, performance, and affordability. The ST Performance Hull gives this shorter kayak a surprising amount of speed and tracking without sacrificing stability. It is equipped with great features like our CRS padded backrest + molded-in seat for comfortable paddling. The rear tankwell has bungee lacing to secure loose items and the molded-in carry handles make the kayak easy to transport to and from the waterfront. The extra volume and high capacity (up to 240 pounds) make this kayak the perfect fit for just about any size paddler from kids to adults.
Manufacturer also notes...
- Best for slow-moving rivers and waterways, calm bays, lakes, ponds
- Level: beginner
What We Like About the Emotion Spitfire 8'
- Light weight. Although it's a pound heavier than our Heritage kayak, it's still light.
- Stability. The kayak is stable within its length limitations. That is, we would not stand up in the kayak, but we have used it in rougher waters compared to the Heritage Kayak. We do heed weather conditions, and have capsized more than once, but it was due to mistiming a breaking wave in the Texas surf and not the kayak's stability.
- Seat Back. The seat back is padded and adjustable, so it can accommodate shorter and taller members of the Field Team with minimal adjustment.
- Deck Rigging and Tank Well. When we purchased the Emotion Spitfire 8' it came with a bungee-style deck rigging over the tank well. Newer models use a mesh style mat over the tank well. In our case, we like the bungee style deck rigging as it holds fishing gear like jug lines, cast net, and tackle bags securely in the tank well but is still readily accessible.
What We Don't Like About the Emotion Spitfire 8'
- Fishing Function. We used the kayak to deploy baits from the beach. Using it for fishing was more an afterthought. When we did use it for fishing, we either tucked the rod in our PFDs or used a hand-line (see "Hand-line Anyone" video in the section below). Later, we added a rod holder—the Railblaza II—which made the kayak more fishing-ready.
- Length. For taller members of the Field Team, the kayak's 8' length becomes an impediment. If you place a rod in the rod holder installed forward of the cockpit, the rod tends to bump your head. To alleviate this, we plan to install a second star mount aft of the cockpit, so we have the option to use the rod holder either forward or aft of the cockpit.
- Handholds. When we lift the kayak the handholds are not adequate for carrying it over our shoulder like we do with the Heritage Kayak. As a workaround, we use the seat straps to carry the kayak to the launch point. We also have a kayak carrying strap that will do this; however, most times we forget to bring it with us. For a longer-term solution, we suggest adding a handle over the handhold.
- Storage. Short of the tank well, there is no storage compartment. Our solution was to install a hatch cover. The solution works well, and with a hatch container, items will remain dry (see Emotion Spitfire 8' picture above; hatch cover is to the right of the cup holder).
- Wet seat. SOTs in general are a wet ride, but in the Emotion Spitfire 8' we never seem to be dry at all, especially in the seat. We use scupper plugs to lessen the amount of water that enters the kayak, but we seem to end each trip with our shorts soaked.
General Thoughts On SOTs (Sit-on-Top Kayaks)
- Overall, we noticed Sit-on-Top kayaks (SOTs) are easier to right after a capsize than SINKs. They are self-draining and have scupper holes to quickly remove water in the cockpit.
- That said, the scupper holes tend to make for a wet ride. Fortunately, we use our SOT kayak during the summer when the Texas heat has us looking forward to a "dunking" or two!
- Paddlers sit higher on the water in a SOT than a SINK, so the SOT is less stable. But, since we use them in the summer, we don't mind the decreased stability as we don't mind getting wet and can readily recover from a capsize.
- Newcomers to kayaking can paddle a SOT more readily than a SINK in rough conditions like the surf zone along beaches and river rapids.
- If you desire a pedal-powered kayak, the more popular models commercially available are SOTs. Some SINKs have been customized, but if you want a pedal-powered kayak, you will likely be choosing a SOT.
The last three bullets in the "General Thoughts on SINKs" section also apply to SOTs! Before you go out, practice capsizing and righting your kayak; consider what you will do if you can't right your kayak; and always wear your Personal Flotation Device (PFD)!
The following section below details what we would consider in our next kayak... as it relates to fishing of course!
Our Next Kayak
...will hopefully be on sale like our other two kayaks! Other factors we'll consider:
- Weight. If our current mode of transportation—a compact pickup truck—remains unchanged, we will opt for a lightweight kayak that can be carried easily.
- Available transportation. If our next vehicle is another compact pickup truck or a small SUV like the Subaru Forester, we will get another lightweight kayak that can be car-topped easily. If we get a larger vehicle or a trailer to haul the kayak, we will take a serious look at the heavier pedal kayaks!
- Storage. We will limit the length of the kayak to 12' or less due to storage limitations. We can currently store two kayaks and one vehicle in our garage. There is ample room for a third kayak but it cannot exceed 12'.
- Fishing function. We will look for a kayak that supports the fishing we do. Currently, we tend to fish local lakes either trolling lures or setting jug lines. Additionally, we sight-cast to fish breaking the water's surface as well as jig submerged structure for fish lurking below. However, if things change, as they often do, and we move to another area, then we will adjust our fishing and our choice of kayak!
- Key West Kayak Fishing's Video and Tips! Their YouTube channel provides a wealth of knowledge about kayak fishing in Key West and in general. In particular is that Channel's video titled, "What Kayak to Buy for Fishing—Helpful Tips"! (see video below).
Rules of Thumb for Buying a Kayak
When buying a kayak for fishing, be sure to follow these "rules of thumb." The best kayak:
- Will be easy to carry to/from your launch point.
- Can quickly load/unload from your vehicle.
- Can be stored without additional expense.
- When stored is readily available for use.
- Supports the way you fish!
The point of these rules is to ensure you buy a kayak that you will use and not a kayak that gathers dust.
Better yet, these rules align well with Kayak Fishing Key West's Helpful Tip #1 quoted below!
"Buy the kayak that you will use the most. A kayak that is too expensive to mess up, too much of a headache to use and put away, too heavy, or just plain inconvenient is not going to be used after the "honeymoon" period. Focus on picking a first kayak that you will have no issues with getting on the water through your orientation period."— Key West Kayak Fishing, March 18, 2017