I would like to take a moment to talk about the differences of kayaks, specifically length vs. width, and what that means to the person in the cockpit. People come in the shop all the time who have never kayaked before, completely overwhelmed by the number of boats they see.
The first thing I do is ask a series of questions, such as; "What do you want to do? Class 4-5 whitewater? Two week expeditions on the open ocean? Overnight camping on a flat-water lake? Day touring on flat-water, or simply general purpose float lounging at the end of the dock?"
What I'm really asking here, is; "How much do you want to learn about kayaking?"
Anyone who sits in a kayak should learn fundamental strokes & boat control, and proper safety techniques without question. Learning how to properly drive a kayak not only helps avoid frustration, but adds to the enjoyment of the whole experience.
For instance, most of the time I paddle a sea kayak. This boat is 17ft 8 inches long, and 21.5 inches wide. In general, a long boat with a narrow beam is more efficient in the water. What that means to me is that there is more glide with less work. I can paddle a sporty sea kayak into 25 knot wind, or strong current, and make headway with much less effort than a kayak say, 12ft. long and 30 inches wide.
"Is a narrower kayak less stable than a wide one?" I get asked this allot. The way I look at it, a wider boat generally has more primary stability and less secondary stability, as opposed to a narrow sea kayak that has less primary, and more secondary stability.
So what does that mean? It means you have to learn how to use a sea kayak, as opposed to hopping on a floating barge that an elephant could not flip. Loads of primary stability usually means less efficiency, which means more work to paddle, which equals less enjoyment. Primary stability is how stable the boat feels when your just sitting there, not moving. Secondary stability is how stable the boat feels on edge or in rough water. With just a little practice, primary stability becomes less and less important to how comfortable you feel in the boat.
I love kayak fishing, but I have to say whenever I see kayak fishing in the media, most of these guys are hopping on a power boat with their sit-on-top pigs loaded with electronics, live wells, motors, 50 rods...it's amazing. No wonder they need a ride out to the fishing grounds, they have basically made their kayaks as inefficient as possible. It's ok to love your gear, but is all this stuff really necessary to catch fish?
I cringe when I see this. Why bother with the kayak if you just need a float pad to hook your fish from. I get what they are going for - stability, but you know what? That width they need for stability is caused by the overloading of gear, and raising the center of gravity. KISS: Keep it simple stupid. I've hooked quite a few large (king salmon, halibut) fish from all kinds of kayaks, and all the pull those fish give you gets dissipated through the rod. My boat doesn't get tugged over at all, even when I'm offshore in a sea kayak.
The other reason people chose these incredibly wide and slow kayaks to fish from is that they don't want to learn about kayaking. I teach first time paddlers to kayak every day. 20 minutes into the class everyone wants a sportier boat with less beam and more efficiency. Everyone quickly realizes how easy and fun effectively driving the boat is, and how unnecessary the super wide floating barges called recreation, or flat-water kayaks are.
Don't get me wrong, sit-on-top kayaks are great for fishing. They allow you to place rod holders anywhere, and access gear & tackle with ease. You have to search hard to find the most efficient models, as most are made for flat-water recreation. There are a few sporty fishing kayaks out their from various manufacturers. The Prowler Trident 15 by Ocean Kayak is one of the sleeker angler kayaks on the market. They manage to keep the beam around 28 inches for 15 ft of length, which is a good combination of efficiency and primary stability. One day I hope to see a 16ft, 24 inch wide sit-on-top fishing kayak with high secondary stability and thigh straps as to utilize edge control, punch through surf, and cover long miles with ease.
People also ask if a shorter boat is easier to maneuver vs. a longer boat. Technically this is correct when keeping the boat flat while turning. A basic kayak skill, called edging, makes a longer boat have a much shorter waterline, in essence making an 18ft kayak just as, or more maneuverable than a 12 ft. boat.
Just a little learning and practice can open up a world of opportunities for the kayak angler, and you won't have to pay a charter boat captain to give you a ride to the fishing grounds. You'll get yourself there, which is the whole point of using a kayak!
PS- I'm working on a kayak fishing trip on the Columbia near Portland targeting coho salmon, or a return to the Nehalem for chinook within the next week. I'll post a trip report with kayak fishing tips, techniques, and photos ASAP!