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  • Paddle or Pedal?

    Al Pennino February 2014

    A few years ago my new obsession became kayak fishing. Starting in a paddle kayak then switching to pedal power allowed me to gain some experiences that might be valuable to people just starting in this amazing way to fish.

    ďYou gotta get a Hobie!Ē was something I heard constantly once I got involved in the KFA. Thereís a reason the Hobie kayaks with Mirage Drive pedal power- propulsion using your legs instead of paddling- is so popular in our area. If youíre thinking about getting a kayak primarily for fishing, there is no doubt that any of the Mirage Drive Hobie models is the ultimate option. Cost or preference may steer lots of yak fishermen towards the more traditional paddle approach; the following discusses the advantages of both.

    Kayak basics either way

    Take safety seriously. If you fish saltwater, youíll want to be as visible as possible to boaters. A bright colored kayak that will contrast with the water is preferred by a number of kayakers . Red, yellow, and orange all fit this bill. Wearing shirts and life vests in bright colors, if possible, is also a good idea. Most important is to fly a bright flag a few feet above the yak. Blaze orange is probably best, but any bright flag fluttering in the wind will help boaters see you from a distance.

    Review Coast Guard and New York State safety requirements and plan accordingly. A certified life vest, a horn or whistle, and a radio and cell phone are musts, but based on your circumstances there will be other gear you might need. For example, lights and reflector tape for night fishing, and absolutely required: some type of dry suit for cold water fishing. Go to a knowledgeable kayak shop for expert advice and proven gear. Hands down the best Iíve seen for kayak fishermen is Captain Kayak in Sayville.

    Paddle advantages

    I have a Wilderness Tarpon 140, bought new in the summer of 2011. Itís often easier to maneuver in a paddle kayak, and these yaks usually have greater simplicity in design. In the Tarpon, I set up a center console Scotty baitcaster model rod holder, and on the sides a RAM rocket launcher style holder and a Lowrance electronics unit. You have to be careful paddling or youíll bump this gear. But thereís no issue with Mirage Drive failure or rudder problems; all movement is achieved through your paddle. Not having the Mirage Drive also means one less thing to carry and set up / break down, but this is a tiny consideration as it doesnít take much time to drop the Mirage through its port and lock it in place. In addition, when paddling itís usually easier to stop, go in reverse, and turn around. Sometimes itís just nice to paddle, and I often still use the Tarpon on freshwater ponds and lakes.
    Pedal advantages

    Look Ma, NO HANDS! Mid-season 2013 I was lucky enough to pick up a used 16 foot Hobie Adventure with Mirage Drive from a fellow KFA member (thanks Finsup!). This type of kayak is far superior, especially on saltwater, for a number of reasons. Hands free moving allows hands on fishing. You cannot appreciate how awesome the Mirage Drive is for a yak fisherman unless you start paddling then make the switch. Being able to keep moving while preparing your rig, cleaning off seaweed, or any dozen other things youíll want to do is sooo sweet, especially when trolling. Even if itís not the main way you want to fish, youíll often want to do it en route to your spots, or on your way back. If you want to troll two rods at once, pedal power is even more helpful; otherwise if you need to stop to adjust one line, the other will tend to foul.

    Dealing with Current. In the Hobie you can maintain a course against current much easier, and still have hands free for fishing. If drifting and jigging with the current, adjusting the rudder is much simpler than paddling and hardly interferes with fishing. If you want to hold a position and cast to some fishy spots, you can beat the current and fish at the same time- harder to do while paddling.

    Speed and Stamina. On the salt, weíre usually dealing with miles of fishing territory, or launch sites a good distance from fishing hotspots. Going as fast as I can, I can hit about the same speed in both the paddle and pedal yaks. Probably because my scrawny chicken legs put me at a pedal disadvantage. But maintaining a good speed for any amount of time is much easier with leg power. Here again thereís a huge advantage on a Hobie. Plus, if itís windy, the paddle works against you as a mini double sail. This doesnít matter much until you have a long haul- then it gets really annoying. And if itís the end of the day and you have a long trip back to the launch, you want to be pedaling, believe me. At the Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Classic my buddy Mike Simon and I learned this the hard way on our Tarpons, and our arms were putty after a long day on the water.

    A lot of guys start with a more basic paddle yak then eventually graduate to a Hobie. Whatever you decide, take your time to get a feel for the different options out there. Get as much insight as you can from more experienced kayak fishermen. Iíd like to thank all the people in the KFA who have repeatedly done this for me. Tight Lines.


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