Many beginners, when considering their first fishing kayak, ask about tandems. They figure that they can take a friend along or significant other. I've always been of the opinion that tandems are a disadvantageous compromise for fishing and have advised people wishing to get into the sport of kayak fishing to get single kayaks. A recent trip has changed that opinion for some situations and there are applications where a tandem can be a superior choice. Here's how I came to this way of thinking.
This past summer a gentleman wanted some kayaks for a place he owned in the Caribbean contacted me. He asked my advice on which kayaks he should get. He was going to get 4. Since they were going to be an asset for his rental, which would broaden the appeal of his property, I gave it some thought before making a suggestion. His estate was on the Caribbean Sea and across the street was a sound. So the kayaks would be handling multiple functions. They'd be used for fishing, snorkeling and general recreation. So versatility was important. I knew that the primary sport fish was going to be bonefish. That means flats fishing. Even though I had never fished for bones I had seen enough fishing on TV and read more then my share about them to understand what the needs of the kayaks was going to be. I needed to make a choice that would best encompass all the parameters that guests might have.
I decided that 2 single and 2 tandem kayaks would be the way to go. There are a lot of tandems on the market. Staying with the versatility theme in my choices I decided that the Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 Tandem was the best choice. For starters it has 3-position seating. This means besides functioning as a traditional tandem - one person up front and another in the rear, it also has a middle seat position. Why is this important? When a tandem kayak is used as a single you need to be in the proper place on the kayak for it to perform well as a single. Having a dedicated area that has been molded with a seat pocket makes it much more comfortable and will allow one to use it comfortably for hours. A few years back we used a couple of Malibu 2s in Puerto Rico, as singles, while chasing Tarpon. So I was familiar with the kayaks attributes. Also being a tandem it was designed to support 2 people. It is wide and stable, which would make it a good snorkeling kayak and great for taking kids out who might move around a bunch.
Four of us ended up taking a trip to the Caribbean using the property above in early December. After all someone had to unwrap the kayaks and make sure everything worked properly. A tough job, but we were up to the task. While the plane was we flew over an area of flats that looked fantastic. Before leaving on the trip I had spent a lot of time looking over satellite images of the islands. I knew that there was a road that went to the area we had flown over. So our first morning, while it was raining, we did some reconnaissance. We were able to drive to the area. The next day two of our group decided to go out with a guide on a flats boat on the other end of the island. A buddy Scott and myself decided to hit the area we had scouted. It was very windy so we weren't sure if we could find fish or not but it would be a learning experience. We had to put the kayaks on the roof of the rental vehicle and which didn't have a rack. We only had a set of foam blocks that we brought from the states. The Marquesas wouldn't stack and the Malibus did so we took the Malibus. Older OK's are known for nesting (stacking) and this really helped in transporting them. It was very windy as the land afforded very little protection from the wind but we got in some great exploring. I did spook a few fish, which I'm fairly certain had to be bones. The next day all 4 of us decided to hit the area. We could only transport 2 kayaks on the van so it had to be tandems. We had already established, in the backyard of the house, that one person could stand up and sight fish in the front of the kayak while the other sat in the rear and paddled. We were eager to put it to use on the flats.
Stand up sight fishing is where the tandem has a distinct advantage over a single kayak. While the person in the rear propels the kayak, the front person, while standing, has a tremendous advantage over a seated person in spotting fish. Almost immediately Joey and Terry, who were in the other kayak, yelled that they spotted some tailing bones near shore. This was very encouraging as they were only a short distance from the launch in an area we didn't consider prime. Scott and me headed right to an area that we felt was an excellent spot for getting fish. There was an inlet that opened up to the sea. Just inside the inlet was a large flat. To the far side from the inlet, on the other side of the flat, was another inlet that led to a large mangrove lake. There's no doubt that any fish would cross that flat and the inlet to the lake would concentrate fish. Also it provided some of the best shelter from the prevailing winds. So that's where we were heading and as we rounded the bend of the point that separated the flat from the deeper open water we spooked a few bones and a large barracuda. As we rounded the bend the land provided some shelter from the wind. This lee produced flatter water that extended for about 20-25' from the shore. There was a small cove and then the slot that lead to the lake. As we drifted down the slot I spotted a bonefish swimming away from us. I gave Scott directions, fired off a cast, and the bone turned and rushed my offering. Five minutes later I had my first ever bonefish. What a blast. The fight was terrific but it was stalking the fish, which is more akin to hunting then fishing that excited me the most. All four of us fished from the kayaks using this technique in addition to walking the flats as we stalked tailing bones.
Another great feature of the tandems was the very fact that they were tandems. There was a constant prevailing wind that often got stronger as the day wore on. We often quit fishing because the wind became too strong. The rough water made it impossible to see the fish. If you can't see the fish while bone fishing it really isn't worth doing. Paddling against winds that sometimes reached 25-30 mph was much easier with 2 paddlers then when going solo. It's easier to cover more territory with two.
Bonefish are not the only flats species where this tandem technique will be very effective. As I type this article it's December and I can't help thinking about the applications. Here in the northeast we have both striped bass and blue fish that invade our flats each spring. I can't wait to stand up and spot fish in Jamaica Bay this May. The flats of Cape Cod in June are another terrific place as is eastern Long Island and the inside areas of New Jersey. A few years back we fished for redfish in Florida and this technique would work extremely well for reds, trout, tarpon, etc. There are flats from Maine to Texas where this technique is going to help anglers catch more fish.
The Malibu 2s were a great choice for the Caribbean but other situations might find different tandems better. It depends upon one's specific needs. One of the M2s shortcomings is its lack of storage. It's not a very large kayak with most of the deck space dedicated to passenger use. It has the ability to accommodate a few 6-inch hatches but they're not going to provide much storage. For the Caribbean it wasn't important but for many other situations there's going to be a need for more room. The M2 has a bigger sibling called the Malibu 2 XL. It's a foot longer. That'll allow 2 paddlers to spread out a bit more. It also has provisions for installing larger hatches. It'll accord two 8-inch rounds and a larger oval. The oval is sufficiently big enough to fit items like multi-piece rods, dry bags, soft coolers, etc. The kayak, like its smaller sibling, is a rock. Not much affects it, which is good. It has a higher weight capacity too. In the M2, Scott and me were sitting in water a lot, as our combined bodyweights was 440 pounds. Not a big deal in the Caribbean with warm water in sheltered, shallow areas, but not what I want in other places.
I recently heard that a couple of guys in the south pacific are using a Cobra Triple to fish from in this manner. What's nice about a triple, when used by 2 people, is the added length helps spread the fishermen out. Also there's a ton of storage, both on top and below deck. Large rectangular hatches give access to the interior storage. You could take a lot of gear along and could even island hop and camp out. Also being a triple you could take a third person along. That person could be another adult or a child.
Hobie has a new mirage drive model called the Outfitter. It's a tandem that uses their patented mirage drive. The mirage drive is a pedal system that's more efficient then paddling. It uses the largest muscles in the body to propel the kayak. Another great feature is it leaves your hands free for fishing. I haven't had the opportunity to use the tandem yet but I've spoken with others who have. Its rock solid and has a great area up front for standing. Also being a mirage drive kayak it's going to cover more water with less effort. What's really exciting is it'll allow the person sitting in the rear to hold the kayak in position in current and wind while the front person stands and casts. There are some places where I know this is going to be very helpful. Flats adjacent to channels along sod banks are one such place and there are many other situations.
Now you've got to rig it and that will depend upon the use the kayak is going to see. Obviously rod holders are the most important consideration. I would definitely put some flush mount rod holders in the kayak. If it'll be used as both a tandem and a single then place them where they will be useful for both applications. It might take several to cover all contingencies. The kayak might dictate where the placements need to be so you may have to compromise. Also removable rod holders like RAM, Scotty, etc. are great and offer a lot of versatility. You can purchase and setup extra mounts and then move the top units around depending upon the days requirements. If the kayak doesn't have paddle keepers then I would put a set on either side to accommodate both paddles. A fish finder is a nice addition too. You may need to have two places where it'll need to be placed so use a versatile system like RAM where you'll only need to have a ball at both positions.
So take a look at tandems, as they might be the right kayaks for your needs. If it's going to be your primary kayak for all situations then look to a smaller model. They'll be easier to handle alone both loading and on the water. If however its going to join a fleet then you can get more precise and choose a model that will fit a specific need