By: Vinny “Commish” Ferreri
So, what all goes into competing in a kayak fishing tournament? Obviously, the big purchase is a kayak, but you also need, safety gear, fishing gear, storage options, clothing options, maybe a fish finder, a paddle, transportation for the kayak, etc. etc. It is a big commitment and that can get expensive if you let it. Let us start with the kayak. You want to get off the bank but a $5000 price tag for a piece of plastic scares you, I get it. Your first decision comes in at “do I want to paddle, or pedal?”. If you are just fishing for fun, relaxing, small waters, paddles will suit you fine. No issues at all. Ascend is made by Bass Pro Shops and offers some affordable, entry-level paddle kayaks to just get you on the water. When shopping for kayaks, you need to understand what sit in, and sit on are, what the length does, and what the width does. A sit on is preferred in kayak fishing. Open deck, with scuppers to allow water to drain through the floor. Your length will provide tracking, the ability to go straight. You will want to be in a kayak in the 12-13 foot range for the most part. The width is the stability. The wider the kayak, the more stable it is, but usually will cost you some speed on the water. Looking at an affordable, entry level sit on, you can get an Ascend from BPS for about $800, give or take. These kayaks will do the job, they may leak around the hatches, the plastic is not as high quality as some other brands so do not go dragging it around, and the deck is soft and bouncy. Looking at other paddle kayak options, I would look hard at the Nucanoe options as well as the Native Watercraft options. You will pay more for these brands, but you will receive a high quality product. From Nucanoe, the Pursuit is a great option, and from Native it is hard to beat the Slayer XC. For these options, you will be closer to the $1500 range.
If you are looking to compete on a high level, the data shows you will want to be in a pedal drive. Many brands of kayak offer pedal drives these days, but at the top of the list, Native Watercraft and Hobie Kayaks continue to be 1A and 1B for most anglers. When looking at these two brands, cost, and pedal motion are the two big factors. Native offers a bicycle motion, while Hobie offers a stair master motion. Some anglers prefer one to the other for their knees, or back. You can get into a Native Manta Ray Propel for $1999. This would be an entry level, smaller sized pedal driven kayak. Smaller, entry sized and bare bones, Hobie offers the Passport 12.0 for $1599. When looking into the true angler options from these two companies, the Native Slayer Max is $2599, and the Titan 12 is $2799. Hobie offers their Pro Angler kayak at a 12 and 14-foot option for $3800/$3900 and add the 360 option, which offers more control and you will pay $4600/$4800. I have been fishing in a Native kayak for 8 years. I chose Native because they are produced here in North Carolina and I believe in supporting local. When I decided to get into a pedal drive, Native offers instant reverse, and that was something that Hobie did not offer at the time. While Hobie still does not have instant reverse, it does offer 360 technology, which allows you to move the kayak sideways and backwards after turning a dial. It is a tough decision, and an expensive purchase and I highly suggest you demo. I have staff members locally that can help you get in the kayak you would like to try. Being hands free while fishing is a huge advantage no matter what brand you end up buying.
So, you made your kayak purchase – let’s go fishing. Well, not so fast. Let us talk about safety and laws. If you have a man powered kayak, no need to register it. You will need to have a sound emitting device; a whistle works well, on board. A white light on board. One that is over your head and can be viewed 360 degrees is the best option. The Yak Attack Visi Carbon Pro come with a track attachment, 360 degree light, and high vis orange flag. Great option that is used by many anglers. A personal flotation device or PFD is also needed. More options. North and South Carolina only require the PFD to be on board for anyone over 16 years old, unless you are using an inflatable. If you are using an inflatable, it must be armed and worn at all times to be legal. The key here is to find the middle zone between being safe, legal, and comfortable. Some great standard class III vests are offered by Astral, NRS, and MTI. These will be higher end, offer upper back flotation for comfort, and usually pockets for some gear storage. I have been using an Astral PFD as my standard moving water PFD for many years. Inflatable options also exist and tend to be very light and more comfortable. Mustang, BPS, Hobie, and many other brands offer inflatable options. I have been using a Hobie one that I won and I do like it.
You got your kayak; you got your light, whistle, and vest. You are ready to get the kayak wet now! If you are using a paddle kayak, or a pedal kayak, you will need a paddle on board. This is one purchase I would strongly suggest not buying cheap. If you are paddling, this is your motor! High-end paddles will be lighter, stronger, and more efficient, making your entire experience better. Bending Branches and Werner are two great paddle options. They offer paddles for all budget ranges and are quality products. I have used the Werner Camano for 7 years, which retails at $315, but I am now using a Bending Branches Angler Pro, which retails for $299. Both companies offer lower end options starting in the $100 range. If you just want a cheap option, any big box store will sell you a $30-$50 paddle.
“Do I need a fish finder?” This is another question I am asked a lot. If you are just starting out, I would say get used to the kayak, fishing in it, landing fish, measuring fish etc. If you are already an angler, then yes, I say you will want a fish finder. Fish finder price ranges are huge. You can get a graph that will show you depth and water temperature for very cheap, or you can get a 360 degree live view for $3000. It really depends on what you want to spend. I think having Sonar, down scan and Side Scan are very important. In a kayak we cannot cover the entire lake, so having eyes in the water that you can cover, all around you, is very helpful. Down scan will read directly below the kayak, and side scan is a view from the top, looking left and right. Add traditional sonar, and you can pin point those fish. Having GPS, and maps is always a bonus and usually comes on the higher end models. Lowrance, Garmin and Humminbird are the three brands that seem to dominate the market. I have used Garmin and Humminbird, and I think Humminbird is my favorite. I am currently using the Helix 9 Mega+ Si version, which retails for $1500 and it is simply amazing. Very clear picture.
The final piece of the puzzle. Gear. Rods, reels, line, hooks, lures. That is all personal preference and will only come over time and over usage. Keep in mind, if you are competing for thousands, and fishing a lot, you will not want your gear failing you. Buy the best you can afford is what I tell new anglers. Do some reading on what line, what power rod, what speed reel, and then budget around that. I do recommend a good, rubber, landing net for tournaments. You will also need a ruler. Ketch Products makes an aluminum measuring board. That is the only board approved for 2021 at the time of this article. You cannot compete without it. I am always here to help answer questions about getting into this sport. It can be overwhelming if you let it. I can be reached on Face Book at Vinny Ferreri, or on the page at Queen City Kayak Bass Fishing. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you all on the water soon! We are hosting events every month through the rest of the year and will be releasing the 2021 season schedule soon!