Most anglers view boats as floating platforms that let them fish almost anywhere they please.
Such boats come and go like cars and trucks. Some just look prettier and get you places faster than others. Most claims of heartfelt bonds between angler and boat stretch credibility.
Then there are kayak anglers. They wear their boats. They might not get places as quickly as they would in a motorboat, but fitness is their fuel and muscles their propulsion. They aren't troubled by fuel taxes, and they're immune from inflated oil prices and Mideast embargoes.
The advantages extend to fishing itself. When fighting a big salmon, kayak anglers can point their craft at the fish and play rodeo, tiring it while it pulls them like a dogsled. If they want to try putting the brakes on a muskie, they can turn broadside and dig in their heels.
On days too rough to tackle big water, kayak anglers can sneak into small lakes or rivers that big boats never will navigate, no matter the conditions. And when conditions allow, they can fish big waters and fight monstrous fish face-to-face, creating memories the rest of us envy.
One man who knows all about such things is Cory Routh, president of Ruthless Kayak Fishing in Virginia Beach, Va. This nationally known guide and author has kayak-fished from Texas to New York City, but his guide service centers on the Virginia/North Carolina Tidewater region, including Chesapeake Bay.
Routh was in Madison last weekend at the annual Canoecopia paddle-sports exposition in the Alliant Energy Center to share his expertise with Wisconsin anglers. Although anglers fish from kayaks in Wisconsin, and Racine's Salmon-A-Rama tournament has had a kayak division since about 2000, most of us can learn much from a renowned East Coast kayak angler.
For instance, don't underestimate modern kayaks designed for big-water fishing. Routh uses a 14-foot, 7-inch "sit-on-top" kayak with a specially designed bottom for great stability. Routh said anglers who capsize such kayaks probably rolled out and didn't know how to get back in.
These kayaks have an open cockpit so anglers can keep their legs free, not tucked inside as with traditional kayaks. This allows anglers to turn halfway around to reach gear behind them. And they can swing one leg outside the kayak to hoist a heavy fish aboard after clamping its lip with a fish-grabber. Try that maneuver with a traditional kayak.
Either way, Routh says kayak angling starts with personal flotation devices. "If you have a paddle in your hand, you better be wearing a PFD," he said.
He also advises carrying an LED flashlight for emergencies and nighttime fishing. And to ensure other boaters see you, mount a white light behind your seat on a pole about 4 feet tall. During daylight, attach a blaze orange banner.
Next, strap a manual bilge pump to the kayak within easy reach, and keep a big sponge handy. A sponge removes water the bilge pump can't reach, and quickly removes fish slime and blood.
Space and efficiency are treasured, of course. Routh uses bow-mounted rod-holders with retaining rings to ensure he doesn't lose his rods should the kayak roll. It's also easier to unhook fish when rods are secured, not threatening to roll off the deck.
Whenever possible, use plastic watertight boxes that float. These boxes come in several sizes and designs to hold lures, smartphones or compact cameras. Second chances are everything to kayakers, and it's much easier to retrieve floaters than sinkers.
In addition to the standard plastic milk crate kayak anglers strap behind their seat for holding gear and mounting rod-holders, keep a triangular-shaped freezer bag in the forward compartment. Routh said a plastic bag turns fish to warm mush by midday.
He also suggests not using your kayak as an excuse to buy new fishing rods. Just make sure your old rods reach beyond the kayak's bow when you're seated. And when fighting fish, don't let them run beneath or behind you. Keep them out front.
Of course, with the money you'll save on gas by kayak fishing, it shouldn't be difficult to justify new rods at some point.
Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.