Wilderness-Systems-ATAK(140) Fishing Kayak

Kayak Fishing Trends: Macro Trends in a Bull Market

Kayak fishing is hard; it’s especially hard for me. The sport-ish hobby is exploding is popularity, and I’m probably the last person you should be taking advice from if you want to catch more fish on your piece of plastic. But I’m not giving kayak fishing advice; that would be like taking dating tips from Bill Cosby or personal finance guidance from Vince Young. As a challenged yet hopelessly optimistic angler, I carry more credibility as a guy who occasionally thinks about these macro-trends and writes about them, the trends I see flexing on kayak fishing.

Bungee, Tracks, and Hatches: No Longer Bonus Features

It’s not verbatim, but it’s pretty darn close. I passed through what I can only assume was an R&D meeting at the Railblaza USA headquarters and heard it; it stuck.

“Bungee cord, tracks, and hatches are not selling points for fishing kayaks anymore.”

Perfectly reflective of the increasing demand for manufacturer innovation, the stock-accessory game on fishing kayaks is a runaway freight train. The Minn-Kota modular console system has added complete hands-free navigation and trolling capabilities with forty-five pounds of variable thrust to the 2016 Old Town Predator XL Minn-Kota fishing kayak. The Tackle Pod by Viking Kayaks is a factory-set gear storage pod that offers unprecedented complete electronics removal options, and the new Native Watercraft Propel Drive offers the first reverse option on their pedal drive Propel series of fishing kayaks.

Bungee cord, tracks, and hatches – {insert Donald Trump voice from back when people liked Donald Trump} – you’re fired.

There is no doubt that fishing kayak manufacturers have raised the bar when it comes to stock accessories – scratch that – they have demolished and rebuilt the bar.

Blurred Lines: Exploring the Gray Area of Kayak Hulls

Sit-on-top kayaks have come a long way since Tim Niemier’s first sit-on-top fiberglass mold in 1971 which eventually became the polyethylene mold that we all recognize as Ocean Kayaks. However with all pricing, accessorizing, and strengthening variables held constant, the hulls have evolved slower with a newfound tendency for crossbreeding.

I can’t help but notice the blurred lines between what used to be three distinctly separate categories: canoe hulls, kayak hulls, and stand-up paddleboard hulls. Most are plastic, most are rotomolded, and most boast the descriptive clause ‘fishing kayak’; they feel like kayaks, they double-blade paddle like kayaks, and they are marketed as kayaks but – holy smokes – to an Average Joe, these things aren’t kayaks in the traditional sense of the word.

Fishing kayak manufacturers are playing in the gray area of hybrid hull design. The Amigo by Diablo Paddlesports rocks a thinner and wider hull, like a stand-up paddleboard, but still leaves all the comforts of a traditional fishing kayak, such as dry storage, rudder compatibility, and a comfortable seat. Even further toward the true paddleboard design end of the spectrum, Hobie recently released their Mirage Inflatable Single Kayak i11s, an inflatable hull that looks purely like an inflatable paddleboard but it incorporates their kayak pedal system and elevated kayak seat.

While some companies are leaning slightly more paddleboard of center, Old Town’s Next is a hybrid hull that leans toward traditional canoe design, representing a new generation of hipster paddling for today’s heritage-supporting generation of paddlers. Also leaning toward the classic canoe hull is the Nucanoe Frontier, marketed for traditional flat bottom canoe stability for fly fisherman and hunters.

Safety: Increasingly Important in Advertising

In its infancy, kayak fishing’s personal safety standards were tied closer to those of the general marine industry as opposed to the paddling industry. Let’s face it; fishing kayaks are motor boats for guys who can’t afford or chose to opt away from traditional power boats. Most folks don’t wear the life jackets while fishing on the deck of a Yellowfin 24’ Bay Boat. Why would this same person wear a life jacket while fishing on their Yellowfin 24’ Bay Boat substitute, a $400 big-box store starter kayak?

While the anglers might relate closer to the marine industry safety standards, kayak fishing companies understand these anglers need to be paddlers first when it comes to safety; this means adapting to paddlesports safety standards as the kayak fishing death toll continues to rise.

It’s an unwritten standard that is becoming widely accepted. Manufacturers, retailers, media outlets, and pro kayak anglers (professional or promotional) are starting to promote safety equipment in advertising and content promotion with hopes that the messages trickle down to the end consumer.

It’s the same argument in a different industry: helmets in the bicycle industry, seatbelts in the automotive industry, drunk driving in the alcohol industry. Libertarianism has its place in people’s hearts just as laws have their place in our legal system. The industry and the government are now both actively promoting the concept of wearing PFDs on the water.

Knockoffs: Economically Cashing In

Two years ago I helped redesigned the product packaging for Yak Gear, a kayak fishing accessory manufacturer. A mistake that slipped through the cracks in dealing with hundreds of products, I labeled the back of one product package as including the wrong number of hardware pieces. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a clear mistake. Consider it similar to the packaging of a 12-pack of beer that showed the beer bottle cap getting twisted clockwise to open instead of counter-clockwise.
Look, any kayak angler getting ready to drill into his beloved boat knows how to use the hardware included and would catch my mistake and proceed uninterrupted in the basic installation.

I fixed the mistake with the company after noticing it almost two months later.

That same error in its short life made it China for a vacation and is now mass produced on the shelves of most Wal-Mart fishing aisles.

With my experience and in talking to reps from Scotty, a rod holder manufacturer, and Feel Free, a kayak manufacturer, knockoffs are becoming increasingly prevalent in the kayak fishing industry – both kayak and accessory lines. Be careful, do your research, and consult a local niche kayak dealer before making your gear purchases. A brand with industry presence should make your gear to properly support your safety, enjoyment, and overall experience.

Larger Audiences: Demanding Higher Quality Content

Industry growth has brought kayak fishing marketing budgets into the realm of respectability. No longer are promotional videos filmed exclusively on GoPros. No longer are Pro Staffers explicitly old salty guides who hate the internet. No longer are kayak fishing articles mind-numbingly dull weather and tide reports. These quality improvements are not only reflecting well on kayak anglers, but these improvements are also giving our infant industry some good street cred with other industries within outdoor recreation, finally giving kayak fishing slightly more respect than the low-budget redneck hobby that is used to represent among our Outdoor Industry Association counterparts.

Some notable individuals driving smaller companies to get into this quality content movement are Robert Field owner of Yak Fish TV, Chris Payne editor of the Kayak Fishing Blog, and Jameson Redding from Yakangler’s video series, Inside and Out.


Note – Three years ago I toughed out my first search for the kayak fishing trends of 2013 as part of my work for kayak fishing gear supplier, Yak Gear. Unlike most of my past internet-based decisions, this one is a fun run down memory lane.

editorial, kayak fishing, kayaking, safety, trends

Mark Vlaskamp

After four years as Marketing Director for Yak Gear, Mark now partners with creative outdoor brands and pursues the gray area between freelancing and (f)unemployment. Currently, he is floating between Austin and Houston, TX - still searching for new water, cool people, and cheap beer.

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