I recently spent a morning fishing with Kristine Fischer, the top ranked woman kayak angler in the United States. We weren’t fishing in kayaks, but that allowed me more of a chance to quiz her about the talents and tactics she employed earn her spot at the top.
One of the questions I asked was if she used a paddles or pedals on her kayak. Though double ended paddles are the traditional method of propelling a ‘yak across the water, Hobie Kayaks set the kayaking world topsy-turvy when they built a model with a set of foot pedals which activated a set of fin-like flippers under the boat to make the craft scoot across the water’s surface, hands free.
That was in 1997 and some say it was the innovation which helped propel kayaking into the popularity it’s enjoying now, over two decades later. Personally, I believe there are several other reasons, but the Hobie Mirage Drive system (and similar pedal drive systems on other models) is what has propelled kayak angling from being a novelty to a serious part of the angling world.
Fischer fishes out of a Hobie kayak with the latest version of the Mirage Drive. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with fishing from a paddle-only kayak,” Fischer told me. “Both styles require human power to make them move. But paddling is certainly more traditional and for some anglers, that’s very important.”
Paddling does provide worthy benefits over pedaling. Paddling provides stealth. The ability to sneak up on spooky fish is probably the most often-cited reason for choosing paddling over pedaling.
Fish don’t like anything out of the ordinary and will often vacate an area when they sense something is amiss. Quietly dipping a paddle in the water makes much less commotion than a pedal-drive and will allow anglers to slip in on unsuspecting fish.
“That and the ability to easily maneuver into super shallow waters, where spawning bass or bluegill are often found or when pike are in the weeds gives paddlers an advantage. The worst of peddle drives and the best of paddle only is the paddler’s ability to operate in really weedy areas without clogging up the drive mechanism,” she said.
“For me, in tournament situations or for a person wanting to combine equal parts personal satisfaction and fish-catching satisfaction, pedal drive is the way to go,” Kristine said.
Whether it’s a rotational pedal with a propeller or push/pull pedals with fins, pedaling provides on-the-water speed and efficiency. Successful tournament anglers are usually the ones who get to their spot first. Anglers who routinely fish large bodies of water will get the most out of their day using a pedal drive to get them where they need to be in the shortest time.
Paddling requires using both hands; so does fishing. If a person is paddling, they aren’t fishing, if they are fishing, they aren’t paddling.
With pedals, an angler can easily make casts and reel in fish while moving from location to location. Traveling is also a good time to tie on different baits and fine tune fishing electronics.
Anyone new to kayaking will need to get their arms, shoulders and other muscles into paddling shape to be able to spend a day on the water. Additionally, paddling efficiently takes time and effort just to develop the proper technique.
A pedal drive may be the best choice for novice kayakers. Pedaling takes advantage of naturally strong and powerful leg muscles and for many, peddling seems to be a much more natural or easier to learn exercise.
The gap between diehard paddlers and dedicated pedalers is slowly closing as more and more kayakers see the advantages of both methods. As companies continue to produce more efficient ways to propel their kayaks, tradition will always have a place.
Kristine handily outfished me on our excursion. I didn’t much care. As she put it, “Regardless, whether a fishing person chooses tradition or innovation, getting on the water as much as possible is the most important goal.