The recreational outdoor pastime of kayaking has been growing by leaps and bounds. Maybe it should be by paddles and strokes. As this passion grows throughout the country, so does the desire to fish from these self-propelled modes of water transportation. If you are up for a challenge, look no further than kayak fishing right here in Western New York.
“There are plenty of reasons to fish out of a kayak,” says Joel Spring of Ransomville. Not only has he been doing it for a long time, he recently completed a book that will become available June 20 and serve as a great teaching tool for novice and veteran paddlers alike – "The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing."
“For me, it’s an intimate way to fish," he said. "It’s nice and peaceful, allowing me unrestricted access to areas someone might not be able to fish from shore, or from a power boat.
“The stealth factor is also high on my list of why the kayak is a perfect tool for fishing. Cost is also an important consideration. You can get started for under $1,000 for everything. And once you have your kayak, it is easily transported to the area you want to fish. And then there’s the fun factor. You can explore new areas, getting up close and personal with nature. It’s a great method to do some birding or watching wildlife. I love taking photographs, too.”
Exercise is also a benefit.
Before you buy a kayak, you have to do a little homework. Find someone who knows what they are doing. It can be a friend or someone in a local shop. Spring recommends a place like the Oak Orchard Canoe Kayak Experts in Albion. Another good spot is Paths, Peaks and Paddles in Tonawanda. Both offer the opportunity to give expert advice and the chance to test-paddle (or pedal, depending on the company and model) a wide variety of kayaks.
“Use the Internet for additional information online,” Spring said. “Kayak angler groups, manufacturer websites and YouTube are all excellent resources for gathering information to get you started.”
There are two basic kinds of kayaks: the Sit In Kayak (SIK) and the Sit On Top (SOT). Of course there are many considerations such as length, transportation concerns (in/on your vehicle or putting it on a trailer), weight, stability (if you want to stand/sit or sit only) and cost. SOT kayaks have become the favorite of the angling fraternity. Many are stable enough to allow for safely standing and casting if that’s what you prefer. Again, do your research and figure out what you want.
Once you have your kayak selected, you will need a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and a paddle. “PFDs are now made specifically for fishing on SOT kayaks, with larger arm holes and a mesh back that won’t affect how you are sitting in your kayak seat,” says Spring. “Make sure you purchase a PFD that is rated for your weight.”
Paddles are also critical and you want to make sure you have a quality tool to push the water around effectively. Stuff can happen on the water, however, and having a collapsible back-up paddle stored away is a little bit of insurance that can give you some piece of mind.
Some other basic accessories you might want to consider once you are ready to hit the water include an anchor, a fish finder with GPS capabilities, a marine radio, a rubber catch-and-release landing net, needle-nose pliers/cutters and a stern light (a 360-degree white light) if you do any night or low-light fishing.
This takes us to the fishing end of things. Spring follows the philosophy of keeping it as simple as possible to minimize problems. The type of rod and reel depends on what species of fish he might be targeting. For the most part, he prefers medium or medium heavy rods 6-1/2 to 7 foot long for most of his outings that target pike, trout, walleye and a mix of other species.
“When I live bait fish I use a battery-powered bait bucket or use a small cooler when I need to keep bait cool. I also love to fish spinnerbaits. One of the biggest suggestions I can give the novice kayak fisherman is to downsize your selection of rods/reels and tackle you bring along. You don’t need to bring along five tackle boxes.”
A few precautions to take into consideration once you do finally head out on the water:
- If you are going to be fishing and/or traveling on bigger waters, make sure to dress yourself as visible as possible. Mark your kayak with a high-visible flag that extends up above the kayak and wear bright fluorescent clothes and PFD’s.
- If you are fishing alone, send a text to your wife, a friend or significant other letting them know where you are going to be, where you will be launching from and when you expect to be back.
- Always wear your PFD.
- Bring a cell phone but make sure it’s secured in an air-tight container or pouch.
While it’s fun to paddle (or pedal) with friends, Spring enjoys going out on his own. There is no shortage of places you can travel and explore here in Western New York, with plenty of angling options to tackle. A few of Spring’s favorites are small inland lakes like Harwood Lake and Lime Lake in Cattaraugus County, where kayaks are the perfect choice for a fishing adventure. Cassadaga Lake in Chautauqua County is another good one. Explore the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) website for small lakes with big fish. Little fish will work, too.
A little closer to home, Buckhorn Island and Beaver Island are state parks on Grand Island that offer kayak launching options, as does the Buffalo River, Tonawanda Creek and the Erie Canal. With the high water on Lake Ontario, tributary water levels are up, giving kayakers plenty of options and opportunities in the backwaters that otherwise might not be available. Wilson, Olcott and Point Breeze harbors are all good starting points to give it a go.
The mention of “pedaling” has been made several times. There are kayaks like the Hobie that allow you to pedal with your legs to propel yourself forward – using a rudder to control your direction. These kayaks are a bit more expensive, but for some it’s worth the cost.
Spring’s book comes out in three weeks and it’s a good one. I was fortunate enough to review it in March. His writing style is unique and informative. If you were on the fence about getting a kayak before you read it, you could well be purchasing one by the time you finish the book. Advance sale books are now available. Get out there and enjoy this rewarding outdoor escape … and catch some fish.