Manufacturers are working real hard to try and earn your purchase. As a result, there are lots of new products out there. The recent Outdoor Retailer Show revealed many new boats and paddle fishing related products. Yes, call this Christmas in the middle of summer. So, when you can, check out demos given by local shops and you may be rewarded with a test drive of some of the new goods.
Unlike recreational paddlers, paddle anglers do a lot more on the water than simply paddle. That's why it's very important to demo these boats in a way that mimics what you'd actually do while fishing. Paddling characteristics are certainly important, but in reality, most of your time will be spent fishing - so focus on that. Think about your entire angling process, what it takes you to get on the water (unloading the boat and loading your gear), what it takes to get off the water (unloading your gear and loading your boat), and everything in between (FISHING!).
If someone has never been in a kayak, let alone fished from one, it will be very tough to determine which boat is the right boat. So a demo day is the ideal opportunity for a beginner to test a bunch of boats. This will accomplish two things: One - the novice paddler will get some time on the water. That equates to experience, no matter how you look at it. Two - the paddler can test numerous boats and actually start to form an opinion as to what works and what doesn't work. Finding the perfect boat is certainly a journey and I'm convinced that thankfully, you never get to the final destination.
At many demos, there may be company representatives there, praising their products. Luckily for us, the majority of boats being offered specifically for fishing are well engineered, and truly are perfect for "most" paddle anglers. So, let the reps give their pitch because they may be able to tell you features and functions of the boats that may not be initially obvious. There may even be a free hat, t-shirt, or key chain involved. But, as you will hear repeatedly, the proof is in the paddling. And unlike test driving a car, you can leave the yappy salesman on the shore while you take a spin.
That's what it's all about. Many of the boats that were designed a few years ago pale in comparison to current offerings. Why? Because the paddle angling community (us) spoke with our voices and with our dollars, we simply wanted more. As the sport evolves, so do our tastes. We want lighter boats - we want faster boats on more stable hulls - we want cake ... and real silverware to eat it with. And, as you try some of the new boats, don't be afraid to venture out past your comfort zone a bit. By that I mean try styles that you never thought you'd like. SOT kayaks are the default paddle fishing craft in many places. But, don't be afraid to take a spin in a sit-inside or canoe. I recently added a sit-inside cockpit boat to the fleet - it is awesome. It opened my eyes to a lot of new ways to enjoy my sport. My main boat is a SOT, but this winter I'll have a great boat to fish from, while staying nice and dry. If you can only have one boat, then you owe it to yourself to try many, that way you can get the best of all worlds and end up with the boat that best suits all of your needs.
Paddling a boat, and paddling a boat with all your gear are two entirely different scenarios. Now is your chance to do a real world test - take advantage of it. So, take along some gear, and try a few things to make sure that it will work for you once you get it home.
• Take A Rod
Make sure you can reach it when it's in the rod holder(s). You could even put a lure or weight on it so you can get a feel for how well you can cast from it.
• Take A Friend
Got a buddy or significant other that's curious about paddling or paddle angling ? Now is a great time to introduce them to the sport. Besides, if you buy a new boat, you'll need someone to help you put it up on your car.
• Live Bait
If you use live bait, take your bucket, fill it with water, try to duplicate what you would normally do on the water. A boat that feels stable during a demo might feel differently with 5 gallons of water in a bucket back in the tank well.
• Size Matters
Width = stability, and length = speed/glide. You don't want to paddle a 34" boat for miles and miles, and you don't want to try and stand in a 26" boat. You don't want to constantly turn a 15' boat in narrow creeks, and you don't want to paddle an 11' boat 6 miles to that primo fishing spot. So, factor these variables into the equation. One boat will not do it all - that's a fact.
• Do you have room for all your stuff?
Seriously, show up to the demo like you were going fishing for a day. Bring the tackle, a rod, a cooler, whatever else you normally take. If the boat paddles great but won't allow you to fish as you like (within reason), it won't be the boat for you. If you don't bring it with you, at least be aware of how much space you'll need and buy accordingly.
• Look for places to mount aftermarket accessories
This includes a paddle holder, if not already equipped. Unlike a rec paddler, there will be times when you'll NOT be holding the paddle - it needs a home. If you're like me, you like to add your own rod holders and such. So make sure your boat has the proper flat places where these things can be mounted. If you're a Scotty rod holder fan, remember that their bases are 2" x 4" ... slightly longer than a credit card (2" x 3.25"). So, use that credit card as a template when checking for potential rod holder placements.
• Adjust the seat properly before the demo
This is important! You'll be spending a lot of time sitting. So, take the time to properly adjust the seat. It's not a recliner, so don't adjust it that way. It needs to give you back support while both sitting and paddling.
• How wet can you get?
Even under the best circumstances, this is a wet sport. Some boats are wetter than others, so you'll have to decide how wet is too wet.
• Wear a PFD
You're in a new boat, possibly in new waters. Enough said ...
• If you'll be a stander, try to stand
Sure, you may take a dive in front of a group of strangers. But you have to find out one way or another. Better to know how it will behave before you swipe that credit card. In some circles, there is a lot of emphasis placed of whether you can stand up and sight cast to fish. I'm not a stander, so it doesn't matter to me, but your mileage may vary.
• If you're a side-sitter, sit sideways
That's me. When the water temps permit, I like to sit sideways and hang my feet over the side. Some boats are better suited to this than others. So, if this is important to you, make sure to give it a try.
• Practice reaching around to the rear storage area
Most of the available storage on SOT's and canoes will be located behind the seat. However, some boats have a nasty little feature that can be described as "abrupt secondary stability". Translated, that means that shifting your weight around so you can reach behind you could possibly result in an unscheduled departure from the vessel. You definitely want to practice this maneuver.
• Attempt a deep water re-entry
Show me someone that's never tipped their boat over, and I'll show you someone that will be in a mess when it finally happens. Just like with a new car, it's best to learn how to get to your spare tire while you're in your driveway on a sunny afternoon (with 4 good tires) rather than on a dark back road (with only 3 good tires). You'll never fully understand the limits of your craft until you exceed them a few times, under controlled conditions, and then recover.Conventional self-rescue methods don't work as well on fishing kayaks because normally you have all that gear in the way. Regardless of what type of fishing you do, we all fear/respect the same thing - an unscheduled departure from the vessel. Conquer that fear, and your outings will be much more enjoyable. At many demos, there will be instructors available that can actually show you how to properly perform a self-rescue. That FREE advice could prove to be priceless.
Going to a paddle demo is like going to a good buffet. Go sample things you're curious about, and then get back in line for the things you like. No carbs, no calories, no cholesterol, no trans fat. Oh yeah, did I mention that paddle demos are usually FREE?
See you out on the water …
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