Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Choosing a kayak fishing paddle - a public service announcement

Today, I'm dropping a PSA. Thankfully, I am seeing "try before you buy" mentioned more and more to beginner kayakers. I can't stress enough that folks should find a few good options, try them out, and see which they like best. Too many of the reviews on the internet are biased in one way or another. However, this mentality should not stop at kayaks. Specifically, try a few kayak paddles before choosing one. I don't just mean brands or models, I'm talking lengths, weights, blade shapes and sizes, materials, shafts, costs, etc.

The camouflage Bending Branches Angler Pro in action in NY

For example, there is a current fad in the industry that everyone needs a longer paddle. I see guys bragging all the time about their new 260-270+ cm paddle, simply because they think bigger is better. However, although they work for some, longer paddles don't make sense for many paddlers. It really comes down to your paddling style/angle, body, and boat dimensions.

One of my favorite features on a number of current paddles is the adjustable ferrule. The ferrule is a mechanism in the middle of a paddle shaft that allows you to adjust both the length and/or shaft/blade angle. Generally, I use a paddle in the 240-245 cm range when paddling the ATAK 140, which is 34" wide for reference. However, in shallow, rocky rivers that require more maneuvering, I regularly use an adjustable ferrule and drop the length to 230 cm, as anything longer gets really annoying. Of course, this is where cost comes in, as most adjustable paddles come with higher price tags. The point is that everyone has a sweet spot. Some anglers, like me, value flexibility and performance. Others prioritize price, ergonomics, or other factors - including aesthetics.

Out of curiosity, I polled 36 avid kayak anglers, including guides, shop owners, and tournament anglers who fish all over the country in all types of water. The question was "what length kayak paddle do you use most often?" The options were as follows: less than 230 cm, 230 cm, 240 cm, 250 cm, 260 cm, greater than 260 cm, adjustable from 230-245 cm, adjustable from 240-255 cm, and "other". The majority (44%) noted that they used adjustable shaft paddles in the 240-255 cm range. The next closest vote was for adjustable shaft paddles in the 230-245 cm at 22%. So 66% of paddlers preferred adjustable shaft options. Of the remaining choices, 5 of the respondents chose 230 cm, 3 chose 240 cm, 2 chose less than 230 cm, 2 chose 260 cm (with one paddler noting that he prefers the longer paddle because he stands and fishes a lot), 0 chose 250 cm, and 0 chose greater than 260 cm. What is my point with all of these numbers? First, they suggest that the majority of serious paddlers prefer versatility. Multiple anglers noted that they love the adjustable ferrules on the Bending Branches Angler Pro and AT Oracle and Odyssey. If you are going to be fishing a variety of types of water, you may prefer that versatility too. The other thing I would note is that everyone has a preference, and it is based on trying various options. For example, one of the paddlers noted that they are over 6' tall and paddle 31"-34" wide boats. If you go by a paddle chart, it would recommend that he uses a 250-270 cm paddle. His preference was 230 cm for almost all applications. In the words of Captain Barbossa, those charts are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

My Bending Branches Sun Shadow crank isn't quite "high performance", but it is a joy to use

The bottom line is this, make yourself a list of priorities, go see your local rep or dealer or kayak anglers association (because I bet it is filled with folks who will let you try their paddles), and find the paddle that is perfect for you - not some random guy online. Tight lines!


  1. Far too often, I see paddlers that put all their money in the boat and rigging accessories only to buy the cheapest paddle available. Thanks for pushing "try before you buy"...it pertains to much more than boats. Also, paddlers should consider their paddling style (high vs low angle) when choosing a length and blade shape. For me, the single greatest change I ever made was paying a little extra for a significantly lighter paddle, which suits my preference for covering longer distances.

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