I Bought a Fishing Kayak. Now What?

It's a great feeling to pull the trigger on a new fishing kayak (or any kayak for that matter). Especially that first one. Your very first kayak is special. It's almost like when my oldest child was born. There was a ton of anticipation, excitement and several months leading up to it. When it finally arrived I was so excited but at the same time scared. Now what? Hopefully you bought it at a place like Austin Canoe and Kayak, Colorado Kayak Supply or other reputable dealer and they can help with this next part. If you didn't buy your kayak from a dealer, didn't have someone to guide you through and are spinning from all the options, keep reading.

As with kids, the kayak makes you start to think of "What else do I need?" Maybe your budget is tight and you can't get everything all at once. That is most of us. Don't be embarrassed. Very few of us have everything we need as soon as we get home. I've been through this process several times and it is different with every one but what I would like to offer is a shopping list. Start at the top and work your way down. Some people may have differing opinions and that's great. What I am hoping to do is take some of the guess work out of gearing up and save you the headaches I have gone through. This list is specific for kayak fishermen so after the second item the list would vary for other sports.

Start Here:


Stohlquist PFD
PFD (Life Jacket)- Most people go straight for the paddle. The only reason I recommend a PFD first is safety. If you blow all of your money on a fancy paddle and end up paddling in an $8 PFD that fits like an albatross, you won't be paddling for long. Choose a good PFD and always wear it. Check out the Astral Buoyancy and Stohlquist PFDs. Want to learn more about PFDs? Click Here. I also recommend a knife and a whistle to attach to the PFD so you can call for help or cut your way out of a tangle or hung anchor. If you are going to paddle at night, get a 360 degree light.

Paddle- This is your motor. Use this paddle guide and find the right one for you. If you only have two things you can buy, they need to be a good PFD and a paddle. That seems like a no-brainer but lots of people skimp on the first and sell their kayak shortly after from non-use.

Anchor Trolley- It seems strange to buy this before an anchor but believe me when I say you will be much happier if you do. An anchor trolley allows you to use a drift sock, stake out stick and anchor while positioning yourself to take advantage of the wind, not be a victim of it. This also will allow for a quick release if you get into trouble. This is the one I use. Inexpensive and easy to install.

Bruce-Style Claw Anchor
Anchor- This is the most widely mispurchased item under $50. Anchors exist in all shapes and sizes. The most popular one is the collapsible anchor. This is also the most frequent one laying at the bottom of a rock pile or root group in 20 feet of water. Use a bruce-style claw anchor and use the zip tie method of connection to get your anchor back from the murky depths. Here is a link from TexasKayakFisherman.com that shows the proper way to rig this up.

Anchor Rope (and accessories)- Most anchors don't come with rope. If you are going to be fishing in any current or wind at all most people will recommend 2X the length of rope for the depth you are fishing. So if your fish are in 20 feet of water, you need at least 40 feet of rope. If you are fishing on the coast it is recommended 3X the depth. I like 3/16" rope but choose what you like. Just don't buy 1/16" rope and expect to raise a big anchor easily. While you are there in the rope section, pick up a carabiner and rope float to attach to these as well.

Rod Holders- These come in different varieties. You can get flush mount, rocket launchers, trolling rod holders for baitcasters and spinning, rail mount, and the list goes on and on. Look at some rigging pictures, sit in your boat, see where you can reach and then go buy one.

Milk Crate- You can buy one or ask a retail grocer for one. Either way, you can strap this down to the back of most kayaks and hold tons of tackle and gear. You can also add some PVC to be additional rod holders. Cheapest investment you'll love forever.

Everything Else-These things will get you going pretty well. After you have the above mentioned items, you should look at, in no particular order: a fish finder, stabilizers (depending on the kayak), drift sock, stake out stick, VHF handheld radio, scupper plugs (for sit on tops), waders, paddle gloves, really the list goes on and on. Most of all, have fun and catch some fish!


Safety for Kids on the Water

It's too easy to make a mistake.
Type II Child PFD

You're loading up the truck with a kayak or two and that little voice rings through the garage, "Daddy, can I go?" You may have planned on her asking but did you really plan on her going?
According to the CDC, 350 children die every year in boating related drownings.

How do you prevent that?
Planning properly.

It's human nature to think that would never happen to you. You can protect them. You will hold them on your lap. The water's not that deep. I'm a great swimmer.

I've heard them all. The plain and simple fact is no one plans on disaster happening to them. With a little planning, a little awareness and some ground rules, most of those 350 would be at home with their parents instead of living only through the emotional scars their parents now bare.

I know it feels like I am preaching, and maybe I am, but this is IMPORTANT.

Here are the steps I have taken and believe you should too to ensure safety for every child that gets on one of my kayaks. This may not be the end all be all list but you need to have some list of rules and know it by heart. And then, once you have the rules, don't make exceptions. Again, these are my rules, not State Law except where noted.

Any child in a kayak must have a proper life jacket on and secured properly.
Texas law states "Children under 13 years of age in or on vessels under 26 feet must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable PFD while underway."
Get a life jacket that is weight rated for the child and fits properly. A Type II is better than a Type III because it will, under most circumstances, float the child face up. PFD Types Click Here

Children under 12 cannot ride alone in a kayak
It seems archaic and overprotective to some but, using a boat that can flip on top of you, weighs more than you do and is not an easy re-entry if you fall out are recipes for danger. 

All paddlers must go through an orientation with the boat. 
It only takes a few minutes but it is important to know safety on the kayak, regardless of age, but children especially need to know what to do.

Open water re-entry experiences are a must. 
The first time I took my seven year old out with me I explained what we were going to do. I said we would jump off the kayak into the water. I instructed him to stay where he was. I reminded him the life jacket will float him and I would come to him once I re-entered the kayak. I was probably over explaining things but he understood. We jumped off and he did great. He watched to make sure he didn't get run over by the kayak. When it got too near him he pushed himself away while I got back on. I scooped him up and he did great! He didn't panic. I had explained everything. Paddling back to the shore I purposefully dug in and flipped the boat without telling him. I watched him calm himself down quickly and take in the surroundings. He assessed the situation. He showed me he was ok and waited for me to get back on the kayak and scoop him up. Another success. You have to do this with your kids. You have to learn how to coach them when on the water. This is how people survive bad situations. Preparation. 
The water is warm now. Do this now. Don't wait until winter. Don't wait until the water is cold. 


This all takes some time and preparation but if it saves just one life next year that is one more child who gets to become an adult. One more set of parents who aren't grieving over a simple mistake. Take the time to be ready for when that little girl or boy asks to do what you are doing. When they ask to go kayak with you, have a life jacket, have a plan and have a blast making memories that will last forever. 


The Astral Brewer Final Verdict

I did an initial thoughts review earlier in the month on Astral Buoyancy's new shoe (and first venture into the market), the Brewer. If you are interested in those initial thoughts in full, click here.


This is my review after four days of harsh conditions, surf fishing, beach pounding and tons of use.

Astral Brewer
The Brewer is a tough shoe. It is designed for outdoorsmen by outdoorsmen. Having been in the salt, rapids, wakes, water, streams and puddles the better part of three decades, I feel like I have significant enough time in to make a valid claim: These shoes rock!

They are not without fault but we will cover that in a bit. First, I need to tell you what they have been through. I have sloshed through calf deep mud, waded through roaring breakers, trekked across marshlands and been to the grocery and bait store many times over the last week.
These shoes took it all in stride. Not only that but a quick rinse in the outdoor shower and they were back to looking great in an instant.

The laces are thick and stayed tied through almost everything. I rarely had to retie. At one point we went down to a jagged rock ledge to fish and I had to climb around on anything but flat rocks with wet shoes on. Thankfully, they were the Brewers. The Stealth rubber sole gets very tactile when wet and I had zero slippage issues. The fold down heel served its purpose well when I needed to run down stairs to go get something from the car. Just slip them on and off you go.

The drains worked very well. I could take them off soaked and in a few minutes they would be dry. This may not always be the case in every locale but in Texas, that's a huge benefit. The outer shell of the shoe is rugged. It actually deflected a rogue hook at one point and saved me from another cut. The sole is thick enough that punctures are not a constant worry as with other shoes. The stitching held up through the constant sand burrs and shoe no signs of wear or raveling.

The interior sole fit my foot like a glove. The alternating pattern on the interior gave good stability and the shoe cradles your foot like a memory foam mattress. By day four my feet had settled in and made a home with support in the right places. I was a little worried since I have high arches but had zero issues wearing these all day.

The Tongue
One of my favorite aspects of this shoe though is the tongue. I didn't talk about it much earlier but it actually stayed in place. I don't remember a single time of having to fish that tongue out from the side of the shoe. In four foot swells, that is a small miracle.

As for the not so great, let's chat. Astral, if you are listening, please change this soon.

The shoes caused a blister the first day out. Where the outside of the upper joins the toebox on the inside of the shoe is a seam. It catches my feet right on the little toe on the knuckle. It did this on both feet. I have to say I was mad. I dropped $100 on shoes that tore up my feet. I was heartbroken too. I visited with a couple of other people about shoes and most were having this issue. Still. I was not happy. I wanted these to work so badly. Maybe it is my feet. Maybe people normally don't have this issue. I looked inside and the seam is coarse. Both shoes, left and right. I made a quick trip to the store and bought some low cut nylon/poly blend quick dry socks and tried them with the shoes. Problem averted. I continued on the rest of the week this way and had zero issues. Just be aware, if your feet have a different pronation than most or you have a high arch as I do, this could be an issue. You can solve it fairly easy but I was miffed at first.

So they $1,000,000 question: Would I buy another pair? In a heartbeat.

 I'd buy them faster than that if they fix the seam issue.

If you want a pair talk to Colorado Kayak Supply. Super fast shipping, great selection and excellent customer service. Buy them here.


Sand+Water=Good Times
Brewers on the beach
Beach Brewer- Still looking good after
four days of punishment

The Excursion to Galveston Island - A Preview

In Central Texas we have the best of both worlds. We are close to great freshwater fisheries and great coastal fishing. Four hours in a car can get me to Lake Fork or Port A. Depending on my excitement, sometimes less. My next trip will be the fourth trip of its kind that I have taken with a group of men that share my passion for saltwater fishing. I refer to us as the hardcore fishermen of our circle but in essence, it is more like "Salt Core". The trip to Galveston has become an annual affair and is one we have been dreaming of for several months now. 

This will be the first time we have gone that we will have kayaks for everyone and we plan on doing some teaching, fishing and getting in lots of paddle time. We started with some freshwater time yesterday getting everything lined out, getting everyone oriented to what's going on and making final preparations for Wednesday's departure. 

When we get together, fishing becomes the focus. Among the six of us we have close to 200 years of fishing experience. Fishing is our pressure valve. We use the time to re-attune with our natural instincts. Reading the weather, the wind, the fish, the tides adds something back to your soul that corporate jobs, grinding 40-60 hours a week, and a work focused culture seems to slowly siphon away.  Cell phones become GPS navigators and tide predictors. Computers are rarely, if ever used, except to report the days catch and log what's going on for future trips. 

I'll be writing some while I am there. I may or may not post until I get back but will be gathering information, testing gear, logging conditions and the like. The Astral Brewers will get their toughest workout to date and I have an Okuma reel I want to report on. Also tumbling through my brain are ideas on: kids safety on the water, a "Get These First" accessory guide to kayak fishing and some new  rigging guides for outfitting that new kayak. 

Stay tuned for more late this week and maybe a few pictures along the way. 

Technology on the Water

Nearly 128 million Americans have smart phones now according to Pew and Nielsen. That is approximately 50% of the US population. Of those numbers, you have a lot of kids under the age of 10 so the %ile goes even higher. I am going to go out on a limb and say if you are reading this blog, you probably either have one or know someone very close to you with one. That's a pretty sturdy limb. 

So now the question is not do you have one but rather, are you utilizing its full potential? 

Traditionally cell phones and water sports don't mix but as a paddler/fishermen you may be missing out on some things that could give you: an advantage at tournament time, cut homework in half for fishing prep, make sure you don't get a fine for launching in the wrong place and  tons of other information and add-ons that will make you a mobile intelligence station. 

The first thing you need is phone protection. Options are going to vary depending on the phone you have. The things you need are a case that is as water tight as possible and possibly a dry bag for it. Here are my recommendations based on trial, error, frying a phone, and feedback from other paddle/fish friends.

iPhone 3GS or 3 and HTC EVO Android Phones- 
OtterBox Defender
The OtterBox Defender, $40. I have used this case for quite a while. It doesn't claim to be waterproof but with three layers does a good job of making it tough for water to get to the phone. Couple this case with a Dry-Lock bag and you are good to go. Through the three layers you can still use the phone's touch screen and not worry about moisture on your hands. It's a really good case for the money and the rubber backing will hold it in place on a dash board, console or wherever. These come in multiple colors so go wild! Just remember, it doesn't float.



LifeProof case
iPhone 4, 4S-
LifeProof case, $80. This is a case I have seen in action multiple times. This one is water proof, shock proof, dirt proof, toddler proof (I added that), and a variety of other things. With this case you don't need a Dry-Lock bag at all. Keep it in your pocket, your jacket, whatever and it will keep on ticking. If I had an iPhone 4S (come on October!), I would put it in this case. "But wait (he says in an infomercial voice), there's more!"
Also available from LifeProof is a LifeJacket for your LifeProof case. Drop it in the water and yes, your phone and the $600 you've invested in it floats at the top of the water awaiting your rescue. Finally! How long have we needed this!




Now that your phone is protected, we need to talk about how it can be of more use than just the boss calling. 
Myriad apps exist that are supposed to make fishing, paddling and the like easier but in actuality, most of them are junk. I have waded through several that were so cumbersome that I wanted to throw my phone in the lake. I am going to help you out and give you the best of the best that I have used. These are not the only apps that work but for a paddle/fisherman, this is what I recommend. 



Solunar TablesSolunar Calendar by Solve the Puzzle A/S 

This app syncs the solunar tables into your calendar based on your location and can set reminders. It will tell you when to fish or when to just paddle. It's designed for iPhone and works with older and newer iOS. For 99 cents it's handy to never have to find a copy of Field & Stream at a gas station. I saw one rating in July that said "Outstanding", usually it would be "Excellent". I had never seen that description before and the fishing was on that day. 
This tool is nice to have because it gives corresponding moon and sun times and works for the coast or the lake. 


Navigation- Marine&Lakes: US&Canada By Navionics 
This app has saved me several times. From boat lanes to topo maps, it has everything I could ever need. At $15, some people balk at the price but to get this chip for a handheld or fishfinder it's $100. I figure I am getting an 85% discount and who doesn't love that? If you need to mark those spots where you are slaying fish or mark a route through that mangrove forest, this is your app. Waypoints are limited only by storage and if you have that many waypoints you need to share. With me. Not only do you get regional coverage but anywhere you draw a box around in the US and Canada, it will download all the info. Super sweet for the budget conscious.



Launch PointsACK Kayak Launch Points 2.0 Pro by Austin Canoe & Kayak
The gang at Austin Canoe and Kayak have just upped your expectations. With an interactive store, kayak launch spots across the US and a social feature you can get all your supplies and info right here. At only 99 cents, the Pro is the way to go. You can search for points based on distance, most liked and set up favorites. While you are at it, submit a launch point or just search the map. If you need a break you can read the ACK newsletter, lookup how to's or just watch a video. This app is amazing and I am sad I just found it last week.




TidesTide Graph By Brainware
Want to know when the tide is moving? Checkout Tide Graph. I've been using this app for about 18 months and it is very accurate. You can select different points along coast lines and know exactly when the fish are going to be moving. For $2 you won't have to trust that printed card for accuracy. You can pinpoint where you are going to be and know exactly what's going to be moving and the rate. If you are fishing in salt even once a year, this will be the best $2 you spend. If you couple this with the solunar table, you'll find some hungry fish. This isn't just innovation, it's information at your hands when you need it. 


As I implied earlier, this is not the end all be all list but it has definitely improved my fishing over the time I have had a smart phone with these apps. Learn to read them and the water is your oyster. Open it up and see what you find. Additional apps you find helpful are more than welcome in the comments section and are encouraged. 


Picking a Paddling PFD


As I teased over the weekend, I wanted to do a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) or life jacket selection guide this week. Before I can dive into which ones are best and give you a link or two to find them, it's important you know the differences in style and type.

In PFDs there are three basic styles.

#1- Inflatables- These are lightweight and do not float you until you hit the water, at which point it inflates and floats you to the top. These are easy to wear but also easy to forget so be aware. It is also important to test them and if it has been inflated once, you have to go buy a new cartridge so it will work next time.

#2- Permanently Buoyant- These are the typical life jackets that are worn. They can be a bit bulky and usually get stowed because of it. A stowed PFD rarely saves a life when compared to one that is worn.

#3- Hybrids- These are a mix of the two types and offer some flotation with being inflated.

The US Coat Guard classifies PFDs into five different types.

Type I- This is a PFD that will float a person right side up in the water. It is typically used in ocean vessels or places where rescue will be a long way off.

Type II- This is similar to a Type I. It doesn't have the same flotation power however and may not right you in the water. These are for offshore uses where rescue may be a bit faster and you can see land.

Type III- This is your typical recreation life jacket. It will float you but won't right you and this should only be used in lakes, not open water, and rescue should be at hand.

Type IV- Remember the life preservers from the Love Boat? Ok, maybe not. Remember the big ring at the lifeguard stand? That's a Type IV. Anything you can throw that will help someone float that isn't worn typically falls under this category.

Type V- These are specialized PFDs for activities like kayaking, skiing, and other water sports.

One last thing before we get to the selections:
Remember that in Texas:

  • Children under 13 years of age in or on vessels under 26 feet must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable PFD while underway.
  • All vessels under 16 feet (including canoes and kayaks) must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V for each person on board.
  • Vessels 16 feet and longer, in addition to the Type I, II, III or V for each person on board, must have one Type IV throwable device which must be readily accessible. Canoes and kayaks over 16 feet are exempt from the Type IV requirement.

Ok, so I am assuming that if you are here you are a paddler, boater or family member/friend. Moving on that assumption there are two types of life jackets that work best for paddling, Type V and Type III. In these, there are several choices to make.In the styles, I want permanence. This is strictly a preference but I don't like inflatables. 
Call me old fashioned but if I am going down the Devils River, far away from rescue, fall out of my kayak, my PFD inflates and then get it punctured by a rock, limb, fishing hook etc, I am then in very bad shape. I don't want multiple life jackets for different scenarios. I want one. One that will do everything I need. I paddle in a PFD that will always float me and not fail me because a mechanism went out. Or a cartridge. There is plenty to think about as safety goes without worrying about maintenance on a PFD. So here are my recommendations:

Stohlquist
If you are fishing from your kayak, I like the 
It offers good arm clearance, shoulder webbing, good cinching to avoid ride up, the back cushioning is high enough to avoid that backrest on your seat and has multiple tethers and pockets to keep everything close at hand. You can get this jacket from youth size all the way up to a 54" Men's so almost everyone can enjoy utility and comfort at the same time. It even has a net ring on the back collar so you can dip up that prize catch without fumbling for the net. 
This is a Type III PFD.

If you are wanting to just paddle and be more recreational, I like the 
Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life Jacket - PFD.
Astral
With a mesh back, a releasable inside clasp to cool off but stay buckled, adjustable shoulders that continue to the back and mesh pockets that lay flat when not in use, the Astral is a great choice. With less bulk than most recreational PFDs, the V-Eight will help you stay cool in the hot summer months while staying safe at the same time.
This is a Type III PFD. 


You don't have to buy these to be safe but if functionality and safety are a must at all times for you, these two will give you good bang for the buck, last a long time and become part of your paddling equipment that is a "Don't leave home without it". 








Turtle Now to Save Your Life

The idea of falling out of a kayak is the exact reason why people either:
#1 Don't/Won't buy a kayak
#2 Buy a particularly wide kayak

This is nothing new. People don't buy any floating vessel only to end up bobbing beside it shortly after launch but maybe they should try it.

Later this week we will talk about PFD (life jacket) selection and that will play a role here but for now I want to talk about the first thing you should do on your first trip out with a new to you kayak.

Turtle! Jump out! Flip the thing and get wet! Don't just do it because it's 129 degrees right now (though that helps). Every kayak paddler should know how to get back IN/ON the kayak. When you Paddle/Fish like I do, it becomes even more important. Let me tell you my first experience with turtling and why it's so important you practice re-entry.

I have been paddling and fishing since 2003. In that time I have owned multiple kayaks of the sit in and sit on variety. During that time I had never fallen out/off my yak. After reading several stories of drownings, near drownings and bad events due to turtling during all times of the year, I decided for me and my family, we needed to practice. We practice all types of drills at work and that is to be prepared for the worst. The same can be transferred to the water. Practice so when the time comes, you don't panic and end up, well....dead.

In late spring I purchased two new sit on top Cobras, a single seat Navigator and a Tandem. These are the only boats in our fleet now and get a lot of usage. The first time out I told my wife and kids we had to know how to get back on. I told them I would go first so they could see how to do it and then they would try. I walked the kayak out to waist deep water with my PFD on and jumped on to the Cobra. No problems. This was more of a test for me before I went out to where I couldn't touch. It gave me some confidence and I paddled out to 10 feet of water. I counted to three and rolled off the side. Oh, crap! Something was wrapped around my leg. As I tugged on it panic started to creep in. Breathing was becoming more labored and I needed to let the PFD do its work. I relaxed and floated upright. I could feel the cable or cord growing tighter as the kayak drifted further away. Of course! The paddle leash. I grabbed the leash further up toward the connection to the yak and pulled hard. The boat floated toward me and gave me some slack around my leg. I loosened its grip from my leg and let go. I was free! So was the Cobra though and I had to swim for it. I kicked and thrashed my way along side and latched on. I rested for a minute, exhausted, and planned my attack. I would try to propel myself out of the water and grab the opposite side of the boat (perpendicularly), then hoist myself onto it and voila. What I didn't calculate was how tired I was and how heavy I was. I managed to get out of the water enough to grab the other side but promptly pulled it over on my head. This is not good. I pushed the boat off of me and righted it. Attempt two I didn't even grab the other side. People on the shore, including my family, are starting to wonder about this display I was putting on. I held on to the kayak for another five minutes and then gave it everything I had and finally, I got on top! I was out of breath, panting and glad to be aboard. And let's be clear, I'm no couch potato. I can still paddle 10 miles a day and at 6'2" am still under 200 lbs. Worn out. That stupid paddle leash got me.

Over the next few days I kept replaying that scenario in my mind, thankful I had done it. I had been arrogant about not turtling. I figured it would never happen to me. That all went away that afternoon. I was humbled by a paddle leash. Thank God that the water was warm and I had my PFD on. If it had been on one of my January outings when the water registers somewhere between 38 and 40 degrees, even with my PFD I could have died. The chill of water that cold takes your breath. You hyperventilate and usually end up gulping in water. You can drown while you are floating. If that doesn't get you the hypothermia will. The only way to survive the water in the winter is to get out of it as soon as possible.

You need to know how to get back in your kayak whether it's warm or cold. Things can go wrong. People die. If all you had to know to survive was how to get back in, wouldn't you do it? That is why I implore you to turtle now! Learn while it's warm. Wear a PFD. Turtle. Reboard. Practice.

If you want to try turtling before you buy a kayak you should test one out at a Kayak Demo Day like the one Austin Canoe and Kayak is having September 15th and 22nd. Just don't forget to wear a PFD.


For a video check out the link below. This isn't mine but is very helpful.Credit to Ken Whiting of Kayak Fishing Tales.






It's Hot Outside, Do I Really Need That Lifejacket?

I can't tell you how many times I hear the question, "It's really hot! Do I HAVE to wear my lifejacket?"
This is usually followed up by a bold declaration of "I'm a good swimmer."

I hate that. I know people can swim but what can you do in a state of shock, tangled in a trotline, in really rough water or with no one around? Unfortunately in 2007, 107 people didn't get to answer that question. They perished during canoeing and kayaking outings according to the US Coast Guard. The USCG has also stated that 90% of these people were not wearing a PFD. What if 96 people could go home at the end of the day instead of their next of kin getting the worst news of their lives? Wouldn't it be worth it?

It won't happen to me.

Those are the last words spoken by many victims. They are also spoken by "tough guys" everywhere. Please, you are not immune to drowning. Your family wants to see you again. Don't risk it.

So what's the solution Mr. Paddle/Fish?
I'll give you two recommendations.

#1- Wear it. It can't save you from the truck or from the storage in the hull. Just wear it.
#2- Choose a versatile PFD.

I do not recommend buying a PFD sight unseen. I am NOT saying don't buy one online. Great deals can be found at places like Austin Canoe and Kayak, Colorado Kayak Supply and Astral Buoyancy. There are all different fits, styles, prices and types. Later this week I'll introduce you to more specifics and make some paddling type recommendations but for now, go to a local shop and try them on. Grab one of the paddles and practice that motion while wearing the PFD. Does it rub? Does it ride up. Now sit down. Where does the padding hit? Become familiar with types, brands and more and then focus in on one or two. DO some internet research and find the best deal. Make sure that when you buy one it has a 30 day return policy just in case but most importantly, WEAR IT! Everytime. All day. In Texas the weather is over 100 degrees almost all summer but I am wearing that PFD all day every day. If it's too hot for you to wear it, don't go. You are a lot safer on your couch than on the water without a PFD.


Items You Need. No, Really, It's the Law

In the state of Texas, you don't have to register your kayak in most cases. If it has a motor, trolling or otherwise yes, but in most cases no. Here is how it reads:


The following vessels when on Texas public water are required to have current registration, including when docked, moored, or stored.

  • All motorized boats, regardless of length;
  • All sailboats 14 feet in length or longer or any sailboat with an auxiliary engine(s); and
  • USCG Documented vessels (New — see section below).
  • Exempted vessels — Non-motorized canoes, kayaks, punts, rowboats, or rubber rafts (regardless of length) when paddled, poled, or oared and sailboats under 14 feet in length when windblown. Adding an outboard or trolling motor to one of these types requires titling and registration.
  • An exempt boat may have previously been titled as a motorboat. You can check whether a title has been issued for free – Query Ownership
That is great news! Slow down there buddy. Just because you don't have to register your boat (as long as you meet the above criteria) doesn't mean you can stroll down to Austin Canoe and Kayak and pick a boat and a paddle and be on the Colorado River before sunset. There are some other things to look at within the laws. 

Just to get on the water you need to read this:

All vessels, including canoes and kayaks, must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V wearable PFD for each person on board. A Type V PFD is acceptable only if used in accordance with the specific instructions on the label of the device.

Need some help picking one out? Click here or here. And if you want a direct link to a recommended manufacturer? You should check out Astral Buoyancy. PFDs are what they do. American designed products for the roughest waters in the world. If you need to float, you need an Astral. 

If you are going to paddle at night:

Remember that you must carry one bright white light that can be exhibited in time to prevent a collision. It is recommended that you carry a lantern, flashlight, or other attached white light that will be visible from 360 degrees. Regulations state that canoes, kayaks, and all other manually driven vessels shall exhibit sidelights and a sternlight, and shall exhibit at least one bright light, lantern, or flashlight from sunset to sunrise when not at dock.


Need some help? For the absolute best you need to look at the YakAttack Light. You can find it here with a Ram Mount. It also has a hi-vis flag so people will see you during the day as well. 


A general warning to have your safety items:

Operating Vessels without Required Equipment is Prohibited - No person may operate or give permission for the operation of a vessel that is not provided with the required safety equipment. An operator may not permit a person under the age of 13 to be on board the vessel while the vessel is underway if the person is not wearing a USCG approved wearable PFD. Marine enforcement officers regularly perform vessel safety checks to ensure the safety of boat owners and passengers.

One more thing you will need by law:

Any vessel less than 12 meters in length (39.4 ft.) is required to carry a whistle or horn, or some other means to make an efficient sound to signal intentions and position in periods of reduced visibility.


As you are thinking about total purchase price, a weekend trip down the Guad or just a play day at the lake, make sure you have a PFD (life jacket),  whistle, and if paddling at night, a 360 light. 

Stay safe, not only will it save you money but it might save your life!










Safety Whistle
Astral Buoyancy PFD the Willis
YakAttack Light

Paddles: How Do I Choose?!?

One of the first questions a first time kayak owner asks is " What paddle should I get?".
"I could tell you but it probably wouldn't be right" or some variant is usually my answer. The problem is not every paddler has the same boat, do the same things, are the same height and have the same financial resources. A few resources exist but usually it is a recommendation or a price point that causes a new kayak owner to buy the paddle they get.
Folks, this is the engine to your kayak! Please choose wisely or we might end up seeing you taking a bath on your purchase as it withers away on craigslist.org. Do you know how hard it is to recoup your money on a Pelican kayak on CL? Better luck in Vegas.
The paddle can make or break the experience but it is often thought of as, well, an afterthought.
I'll tackle a few tips and techniques for choosing a paddle here but the important thing is, go try one in the water. Places like Austin Canoe & Kayak  have a demo day coming up September 15th. Go try one after you narrow it down. It will be well worth it.
This is done from a fisherman's perspective but can also apply to touring kayaks and general recreation.

Length: Paddle length is tricky but maybe this will help. Find a paddle at a shop and stand with it at your side vertically. Now reach up with one hand and curl your fingers around the top of the blade. If the paddle hits you in the palm, it's probably a bit short. If you can't reach the end, too tall. But hang on! Keep reading. Take into consideration the width of your kayak. If you are in a boat wider than 26" you need to bump up a size. Paddles are typically measured in centimeters and range from 210cm-240cm and usually by 10cm increments. At 6'2", I need a 230cm paddle, (monkey arms, I know), but I also paddle two wider kayaks at 31" and 36" so a 240cm is really best so I don't spend all day playing the drums on the side of my yak with my new paddle.

Blade Style: There are basically four categories of blades. You have wide and flat blades, narrow and flat blades, wide and scooped/winged blades, and narrow and scooped/winged. Variations are all over the board for these but two things are needed to decide properly. The wide blades are going to give you more power. They move more water and can allow you to turn faster, accelerate in choppy water better and fight the weather. These work great for fishermen because of their versatility. They also work better in wider boats, which are typically heavier and require more to move them. Narrow blades are more efficient. If you are paddling more than 2-3 miles in a day you might think about this option. Just understand if you are in a big, heavy, wide kayak, the advantage of the more efficient paddle is nullified. The decision about a flat blade versus scooped/winged blade is up to you. Sides are split as to added efficiency etc. I will say however that a flat blade is typically more durable for fishermen when used as an alternative to a push pole.

Material: Blades and shafts can be made of aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber, fiberglass, wood and a host of blends. Carbon fiber is lighter and can reduce weight for a long day on the water but if you are fishing oyster beds or rip rap it can make your paddle into splinters if you aren't careful. At this point let me say, I would recommend if you are buying a carbon fiber paddle, invest in a push pole or backup paddle so you don't cry when it breaks. And it will break if you abuse it. Aluminum and plastic are durable but usually heavy. These are also cheaper alternatives and what most folks will be using on the water. Nothing wrong with that! Just understand you will work harder throughout a day than you would with a carbon.

Weight: Since we are talking about it above let's continue here. Typical paddle weight is between 20-40oz. It doesn't seem like a ton of range but after a few thousands strokes, your shoulders and back will let you know the difference. I recommend the lightest, most durable paddle you can find for you situation. Durability and light are usually not synonymous so this is a decision that needs to be weighed carefully.

Cost: So many variables exist when you talk cost. All of the things mentioned above will play into it. Paddles range from $29 to infinity. There is a huge difference between that Academy $29 paddle and a $199 paddle from a name brand. There is much less difference between a $200 paddle and a $700 paddle as far as performance, materials etc go. The sweet spot for a very nice paddle is usually from $149-$229. This isn't in everyone's budget so buy accordingly.

Shaft Style: I won't spend much time on this but the new line of thinking is that a bent shaft puts less torque on the wrist and arms throughout the day, especially for inexperienced paddlers. A straight shaft works for most folks.

Brands: If you spend your time on the clearance aisle, some of these may be new to you. Check out the full line at places like Austin Canoe and Kayak, Colorado Kayak Supply and others. Some names you should know are Werner, Bending Branches, Aqua Bound, AT, and Carlisle.

That's about it. I've poured it all onto paper for you so now you just have to try one or twelve. Find a demo day and go. You can thank me later.












Astral Brewer- Initial Thoughts

The Brewer:

For weeks I have been hounding on about wanting a pair of these all purpose, kayak, water, casual style shoes from Astral out in North Carolina. And today, they came via FedEx to my door. I had read about the multiple drains, non-skid tread, fold down heel, and durable construction. I had heard about the sheer style, design and cool look. I heard all I needed to hear. After connecting with @AstralBuoyancy (Astral) and
@CKS_Paddler (Colorado Kayak Supply) on Twitter, I found out they had them in stock and ready to ship. That was all I needed to drop my money on the virtual counter and say "SEND THEM!".

I asked Emily last night if she knew what tomorrow was? She said "Tuesday". I said yes but what else? She said she didn't know and I said, "It's Brewer Day!!!". To say I was excited with anticipation for the FedEx truck to arrive is a vast understatement. But enough gushing. On to the thoughts:

This shoe is finely crafted. The material mix is both durable and versatile in the environments I'll be fishing in. It is also a good looking shoe! I don't have to be shin deep in a flat somewhere to wear these shoes. As advertised I can get out the surf and into the shops without changing shoes. The interior sole has a cushiony soft feel much like some of the popular footwear out now but with an alternating pattern on the interior, you should see reduced slippage and higher grip from the inside out. And speaking of grip, that out-sole is ridiculous! It gives good grip but putting moisture to it just activates the gripping power and furthers your adventures with better portage capability on those slick limestone rocks we have here in Texas. For the fashion savvy the Brewer comes with alternate laces so you can chill it down or spice it up depending on your mood. The fold down heel is a nice touch to convert these lace ups to slip-ons quickly. While we are at the heel, the big drains in the back will keep the weight to a minimum and with the front rocker drains as well, you'll have to find somewhere else to store water. I put these shoes on and immediately it felt right. I appreciate the availability of laces to fit them tighter to my feet when in current. Most shoes and sandals don't offer that and most guys fish the surf in some heavy boots or neoprene, neither of which is a good option in the extreme heat of Texas in summer. Tennis shoes are ok but they drain slower than a swimming pool and are not made of water friendly materials. In all fairness, I haven't fished in these yet. I plan on putting them through the ringer in a couple of weeks down at Jamaica Beach on the Texas Coast. I'll report back then with performance results but until then, here are some shots of the shoe.

The durable material close up as well as the Astral logo
Good looking water shoe!

Alternating insole pattern
Out-sole Super Tread
Drains and the Rocker
Heel drains and the fold down heel. Also a good look at the tread depth
The fold down heel should you need it

Chris Payne's Paddle/Fish


I've been fishing over 30 years and the majority of my time on the water has been spent in Texas with the occasional trips out of state. In 2003 I bought my first kayak and a new era in my fishing life was born. I learned the ropes quickly about gear, paddling, fishing, packing, safety and got a degree from the school of hard knocks with a major in kayak fishing. I learned a lot of ways to not do something.

I love kayak fishing. That's the bottom line.

As of today, I work with only a few companies. When I  endorse a product  or business it is one I use daily. I can't support or be supported by something I don't believe in. I want to save people the trial and error expense that I have already paid. I will do some product reviews, give thoughts on certain innovations and even share a few fishing secrets along the way. Thanks for reading and I hope you like the website enough to share it with your friends!


Chris Payne