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Kayak Fishing - Paddles and Paddle Technique

Kayak fishing has gone through a massive growth in this country and with the popularity has come plenty of development in the field of kayak design. New Zealand leads the world stage in this area and with so many choosing to take up the sport we now have much greater input of ideas. One area that hasn’t changed over this time is paddle design and most new comers will not take them as seriously as they should. The paddle is a kayaker’s main driving force that propels them along and has a big influence on how well you travel to your destination. It will directly affect the speed that you travel and will further dictate how much distance the user can cover in any given day on the water. Because paddles are often under rated by users of kayaks for fishing they will continue operating their kayak with a paddle that came standard when they made the purchase. Nearly all new kayaks are more often sold with a basic standard bottom of the range paddle and this will come down to budget at the time. Such paddles are great for any beginner however as the kayaker starts to gain more experience the need to upgrade is of greater importance to facilitate increased strength and ability.

Blade Design

Generally there are two types of outer blade shape used for kayaking and these are asymmetrical and symmetrical. Symmetrical shapes are more designed for white water use where larger blades are required to grip water for repeated acceleration/deceleration. They are more forgiving of mistakes and as such ideal for beginners or recreational use. Asymmetrical blades are more suited to smaller blade sizes for efficiency and faster stroke rate reducing drag and energy use when touring. Sea kayak paddles are typically asymmetrical to provide easy entry and exit reducing torque during stroke. The overall shape of a paddle blade is broken down into four categories. The Diheral Blade is designed to give direction to the flow of water off the blade that reduces drag and fatigue by providing a powerful smooth stroke. A flat blade is a good choice for beginners and recreational paddlers. Flat paddle blades provide easy stroking, but lack grip on the water that more advanced paddlers prefer. A spoon cupped blade (wing) generates powerful strokes for increased speed and control. This type of blade is recommended for more experienced paddlers. The wing type blade will generate lift with a cupped shape and hi-drag for increased speed much like an airplane wing. The blade design generates exceptional power and stroke efficiency in all applications and requires certain techniques to be used. The type of material used in the construction of a paddle blade will also affect its overall performance. Standard type blades are made using glass fibre reinforcing with injection moulded polypropylene. This material is strong however blade flex can be a factor depending on the type of blade design. For example a standard blade design with Asymmetric cut and cupped shape will flex more than a blade that has an Asymmetric cut and medium dihedral shape. Carbon fibre reinforced injection moulded nylon resin blades are rock solid in terms of strength and are generally the lightest material used for paddle blades. Carbon fibre is by far the lightest and strongest material for paddling however it is not as durable.

Paddle Shafts

Standard shafts used for paddle construction are made from aluminium and this material is extremely strong and robust however it does tend to be heavier than other materials. The next step up from aluminium is mandrel wound glass/resin and this offers good strength as well as being more light weight. Above the resin/glass shaft is mandral wound pre-impregnated glass cloth offering more strength and slightly less weight. At the high end of the scale is carbon fiber which is very strong and the lightest weight material available. Most shaft diameters are twenty nine millimetres. A couple of other additions found on paddle shafts are connectors used for split paddles and it is a good idea to get yourself a second paddle as a backup in case you happen to break your main one on an extended trip. A smart shaft is another clever addition to a paddle and how this works is it allows the user to adjust blade pitch and angle as well as adding length to the shaft. I use one of these and it is very useful for allowing you to fine tune the angle of the blade to suit your paddle technique. 

Choosing the right paddle

When choosing the right paddle for you an obvious choice would be a paddle that offers more power for less effort because this configuration will allow the user maximum efficiency for the effort put in. When looking at the right paddle for you it is important to consider all the factors that will influence your situation. Some of these are boat width and the wider the kayak, the longer the paddle shaft length required. Your body height and paddling style can also influence the length of paddle shaft as well as the type of paddling you intend to do. Hi and low angle paddling on sit-on type kayaks are more often used for fishing and require paddle shaft lengths from 218 centimetres right up to 240 centimetres for extra wide kayaks. The best way to judge if the paddle is right is by trying out different length shafts with your technique and kayak. The blade should be mostly submerged when paddling and if this isn’t the case a longer paddle shaft may be required. A blade that is only submerged under the water will not be as efficient as one that is fully submerged. As well as choosing the correct paddle shaft length having the right blade width to match your strength and ability is also important. Standard issue paddles that have a blade design with Asymmetric cut and cupped shape don’t come in a variety of widths and are usually 180 millimetres wide catering for power paddling only. Blade types like the Asymmetric cut and medium dihedral shape suited to touring and long distance paddling offer more flexibility in width sizes. With such blades it is possible to choose a smaller width blade of either 165 or 175 millimetres because the lesser width is still just as effective due to the more efficient shape. As a general guide a blade width of 175 millimetres is suitable for experienced paddlers and the 165 width suitable for the beginners and women.

Paddle Technique

Now that you have the right size and shape paddle to suit your body, kayak and type of activity the focus can shift to perfecting the way a paddle is used. A large number of kayak fishing enthusiasts participate in the activity for extended periods of time using an incorrect paddle technique. I was in this situation once as well until shown how to do it properly by an experienced multisport paddler. For some time I went on many fishing missions in the kayak thinking that the way I was using the paddle was good until the correct method was employed. I see bad technique all the time with the kayak fishing tours and probably the most noticeable thing is bad posture. The seat with high back is put on the kayak to support the back and this is true when using a fishing rod and playing fish. The same seat can also work against the inexperienced kayak angler because more often they will use it to support their back when paddling. The correct way to paddle is not done by using the seat for support and it is necessary to lean slightly forward of the seat in an upright position so your upper body is free to move. When paddling the best way is to use your upper body as a pivot and most inexperienced paddlers will sit with shoulders square using the arms only which will cause you to become tired and fatigued much more easily. You have more strength in your upper body and by using it in conjunction with you arm movements it is possible to paddle faster and longer. How we do this is by swinging the shoulders as we draw the paddle blade through the water towards the rear of the kayak. While doing so it is important to keep the centre core of your body central to the centre of the kayak keeping everything balanced. The other technique we use in conjunction with the movement of the upper body is something known in kayak circles as the push pull technique. This is done by locking (straightening) the arm that is extended forward on the side which is going to be placed in the water. The other arm that holds the paddle out of the water is bent and as we start to draw the paddle blade back through the water using the shoulders as a pivot we not only push the opposite shoulder forward but also the arm on the same side until it is straight. The shoulder that has drawn the paddle towards the rear of the kayak now has a bent arm also which will bring the paddle blade out of the water on this side as you repeat the motion on the opposite side. It takes some practice to get this working just right and will at first feel unnatural to do however as you get used to paddling this way you will find that it is much easier to gain greater momentum and speed using this technique. It is a good idea to get your kayak fishing buddy to watch your shoulders when perfecting this technique as they will be able to see if your shoulders are sitting straight or moving. Over time it will become natural for you to paddle this way and you will become aware of the upper body and shoulders pivoting around. Once you have this mastered you can focus your attention to gaining even further paddle speed and this can be done by changing the angle of the paddle in relation to the water. As a general guide a high-angle paddling technique equates to more power and lower angle paddling is less powerful and more suited to cruising which is associated to recreational and touring type activities. Striking a balance with how high you place the paddle is up to each individual and their ability. One thing you should try and avoid is paddling flat out only to run out of steam requiring you to stop for a moment. Doing so will make you tired because stopping and starting again takes quite a bit of energy and it is better to set a pace you can maintain constantly. Getting your paddle and paddling technique correct is something that takes time but if you are serious about using the kayak for fishing then it is very important. Getting it right will ensure your safer on the water and give you the confidence to paddle further allowing you much greater ability to explore new areas.