Benefits vary in canoes, kayaks

Not so long ago and not so far away, puddling, the sport of fly fishing from a paddlecraft, was dominated by canoes, as it had been for centuries. Then came the rise of “kayak fishing,” deemed as the hottest new segment of the outdoors market. About four years ago, just about every outdoors or fishing magazine had articles on kayak fishing. This frenzy was spurred by the evolution of the sit-on-top (SOT) kayak. Unlike cockpit yaks, the SOT has a closed deck design, which makes it unsinkable. It’s considered ideal for recreational touring or fishing on bigger waters.

The SOT has many of the advantages that cockpit yaks have over canoes, such as low wind resistance, stability and speed. Unlike cockpit models, it’s fairly easy to get in and out of. That means you can anchor, then get out and wade. All these features were important to inshore fly fishermen, who are THE reason why kayak sales soared to begin with.

About the time the stock market crashed, so did the popularity of SOTs. I like to think there’s a parallel. Just like the value of internet and tech stocks was highly overstated, so was the functionality of kayaks. As Cormier’s 8th Law states: “Every paddlecraft is a compromise of features.”

Many inshore puddlers found this out the hard way, and during the last two years, there’s been a resurgence back toward canoes. It’s not that one type of vessel is better than the other — it just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Consider this: You wish to get into the sport of puddling, especially to go after reds and drum in skinny marsh water. First, you look at canoes. The typical canoe is 16 to 17 feet long, has end heights of 22 to 24 inches, and weighs 70 to 85 pounds.

Your typical kayak is 12 to 14 feet long, has end heights of 5 to 7 inches, and weighs 45 to 60 pounds. The yak has less vessel above the water, so it’s easier to handle in a wind. It’s shorter, so it’s more manueverable. And it’s lighter, so it’s easier to load.

But the experienced puddler knows a few things yaks can’t do. They can’t handle large payloads, like that 48 quart ice chest you’re hoping to load up with fish.

Want to stand up in your yak and look around? Can you say “swim?” Yaks may be have more initial and secondary stability, but only because you’re sitting at or below the waterline. They don’t have any standup stability. And because you’re sitting so low, you don’t have a good view of the water. And if you like sitting in one position for hours on end, you’ll just love yaks!

Willing to compromise on speed, puddlers began looking at canoes that had these features: short length and low ends for lower wind resistance, lower rocker (how much the ends curve up) for better tracking, and decent width for stability but not too wide so paddling is difficult.

They discovered that some recreational-model canoes had these features, and by making a few adaptations, they could have their cake and eat it too.

Over the last three years, I know of over two dozen canoes that have been purchased. Of the solo models, all of them fit this criteria: 12 to 13 feet in length, 32 to 36 inches in width, and not more than 19 inches high at the ends. Compare those stats to the “typical canoe” mentioned earlier. Such models include the Old Town Pack 12 and Discovery 119K, the Mohawk Solo 13 and Skipper 13, and the Lincoln Pond.

To increase stability in these craft, especially for standup fishing or push-poling, many puddlers add stabilizers. Another trick is to bring along a large ice chest, and fill it with 16 pounds of ice. That greatly lowers the center of gravity in the vessel. It also adds enough weight to raise the waterline, which improves tracking.

Perhaps the biggest plus for canoes comes when fishing two. A canoe has twice the spacing from the front person to the back person that a tandem kayak does. For the person in the stern, that’s important when a fly line is zooming back and forth.

The vast majority of canoes can seat multiple occupants, but again my casual survey reveals only certain models meet angler requirements. Almost all the puddler choices weres 14 to 15 feet long, 35 to 38 inches wide, and had ends under 19 inches high. The most popular models were the Guide 147 (which I own), Osprey 140, and Stillwater 14, all by Old Town, and the Mohawk Solo 14, the Bell Angler and the Scott Echo.

Most of these canoes are made from lightweight Royalex — light as most fiberglass models but with superior durability and abrasion resistance. In fact, Royalex canoes also have twice the stiffness of most polyethylene kayaks.

Borrowing from freshwater canoeists, some marsh puddlers I know have added trolling-motor mounts. A 30-pound thrust motor with 30-inch shaft is a popular choice, with a size 22 AGM battery as the power source. Such an outfit makes it possible to venture out farther, at a clip of speed about 5 knots. Paddling long distances may be healthy, but not when the temperature is 95 degrees.

Finally, one fly fisher from Lake Charles has designed, and is working on modifying, his canoe stabilizer to incorporate a raised platform for casting or push-poling.

There’s a word for this type of canoe — it’s called a skiff.

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About Catch Cormier 275 Articles
Glen ‘Catch’ Cormier has pursued fish on the fly for 30 years. A certified casting instructor and renowned fly tier, he and his family live in Baton Rouge.

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