What Makes for a Kayak-Specific Rod?

A rod designed for a kayak should minimize the disadvantages of fishing from a small craft. Photo: Sato Custom Rods.

A rod designed for a kayak should minimize the disadvantages of fishing from a small craft. Photo: Sato Custom Rods.

By Kevin Nakada

Kayak fishing differs from powerboat angling in many ways. Obviously a kayak is manually powered with paddles or pedals and boats have motors. There are further differences such as the lack of leverage from a kayak and the inability to rotate your upper body 360 degrees. Given the disadvantages, we have to improve our tools where we can, especially our fishing rods.

RELATED: Why Kayak-Specific Rods are Hard to Find

Blank composition plays the biggest role in kayak fishing rods. When you set the hook on an 80-pound kayak the entire kayak moves towards the point of resistance, resulting in a sleigh ride. A 1,200-pound boat doesn’t budge. Depending on your technique and targeted specie the rod may need to be a softer/slower or more sensitive/faster action. Anglers targeting large game would prefer a slower softer action, usually a fiberglass or composite rod, to absorb the shock of fast strikes or large head shakes to avoid pulling hooks. Faster, ultra sensitive graphite rods are better for smaller game where presentation is critical and feeling the slightest bite is most important. Typically, kayak fishing rod blanks are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, mostly glass or mostly graphite.

Sato Custom Rods owner Brent Ikari and son Brandon battling it out with a yellowtail on a Sato Custom Rod. Photo: Kevin Nakada.

Sato Custom Rods owner Brent Ikari and son Brandon battling it out with a yellowtail on a Sato Custom Rod. Photo: Kevin Nakada.

Handle dimensions and material can be a chore to understand. Narrow it down a bit and first think about where the bottom of the grip will reside. Most of the time it will be resting in a plastic rod holder of some sort. When the opportunity presents itself and the fish of a lifetime is giving you the opportunity, you will need to get the rod out IMMEDIATELY!

By picking a thinner, harder, and rougher textured rear grip you will be able to pull the butt of the rod out quicker even in a wet molded-in rod holder. Tuna cord has all these qualities. It’s thin, hard and rough which makes it slide easily in and out of a rod holder. Hypalon is one of the least favored because it sticks to polyethylene and plastics especially when it is wet and pulled out at an angle. In order of preference: tuna cord, custom reamed hard polymer, EVA, cork, hypalon.

Sensitivity and comfort should guide the choice of front handle material. If you are looking for more sensitivity for presentation specific techniques, a denser material like EVA or even no grip transmits the energy of a bite from the rod tip to the hand very well. Comfortable grips, especially hypalon, relieves strained hand and forearm muscles during hard battles with big game species.

Don’t forget to consider the length of the grips! This is where many fishing rods on the market fail as kayak fishing rods. The rear grip should be shorter than standard. Working an artificial or winching on a hard fighting fish in a sitting position is easier to do when the rod butt is short. The fore grip can range from non-existent to two hand lengths. Any longer and the rod becomes unnecessarily front heavy. Typically I prefer little to no fore grip with presentation specific techniques and one hand length fore grips on big game rods.

The choice in rod guides is fairly simple and most relative to power boat angling. In general the braid friendly modern guides get the job done well for all anglers. These guides are also great for monofilament so they have a wide range of applications. If you are tackling hard-nosed big game, a more durable double foot brace guide is a better choice.

If there ever was a time to reinvent the fishing wheel it is now. With the number of options on the custom rod building market there really is no telling what will make up your own kayak fishing rod. No matter what, designing your own rod and landing fish on it is nearly as rewarding as kayak fishing itself.

Kevin Nakada is the owner and operator of the Sea Samurai kayak fishing guide service located in La Jolla, California. He has a number of years experimenting with custom rod building and employing unique designs with kayak fishing techniques in mind.

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October 6, 2014 7:28 am

I have had the pleasure of fishing with some very nice rods from Lutz Lures , owned and operated by Chris Lutz . His line of rods are sensitive and very responsive and feel pretty good in your hand . http://lutzlures.com/

David Mormak
October 3, 2014 5:26 pm

Jim, send some of those rods up north for the New Jersey Chapter of H.O.W.
I could us all the help I can get.
P.S. Thanks You for the great organization you started.

Kevin Nakada
October 3, 2014 1:16 pm

Just took a look at the rods Jim Dolan is talking about and they look great! It would be very interesting to see how they deem them ‘kayak fishing rods’. Anyway you have it, there were some great designers in the mix including Gary Loomis! Well done Temple Fork Outfitters!

Jim Dolan
October 3, 2014 10:19 am

Check out these kayak fishing rods – Through the combined efforts of Cory Routh, Dean Thomas, Fil Spencer and Gary Loomis, Temple Fork Outfitters has designed 5 rods built specifically to benefit “Heroes on the Water.”. A reduced fighting butt helps navigate the tight quarters and rod holders in your favorite kayak. Mainly for inshore and freshwater applications. Although Dean has caught some massive jacks and kings with them!

davd bauer
October 3, 2014 9:35 am

good stuff Kevin and some really good points , I have been building rods for 20+years but have been a kayak fisherman for the last 5 or so targeting manly bass and have found that the new graphite blanks ( I personally like Pac Bay blanks ) perform better in the yak and your right on as to being able to size the handle makes all the deference in the world , what blanks do you use ???

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