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story.lead_photo.caption You can launch a kayak anywhere there’s water without the need of a boat ramp, giving anglers access to waters that larger boats can’t reach. - Photo by Bryan Hendricks

Kayaks aren't just for water rodeos anymore.

Photo by Bryan Hendricks
You can rig out a stock kayak with all kinds of fi shing accessories, including quality electronic graphs.

Until recently, kayaks were exclusively the domain of whitewater paddlers, but they are now the fastest growing segment of the fishing industry.

According to Angling Trade magazine, kayak anglers accounted for 1.8 million outings from an industry total of 39 million in 2015.

Eric Jackson, founder of Jackson Kayaks, is a world-renowned whitewater kayaker who builds some of the finest boats of that genre, but even he acknowledges that the whitewater market is limited. When he developed and refined what became the dedicated fishing kayak, his business soared.

Anglers choose kayaks over traditional gasoline-powered boats for many reasons, including cost. Getting into a brand-new, fully-rigged bass boat will run you upward of $70,000, not counting finance charges.

You can buy a fully-rigged, tournament-ready kayak from Jackson, Hobie, Native, Old Town, Wilderness Systems or Ocean Kayak ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.

A national trend toward better physical fitness also makes kayaks attractive. Paddling a kayak for a half-day fishing outing works the arms, abdominal and lower back muscles.

Foot-propelled models like those available from Hobie, Native and Old Town work the calves and thighs, and help keep hips limber.

A kayak's greatest asset is its usefulness for fishing. Ryan Walker of Ozark, Mo., president of the Ozark Smallmouth Alliance, said a kayak gives an angler unparalleled access to prime fishing water. It can go anywhere a bass boat can go, but it can also go places a bass boat cannot. You can launch a kayak anywhere there's water, and you are not impaired by long lines and limited parking.

Kayaks also are stealthy and quiet, allowing an angler to blend into his environment instead of impose upon it.

For me, discovering the fishing kayak was a life-changing experience. It's more than a way of fishing. It's a way of life.

A vignette in an excellent book about the band U2, U2 at the End of the World, explains it best. In the early 1990s, Bono, U2's singer, bassist Adam Clayton and guitarist The Edge hitchhiked across the United States. In Tennessee, they got a ride from a kid driving a pickup truck with Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" blasting from his speakers.

The kid soon realized who his passengers were, and he replaced Def Leppard with U2's Joshua Tree CD. The experience was an epiphany for Bono.

"I realized that kids don't buy stereos to play music," he said. "They buy music to play their stereos."

It's kind of like that with me and kayaks. I don't use my kayaks to fish; I fish to use my kayaks.

For starters, fishing from a kayak is a minimalist exercise. There's not room for much gear, so I take only what I need, and only what I know I'll use. That demands clarity of mind and purpose. It forces me to conceptualize how I will fish beforehand and to pack accordingly. There's little room for improvisation. Instead, it forces me to maximize the gear I have on hand.

"Oh yeah? You're not biting plastic frogs today? That's what you think. I will make you bite plastic frogs today!"

And they will if you have patience and make the right presentations. That requires directional control and proper casting angles. In its native environment, a kayak is better suited for that than any other platform.

One advantage kayaks have over canoes is that they cheat wind. A canoe catches wind like a sail, and it doesn't take much wind to push it upstream against the current. Trying to fish while manhandling a canoe in the wind will wear you out.

A kayak sits lower in the water, so there's less surface to catch wind. It also responds to a paddle stroke quicker, so it's easier to control.

As far as the fishing experience goes, it's the next best thing to wading. Since you sit at the waterline, strikes and jumps occur almost at eye level. That's intense with a 4-pound bass. Multiply it by 100 with a 20-pound striped bass, and by 1,000 with a 5-foot shark.

Of course, you don't have to sit while fishing. The best kayaks have wide beams and low centers of gravity to allow standing. You can stand without fear in a Hobie Pro Angler, any number of Jacksons and Natives, and in Ascend's FS128T.

Buying and rigging kayaks is a journey. My first was an Ocean Kayaks Scupper II, a touring model that predates the fishing kayak. I learned early that it was stable enough for standing, and I rigged it for fishing with the limited amount of accessories that were available at the time.

For the money, the Ascend FS12T is hard to beat. It is stable and nimble, and it's easy to modify. Using scrap lumber and bent legs from an old deer feeder, I built a transom that slid snugly into the rod holders behind the seat. I attached a 36-pound thrust trolling motor to one side and a device that held a Lowrance transducer on the other side. I attached a RAM mount to hold an electronic graph and bolted rod holders to a milk crate that I strapped into the ice-chest compartment behind the seat.

I took it everywhere, and it served me well until I discovered the Hobie Revolution. With its foot-operated Mirage drive, aftermarket Lowrance electronics and other accessories, it is a littoral assault vehicle. You can even get Power Poles for it, and for other brands, too.

You don't necessarily have to spend a lot of money to get quality, but you won't regret spending more. You'll pay more for lighter weight, more intuitive deck layouts and factory accessories.

It's one investment you won't regret, and one that won't go stale.

Sports on 06/04/2017

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