Volume 24 Issue 3, Summer 2019
by Dan Sill
Kayaks are narrow, highly maneuverable boats powered by a double-headed paddle and used by anglers and recreational boaters worldwide. They were originally developed by hunters in the arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Kayaks were originally made of seal skins stretched over a frame constructed from wood or whale bones, and were custom-built by the hunters based on their needs and family traditions. These boats shielded the paddler’s lower body, with the paddler sitting inside the kayak and decking around the opening. This also added stability through a lower profile on the water and allowed for easier recovery to roll the kayak upright if it flipped over.
Kayaks are relatively easy to paddle due to their sleek profiles and lightweight construction, making them efficient for traveling long distances. With kayaking becoming widely popular in recent years, kayak designs have changed dramatically, while retaining their lightweight and easy-to-maneuver traits. Kayaks come in many types and sizes today, with the primary design being either sit-on-top or sit-inside. Some of the different types of kayaks and their built-for functions are listed below:
• Recreational — Ideal for beginner paddlers, what you might see at local parks and rentals. Usually wide and stable, with both sit-inside (closed deck) or sit-on-top styles (open deck).
• Touring — Long length that tracks well in the water, used for longer trips.
• Whitewater — Stiffer, harder shell for quick maneuverability in extreme water conditions. Short length at 8 or 9 feet, with a rounded hull.
• Sea — Built for stability and speed, with flat hull and hard chines (sharp, angled sides rather than rounded) for cutting through waves.
• Surf — Like sea kayaks, with the addition of bottom fins like a surfboard.
• Fishing — Broad beam for extra lateral stability. Sit-on-top design often featuring storage compartments and fishing-rod holders. Some models use foot-pedal propulsion.
• Inflatable — Easier to store and transport than a hard-shell kayak but of course needs to be inflated and could be punctured. Sometimes includes a clip-on rudder.
Fishing kayaks are designed for anglers and their equipment. Modern fishing kayaks are roto-molded using durable plastics to make a hard, hollow shell to support the angler, while also being somewhat flexible and impact-resistant. “Sit-on-top” is the standard design for fishing kayaks due to the flexibility needed to paddle, cast a fishing rod, and manage assorted fishing equipment. Built-in dry storage compartments and other features allow for storage of tackle, provisions, and other items you want to keep dry.
Some fishing kayaks even have live bait compartments built into the shell. As kayak fishing grows in popularity, anglers are demanding more and more add-on equipment to customize their boats for any number of conditions and tactics, including multiple rod holders, anchor kits, mounts for fish finders and cameras, and specialized carts.
Depending on the type of kayak and custom gear you want, you can spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Some power boat owners have learned the meaning of “the two best days are when you buy the boat and when you sell the boat,” partly because of expensive ongoing maintenance and storage and insurance costs. Kayaks by comparison are fairly low-maintenance as long as you don’t bang them up too much.
There’s also the cost of whatever transport setup you need, whether it be basic V-shaped or saddle-shaped racks and straps for your vehicle rooftop or something more custom or expensive. A kayak can usually also fit in a truck bed or the back of a full-size SUV with the seats folded down or removed.
In our local area, Algonkian Park, Riverbend Park, Goose Creek (at Kepheart’s Landing), Lake Frederick (south of Winchester), and Beaverdam Reservoir (currently closed for renovation) all offer kayaking venues with a boat ramp or in the case of Kepheart’s Landing a trail leading down to a cleared area on the creek bank for easy put-in.
Life vests or a personal flotation device (PFD) are a must, as are dry bags for holding electronics, wallet, keys, snacks, and trash. Note that temperatures are always more extreme on the water: if it’s cloudy or chilly on land, it will be even cooler and breezier in the kayak, so layers are always a great idea. Pack a hat, sunscreen, water, and sunglasses on sunny days to counter the glare off the water.
Birding by kayak is a great way to view waterfowl, and you can also scan the banks to watch for an assortment of shorebirds, swallows, warblers, and orioles. Different waterways offer different experiences, with rivers and streams keeping you moving, perhaps watching for birds of prey, while the stillness of lakes, reservoirs, and bays gives you time to more closely scan the water and shoreline.
Guided kayak tours are available on portions of the Potomac and Goose Creek and at nearby state parks such as Delaware Canal State Park in Pennsylvania, which offers a morning kayak paddle on the Delaware Canal featuring the history of the canal while looking and listening for birds and other wildlife.
My wife gave me a trolling motor for Christmas — now when I’ve had enough exercise paddling I can more easily head upstream to that favorite fishing spot.
Kayak — fun spelled forward or backward!