Anglers discover simplicity, stealth and exercise in fishing kayaks

DULUTH - Some evenings, Rob Roningen doesn't want to mess with launching his big boat and trolling Lake Superior with a few friends and eight or 10 rods.

DULUTH - Some evenings, Rob Roningen doesn't want to mess with launching his big boat and trolling Lake Superior with a few friends and eight or 10 rods.

So, he loads up his 14-foot fishing kayak, plops it in the big lake and trolls along under his own power with a couple of rods.

"I've caught a few fish," Duluth's Roningen says. "It's a blast."

Forrest Rieder of Superior understands the blast part. Like Roningen, he's been using a fishing kayak for about four years, mostly on inland Wisconsin lakes where he fly-fishes for bass, northern pike and muskies.

"I like the stealth, the peacefulness, the closeness to the water," says Rieder, 57.


Roningen and Rieder have discovered the growing popularity of fishing kayaks -- stable watercraft that come with features designed for anglers.

"The whole idea is landing a big fish in a small craft," says Scott Neustel of the Ski Hut, which sells the crossover watercraft.

Fishing kayaks are 14 to 16 feet long, shorter than most sea kayaks meant for touring on Lake Superior but longer than the popular recreational kayaks meant for a cabin at the lake.

Fishing kayaks come with rod holders, anchor tenders and optional platforms for fishing electronics. They're wide and stable. Some models are sit-on-tops. Others are sit-insides. All are paddled with standard, double-blade kayak paddles. They range in price from $800 to $1,000.

"People have found kayak fishing can be a real effective way to fish rivers and larger bodies of water near river mouths," Neustel said. "I have a couple of friends who fly-fish out of kayaks. A lot of people use float-tubes, but in larger water, you can cover more water (in a kayak)."

That's one thing Rieder likes.

"I'm telling you -- the speed," he says. "I can paddle across Lake Nebagamon from the Dairy Queen landing to the beach in three minutes."

Fishing kayaks are not meant for the canoe country, with its portages between lakes. Fishing kayaks are not designed for portaging, and they're not as light as most Kevlar canoes. Still, Roningen gets around in his Mad River Synergy 14.


"I use it both on Lake Superior and inland lakes," he said. "I've taken it with me up to Canada and Red Lake and out to the Apostles (Apostle Islands)."

He puts a little weight and a lure on one line and trolls a shallow-running plug on the other line. Then he just paddles along.

Catching a fish in a kayak is much different than in a boat, he says.

"You're right there next to it," he said. "You bring it up, and you're eyeball-to-eyeball with it. You get hold of 'em, and it gets interesting."

Neither Roningen nor Rieder uses a net.

"It's just another thing," Rieder says. "I like to keep things simple."

Before he had his fishing kayak, Rieder fished solo from a tandem canoe. Riding higher in the water, it was more difficult to control in a wind. After fighting the wind in a canoe while fishing in Belize one day, Rieder tried a fishing kayak the next. Paddling in a stiff wind was "a dream," he says.

"It was much faster paddling, and the wind had no effect," he says.


He bought a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140. He likes its rigid seatback (as opposed to mesh), its anchor (controlled by a tether from the cockpit) and its low-profile storage of two fly rods along the deck. He always takes along two fly rods, one for surface fishing, the other for streamers.

Rieder also takes along a child-size canoe paddle for sculling to control his drift when needed.

Another option, Neustel says, is converting a recreational kayak into a fishing kayak by adding rod holders, an anchor kit and a work deck for a fish finder or tackle.

Some kayaks come with a trolling-motor mount.

"To me, that takes away the spirit of the whole thing," Neustel says. "If you have a motor, why be fishing out of a kayak?"

For Roningen, fishing from a kayak is neither better nor worse than fishing from a boat.

"You're not covering the amount of water," he says. "With my other boat, I'm using eight or 10 lines, but you're not getting the exercise or the experience of being in the kayak."

What To Read Next
Get Local