Anglers increasingly turning to kayaks to fish hard-to-reach spots
Josh Edmiston has a boat that never gets wet.
The Ebensburg native, now living in Jeannette, has a 14-foot aluminum craft in his garage that was his go-to bass boat. It hasn't left it in two years.
He's got a new love.
Edmiston is still wild about smallmouths, but these days he prefers going after them in a kayak.
“For me, it's just the ease,” he said. “You can take it out and launch it just about anywhere, so you don't need a regular boat launch. You don't have to worry about gas. You don't need a big truck to haul it around. You don't need a second person to help carry it. And they're great in shallow water, so you can go where other people can't.
“You can just pull up to any water, unload your gear and go.”
Lots of people appear to be enjoying those opportunities.
It's hard to say how many kayakers — and specifically kayak anglers — there are in Pennsylvania. But there's some evidence the number is trending upward.
Anyone who wants to put a non-powered boat on a Fish and Boat Commission-owned lake or use a commission launch needs a launch permit. Sales of those have increased. The commission sold 29,214 in 2010, 32,036 in 2011 and 40,662 in 2012. It sold 26,141 by June 30 of this year.
The commission doesn't break those down by boat type, said spokesman Rick Levis. But some national figures suggest kayaks are likely a big part of that.
Americans bought 78,600 new canoes in 2012, for example, said Ellen Hopkins, vice president of communications for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. They bought 239,500 kayaks. That was the sixth consecutive year in which kayaks outsold canoes by at least a three-to-one margin.
The growing popularity of kayaks among fishermen also passes the eyeball test when it comes to what you see on the water and in stores.
“The trend has turned definitely toward kayaks over canoes” on the Kiski River, said Neill Andritz of The River's Edge canoe and kayak rental of Leechburg. Many prefer them because they allow paddlers to sit lower on the water and feel more stable, he said.
Stores, meanwhile, increasingly showcase fishing-specific kayaks featuring built-in rod holders, places to mount fish finders and other angling accessories.
“Basically when guys like me started fishing from kayaks 15 years ago, we were using recreational sit-in kayaks. If you wanted to add something to hold your rods or a tackle box, you went to the hardware store and bought what you needed to make it work,” said John Oast of Bloomsburg, a pro staffer with Johnson Outdoors kayak fishing team, founder of the Pennsylvania Kayak Fishing Association and owner of fishyaker.com.
“Now pretty much everything you could want or need is available retail.”
Manufacturers are looking to sell those boats to a new group of fishermen, he said. Kayak fishing developed along the Pacific coast then spread to Florida and up the Atlantic shore, Oast said. These days, the freshwater fishermen of “middle America” are the target of potential.
The kayak anglers springing up aren't terribly organized just yet, he said, noting that “there wasn't much of a kayak fishing community up here” when he first moved to Pennsylvania in 2009. But that's changing, he said.
That's true locally. Edmiston and Noah Heck of Pittsburgh this winter created the Kayak Anglers of Western Pennsylvania to bring like-minded people together. It's exceeded their expectations, Heck said.
The group sponsors catch-and-release kayak bass fishing tournaments, with events already held on Pymatuning and Donegal Lakes and others set for the Allegheny River, Cross Creek Lake and Quemahoning Reservoir. Its online forum allows people to get together and fish, paddle and camp informally, too, Heck said.
“It's been amazing how many kayak fishermen we've found out there,” Heck said. “We've all been used to doing our own thing, or doing it with one or two other people. But there are a lot more kayak fishermen out there than we thought.”
The expectation is that, as word gets out, the area's kayak anglers will become even more engaged, Heck said.
In the meantime, Edmiston will keep on fishing and not from the aluminum boat in his garage. He's a kayak man now.
“It's just so much fun, especially if you hook a bigger fish on a calm day. They'll take you for a little sleigh ride,” he said. “I love it.”