Five years ago, it would have been unusual to find someone fishing from a kayak on Kentucky's rivers, lakes and streams.
Now, a new kayak-fishing club is welcoming members and fishing kayaks are hot sellers as hundreds of people around the state take up the sport.
"It is an activity that has really taken hold here in Kentucky," said Elaine Wilson, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Adventure Tourism.
Enthusiasts say kayak fishing can be less expensive than motorized boating. They also point out that it's good exercise, and in a kayak, people can fish rivers and streams where a bass boat can't go.
Bluegrass YakMasters, a Central Kentucky kayak-fishing club, will hold its first open tournament April 6. Despite the fact that the club has not yet hosted an event, it has proved popular with sponsors, on Facebook and "people emailing us wanting to know how everything's going to work," said one of the founders, T.J. Strong, a Lexington bank loan officer who took up kayak fishing two years ago.
One of Bluegrass YakMasters' missions is to grow awareness of the sport for men and women of all ages through tournaments, organized outings, and the Internet.
"We deeply appreciate our waters and the fish that inhabit them," the group's mission statement says. "We strongly believe in the upkeep of those resources, and along with using only man-powered boats, we practice strict policies on immediate catch and release at all times."
Several members of the YakMasters fished at Beaver Lake in Anderson County on Saturday.
John Walters, an attorney, said at first, people converted recreational kayaks into something they could use for fishing and then manufacturers began making specialty fishing kayaks that are comfortable and have "sit-on-top" seating rather than the lower seat found in recreational kayaks. The fishing kayaks have rod holders and compartments for tackle.
Fishing kayaks are wide and sturdy enough that you can stand up in them and fish, Walters said.
"It's a more intimate way to be on the water," said Mike MacDonald, a veterinarian from Versailles. "You are closer to the fish. You are having a more connected experience" with the surroundings.
Tim Dunham, the owner of a printing company, said he began kayak fishing on the Licking River near Cynthiana. He said by taking his fishing kayak into secluded spots where motorized boats can't fit, he gets a better chance "to see otters, turtles and everything else."
Some fishing kayaks cost as little as $500. People who don't have the money for a $50,000 bass boat can still get out and enjoy fishing, said Adam Miles, a leasing manager for a homebuilder in Lexington.
"We sell more fishing kayaks than we do anything else," said Wes Coldiron, manager of Canoe Kentucky, a shop on Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County. Fishing kayakers say they like not having the costs of gas. Tandem kayak fishing boats are popular among those who want to take children along, Coldiron said.
YakMasters fisherman A.J. McWhorter, of Lexington, a marketing manager, said he likes the exercise that comes with kayak fishing.
"You have to exert energy. My boat has foot pedals that propel it under the water," he said.
All parts of the state appear to be seeing the sport's growth.
"Three years ago when I first got into kayak fishing, you could barely find a kayak at the boat show," Joe Maione of Louisville said. "This year in Louisville (at a boat show), they had a whole entire area set up with a pool for demos."
If you go
Bluegrass Yakmasters First Annual Open Tournament
When: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 6
Where: Cedar Creek Lake, U.S. Highway 150, Lincoln County.
Information: www.yakmasters.com, www.facebook.com/bluegrassyakmasters
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Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears