Finding the best kayak for flatwater fishing

A man is seated in a kayak casting a fishing line in a stream 

Considerations in selecting a kayak for fishing ponds, lakes and slow-moving rivers are different that selecting a kayak to fish moving water.

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By​ Lee McClellan

FRANKFORT, Ky. - 5/15/2020

This is the eighth installment of the “Spring Fishing Frenzy​" series of articles, detailing productive fishing​g techniques and opportunities across Kentucky. These articles will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. The series will continue until ear​ly summer.​​

A vehicle with a couple of kayaks on the roof with fishing poles visible through the back window is an increasingly common sight on Kentucky highways.

Sales show kayak fishing and related kayak accessories increasing in popularity. Some of this popularity has to do with many baby boomers reaching retirement age and wanting a new hobby.

Price is another aspect of the rise in popularity of kayak fishing. They are a replacement for a fishing boat for many people scared off by the rising cost of power boats.

While many associate kayaks with flowing water, a huge number buy a kayak to fish small lakes, the backwaters of reservoirs, rivers and large farm ponds. The long range forecast calls for summer-like temperatures for the next couple of weeks, provoking anglers and paddlers to consider buying a kayak for these waters.

​ ​ If you want to fish mainly flatwater, the longer, the better for a kayak,” said Nathan Depenbrock, co-owner of Canoe Kentucky, an outfitter along the banks of famed Elkhorn Creek near Frankfort. “Length in a kayak gives you speed and tracking. By speed, we don’t mean miles per hour. Speed in a kayak is how far you go without paddling. It is also called the glide.   

Length is relative to kayaks. Two feet of length makes a big difference in how the boat performs. “The ideal length for Kentucky is 12 to 13 feet,” explained Dependbrock, who has paddled waters from the Rio Grande River in Texas north to the Great Lakes. “A major consideration is to buy a boat you can get to the water. Make sure it fits in the bed of your truck or on top of your vehicle. A kayak that is too heavy is no good because you won’t use it.”

As kayaks go longer than 14 feet, they also get narrower. “The long kayaks are designed for paddling long distances, not for stability,” Depenbrock said. “They can get squirrely at rest.”

This is why, for fishing, the 12- to 13-foot long kayak makes the best choice. It is long enough for speed, but short enough for width and stability.

"I really would not go less than 11 feet long,” Depenbrock said. “Being in a boat of 10 or 11 feet is a really frustrating way to paddle on flatwater. They don’t perform well at all."​

He also prefers a sit-on-top or the relatively new hybrid kayaks for flatwater paddling and fishing. “Stay away from the sit-in kayaks,” Depenbrock explained. “They are not meant to fish out of.”

Depenbrock also said anglers fishing lakes, rivers or reservoirs out of a kayak must keep in mind their low profile and short length makes a kayak hard to see.

​ ​ ​We blend in so much in kayaks, especially on our big lakes,” Depenbrock said. “Kayaks can get down in between waves and not be seen. Color is important. Make sure you have a safety flag, a bright paddle or even one of those bright safety vests so other boaters can see you. Always wear something bright.   ​

Practice getting back into your kayak from the water before launching. “On bigger lakes, it is really important,” Depenbrock said. “You have to be able to get back in the kayak if something happens and are far from the bank.”

Depenbrock enjoys flatwater kayaking on several spots in Kentucky. “Grayson Lake is one of my best places to paddle,” he said. “The scenery is unbelievable. A lot of the rock grottos and other really cool spots are only accessible by kayak.”

​ ​ ​He also loves the Kentucky River. “Every pool in the Kentucky River has its own unique features,” Depenbrock said. “Everywhere on the Kentucky River is beautiful, but Pool 6 upstream to Pool 10 is some of the most spectacular scenery in Kentucky. The area in Pool 7 around Camp Nelson is unbelievable. The Kentucky River has a ton of access for paddlers to use as well.   ​

In fall, Depenbrock moves downriver to Pool 2. “There is good wildlife in Pool 2,” he said. “We see bald eagles, coyotes, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, waterfowl and other kinds of birds.”

Depenbrock is also exploring the forks of the Kentucky River. “The forks of the Kentucky are really looking good, especially the North Fork of the Kentucky River,” he said. “They are really improving. The cleanups are starting to show. I am going to enjoy exploring more of the forks in the coming years.”

No matter which of these scenic spots Depenbrock is paddling, he always wears his PFD (personal floatation device), commonly called a lifejacket. “No matter what time of year, I never paddle without my PFD,” he said.

Summer is a time of enjoying water sports. Keep these tips in mind if you plan to get a kayak to fish the many smaller state-owned lakes, reservoirs and rivers in Kentucky.