DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- You might think fishing from a kayak would be an uncomfortable, tippy kind of thing, but not if you use a fishing kayak that’s designed for the job.
“They are extremely comfortable to fish out of,” says Paul Weber, 64, of Detroit Lakes, who has been enjoying the hobby for several years now and has two fishing kayaks of his own. “These are not very fast kayaks, they’re kind of like barges, very stable. You can stand up in them if you want to — I don’t, but you can. They have straps to help you stand up from the seat.”
The sport seems like a natural fit for Weber, who owns a regular fishing boat and also loves canoeing.
“I’ve probably done 50 Boundary Waters canoe trips,” he says.
He's had more time for kayak fishing since retiring July 1 following a long career in insurance, first with Schiller Insurance and then with Bell Insurance. He picked up kayak fishing about four years ago from a great-nephew who's in his 20s.
“It sounded kind of fun, so I thought I’d give it a try,” he says. “Since then I’ve been doing it quite a lot — I really enjoy it."
Weber likes the quiet and serenity that comes with paddling on the lake, and appreciates the chance to get a bit of a workout while doing something he loves.
“I get a little exercise and paddle around,” he says.
A fishing kayak weighs about 75 pounds and is easier to put in and pull out of a lake than a fishing boat, whether there’s a traditional public access or not, Weber says: “If there’s any kind of public land, you can pull it over; it doesn’t have to be an access."
And, he adds, it’s easier to launch and land a kayak by yourself: “It’s a lot tougher to fish alone in a boat."
Fishing kayaks can operate in shallow water, so Weber is able to chase fish close to the shoreline and in other very shallow areas of a lake. He often fishes for largemouth bass, and early in the season bass are often found in about a foot of water, so kayak fishing works well.
“You can get right into the weeds,” he says.
He likes going after bass because there’s a lot of action involved.
“With bass, you’re always casting and reeling,” he says. “And the action when they jump out of the water is pretty exciting.”
He generally practices catch-and-release, as does his son, Austin, who is also a kayak fisherman. Weber's wife, Lisa, and daughter, Nicole Panzer, have also done some kayak fishing with him.
The kayaks Weber uses cost about $800, but he says it wouldn’t be difficult to spend thousands of dollars buying and outfitting a fishing kayak. Part of the fun for him is finding creative, effective ways to outfit kayaks for a lot less money. He bought a used trailer, for example, and modified it to carry two kayaks, along with fishing rods and other gear.
“Typically I bring four or five rods with me, all rigged differently, so you can just switch them out if you want to change lures,” he says.
Those rods stand like flag poles from holders attached to a plastic milk crate behind an adjustable kayak seat.
“Everybody has a crate (on their fishing kayak), and the rods fit on there,” Weber explains.
In his crate he carries an extra (scupper plug), a little sponge to bail with, rope, stringer, and bug spray: “Not much,” he says.
Small storage holds in the kayak contain rain gear and a battery for the fish locator, which he mostly uses to check water temperature early in the season and water depth as he hunts for bass. He has lights on a pole that can be put up on the rear of the kayak for use during evening hours.
“You try to make it as much like a fishing boat as you can,” he says. “Everybody rigs theirs up differently.”
Weber put brackets on the top sides for various amenities, like the fish locator, and has a trolling mount for his rod.
“It’s kind of scary to start drilling holes right away (in a new kayak),” he admits with a laugh. But they are designed to handle it, and it’s how people customize their fishing kayaks to best work for them.
The cup holder in front of the seat holds various lures within easy reach, and a waterproof plastic bag attached to the seat serves as a cell phone holder and license protector. Pliers and line cutters are also attached to the seat for easy access. Life jackets fit under the seat for easy storage during hauling.
“Everything’s smaller” in a fishing kayak, including the anchor, which is 3.5 pounds instead of the standard 10 pounds, Weber says. He developed his own anchor system using a 15-foot extendable dog leash. That anchor is attached to a trolley system he devised to move it back and forth the length of the kayak, which can prevent the kayak from tipping in windy weather.
“I look at YouTube and I get ideas and rig it up so it works for me,” he says. “All this stuff I’ve done for pennies, but you can spend hundreds of dollars on it.”
Walkie-talkies allow Weber and others to communicate in areas without cell phone reception.
“We talk back and forth,” he says. ”When I go fishing with my son, we separate and work around the lake in different directions.”
The walkie-talkies allow them to spread the news when they find fish.
Weber often fishes on lakes in the Detroit Lakes area, as well as at his family's cabin at White Swan Lake in Itasca County.
“The fishing is very good there, so it’s fun to go out,” he says.
But he likes to go to other lakes, as well. He uses the Department of Natural Resources' online “lake finder” tool to check out Minnesota lakes with good largemouth bass populations.
Fishing kayaks do have their limitations, he freely admits — they can be a challenge in windy weather, and they aren’t easy to transport in the Boundary Waters, where boat carts aren’t allowed on the portage trails from lake to lake. But overall, the joys of fishing from a kayak far outweigh any downside, he says: “I just like to get out and paddle around — it’s very peaceful."