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What Is an Angler Kayak?

By Dale Marshall
Updated May 23, 2024
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An angler kayak is a type of kayak that’s used for fishing. Generally designed for use by a single person, most angler kayaks have a wider beam — the kayak’s widest side-to-side measurement — than recreational or racing kayaks. This increased width contributes to the kayak’s stability, a critical consideration.

Kayaks were first developed by Arctic people thousands of years ago, and were used for transportation and hunting. Improvements to kayak design over the centuries have been in the area of materials used; the basic design of the traditional kayak has remained unchanged. The usual position of a kayak paddler is seated in a cockpit with legs outstretched in front. Traditional kayaks employ a spraydeck which can be adjusted to fit snugly around the paddler’s waist, keeping the cockpit and the paddler’s lower body dry.

A spraydeck, especially if it’s adjustable to provide a snug fit, can restrict an angler’s movements, and cockpit-type angler kayaks are usually designed with much larger openings to facilitate movement. Another very popular kayak design is called “sit on top” (SOT), and has no spraydeck at all. The SOT kayak is also very popular for general use, and is essentially a molded paddleboard that the paddler sits on while paddling. Its only real drawback is that it doesn’t protect the paddler or other contents of the kayak from the spray of water that often characterizes kayaking. SOT kayaks designed for fishing often have built-in watertight compartments to overcome this drawback.

One of the reasons kayak fishing has become so popular is that while it offers the angler the mobility denied to those fishing from shore, it’s not nearly as costly as fishing with a motorized boat. Kayaks are also much lighter than motorboats, and can be launched from shore by a single person. Likewise, an angler kayak can be hauled in the bed of a pickup truck or mounted on the top of a car, eliminating the need for a trailer.

Modern angler kayaks are generally made of plastics such as polyethylene, or of fiberglass. The plastics are preferable because they’re more resilient than fiberglass, especially in a collision or when the keel has scraped underwater obstacles such as sharp rocks or logs. Most angler kayaks are specially fitted with fishing accessories such as rod holders and live-bait tanks, as well as watertight storage compartments. Some are also outfitted with electronic gear such as fish finders.

It’s not necessary to purchase a specially-outfitted angler kayak, though. Handy anglers can install rod holders and guides, as well as outriggers and other stability devices, on their own. Likewise, such accessories as anchors and rudders can be built for a kayak and installed by the angler.

Some kayak accessories should be purchased, though. Kayak seats provide critical back support, but are hard to fabricate in a home workshop. Paddles also are generally beyond the competence of most do-it-yourselfers.

Anglers often prefer to cast while standing, rather than the sitting position required of the kayaker. Standing in a traditional or SOT kayak, though, shifts the loaded craft’s center of gravity dramatically and significantly reduces its stability. Many kayak manufacturers offer angler kayak models with double hulls — these catamaran configurations, which are essentially two kayaks connected to each other, are far more stable. Another approach to enhancing a kayak’s stability is to add one or two outriggers, special rigid flotation devices attached to the kayak’s sides, or gunwhales.

Safety always has to be a prime consideration of anyone fishing from a kayak or other personal watercraft. The most important piece of safety equipment for a kayaker is a personal flotation device (PFD). These devices are designed to keep an adult afloat, and work best when actually worn by the kayaker. When disaster strikes and a kayak is capsized, tossing the occupant overboard, there’s often no time to grab for a flotation device that’s sitting in the cockpit. It’s absolutely essential that anyone kayaking wear a PFD whenever the craft is on the water.

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