An unexpected effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge uptick in sales of kayaks. Although not specifically related to kayak-fishing, there is no doubt that segment of recreational kayak users accounts for a large portion of the overall sales increase.
With people searching for ways to escape the depressing constraints of social-distancing mandates, turning to outdoor activities fits the bill. Nature, exercise and safe space add up to make kayaking more appealing. Kayak fishing is an additional bonus.
Kayaks, and particularly fishing kayaks, have been on the radar of the NPG Group for years. This research and data company tracks consumer trends, sales and changes within a variety of retail industries. Kayaks’ presence in the retail fishing industry has been a continuing growth segment over the last decade, and while many people and industries have suffered the devastating results of the Corona outbreak, kayak sales have been an unusual bright spot.
According to the NPD Group, “For the 12-month period ending in May 2020, including a period when everyone found it hard to look at their sales numbers, recreational kayaks racked up more than $405 million in sales throughout outdoor retail channels.”
The numbers could have been much higher. However, the unexpected sales surge combined with retailer and manufacturer shutdowns completely disrupted supplies of both new kayaks and related accessories. Retail customers found scant inventory and long waiting periods, keeping some from being able to make a purchase. While it is getting better, reports among kayak fishermen are still showing the need to pre-order, place deposits and sometimes shop far and wide to get the particular kayak they desire. The availability is getting better, but still nowhere near back to normal.
The outdoor retail industry is realizing that recreational kayaking continues to become a more significant sales opportunity than traditionally assumed. From those looking for exercise, a casual float or dedicated fishing-specific kayaks, the industry is moving from regionally specific markets to mainstream participation.
According to 2019 industry figures, just 10 short years ago, more people mountain biked than recreationally kayaked. However, with current numbers estimated at 8,690,000 to 11,017,000 respectively, the trend is obvious.
Much has changed in the kayak-fishing industry over the past few years. Once dominated by traditional paddle-propelled kayaks — with only one or two major brands offering pedal kayaks — virtually all major brands now offer some form of pedal-drive system. Additionally, electric propulsion is working its way into the mainstream kayak-fishing market.
From traditional electric trolling motors to specifically designed compact units, the evolution of lighter, longer-lasting lithium batteries makes adding electric power to kayaks more practical and efficient. Even some of the major kayak-fishing tournaments now allow participants to sport electric power while competing.
The kayak-fishing accessories market is also keeping pace. About the only thing I have not seen on a fishing kayak yet is radar — and doing so would not surprise me. Livewells, sophisticated fish finders, Power Poles, adjustable rod holders and on and on. If you can think of it, someone likely makes a kayak-version or some type of adapter to add it.
If you are looking to buy your first kayak, the multitude of choices can be daunting. The best advice is to figure your budget, and then try as many different brands and models that fit. Stability, comfort and fishability are major factors to strongly consider. What works for others may not suit your particular needs or style of fishing. Utilize kayak demo days offered by local dealers to compare numerous models in real time, on a side-by-side basis. There is no substitute.
Paddle, power, electric? There are options and accessories that actually allow you to have all three in one kayak if that fits your needs. Paddle kayaks are the least expensive, but many find that soon after buying, they are looking to upgrade. “Buy once, cry once,” may be a smarter financial decision to get a kayak that will serve you well for years without the hassle of the buy, sell, buy-again process and potential loss on resale value.
You may already have fishing gear and most all will be suitable for kayak fishing. However, plan your budget to include some kayak fishing-specific gear that will make your trips more comfortable and productive. Safety should be top priority with a quality, comfortable personal flotation device as number one item on the must-have list. Louisiana gets hot. Get a PFD that is comfortable to wear in all conditions and wear it. Inflatable and new hybrid designs provide life-saving flotation combined with all-day comfort.
If you are new to kayak-fishing, you will find fellow kayak anglers helpful and supportive. Join a local kayak fishing club and participate in social media groups and forums. Louisiana Sportsman’s report section has a dedicated kayak-fishing thread where you can get the latest fishing reports as well as advice and even meet up with other kayakers on fishing trips.
In these uncertain times, kayak-fishing can provide the perfect, safe respite from the craziness that surrounds us. You can actually participate in a social, group activity, yet still be alone. There is also no arguing about wearing masks— kayak anglers have been voluntarily doing that for years.
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