Kayak manufacturers seem to be locked in an arms race intended to make their fishing kayaks relevant to the average angler out there. This epic struggle for market survival produces kayak designs that are increasingly dysfunctional, or lack ‘fishability‘ if we use the term that anglers commonly use.
The most obvious manifestation of this trend is the proliferation of those enormous, extra-wide, cumbersome, hard to paddle, heavy and practically impossible to carry or car top kayaks known as ‘barges’.
But it’s not just the size of those beastly yaks that makes one wonder whether they defeat the purpose of kayak fishing, nor the fact that their manufacturers tout them as being suitable for fishing standing (they’re not, unless you’re an aspiring acrobat) – It’s the fact that they’ve become overly accessorized, to a point where it’s increasingly hard for their users to fish from them.
What’s an overly accessorized fishing kayak?
An overly accessorized fishing kayak is a kayak that makes it hard for you to fish from it –
We’ve already talked about kayak rudders, and the fact that they slow down the kayak and impose on the paddler yet another activity (I.E. steering) they’d rather do without.
But one may argue that tracking in one of those heavy and extra-wide kayaks is impossible without a rudder, especially in the presence of wind and/or current, so let’s focus on the cockpit area, sometimes called the ‘deck’ in SOT and hybrid kayak models –
The kayak’s cockpit, or deck, should provide the angler with maximum range of motion and comfort, and in this sense any additional item attached in or on it is potentially counterproductive.
Furthermore, the negative effect of any additional object in such a restricted space is amplified due to the fact that it encroaches on an already diminished space.
This is yet another example of how the fundamental economics law of diminishing returns works: At some point more is less.
The foot brace – don’t put your foot in it
To begin with, the big ‘barge’ kayak’s cockpit features sophisticated foot braces that take too much room away from the user’s feet and legs. Let’s face it – being seated for a long period of time is not a pleasant thing, especially when you’re wet or partially wet and you’re stuck in the notorious L kayaking posture that causes discomfort, leg numbness and back pain. Therefor, being able to move your legs is important, and restricting the space available for your feet and legs to move works to aggravate the problem – Think traveling coach in an airliner, and the magnitude and severity of this ergonomic problem would become clearer to you, especially if you’re neither a small, skinny or young and physically fit person.
The seat of the problem
The kayak’s foot braces are paired with its seat. In the past decade, kayak manufacturers became somehow aware of the huge back pain problem that users experience when paddling and fishing while being seated in the L position, so they stuffed their kayaks’ seats with more foam and more gel, without achieving any noteworthy results: These kayaks kept being uncomfortable for normal people to use, and they kept inducing back pain and leg numbness.
Then came the new trend of higher kayak seats, and seats offering adjustable height. These larger seats are typically made from woven material stretched over a light metal frame, and their shape is reminding of some beach seats or stadium seats.
The basic idea behind this kayak seat design is to allow the user to sit a few inches higher, and by doing so alleviate some of the pressure exerted on their lower back, also known as lumbar spine.
Does this work? -Not really, and the reason has to do with the faulty ergonomic reasoning behind it: The fact that the angler sits higher yet they keep their basic position with their legs stretched in front of them makes more of a challenge for them to balance their kayak, as the boat’s center of gravity goes higher although its user isn’t given better means to stabilize it with their body.
The only thing you can do is try to stretch your legs a little more and increase muscle tension in them. This means you have to make a bigger physical effort, continuously, and therefor exert more horizontal pressure on your back, thus increasing discomfort, fatigue, and eventually pain. Problem unsolved.
The seat’s higher and wider backrest is in the way of the kayaker’s shoulders and upper arms when they paddle and cast lines. It further restricts the little range of motion they have, and further limits their ability to change positions and give their back and neck some respite.
Simply put, the L kayaking position imposed by the unstable mono-hull kayak design is not a problem, it’s a given. This is to say that it does not have a real solution – only false ones. The way to get rid of discomfort and pain when you paddle a kayak or fish from it is to ride the saddle of a stable W kayak.
More stuff that means less room and less fun for you
Another way in which kayak manufacturers manage to restrict their clients’ range of motion and ability to fish comfortably and in a way that makes sense is by sticking a variety of accessories between their legs. These items range from storage hatches to fishfinder consoles, cup holders, bottle holders, elevated rod holders, and so on.
The result is a critical absence of free space for you to handle your tackle, take care of your lines and lures, and catch fish – if and when they happen to land one in the space between your legs, right on top of the fishfinder, rod holder, or cup holder…
This attempt to simulate the design of a jet fighter’s cockpit in which everything is within the pilot’s arm’s reach is dysfunctional to the point of being pathetic, but amazingly, the problem doesn’t end here –
A standing problem
Kayak manufacturers are engaged in a verbal competition, and one of the hottest fronts in this battle is over the notion of kayak fishing standing. Kayak manufacturers have come to realize that in order to get anglers interested in their kayaks they need show that their kayaks are stable. The best way to do is to show someone fishing standing in the kayak’s cockpit. Whether this scenario is practical for the average middle aged or elderly angler out there, or for anglers who happen to be somehow overweight, or tall, or suffer from balancing issues is a whole different story. The same problem applies to those kayaks’ stability in real-world conditions, such as when the stand-up angler loses balances for some reason, and they’re required to sit down swiftly in order to regain it…
Furthermore, who wants to stand up and fish while constantly having to pay attention to their balance and allocating considerable physical and mental resources to such task?
If you stand in a boat and fish from it, you need to be able to focus on fishing and on nothing else, and you want to enjoy fishing without a little red light blinking in the back of your head warning you to watch out and maintain your precarious balance or you’d go swimming with your tackle…
How is this related to superfluous accessories? – Well, kayak manufacturers devised yet another way to clutter the decks of their fishing kayak models, and they do it all the way by outfitting their top of the line models with lean bars –
Lean at your own risk – the lean bar
What’s a lean bar, or lean frame? It’s a large size, folding metal frame that the angler can erect in the front part of their kayak’s deck. The idea behind this device is that when the angler stands up in their mono-hull (sit-in, SOT or hybrid) kayak they feel unstable (duh!), and they would like to lean on something in order to feel less unstable.
It’s a purely psychological notion, since such bar cannot increase the actual (physical, I.E. real-world) stability that the kayak offers, because what determines that kayak’s stability are its form and size, in other words – its design.
This is to say that a lean bar may offer the angler some (potentially hazardous) illusion of stability in a best case scenario, while significantly reducing the kayak’s fishability by adding to the already severe clutter in its cockpit.
In fact, such a large-size metal frame stuck in front of the angler is a perfect recipe for a perfect storm when one considers things that constantly move in that space, such as fishing poles, fishing lines, fishhooks, lures and bait, as well as fish – from time to time…
But wait, there’s more!
Yes, unbelievably so, kayak manufacturers found ways to stick even more stuff in front and around anglers who attempt to fish out of such barge kayaks: Among these unproductive objects are live bait tanks and live fish tanks… and even the pedals of a pedal drive that you, the angler can push or rotate with your feet, while attempting to stabilize yourself with one hand and manipulating the rudder with the other. Go figure why these tedious and simultaneous activities are being promoted as ‘hands-free fishing’…
And if you thought that’s where the ridicule stops, a closer look at ads for those humongous and rather dysfunctional fishing kayaks would reveal to you a plethora of additional objects and large-size systems offered to populate your kayak’s already crammed cockpit.
Among these things are sailing rigs that you can try to manipulate while pushing the pedals of the drive offering illusory ‘hands-free’ fishing, and wheel carts to help you drag these super-heavy barges from your vehicle to the water and back, since there is no way this could be done without such a cart.
Some over creative manufacturers offer special horizontal holders to protect your fishing rod tips from low-lying tree limbs…
Keep it simple
Observing the cockpit of one of those barge fishing kayaks can be a stupefying experience. The intense clutter in such a restricted place demands that you, the angler, possess an unlimited amount of good will coupled with impressive acrobatic skills.
But what if you have neither?
The solution is simple: Get a fishing kayak that features a real cockpit offering enough room for you to paddle and fish in full comfort and confidence, as well as enough room for you to store and handle whatever gear you want to have on board, without it becoming a nightmare.
This simple solution is exactly what the W kayak offers you. Simple is good.