Canoe or Kayak?!?

A one man canoe makes a better fishing boat than a one man kayak. Photo by author

If you are a fisherman on the cutting edge of technology, carrying the latest I-Phone and know more about Bluetooth than bluegills, chances are you are considering a getting a kayak to use as the vehicle to move you from the shore to the fishy destinations where you hope to find some hungry fish. Kayaks are the “rage” for fishing millennials. I don’t blame you. I’ve fished from kayaks and they are a hoot.

The first fish I caught in a kayak was a respectable northern pike and it was strong enough to actually tow me and the ‘yak around the lake for a short time before I was able to subdue it to where I was able to pull it out of the water and dislodge the hooks. That wasn’t the last fish I’ve ever caught from a kayak and today’s yaks are more fisherman friendly than ever.

That first fish I caught was in a sea kayak, a plasticized version of the sealskin and whalebone versions first invented by Eskimos centuries ago. Powered by a double-ended paddle, the first lesson I had to learn was make sure the paddle was cinched to the tether line when I was fishing and the rod and reel were suitably secured when I was paddling. My tackle assortment was only what I could carry in my breast pockets. The rest of me was down inside the kayak and a skirt was attached around my mid-section to ward off spray or sloppy waves.

Some of those problems have been eliminated in specialized “fishing” kayaks by tagging on peddle drive systems that propel you across the water via leg-power leaving your hands free to handle the rod and reels, as well as models that are self draining so you can have a miniature assortment of gear around with you. They are just as fun and a hefty pike or bullish catfish can still drag you around the lake.

Before the kayak fad, however, canoes, a different sort of Native North American invention, was king of the one-man, portable boat world. While I’ve had only a few experiences with kayak fishing, I’ve fished from canoes hundreds of times and caught thousands of fish.

In my experience, as a fishing platform, the canoe far out performs the kayak, most of the time and if the appropriate size canoe is used. Very few kayaks are “two-person” models. Most canoes are built for two people.

Certainly one person can successfully paddle a two-man canoe and catch plenty of fish. Except on a windy day. Trying to paddle anything across any body of water with a head wind or crosswind is difficult. The paddler and boat become sails that catch the wind. At least in a kayak the paddler is nearly centrally located, most canoeists sit more towards the stern of the boat and that makes the wind affect the bow end more substantial.

If you plan to canoe solo most of the time, pick a model no longer than 12 or 13 feet. My 13-footer is great for me by myself and, though I’ve paddled and fished with two people in it, a 15-footer would have been better. I’ve soloed across windy lakes in my 13-footer many times, a chore that would have been impossible or nearly so in a larger canoe.

For ease of paddling, kayaks get the nod over canoes. In my experience, that’s the only edge they have. If all you want to do is get from point A to B, choose a kayak. If you want to fish for the challenge of fishing, choose a ‘yak. If you want to fish to catch fish from a one man, paddle powered watercraft, choose a canoe.

The difference is personal mobility inside the vessel and the amount of cargo you can carry. A kayak fisherman has to be a minimalist. The ‘yaker has to plan the trip in advance, bringing only the bare necessities, one, maybe two rods, no more than a few lures or other tackle. Even having an anchor on board is problematic or much live bait if that’s the way you want to fish.

Sure that’s a part of the fun and challenge, but if you want optimize the catching, not the challenge, choose a canoe. In my canoe I can easily carry a reasonably good sized tackle box, a an anchor, spare rods and reels, a small cooler with drinks and snacks and whatever other equipment I think I’ll need to make my fishing trip safe, enjoyable and productive.

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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