Pedal vs Paddle – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

There have been an influx of pedal drive players to the kayak fishing market over the past few years. Folks swore up one side and down another that they’d never be in a pedal-propelled kayak … but changed their tune as new players entered the field. Full disclosure: I’m part of Jackson Kayak’s factory fishing team and naturally am biased toward the products I’ve been fortunate to see from concept to completion here at our factory in Sparta, Tennessee. One thing remains constant, however – a desire to have the right equipment for the right job. With that in mind, lets take a look at pedals and paddles … and realize that the right equipment for the right job isn’t always as simple as A or B.      

Paddle Prowess

The paddle is an extension of the kayak angler’s arm. Need to make a quick adjustment? Snap up your paddle, and a quick flick of the wrist turns you effortlessly in current back toward your target. Need to shove off at a shallow launch? Drive that paddle into the bottom, lean solidly and know you’ll be drifting away in moments.

pushing off launch I

Portaging up a dicey bit of river? Your paddle works as a walking staff. I use a four-foot length of bungee dock line carabineered to the bow handle of my kayak to drag with one hand and, with the other, am stabilizing myself with my paddle while scrambling up and over slick river rock to my next fishing hole.

climbing to the next fishing hole

dragging Jackson Kayak Coosa up a skinny creek

Standing and fishing? Micro-adjustments are no problem – bend at the knee, scoop up your paddle and make your move.

standing and paddling JK superfishal Werner Paddles

Wind pushing you into a pile of rubbish on the water? Shove the blade of your paddle into that mess and scoot away.

pushing off standing timber and paddling away

Your paddle is a critical piece of your gear; make sure you choose the very best you can afford. Your arms will thank you after logging hour after hour on the water. My personal go-to is Werner’s Kalliste – with a carbon fiber shaft and a paddle blade that has foam sandwiched between two layers of carbon fiber, its just … I can’t put it better than my Werner Paddles teammate Jim Sammons has said, “lively”. The way it springs back from every stroke combined with fifty years of engineering … make it genuinely essential to every one of my kayak fishing expeditions.

paddling JK Cruise 10 and landing a fish

Pedal Power

Enter the Coosa FD. As part of the Jackson Kayak marketing team and also as boots on the ground at the factory in Sparta, we had heard the complaints, challenges -and- compliments associated with a pedal-driven system. The Jackson R&D team responded, guns a-blazin. You want to be able to roll up onto your launch and not have to pull your drive up from your ride? No problem. The nature of our Flex Drive system is… well, why be rigid when you can flex?

coosa fd flex GIF

The daggerboard protecting the prop is part of where the magic happens. The whole drive system articulates up and into the hull of the kayak when you cruise over obstacles of any sort, and that includes your launch/landing spot/beach. Because the hull, drive and rudder system were designed around the shape of the boat and not an afterthought, the boat responds beautifully when paddled as well. Need to cover a lot of water from launch and be able to tie up lures on tourney day? No problem. Set your trajectory and tie away (shame you weren’t ready ahead of time!).

Casting from the Coosa FD

Its an entirely different set of muscles that are engaged. I fished out of the Coosa FD late spring of this year pretty hard, and my quads, hammies, glutes, abs and calves knew it! Optimal pedaling position is with hips rotated out … and seat adjusted to keep knees slightly bent at ‘full extension’. The Coosa FD has a ‘fully-deployed’ position (~10” of draft) as well as a ‘semi-deployed’ position (~5” of draft), which means when things get skinny you can kick things up a (literal) notch.

pedaling the Coosa FD through heavy timber

Have I mentioned our daggerboard before? It bears mentioning again. Because of its profile… it does two very important things. One, it adds to the stability of the ride. From a seated position, which is a ‘high high’ seat (about 3” higher than the traditional JK high position), it would be nearly impossible to flip this ride unless positioned uncomfortably in current. The daggerboard acts much as a keel on a sailboat – keeps you from being blown over, yes, but adds much stability to the ride. Wind is one of the biggest foes of the kayak angler, and the same daggerboard that houses the flexible drive shaft adds a substantial point of resistance against this enemy. Personally, I have pedaled up to the top of a drift in my Coosa FD while my partner Joey Monteleone does the same in his Jackson Big Rig on a windswept flat. I’ve found that I’m only about 1/3rd of the way toward the bottom of the pool when he’s had to pick up his paddle to start back to the top of the drift again when we’re fighting a stiff wind.

largemouth bass from Coosa FD

In Conclusion…

The first time I went out to try one of our pedal-driven kayaks I realized I’d forgotten my paddle in the other boat we were testing.

I panicked. My paddle was an essential piece of gear! I was shoved backward from the bank with the R&D team watching.

“Figure it out!”

I did.

Somehow I made it back to the launch in one piece.

I still need that extension of my arm. For quick, stand-up adjustments, for being a support system in when times are a bit of a drag, for quietude when I want to have my absolute stealth face on – crucial. My paddle isn’t an add-on; its an essential piece of equipment, and I demand premium performance of my gear. I’ll be in the right kayak for the job, as well. If I’m covering distance and sitting, staging, fighting on a big windswept lake, I’ll probably be pedaling. If I’m in a skinny-water tributary or creek, I’ll be in my Coosa. Choose the right tool for the job! Tradition and innovation can indeed co-exist. Anything that adds efficiency and enjoyment to the experience is worthwhile. You can have chocolate and vanilla ice cream … and both are delightful.

River smallie from the Coosa FD

Paddling at Rock Island, creeping up on fish

paddling down rapids in Jackson Kayak Coosa HD

healthy smallmouth bass from the Coosa

largemouth bass grin from Coosa FD

~ Bridgett Howard, Jackson Kayak Fishing Team

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