A Brief History Of Kayak Fishing – Past, Present, and Foreseeable Future


Kayak fishing ceased to be a novelty, and it’s safe to say there’s hardly anyone in America who fishes that hasn’t been exposed to the notion of fishing out of kayaks, one way or another.
Still, for the huge majority of American anglers, the notion of fishing from a kayak is by far more appalling than appealing, and those who fish from shore and from all other watercraft outnumber kayak anglers by a thousand to one ratio –

What Do The Numbers Tell Us?

How Big Is Fishing In The USA?

It’s big, very big. Here’s a quote from a comprehensive report on fishing participation published by Take Me Fishing (TM) –

Recreational fishing is a quintessential American outdoor experience and the most popular nature-based activity among adults and children alike — attracting more than 48 million participants and including over one billion outings in 2008. Equally impressive, fishing is one of the most influential of all outdoor sports, recognized as the top “gateway” activity…

These impressive figures coincide with figures published by other organizations, such as the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), putting the number of American participating in fishing between 40 and 60 million, against a backdrop of some 17 million boats registered in the US, most of which are motorized and used for fishing, among other activities.

This is to say that since most boats are more expensive to purchase and maintain than kayaks are, it would be safe to assume that the reason why only such a small and slowly growing number of anglers use kayaks for fishing is not an economic one, but has to do with kayak fishing itself: What is feels like, and what real, non-hyped advantages it offers over fishing from shore, and from other watercraft.

In Comparison, How Big Is Kayak Fishing In The USA?

Strangely, no one ever published a similar study on kayak fishing, although kayak fishing magazines and blogs often tell their readers that the sport is a fast growing one, or at least they used to make such claims until some years ago. But any way you look at it, US participation in kayak fishing is measured in the tens of thousands, and judging by the number of participants in the best known kayak fishing events in recent years, it is no longer growing rapidly: The biggest and best known kayak fishing tournaments are the Jacksonville Classic, in Florida, and the Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing tournament in New York, and neither has seen any substantial growth in recent years, although sponsorships and prizes appear to have increased. Interestingly, the only store in the world that specialized in fishing kayaks and kayak fishing gear closed several years ago, and although thousands of stores in this country offer a mix of both kayaks and small fishing boats such as canoes and dinghies, there isn’t a single store that sells only fishing kayaks and gear that typically goes with them.

Kayak Fishing Is An Unpopular Sport, But Why?

So, the base rate of US kayak anglers vs. the general population of US participants in fishing is about 1:1,000… No one can contest the fact that one to a thousand is a minuscule proportion, and arguably a negligible one.
Most people already know what kayak fishing is, and they won’t even consider fishing out of a kayak, because they see the SOT, sit-in and hybrid fishing kayak as what they really are: extremely uncomfortable, wet, and ridiculously unstable watercraft, offering sub par fishability when compared to other fishing boats.
Some people still get lured by words, images and sometimes even videos promising fun, stability, comfort and results in terms of catching fish, but the overwhelming majority of anglers who face the possibility of switching to a kayak just shrug, because they think that all types of kayaks out there are simply inadequate for fishing, at least if you consider fishing to be a leisure activity, and not an extreme sport, in the sense that practicing it is extremely unpleasant, and not sufficiently safe.
The above unflattering description of kayak fishing is not applicable to fishing out of W kayaks, obviously, but this is another subject that will be discussed in the next paragraphs.

Is Kayak Fishing ‘Irreversible’?

Is kayak fishing such an advantageous and otherwise rewarding activity that once you start practicing it you get hooked for life?
This is an important as well as interesting question, because if kayak fishing had many new participants and just a few dropouts, we could assume that it would keep growing at a healthy rate. But in reality, many people who try fishing from a kayak, and even those who purchase a top of the line SOT, sit-in or hybrid kayak and spend considerable time and resources rigging it, don’t necessarily stick with the sport for long, and they either go back to fishing from a motorboat, or upgrade to a W fishing kayak.
Simply, the hype generated by fishing kayak manufacturers, vendors and their affiliates may suffice to raise the interest of many anglers in these products, but once people are exposed to the rather unpleasant reality of the sport, many get disenchanted, and quit – “You can’t fool all the people all the time…

Is Your Regular Kayak A Serious Fishing Platform?

How Does It Feel?

Anyone observing a person seated in a traditional SOT, sit-in or hybrid kayak cannot help wondering what it feels like… A brief observation would immediately reveal the discomfort imposed by the L posture, the leg numbness and back pain, as well as the wet butt and excessive wetness in general. Furthermore, if the observed angler happens to be activating a pedal drive, the discomfort and senselessness of their situation becomes even more apparent, and the observer can’t help wondering why would anyone want to suffer that much. Surely, there are better means to catch fish.

How Well Does A Fishing Kayak Perform – The Fishability Test

Not that well, actually –

Mobility and Propulsion – Unsolved Issues

Kayaks propelled by means of a pedal drive are rather useless in shallow water and wherever seaweed is to be found, and they require their users to operate a rudder system in addition to activating the pedals, while trying to compensate for the stability lost by not using a paddle. Rudders are hated by practically any paddler or angler, and they are seen as a necessary evil because without them most kayaks would track far too poorly, and be even harder to drive to their destination, especially under wind. Interestingly, fishing kayaks featuring pedal drives are offered at premium prices, and hyped as being most functional…
Most kayaks designed for fishing are slow and hard to paddle by the nature of their design, which means they offer a restricted range of travel, both in terms of mileage and in terms of the limited weather and water conditions in which these watercraft are safe to operate, such as strong wind, cold, fast currents, and so on.
Years ago, kayak manufacturers and vendors realized the above mentioned problems are crucial for fishing. Those who happen to be in the electric motor business launched a massive marketing campaign, touting the advantages of motorized kayaks, and by motorized they meant kayaks outfitted with small, electric ‘trolling’ motors. Needless to say that such motors must be small and weak, otherwise they’d drain the battery too fast. Following that marketing initiative, many kayak anglers have tried using electric propulsion systems, which are quiet and easy to operate, but heavy, and not particularly reliable. In real world terms, these electric propulsion systems do not extend the kayak’s range of travel by as much as most anglers really want. In sum, electric trolling motors fell short of solving the propulsion and travel range problems with fishing kayaks.

The Stability Of Fishing Kayaks, Or Lack Thereof

If you believed what most kayak manufacturers claim, you’d think that fishing kayaks are dock stable, and offer you to stand up in full confidence, and both paddle and fish in this posture. Very few people believe it, because it obviously isn’t true, and sooner or later people exert good judgement based on common sense, especially when their own safety and well being are concerned. Those who put the stability of such fishing kayaks to the real world test, find sooner or later that hype and reality don’t coincide in this case. You can’t take a mono hull kayak, or small canoe (a.k.a. ‘hybrid kayak’) and have a regular Joe stand in it in full confidence. Period. Anyone attempting to stand and fish in a mono hull watercraft that small is bound to spend both their energy and attention to constant ‘micro adjustments’ of their balance, and as soon as something distracts them, or destabilizes them, they take a swim, along with their tackle and gear.
This is true even if you outfit this kayak with small outriggers attached to its rear end, or integrated in it. Carving tunnels in the bottom of the hulls doesn’t help much either, and if the reader is interested in learning more about these technical issues, they should read this article about kayak stability >>

Fishing Kayak Ergonomics: How Much Are You Willing To Suffer?

Very few (1:1,000…) anglers are willing to suffer being locked in the L sitting posture, and having their own legs act as powerful pistons that constantly compress their lumber spine against a backrest. Kayak manufacturers have never admitted the fact that sitting in the L posture is extremely uncomfortable (painful, actually) and unacceptable for any period of time that even the shortest fishing trip takes. Without conceding that foam and gel stuffed in the seat’s backrest can’t solve the problem, these manufacturers began offering fishing kayaks featuring canvas seats that are slightly higher than the traditional foam seats… The thought behind this new approach must have been that sitting a couple of inches higher may somehow alleviate the pressure on the user’s lower back. But it didn’t happen, because mono hull fishing kayaks are not stable enough, and therefore, a passenger sitting higher in such a kayak inevitably becomes less stable, and feels less stable too, and therefore must push harder on the footrests in order to apply more pressure on the backrest – in an effort to better balance the craft, and regain control over it. This design proved to be yet another fiasco, as have all the pseudo ergonomic designs that offered more foam or more get stuffed in the backrest.
It’s one thing to be a young, fit, lightweight and of small stature as the native Inuit kayak hunters used to be, and a totally different thing to be a middle aged, non-athletic, heavier and bigger person, like the majority of people who fish out out boats are in America. Almost everyone gets it, except some fishing kayak manufacturers, vendors, and people who seem to believe in miracles…

Storage Space – A Bleak Situation

Mono hull fishing kayaks simply don’t have storage space in a sense that a normal angler is used to think about. Hatches are too small, can’t be easily reached, and they’re often leaking. Crates do not present a serious solution to the storage needs that anglers have.

So What’s The Future Of Kayak Fishing?

Does kayak fishing have a long term future?
We think it does, but only as a sensible sport and outdoor activity that would attract many more anglers, and not as the kind of unrewarding experience it currently is, which repels new participants while expelling existing ones.
The only venue is through an increase in use of W fishing kayaks rather than SOT, sit-in and hybrid kayaks. This is because W kayaks offer the solutions to all the problems discussed in this article, and some others, and these are the problems that make kayak fishing that marginal activity it has been so far in the much broader world of fishing.
Simply, as soon as realize that they can fish out of a watercraft that’s as small, nimble and lightweight as a regular kayak (not even a huge ‘barge’ fishing kayak..), and yet is as stable, dry and comfortable as a regular motorboat, and even has a similar travel range as a motorboat – they would adopt kayak fishing in growing numbers, and stick with the sport. The watercraft that combines the advantages of kayaks and motorboats, while offering better mobility than both, is the W kayak.

13 Comments

  1. W kayak

    I know what you’re thinking: -“Didn’t the title promise a BRIEF history!?” …
    😛

  2. Sungjin Kim

    Too long to traslate into Korean. 🙂

  3. W kayak

    Sungjin, try this:

    Fishing from a good boat is fun. Fishing from a bad boat isn’t.

    😀

  4. C10

    This article is consistent with other things you wrote in the past, and I didn’t find anything in it that’s really new. Overall, it makes sense to me. Phil C.

  5. Rox

    Very funny short version………………… 🙂

    Details, that’s what the W inventor is all about, that’s why we have the wonderful W500…….details

    Tight lines and MoPaddle Safe all.
    Rox

  6. philip

    Looks like you have a solid product, would love to see one in person. Just discouraging how much you folks trash talk sit on top kayaks. Some of us have been using sot kayaks before wavewalk even came out. Your product looks good enough and you shouldn’t find a need to look down upon competing products

  7. W kayak

    Philip,

    Your IP address shows you’re from California, and we still have no dealers there. Once we do, you’d get a chance to take a W kayak for a test drive, experience the difference between the W and a SOT in person, and understand what this article and others on this website are talking about, as well as what W fans have been telling in their reviews and comments.

    Telling the truth isn’t trashing, and technically speaking, the SOT is one overdue concept, among others.

    Wavewalk is a kayak company, and as such we could produce and distribute all sorts of kayaks. On top of this, we get offers from Chinese kayak manufacturers to distribute their SOT, sit-in, and ‘hybrid’ kayaks in the U.S., as some of our competitors have already chosen to do.
    Will we ever do it? No.

    We listen to what our clients are saying about our product, and how for many of them it’s the only option they have for going on water, and we realize we have a mission, and we have to stick to it.

    Transforming a big and diverse market such as the kayak and canoe market is hard, and takes a long time.
    Unlike some of our competitors, Wavewalk is still a small company, which makes it even harder.
    But we have the solution to people’s kayaking problems, and we’ll keep doing what we do, and saying what we say, even if to some people it looks bad, or too good to be true.

    The truth is mighty, and the truth shall prevail.

    🙂

  8. Craig L Masterman

    Slow and steady, or, more accurately, smooth and stable and COMFORTABLE wins the kayak fishing race. I’m betting the W concept eventually eclipses all competitors. My enthusiasm for the boat is as passionate as ever. Still tweaking the fly fishing rigging and preaching the W gospel according to Craig. If I weren’t so close to the “home office”, I’d be a dealer too!

  9. W kayak

    Hi Craig,
    I’ll bet you were starting to contemplate the possibility of taking your W on an ‘early spring’ fishing trip, and the latest snow has put your plan on ice 😀
    But as they say, this is New England…
    Yoav

  10. aquatrip

    No offense, but you sound like you believe you’re on a mission to save humanity, sort of.
    Have you tried offering other kayak manufacturers to license this invention from you? If If they did, it would have helped spreading the good word, and good kayaking.
    Just a thought.

  11. W kayak

    Aquatrip,
    Years ago, I contacted several big kayak manufacturers, and offered them to cooperate. I even met with a smaller, local kayak company. The bottom line is that none of these people seemed to understand what I was talking about.
    In hindsight, I’m not sure they could have done much, since they seemed trapped in various types of denial. There’s also the fact that making W kayaks is far more difficult than molding SOT, sit-in and hybrid kayaks, and it requires both uncommon equipment and skills that very few molders have. We had several cases in which rotational molders told us that our product was (quote) “impossible to mold”, or “too technical”… This fact could have been a drawback too.
    Interestingly, half of the kayak companies that I contacted back then no longer exist. This is what happens when a multitude of manufacturers who benefit from no particular technological advantage fiercely compete with each other in a market that’s no longer growing substantially. Since all these kayaks are very similar, all a manufacturer can do to stay competitive is either lower their prices or spend more on hyping them, and both approaches are hard to sustain in the long run.

  12. Steve Phillis

    Kayaking from a traditional kayak caused me considerable pain, and at the end of
    last year I was out of action for 2 months and spent a lot of money on extensive physiotherapy and even had to take time off from work, not to mention that I could not sit in a car or seat for more than 10 minutes without considerable pain. . Determined to find an alternative, I came across wavewalk and purchased one. Guess what? No back pain. I am wrapped and I have taken up learning to sail using it.
    Steve Phillis

  13. C10

    I read somewhere that last year, the founder of a kayak company from North Carolina that specializes in fishing kayaks, had to quit running his company, and hand his stock to the employees and other shareholders. I’d say that’s not a sign of a booming fishing kayak market.
    Looking at this year’s numbers shows that you were right about the major kayak fishing tournaments in the U.S. failing to attract more participants.
    The number of Americans willing to suffer the hardships and inconvenience involved in fishing from traditional kayaks has reached its peak, and it’s no longer growing.

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