Fishing Kayak Care Must and Must-Nots: Care Through the Seasons


You’ve made the investment, loaded and unloaded and loaded again, and paddled or peddled your new kayak to some grand fishing holes this year.

A fishing kayak opens up a world of possibilities; they are a silent predator on our lakes, rivers, bays, and oceans, sliding and gliding right over big bass nests and buried carp. As one of my most treasured possessions, I know you must love your ride.

When you park it for any length of time, the same thought nags the back of your mind, same as it does mine: Am I doing right by my fishing kayak?

Well, I’ve learned a few kayak care must and must-nots over the years. There are some special maintenance and storage considerations for a fishing kayak in particular; let’s get into the details.

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What Makes Your Fishing Kayak Different?

Fishing kayaks must be durable, well-balanced, and comfortable. They tend to have a wide build, prioritizing plenty of storage and seating options over speed. For these reasons budget fishing kayaks are most commonly rotomolded high-density polyethylene.

Their one-piece construction lends to a sturdiness that other builds don’t offer. Many are even capable of allowing anglers to stand while casting and reeling. They’ve got more room for attachments, accessories, and toys than my budget would ever allow!

Why does it matter?

Maintenance for rotomolded high-density polyethylene kayaks is relatively simple, yet extremely important. A hole in one of these is easy to prevent, but very difficult to fix.

The polyethylene acts as plastic would be expected to under the sun or heat. It may sag, accept indents from harder materials and even remold itself against carriers or other storage conditions. A scratch or scrape will burl out like soap and create drag on an already heavy, difficult to maneuver vessel.

inflatable canoes and fishing kayaks front of garage

Summer is for Wear and Tear

There is a silver lining due to these properties. Problems that you run into due to sun exposure and heat may often be fixed by sun exposure and heat. Burls and scratches can be smoothed out with a small heat source such as a hairdryer.

Indentations from supplies, gear, and racks can often be lessened and sometimes completely reversed with the same treatment. Sag and remolding can be fixed on a warm, sunny day by positioning the kayak so that gravity or straps will pull it back to its most seaworthy shape.

Winter is for Maintenance

Sun is our enemy and the most important yearly project for my kayak is re-upping its UV protection. Polyethylene will get hard and brittle the longer it is exposed to the sun. You can see how this could be a huge problem for a vessel intended to be semi-malleable. The next large rock, stump, or dock you knock into may be your last.

The only solution is prevention, and I prefer to address this issue is around my winter kayak fishing when there is a chance she is completely dried out. There are a couple of good UV sprays available, and it’s not a very expensive project. Remember to UV spray your fishing kayak both inside and out for the best results!

If you happen to have a fiberglass fishing kayak (lucky you!), wax is the best solution for protection from the sun and water.

fisherman kayaking on a lake near snow capped mountains in winter

Spring and Fall are for Cleaning

I don’t know about your fishing kayak, but mine gets the most water time in the temperate seasons. A spring clean after winter storage, or a fall cleaning after a long season with mild soapy water will increase the life span of your kayak.

Be very cautious of using anything abrasive. Remember, this is soft plastic we’re dealing with. The rest of these two seasons may include heavy use, and there are some things to keep in mind while the fish are biting.

Try to dry out any fabric gear or bungee and cordage in between trips to keep dry rot from setting in. I also pretty regularly check my rudder system for debris and wipe it down to keep it working as efficiently and damage-free as possible.

If possible, it’s nice to hose the whole thing down while it’s still wet after a trip, then let it dry on the way home. There aren’t always hoses where we’re fishing, so I try to remember to at least knock the mud off when I get home.

Prevention Always Comes First

Because fishing kayaks are rotomolded high-density polyethylene AND sometimes oddly shaped or especially wide, it is very important to size your kayak carriers appropriately. If the carrier is only sized by weight it will be necessary to call and get width specifications as well.

Recreational kayaks may be thinner vessels for their weight and you could end up with a rack not quite large enough for your fishing kayak.

This will cause indentations and remolding, just from transporting your kayak on a sunny day! I apply the same considerations when storing my kayak.

fisherman with sit inside kayak preparing for fishing trip

To Cart or Not to Cart

Accidents happen, but dragging your fishing kayak on the ground is asking for scratches, indentations, or even holes. Fishing kayaks are traditionally much heavier than recreational or whitewater kayaks.

Either carry by the handles, overhead, or consider a kayak cart. These little contraptions flip right up onto your yak for easy storage, kind of like a portable hand truck. Carts are light and convenient these days, and will surely save your back and keep you out of trouble.

The only downside is that they may take up some tackle box space, but protecting your fishing kayak from rocks, stumps, and debris while maneuvering around the shore is something to consider.

Which Way is Up?

It is a common argument among kayakers whether to transport right side up or upside-down. I am on the upside-down team.

I like that the water drains quickly, it rides flatly on its top edge and the creepy crawlers find a less pleasant place to make camp, even for short stretches of time.

If upside-down is also your preferred method of transport, you’ll want to take the width at the top edge of your kayak and make sure it fits the width of the base of your carrier.

A carrier or storage rack can be less wide for upright storage, depending on the type you end up with. Transporting on a sunny day, upside down on an undersized rack can cause all the same issues as an undersized storage rack i.e. indentations remolding.

Anglers on break: long-term storage.

All serious angler jokes aside, sometimes we have to put the yak up for the season. You’ll want to start with a very dry kayak. Water can not only cause mold issues, but freezing water can actually cause cracking.

I think it is pretty well agreed that long-term storage requires an upside-down approach, especially if outside. Pest will move right into a right side up kayak, sometimes even chewing through the hull to build nests.

If you must store right-side up, make sure your cockpit is completely covered to keep water from settling into a water-tight area.

car with two fishing kayaks on the roof rack

Rack Attack

There are several prefabricated racks for sale that will do the trick, of course, but building your own cradle can fit your needs for half the price. We’ve already pretty extensively covered your number one rotomolded high-density polyethylene kayak enemy: the sun.

If you can’t fit your storage rack inside, you’ll at least want it in the shade.

A tarp or thick plastic can do the trick, but I would consider constructing a frame to give it a little distance from your fishing kayak.

Condensation can get trapped between a tarp and the hull and cause some of the same issues as direct exposure.

What About the Gear?

I like to treat my fabric accessories (seats, boxes, cordage, and bungees) with a bleach-free fungicide when they’re going away for a little while. Always check your emergency kit, did you use anything that needs to be replaced? Are there expiration dates to consider?

Put fabric gear through the motions and check for dry rot. This includes your life vests! Don’t forget to pull on the straps and check for holes.

Check if any hardware has come loose or is starting to come loose from your rail systems and rigs. The last thing you want is your fish finder at the bottom of a lake or your kayak paddle beating you down the rapids due to a halfway-gone bolt.

Anyone can make space for their seats and accessories inside and they definitely should! Keeping this gear dry and out of the sun is even more important than the hull for longevity. If you’re like me, half your money is in the accessories. Let’s protect your investment!

Overall fishing kayaks are some of the sturdiest and easy to care for builds. After all, we’ve got fish on the mind, not what type of plastic we’re paddling around on. They are broad, malleable, and well-balanced.

Summary

In summary, our biggest enemy is the sun, and UV protection, both by treating with a spray and correct storage and transportation measures, is our top priority.

Storing your kayak when not in use takes some consideration, especially when potentially exposed to the elements. After that, a fishing kayak is an easy to care for, tough hulled, comfortable float.

There’s no need to go fast when the fish are biting; the tug is the drug if you know what I’m saying.

How much work do you put into your vessel every year? Do you baby your baby or is fishing kayak maintenance the last thing on your mind?

I’d love to hear your kayak care tips and tricks, and whether your checklists follow the same seasons as mine. Let me know how much work you put into your ride!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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