Old school meets new technology

Ironically, it’s the fox squirrels — and not their smaller cousins — that draw hunters to Cat Island.

Kayaks have long provided peaceful transportation, free of noise and exhaust fumes, on freshwater lakes and rivers and saltwater bays and estuaries for bird watching, fishing and exploring. A decade ago, kayakers were seen rarely enough to be little more than a curiosity to powerboaters, but that has changed, and more than a few powerboaters have taken up paddles and joined their ranks.

The growing popularity of these low-slung boats is easy to understand. The price of a gallon of gas has little effect on kayak use, and paddling one offers a connection to nature that falls somewhere between hiking and bicycling.

New trends in boating don’t become popular this fast without attracting the attention of the high-tech community, and enough new technology is being custom-designed for kayakers to give them virtually every convenience available to power boaters.

Fishing is probably the fastest growing segment of kayak use. Anglers are pursuing everything from bass and catfish to red drum, tarpon and even blue marlin in them, and the electronic fishing accessory market for these chopped and channeled canoes is exploding.

Electric propulsion can extend a kayaker’s daily range without adding an objectionable amount of noise or any exhaust fumes. Torqeedo’s Ultralight 402 electric motor system (torqeedo.com) mounts on most rigid-hulled kayaks, and adds only about 15 pounds, including its lithium battery. It can push a kayak up to 6 mph, and its battery allows up to a 15-mile range at slow speed.

BassYaks (bassyaks.com) offers its motor kits for most major fishing kayaks. The stern-mounted motor can be raised or lowered from the kayak’s seat to nine different positions, and can push a kayak in as little as 4 inches of water. Fully-adjustable left and right foot pedals offer hands-free steering, and you can choose from a selection of remote speed controls that run the motor in forward and reverse.

MotorGuide (motorguide.com) is offering a new saltwater-tough trolling motor with an 18-inch stainless-steel shaft for kayaks. It includes a digital variable speed control and a built-in voltage test system.

Handheld GPS units from all the major manufacturers are compact and well-suited for exploring and fishing in kayaks. Garmin’s Oregon series of handhelds, for instance, includes models with color displays, touch-screen controls, built-in electronic compasses, and Oregon 550 models include built-in digital cameras. They can also use the company’s fresh or saltwater onscreen cartography (garmin.com).

Lowrance’s Endura handheld models combine color displays with both touch-screen controls and “hot key” buttons. They also have built-in electronics compasses, can store MP3 audio files and can use a wide variety of land and water-based cartography (Lowrance.com).

Several electronics manufacturers offer self-contained portable fish finders and compact fish finder/GPS combo units perfect for kayaks and other small craft. When Humminbird (humminbird.com) upgraded its 300 series of electronics for 2010, it included a special 385ci Combo Kayak model that includes everything needed to equip a kayak with sonar and GPS.

The package includes a complete sonar transducer installation kit, a 12-volt, seven amp-hour battery with charger, a dry bag, a protective quick-disconnect cap and a unit cover to protect its keypad and color display. The GPS antenna is built right into the unit’s case.

Finally, RAM Mounts offers tough, compact mounting brackets that are infinitely adjustable and designed to hold bracket-mounted and handheld electronic devices of all kinds, in addition to rod holders, drink holders and a new anchor line pulley and lock device. A five-place mounting base lets you group different brackets on a single bar to hold everything right in front of you like a portable dash board (ram-mount.com).