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interesting to note the largest circulation of any paddling magazine. And kayak registrations have grown 331 per cent since 1999 in Minnesota...Jean
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Kayaking's newest niche
Pedal-mounted Hobies built for fishing get anglers where regular boats can't take them for a fraction of the cost
Chris Niskanen

Updated: 07/18/2009 07:38:55 PM CDT

This was not your father's kayak.

Last week, I slipped into a dark green 13-foot, 8-inch Hobie-made boat and tested the hottest new thing on the water: the fishing kayak.

The kayak was outfitted with live wells, fishing rod holders, built-in tackle boxes and cargo areas for fishing gear. There was a spot for a fish locator, too.

Stable? You bet. The Hobie Pro Angler is designed so anglers can stand and cast from it.

More intriguing was the pair of pedals at my feet. The Hobie kayak had a simple-to-use pedal system that propelled two fins below. The fins, designed like penguin flippers, drove the kayak forward. A knob near the seat controlled the rudder so I could steer the craft with one hand.

"We've talked to a lot of fishermen, and some don't know whether it's a canoe, a kayak or a paddle boat," said Jack Zweber, a Hobie salesman from Hi Tempo, a sports shop in White Bear Lake.

Zweber and I were on Square Lake in northern Washington County, testing a pair of Hobies on a fishing trip. Zweber paddled I mean pedaled across the lake to a weedy bay, tossed a spinnerbait into the water and quickly landed two northern pike.

A small craft that is easy to propel and handy for small lakes now I saw the allure of fishing from a kayak.

Kayak registrations in Minnesota have grown 331 percent since 1999. That's not a typo. By percentage, kayaks are the fastest-growing segment of boat registrations in Minnesota. The trend shows no sign of slowing. Kayak registrations grew 14 percent from 2007 to 2008, the most recent data available. "Interest in kayaks is just exploding," said Erik Wrede, water trails coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

It turns out the basic kayak can be redesigned to fit innumerable boater tastes and types of water.

There are whitewater and sea kayaks; there are kayaks designed for surf play and kayaks for slalom whitewater racing.

But much of Minnesota's growth in kayak sales has been in recreational and sit-on-top kayaks, which appeal to lake cabin owners or paddlers who want an easy-to-use boat they can load by themselves on a vehicle and paddle on small rivers and lakes.

The fishing kayak is a new entry. Although some kayakers fish and some anglers have used kayaks, the idea of a fishing-specific kayak is new.

"The kayak industry has woken up and realized the huge potential in fishing," said Tim Shuff, editor of Kayak Angler, a twice-yearly magazine published in Canada. Just 3 years old, Kayak Angler will publish 75,000 copies this month, most of which will be distributed in fishing and paddle-sport stores.

The magazine touts itself as having "the largest circulation of any paddling magazine in the world," and 95 percent of its readership lives in the United States.

Minnetonka-based "North American Fisherman" magazine reported in March that "anglers from coast to coast, freshwater to salt, are flocking to kayaks as serious fishing platforms."

The fishing kayak phenomenon began in saltwater, on both coasts, where anglers have landed marlin up to 200 pounds from a kayak. Some use them to prowl shallow tidal backwaters where other boats can't get.

Zweber said that is the appeal of kayaks for Minnesota anglers. They are being used on lakes where motors aren't allowed or lakes and rivers that are difficult to access with a larger boat. They have a lot of appeal for anglers who want to fish metro-area lakes that don't have good access.

They can be loaded and carried on a car roof rack. Zweber used a 67-pound Hobie Outback, while I fished from the Pro Angler, which weighed 100 pounds. The Outback sells for $1,700, while the wider and tricked-out Pro Angler sells for $2,135.

"I think a lot of it has to do with people who don't want to spend $20,000 on a new bass boat," Zweber said.

Although tackle boxes, livewells and anchors are standard equipment on many fishing kayaks, the next big breakthrough accessory will be trolling motors. One German company already is manufacturing one.

"We get a lot of people asking how they can put motors on their kayaks," Shuff said. "They figure if they can put a motor on it, they can cover more territory."

Trolling with a kayak? The Hobie pedal system makes it relatively easy. But Zweber didn't need to troll last week to catch fish with his kayak. He pedaled among the submerged weed beds of Square Lake, casting a spinnerbait and landing a half-dozen pike and a few bass.

Pedaling and casting?

Definitely not your father's fishing trip, either.

LOOKING FOR A NEW PLACE TO KAYAK AND FISH?

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has mapped 30 state "water trails" and 4,000 river miles for canoeists and kayakers. There also is the 155-mile Lake Superior Water Trail.

For information, go to mndr.gov/watertrails.

Hi Tempo, a sport shop in White Bear Lake, will demonstrate its Hobie fishing kayaks Tuesday on Lake Minnetonka, Lake Calhoun and White Bear Lake. For information, go to hitempo.com.

Check out Kayak Angler magazine online at kayakanglermag.com.

Interested in bass fishing from a kayak? Check out kayakbassfishing.com.

The Connyak BBS