Hi all. This is a section that's really past due, but I'm correcting that now. There are so many of us trying desperately to make sense of yak selection; to make matters worse, we are exposed to misleading notions about yak design and performance.
I will never forget when I was first getting into yakfishing - spent countless hours researching and Googling the net, gathering links to yakfishing sites, and extracting what I hoped would be useful information. To the contrary I discovered misleading and counterproductive concepts, which have become so widespread that they literally have become mythical truisms.
Allow me to disabuse you of them.
#1 It tracks really well!
This is my favorite. You'll hear "I tried this yak, tracks amazingly well" or "It couldn't keep a course in the wind". The real truth, according to a leading kayak expert instructor, is that "tracking" is 80% paddling and 20% design. I'd say it's even higher. Tracking IS paddling.
Spend your time learning how to paddle, use a shorter paddle (more on this later) and practice. Your early strokes will likely be too wide, too low. You'll probably be sold a 230 or 240 mm paddle which not only forces a more horizontal stroke but makes the problem worse. Thankfully the latest trend is a return to shorter paddles using more vertical strokes.
Now don't get me wrong. It IS possible to design in tracking by minimizing rocker (front-to-back curve), adding skegs and the like. But then the problem becomes not enough tracking but too much. And as you will discover yakfishing is NOT touring. You will spend most of your time chasing fish, drifting, adjusting your position, turning and maneuvreing.
And any yak that is designed to track will not turn well. So your choice devolves to (a) choose a yak with designed in tracking and hard to turn or (b) pick a good turning yak that you can make go straight (paddling). No contest.
BTW, don't get me started bout rudders. A totally wasteful and counterproductive expenditure. Buy a rudder and you'll NEVER learn how to paddle. Rudders are for driftin, not trackin and certainly not for the great majority of yakfishers.
#2 It's really stable!
Oh my. And I know where this one comes from. Most of you have never been in a yak. Any yak. I'll never forget my first test paddles - they all felt tippy. And like tracking when a novice finds a yak that feels "stable", it's too stable. Let me explain that.
All yaks are stable. Yup, they are. And some are excessively so. The difference is in design. There are two kinds of stability, primary and secondary and the very best yaks for fishing strike a balance.
Primary stability is what we unfortunately mistake for "stability". This is the INITIAL resistance to tipping. You sit down in the yak, and it barely moves. You think "Wow...this is really stable". Wrong. It has very high primary stability and very little secondary. It probably has a broad, flatter bottom that resists that initial tip, but at a terrible price (see later). Example: Malibu Extreme.
Now you try a second yak. It's tippy and as a new yakker it scares you. But if you lean farther you find it "hardens up", as the sides of the yak enter the water. This is secondary stability. This is what keeps you from actually capsizing, and is VERY important. Example: Necky Dolphin or Spike.
News flash. Kayaks are SUPPOSED to tip. Like a bicycle when you go around turns. A bike that doesn't lean is called a tricycle and is a lousy performer. A true sea kayak has lower primary stability but excellent secondary. As a result it is nimble, quick, responsive and will yak circles (literally) around their barge brothers and sisters. SOT's even come with padeyes designed to accomodate thighstraps to control the lean (you won't use em).
Let's discuss the problem of excessive primary stability. Keep in mind that these are relatively flat bottomed yaks. So first they're quite noisy (hull slap). Big problem on the flats, but worse, hull slap is an indicator of poor performance. It's audible evidence of water striking and "slapping" the hull, rather than sliding smoothly by. This slows the yak. And this is just the beginning.
A flatter yak has even bigger issues. They ride flat on the water. When a large wave comes from the side, the yak stays flat to the surface and tips just as the wave does. It does not allow the wave to roll under the yak as a round bottom yak would.
Put another way the round bottom yak will stay upright while the flatter bottomed yak will tip with the wave. This is actually dangerous.
The yak that is "so stable you can stand on it" is dangerous and a very poor performer for all around yakfishing. Unless you are a fly fisherman who really will stand on the yak in shallow smooth water - run, don't walk away. The best yaks are a compromise, have only moderate primary but excellent secondary. Try a Scupper Pro - an excellent balance - see how it feels and use this as your standard of comparison.
For fun, try a Necky Spike or Dolphin. The intial stability will be disconcerting, but it hardens up very nicely. This is a true sea kayak that can handle anything, carve turns, paddle beautifully. If you have the courage to buy one for yakfishing you will quickly accomodate (like a bicycle - remember how wobbly your first rides were). This yak is a great yakfisher, one of the best - it's on Dennis Spike's short list (no relation).
#3 It's really dry!
Puuleeease! This is yakkin. It's a water sport fer gawd's sake, and you live in a warm water Paradise. And if you ever buy a yak cause it's "dry" after this I'm never gonna talk to ya. I'll get right to it. Example: Scrambler: dry, easier to capsize. Scrambler XT: wetter, harder to capsize. Now correlation is not cause, but just about. So called "dry" yaks mean, duh, you sit HIGHER out of the water. Now how much do you weigh? And what will 180 lbs. do when you move it up your center of gravity a couple inches...
Let's see. You just got done seeking "stability" so now you want to sit higher and "dryer", so you can capsize easier. Don't think a couple inches matters? Think again...in a yak that's a HUGE difference. For example my yakking bud Sue Sea owns a nice dry Scrambler and added a foam pad for a seat. We hit a squall, a short chop, and she dumped. Mind you she's a good paddler, said "it just came out from under me". We almost lost her that day. All from adding an inch of padding to an already dry (read high) yak.
I've paddled this yak and I understand. And all leading experts agree. A "wet" yak is much less likely to capsize. Fortunately this is really a non-issue:
Want dry? Buy scupper plugs - they're cheap and they work. You can have your cake.
#4 It's really heavy and solid!
I heard this one bout the Malibu Extreme. In it's original heavy version it was reputed to be 70 lbs. This is very heavy already. Had some design problems, so they threw plastic at it - 10 lbs. worth - to bring this tank to close to 80 lb.!! Couple things:
First, a fishing yak is not an cruise ship. The yak is actually the lightest part of the equation. Most average about 50 pounds or so. You and your gear can push 200 to 300 lbs. Another 10 lbs one way or the other on the yak makes no discernable difference in performance.
But it makes a helluva difference in launching and loading. Most agree that 55 lbs., particularly on a long unwieldy yak, is enough of a handful. A 45 lb yak is a joy. A 65 or 70 pounder is the Queen Mary. I'm not kidding. Keep in mind that ease or lack of same in loading is often the difference between deciding to throw the yak on the car for a quick paddle and decidin it's just not worth the struggle.
Now I can handle my Scupper Pro at 55 lbs pretty well. But there have been days I just didn't want even a mild struggle, so I grabbed Sue Sea's 45 lb. Scrambler, took just one rod and had a nice quickie sunset paddle. Weight matters. Lastly, keep in mind that rigidity comes from design, NOT weight.
The new Prowler, and the old Pro are known to be rigid, solid, bullet-proof. They don't deform when you strap em down. Why? Lot's of complex curves, few broad flat surfaces (which deform, trust me). And neither is a heavy yak. They just feel solid and heavy.
#5 It's really fast!
Oh really? By how much? Half a knot? If you fish alone you'll never know the difference. And if you fish in groups, most yakkers seem to compromise on a medium pace that almost any yak from 12' can keep up. In a short sprint all of em can go fast.
Sure...if you're paddlin for a couple miles at top touring speed, the longer yaks will get there a few minutes earlier. Big deal. Most of your fishing will be slow, hunting and scanning - or drifting - or just standin still while you blindcast an area. This is yakfishing, not touring. Remember speed is determined by waterline length, so the Tarpon 160 is faster than a Scambler XT. But not nearly as much as you'd imagine.
But the longer yak will be significantly harder to turn - the one thing you'll be doing most of. And in a tough situation a longer yak can actually be a problem. It has significantly more wetted surface area and windage so wind and current will do a lot more damage. One time Sue Sea and I were caught in a strong inlet current and tried to escape. Sue Sea is not as strong a paddler and drives an 11 ft. Scrambler while I was in my trusty 14'9" Pro, normally considered a faster yak.
She escaped the current fairly easily. I had to paddle for my life and barely made it. Think about that.
#6 It's blue, my favorite color!
Nix. Unless you are a duck hunter, don't consider anything but yellow, orange or electric lime green. Even forget red. Blues, purples, standard green, brown, camoflage, etc. Forget it. The reason is simple, at least here in South Florida, the boating capital of the world.
If you didn't know this already, you will your first day out when 1000 horsepower Cigarettes driven by buzzed out idiots come screamin by at 70 mph. They'd cut through you like a candy wrapper and never feel a thing. Can they see you? Don't count on it. Next time you're yakkin with a friend, particularly in the ocean, you find that even a short distance away the yak disappears in between waves. And is not all that visible even on top.
I've almost been run down by a slow moving sailboat who didn't see me until the last moment.
The answer is color. You don't want to hear this but your favorite color may be a death wish. I favor yellow, which is quite visible, but a marine orange is probably best. Almost as visible but more important orange is the marine warning color. When boaters see orange they take note. My recommendation, in order:
Avoid at all costs: white, granite, blue, green and the like. Same for multi-colors. A yak is mighty small. A splash of orange is NOT orange.
#7a I recommend at 230 (or 240)mm paddle!
This is one of the most debated and mysterious myths, and I'm still not totally satisfied with my position. But almost. This is one of the most recommended paddle lengths. If you ask the seller why, he'll either (a) lean back and look you up and down and say "yup, you need a 230", (b) stand the paddle on end and have you reach up to either touch the end or slightly over it or (c) tell you it has to do with yak width. There are even charts based on yak width which makes for a comfortable illusion.
It's gotten so bad that most retailers carry mostly 230's and even 240's. I believe this came about as part of a general trend toward longer narrower touring paddles that favored ease of use and lower paddling angles (for new paddlers) over performance. FYI this trend is changing back toward shorter larger paddles and for good reason.
Only (c) has any merit and only for the really wide yaks (say 34"), and you're not gonna buy one of those are ya? So what's the real skinny here? Let me start this way. Remember first that you are gonna do a lot of paddling, thousands of strokes every time you go out. Your whole enjoyment of the water and effectiveness as a yakfisher depend largely on this decision.
So read this well:
Yak width means something, but not as much as you think (unless you paddle laying down). Torso height does (what's that, your retailer didn't use that term?). Simply that means how high your upper body and shoulders are above the water.
Two people of the same height often have different torsos, sit higher or lower.
Torso height determines your paddling distance from the water. Yak width doesn't. Your height or reach doesn't. And paddling distance is what determines paddle length.
In my case, I have long legs, short torso, can use a shorter paddle. Other people of the same height may have short legs and a long torso, need a longer paddle to reach the water.
The other big factor is paddling angle. I use a 220 mm paddle and a more vertical style (which varies depending on winds and conditions). I could use a 250 mm paddle using a much more horizontal style. The Bending Branches chart says a guy of average size like me can use a 220 for low angle (more horizontal) paddling and a 200 for high angle (more vertical).
Last by far is yak width. Unless it's really wide. A couple of inches is of width is of little consequence. There will be little difference between say a 220 or 230 - both will clear the deck, and what little difference there is may mean a minor adjustment in paddling angle.
Now if you're really interested, one of the really hip paddlemakers has published a chart based on torso length (write for the link). But I'm not gonna publish it here cause the recommended lengths would scare you. Let me leave it at this. Unless you a very tall, have very long arms and also a very long torso, buy a 220. Truth is you could probably go shorter in many cases, but this is a good start. Here's why:
1. The 220 will cause a more vertical angle. Your yak will "track" better (i.e. you will paddle straighter).
2. The 220 will be a tad lighter, and easier to swing. Remember, thousands of strokes per day.
3. You will be able to tolerate a bigger blade, move more water when you have to.
4. It will better facilitate having your paddle "at-the-ready" (in your lap) when you fish, won't slap or get caught in the water.
Each of these is a subject in itself. No matter what go shorter. Fortunately the better yak shops are already recognizing this.
#7b This $350 Carbon paddle is the best - it's really light!
Good grief. A paddle that costs more than my used Pro did with a paddle. Is it worth it? Are you rich, money doesn't matter? Sure, buy one. Something to brag about, throw in your Escalade. Let's get real. We're not talking racing, not even long distance touring. It's yakfishin.
Sure there's a healthy paddle to the fishin grounds, but most of us choose a close launch, don't like to go much more than 2 miles to start fishing. After that it's a buncha drift correction and turning, an occasional sprint to some breaking fish within a hundred yards. And lots of pushing off coral, seawall, mangroves and the like. Even using your paddle as a flats stake (anchor) by pushing it into the mud and often rocks and coral.
No place for a paddle that will make you cry when you break it. And the $350 jewel is VERY delicate, has no place on a fishin yak.
Now I'm not talking about the $40 get started paddles (though Dennis Spike says hey, if it gets you fishin it's just fine...he thinks paddles are no big deal), but I do refer to the many paddles in the $90 range or so. Most are aluminum shafts, some are fiberglass. All have plastic blades that are bulletproof, and you need that.
And they do the job. I use an Ocean Kayak 220, large bladed, glass shaft for about $110 (got it on sale for $65). It's great, has tons of power when I need it, has been stepped on, closed the door on it, and has seen more coral and mangroves than I could ever remember.
Not a scratch. Well, plenty of scratches. But solid and still movin water good.
Speaking of blades, the experts I respect all recommend a big blade. Forget the touring stuff. If you're using a shorter paddle you'll have no problem with the larger blade. And in yakfishin you often have to sprint to a bait bust, or make a quick turn or correction. The big blade will pay off.
BTW I found, yes found, a $220 plus carbon 230 touring paddle. My lucky day I thought. And of course I thought I'd be retiring my scratched up OK. But guess what. Tried it, liked the lightness (to a point). But it didn't move water when I needed to. And I found myself being too careful with it.
Oddly enough I came to even dislike the LACK of heft, as it lacked the momentum of my OK. Surprisingly I found myself MORE tired out by the lighter paddle, as now I had to do ALL the work. Then later read that some leading paddlers actually favor a paddle with more heft for that very reason.
Ain't that somethin! It's true.
#8 Of course you'll need some flushmounts!
Yup, another myth. They're called "flush" for a reason; as far as I'm concerned you can flush em. Yet another spillover from fisherman who have only known boats. Flushmounts have been around a long time.
For boats. That's right. Mostly used on the gunwale (edge of deck and topside) of fishing boats. Keep in mind that's several or many feet above the water. Where it's dry. Are you with me? Now answer me this... why do kayaks have covered hatches?
You're right of course. Because kayaks are low and wet (see dry above). Now you just spent $150 for a Shimano Stradic and would be horrified if you dropped it in saltwater. But you're being led to keep it down near water level in a flushmount where it will get splashed and stay wet (they do hold water you know) ALL DAY! You'll even splash em with your paddlin.
If you are so unfortunate as to own such a reel-corroding device, go buy yourself a short piece of PVC, cut a coupla rocketlauchers and slide em into the flushmount. Now you can keep your reel a foot above deck where it belongs. Or better yet, get a milkcrate or modify a cooler by adding PVC rocketlaunchers.
Then you can carry your rods, lures and stuff to and from your Escalade in one trip, and keep your yak free and clear of unnecessary and transport inhibiting extensions. If you don't own an Escalade, steal a milkcrate.
#9 Hey, we're having a demo day - try em all and buy one!
Not so fast. Thank god for demo days. It's a great place to talk, live and breathe yaks for a couple hours. See em side by side, touch em, paddle em round the pond for 5 minutes. It's fun! But there's some real issues with this kind of pseudo-comparison.
If you've never yakked much you'll be overly impressed with primary stability, won't paddle well, won't be able to truly compare handling and perfomance, and probably don't know what you're lookin for anyway. And if you're a good yakker, your effort will be defeated by the typically smooth inshore waters where these demos take place.
It's not til you experience tough conditions, bad chop, winds and crossing wakes over the course of hours that you begin to see how a yak will REALLY perform. A five minute paddle under ideal and easy conditions proves almost nothing. Very different yaks seem to perform similarly simply because they are unchallenged. And five minutes just doesn't cut it.
Even after you select your dream machine you won't really know til you've spent months in it. Better by far is to just narrow down your choices at the demo, then either rent or borrow that yak and spend a day in it.
#10 It's the ultimate fishing yak - it's fast, fantastic tracking, turns great, holds a lot -
hell you can even stand on it! Not to worry, all our yaks are good, it's just a
matter of personal preference anyway...
Yup. The our yak does it all, and it's just personal preference anyway myth. The biggest of all. As if yak design doesn't make a difference. That they're all pretty much the same, except different in some marginal ways, and it's really personal preference. I will say this - anything that gets you on the water is a good thing. Use an innertube and a yoyo if you like (actually that sounds like fun).
But design really counts. Hear me. No yak - no yak - can do all things well. A yak that "tracks well" cannot turn well. A really fast yak is too long; a really maneuvreable surf yak is too short. And so on. A yak that is good for all-around yakfishing in Southeast Florida has to be a compromise, something I have come to call the Magic Compromise:
1. long enough to have reasonable speed
2. light enough for easy handling out of water
3. rocker enough to turn well
4. storage enough, and accessible enough
5. minimum important features (like tankwell, console, etc.)
6. deckspace enough to add things
7. good primary and better secondary stability
8. complex curvature and rigid design
9. rugged and solid
10. minimal hull slap (quiet)
And made by a quality manufacturer with plenty of experience, that will hold it's value and that is widely available both new and used. Buy a bad design and you will pay - over and over. Get lucky with a good one and you'll pay thanks to the yakfishing gods.
For those who are interested here's Yak Design 101. Be educated, know more than the seller, be able to critique, test and compare yaks...