Many variables inform choosing a rod for kayak fishing. Practical matters like storage and application, as well as the psychological factors like trust, all play a role. And then there is simply the matter of “feel.” That’s a subjective thing: sure, it’s made well, but does it feel right in my hands?
I spent three months testing various models from the new Yak Rods Black Line of casting and spinning rods. I fished them in neutral conditions during a fun outing and I used them in the heat of battle, during not one but several kayak fishing tournaments. And when I say heat, I mean that literally – I tested Yak Rods on days with combined air temperature and humidity over 100 degrees. Conditions test gear, just as we do.
What I determined was that YakRods are made by kayak anglers. The importance of that insider knowledge of our sport cannot be overstated. Their Black Line Series is innovative in its combination of features specific to kayak fishing with excellent components and overall design.
For an example, see this promotional video: https://youtu.be/RB9vJqEog9A
Product Overview: Components and Design Features
My review is focused mainly on two bait casting models in the Black Line Series. They are a model designed for heavy cranking and a model with multiple applications that include spinnerbaits, jigs and topwater. I have also used the spinning rod made for finesse applications but excluded it from this review for reasons of space.
First, a few facts about the Yak Rods bait casters. The company currently produces four models – the two mentioned above as well as two others: a cranking rod for jerkbaits/light crankbaits and a frogging and flipping rod. The rods are all built using St. Croix SCIV blanks, Winn grips and other high-end components. Yak Rods’ Black Series all use this mix of high end components, and there is strong reasoning for why design elements were mixed with specific components. I’ll later discuss how they add up, but first some unique qualities to note about how Yak Rods that will appeal to kayak anglers.
The first feature is the inclusion of an end cap at the butt of the rod. The cap balances the rod and provides durability over the course of all the times an angler places it in a rod holder, preventing wear. Even more unique is that the cap includes a built-in leash loop. Every Yak Rod comes with a “quiet tether.” The tether is 52” long when laid flat (it stretches, too), with a loop on one end and a metal clip on the other. Clip the tether to the cap and secure the loop to your boat and you will never lose the rod. This is an excellent bonus feature and one of the many reasons that set the Black Line Series above and apart other brands that manufacture rods for specifically for kayak fishing.
Double Locking Nut
The second feature is a double-locking nut that locks the reel into place on the seat. Over the course of a long day, a reel can come loose after hundreds of casts, and a loose reel on a casting rod can cost an angler a good hookset. When a reel detaches from a rod in a kayak, it is likely to go over the sides and into the water or make noise that scares fish.
Before taking the Yak Rods on the water, I tightened the locking nut firmly. The reels did not budge at all, even after several days of repeated use. I always check how firmly my reels are attached and the Yak Rods locking nut performed exceptionally well over repeated use.
Yak Rods co-owner Scott Oliver explained that the Sea Guide double locking nuts were something most companies do not add. “We ordered a ton of reel seats and evaluated each one, and the feature we really liked about the Sea Guide was the sensitivity of the material combined with the secure double-locking system that keeps reels secure.”
I also asked Yak Rods co-owner Tandi, about the decisions involved in mixing the other specific components, including the guides and blank. She said: “We combined components to bring the best outcome for the kayak angler. In short, the blank having better parabolic bend than most all graphite rods to keep fish pegged better beside the kayak. The full grip is important when things get wet so often. The micro-guide system improves distance and accuracy allowing for a shorter overall rod.“
To visualize the components in the Black Line Series, see this video: https://youtu.be/MoHn-Bk6Z6Y
I’ll get to other specifications below, but I begin with the tether and locking nut because I field tested the Yak Rods in different kayaks. One was a smaller, paddling kayak, the other a longer and wider fishing platform. The smaller boat is the ideal rig for certain waters where stealth is the key. But it’s a smaller kayak, with limited space, and I wanted to see how well the Yak Rods fit in and secured to a smaller kayak of a type more commonly used by recreational anglers, where space is a factor. The tether and locking nut secured the rod and reel without fail after days of repeated use and the long tether secured rods to the boat and also prevented awkward turns when reaching for the rods – it was as long as I needed it to be.
Field Tests: Bait Casters (Cranking & Spinnerbait models)
Time on the water is essential to product testing. You get away from internet hype and you see a thing for what it really is. Ideally, you test products in different environments, too, and I have several places I prefer.
The first is an area with good shallow water, long points and limited grass and structure. It was an ideal place to test the Yak Rods spinnerbait/jig model. The second is a lake that has deep water where I fish big crankbaits and jigs in the 10-20 feet depth range. These were my primary sites.
As I mentioned before, I focused on the spinnerbait/jig rod for the first outing at the more shallow area. I planned to throw both a large ¾ ounce spinnerbait and to also try ½ ounce chatterbaits and jigs. I was fishing for big largemouth bass and need to keep those bigger lures down in the water column.
The first thing I noticed was that Yak Rods have extraordinary sensitivity. When slow rolling a spinnerbait you have to be sure the blades are moving, but you also need a rod that’s heavy enough to set a big single hook. The right spinnerbait rod has a sensitivity in its action that sends the right signal through your arm to your brain. When a fish bites, that signal goes the other way to the fish, with conviction. I let the spinnerbait sink in 5-6’ of water and did the work, listening for the subtle thump of the blades. When it hit a rock or branch, I felt it stop, too, and when a small bass grabbed the lure on a long cast the rod loaded immediately, and the hook set was true.
I switched to a chatterbait to see if it would work well on the rod, and set up on a point with an old road bed that runs out across the lake. I was casting out to deeper water in the 6-7’ range, letting the lure sink until it touched bottom, and then retrieving it uphill. There were rocks along the way. Keeping the lure down to bump them and wiggle around them was the key. Here too, the rod sensitivity was superb: I could feel the blade vibrate and detect every stone.
A good-sized bass hit the lure about 5 feet from the kayak’s nose, but it didn’t get the hook. I didn’t over react; instead, I let the lure drop, then picked it up and twitched it twice to make it seem wounded. The bass returned and got the hook. It was only about 3-4 feet from the bow of the boat and I got to see how the rod handled a short strike. I drove the hook home, and after a good fight, I had the fish – a chunky 18” beauty – in the net.
I also fished a ½ oz. jig on the spinnerbait rod and caught several smaller fish on it from slightly deeper water. What I noticed was that the rod detected the more subtle bite of these smaller fish. That is really important when fishing a jig rod, and because I fish jigs year-round, that’s a factor to keep in mind when bass barely lift a jig in the colder months.
The first outing was a success. I should note that the spinnerbait/jig model is also rated for topwater, but I did not fish that style. I fished other applications that day with different rods, but the sensitivity and strength of the Yak Rods lingered in my mind. The first impression was very positive.
Day two was a similar day – clear, mild, with a light breeze. I was going to a different lake to fish deeper water with crankbaits, and wanted to wait until the bass left the shallows, and then grabbed the Yak Rod crankbait model.
Deep cranking is an important and popular application in many lakes. During the summer, water temperatures, fishing pressure and boat traffic drive fish off shore. Additionally, schools of forage fish also head for deeper water. The result is that bass find a comfortable layer of the thermocline and spend most of their time in that layer of water. If you want to catch them, you have to dig deep. That means long casts, keeping an eye on your electronics, and lots of searching for deep spots.
Heavy crankbaits can wear you out, so the right rod is essential. I prefer a long rod with a moderate action and medium-heavy power, and the Yak Rods cranking model advertised those specifications. But would the handle be right? A long handle can get into the underside of shirt sleeves when casting, and a handle that is too short doesn’t allow you to tuck it between your bicep and body to pin and play a fish well or provide leverage.
The Yak Rods cranking model was a real pleasure to fish. I don’t say that often about cranking rods in the summer. It is a strong rod and sensitive, but it isn’t too heavy or too light. The blank and handle communicate bottom features to your hand and you can feel every wobble in a lure. Most important, the 9.5” handle is not too long or too short. This is truly a rod built for kayak anglers.
I fished the crankbait rod that first day without success in finding bites, but I didn’t let that stop me. I would find them eventually, and I knew that when I did, it would perform well. When I did land a bass with it on a second outing, I hooked the fish in 14’ of water and I felt the bite as if it had happened 3 feet from the boat.
A final note about this first field tests: I fished the cranking rod from my tournament boat. It’s a longer, sturdier vessel. I wanted to see how the rods and leashes fit into those spaces where rods are further back and closer together and where casting can be done from both standing and sitting positions. The shorter handles of the Yak Rods fit well in my Yak Attack Black Pak’s rod tubes and also into a mounted rod holder. I also dared to store one in a rod holder that is molded into the Jackson Bite FD, with the tether attached. Here I found that by anchoring the tether farther back in the kayak, it eliminated excess leash and still secured the rod, while the stretch in the tether allowed me to comfortably bring the rod to my seat without tangles, hassle or risk.
At the end of several days, the Yak Rods Black Line series passed all of the ergonomic tests, they were secure and accessible in the kayak, and the spinnerbait rod even worked well with a chatterbait. Most importantly, the rods felt right.
Yak Rods’ Black Line Series delivers on its promise of combining high end components in a series of rods made for kayak fishing. The sensitivity of the graphite blank is balanced with high quality components to create a complete product. As Scott Oliver noted, “We looked at the whole rod, not just parts. We wanted rods that were kayak friendly and balanced, with components that improved the tactile experience of fishing. We want our rods to feel like a luxury experience.”
I also learned a lot about the Yak Rods company while using their product. First, the company staff is very responsive to questions about rod specs, shipping, etc. Second, I confirmed that the company is devoted to kayak fishing in a way that few small brands are: each rod is balances storage and security with balance and performance. Additionally, the rods look good – aesthetic elements are important in any product, Yak Rods please the eye and the hand, and every angler enjoys a sharp looking product made of high-quality components.
Finally, with these considerations in mind, Yak Rods aced the most important test: they earned my trust. When I needed a strong hookset in deep water or I needed to react quickly to a short strike near the kayak, the rod performed without fail, driving home hooks and bringing fish to the net. And above all, it felt good.
The rods are durable, they are made to stay in the kayak and they have an excellent sensitivity across the product line of spinning and bait casting models. The price point will be high for some anglers, but kayak anglers who invest in high quality rods for maximum performance will find Yak Rods Black Line worth the expense.
Yak Rods has all the look of a company that appears destined for big things in the kayak fishing world. The rods are well made, the company website is professional and easy to navigate and their customer service is exceptionally responsive.
I was told the company will fill out the spinning rod selection in its Black Line series and also introduce a mid-line “Foundation Series” of spinning and bait casting models in 2022. Additionally, the first of their specialty rods, a chatter bait rod, is set for release in late 2021, with a swimbait rod, a frogging/flipping rod and a Magnum Crankbait rod in the works as well.
Yak Rods are currently available through their website and through select online distributors. To review components and other specs, and to order, visit Yak Rods at https://yakrods.com/collections/all-kayak-rods
© Kayak Bass Fishing 2021