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Plastic prevalence: Kayaks continue to gain popularity

Kayaks at Carter P. Johnson Lake
Kayaks, such as these two at Fort Robinson State Park’s Carter P. Johnson Lake, are highly suited for many of the small waters of the Panhandle and Sandhills. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

Just over a decade ago, I purchased a kayak from an outfitter in Texas — the nearest place I could find what I wanted. For quite a while after that, it seemed I was the only one on the water up this way using this type of vessel for fishing. That’s changed.

It has been fun watching the popularity of these boats grow. While I certainly have enjoyed my big green hunk of plastic for its convenience, functionality and price, I did not dream that I would someday be able to walk into the local retail store and see a variety of kayaks displayed for sale as they are now.

Their increasing popularity should not be a surprise, though. Kayaks are well suited for our waters in the Panhandle, Sandhills and beyond. Their portability makes them easy to launch about anywhere – no ramp needed. And, out this way, many of our lakes are rich with vegetation – vegetation that promotes forage for fish but can be a pain for boats and especially propellers hanging below them. Kayaks thrive in these situations, skimming over the top of the weedy waters with ease.

Son Sawyer, dog Cookie and I take our first kayak on its maiden voyage more than a decade ago.

If you are just now looking into getting a kayak, there are a lot more options available to you now than when I started out.

Considerations include size, durability, stability and accessories — and many of your choices involve compromise. For instance, some want a boat built like a tank and can take a beating, while more casual floaters may find that a light vessel easy to carry is a lot more enjoyable to use. With a low center of gravity and a wide hull, fishing kayaks do well for stability – some better than others. Some manufacturers are making decks and accessories for standing.

Do you prefer a sit-in model, or a sit-on-top? Do you want a paddle-powered bare bones kayak or a big rig powered by pedals or even electricity?

Kiera fishing on kayak
Daughter Kiera tends to her fishing line at the bow of the old Malibu a few years ago.

Tricking out your rig is a big part of the fun, and anglers have found ways to bring the best of any boats’ features to their kayaks — electronic fish finders, live-wells and even motors.

My first kayak had a small rear-facing seat at the bow, well designed for ol’ Dad to take his small children along and tend to the fish or tackle at the end of their line. Having learned many of their fishing skills from that seat, each of my two children have graduated to their own models.

I would not go without a padded seat, at least one rod-holder and an anchor. The reason for a comfortable seat is probably obvious obvious. Paddling is tough if you are also trying to hold a fishing rod, and even the slightest wind can move a kayak and make it challenging to stay on a fishing spot. I have equipped each of our kayaks with an anchor trolley system. A hand reel for the anchor line makes speedy work of picking up and moving to another location.

Sawyer Haag with pike
Having long since graduated to his own vessel, Sawyer shows off a “hammerhandle” northern pike he caught while fishing along the south shore at Box Butte Reservoir last year.

Safety should always be the top consideration around water. An item that is required by law to be on board and by far the most important should you ever happen to need it is a Coast Guard approved life vest. Kayak-friendly models have a wide opening around the arms to keep them free for paddling, and flotation material high on the back to make seating comfortable. Today’s inflatable models work well.

Also on the safety front, a conveniently located whistle will help you get the attention of a distracted boat driver should he be heading your way. With many colors available from which to choose in kayak models, it might be wise to opt for a bright one to make yourself stand out if you plan to paddle at a busy place with many big boats and other powercraft.

Most of my paddling happens on quiet waters of the Panhandle, where a paddle-powered vessel fits nicely with the serene settings.

Admittedly, I have put more money into kayak fishing than I first planned – but I’m far from the cost of a fancy new bass boat and am able to get on the water and put some fish on the deck. Moreover, while others are tied up winterizing their boats each fall I’m doing other important things – such as getting the ice-fishing gear ready.

See also:

Kayak Evolution,” NEBRASKAland Magazine Article, April 2017

Boating Information, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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