By Kevin Nakada
Kayak fishing differs from powerboat angling in many ways. Obviously a kayak is manually powered with paddles or pedals and boats have motors. There are further differences such as the lack of leverage from a kayak and the inability to rotate your upper body 360 degrees. Given the disadvantages, we have to improve our tools where we can, especially our fishing rods.
Blank composition plays the biggest role in kayak fishing rods. When you set the hook on an 80-pound kayak the entire kayak moves towards the point of resistance, resulting in a sleigh ride. A 1,200-pound boat doesn’t budge. Depending on your technique and targeted specie the rod may need to be a softer/slower or more sensitive/faster action. Anglers targeting large game would prefer a slower softer action, usually a fiberglass or composite rod, to absorb the shock of fast strikes or large head shakes to avoid pulling hooks. Faster, ultra sensitive graphite rods are better for smaller game where presentation is critical and feeling the slightest bite is most important. Typically, kayak fishing rod blanks are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, mostly glass or mostly graphite.
Handle dimensions and material can be a chore to understand. Narrow it down a bit and first think about where the bottom of the grip will reside. Most of the time it will be resting in a plastic rod holder of some sort. When the opportunity presents itself and the fish of a lifetime is giving you the opportunity, you will need to get the rod out IMMEDIATELY!
By picking a thinner, harder, and rougher textured rear grip you will be able to pull the butt of the rod out quicker even in a wet molded-in rod holder. Tuna cord has all these qualities. It's thin, hard and rough which makes it slide easily in and out of a rod holder. Hypalon is one of the least favored because it sticks to polyethylene and plastics especially when it is wet and pulled out at an angle. In order of preference: tuna cord, custom reamed hard polymer, EVA, cork, hypalon.
Sensitivity and comfort should guide the choice of front handle material. If you are looking for more sensitivity for presentation specific techniques, a denser material like EVA or even no grip transmits the energy of a bite from the rod tip to the hand very well. Comfortable grips, especially hypalon, relieves strained hand and forearm muscles during hard battles with big game species.
Don't forget to consider the length of the grips! This is where many fishing rods on the market fail as kayak fishing rods. The rear grip should be shorter than standard. Working an artificial or winching on a hard fighting fish in a sitting position is easier to do when the rod butt is short. The fore grip can range from non-existent to two hand lengths. Any longer and the rod becomes unnecessarily front heavy. Typically I prefer little to no fore grip with presentation specific techniques and one hand length fore grips on big game rods.
The choice in rod guides is fairly simple and most relative to power boat angling. In general the braid friendly modern guides get the job done well for all anglers. These guides are also great for monofilament so they have a wide range of applications. If you are tackling hard-nosed big game, a more durable double foot brace guide is a better choice.
If there ever was a time to reinvent the fishing wheel it is now. With the number of options on the custom rod building market there really is no telling what will make up your own kayak fishing rod. No matter what, designing your own rod and landing fish on it is nearly as rewarding as kayak fishing itself.
Kevin Nakada is the owner and operator of the Sea Samurai kayak fishing guide service located in La Jolla, California. He has a number of years experimenting with custom rod building and employing unique designs with kayak fishing techniques in mind.