Kayak Power

A guide to the ever-expanding power options available to kayak anglers
Hobie’s MirageDrive system propels a kayak with two vertical fins that work in a back-and-forth motion.

It wasn’t long ago that powering a kayak meant one thing — using a traditional paddle. Those days are long gone.

No, the double-sided handheld paddle is not a thing of the past. Hardly. Truth is, most kayakers still zip around inshore, nearshore and offshore waterways with such a paddle, and for good reason, as a number of paddling strokes can make for efficient maneuverability and transportation with these tools.

But there are several other ways to propel your yak these days — and each one conceivably can make fishing easier from one of these slender boats.


Leg Power
Hobie ( arguably made the greatest modern-day advancement in kayaking when, in the late 1990s, the company introduced its now-famous MirageDrive, a propulsion system that harnessed leg power for paddling instead of arm power.

Vice president of engineering Greg Ketterman had been kicking around the idea of such a propulsion system for some time. “I felt that a back-and-forth motion would be a lot easier than a pure rotary motion,” said Ketterman. “Thus the idea to use underwater flippers that could twist and flex and assume the shape of a propeller blade — or a penguin’s wing.”

As it turned out, a young student at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jim Czarnowski, was already hard at work on such a design, and he would go on to earn his masters degree in mechanical and ocean engineering while constructing several “Penguin Boats,” as he called them.


Ketterman learned about Czarnowski’s work and immediately hired him. Soon after, the Hobie MirageDrive was patented and a new way of kayaking was born. Today, 13 Hobie kayak models now use the MirageDrive. As for Czarnowski, he went on to become Hobie’s director of engineering and remains at the company to this day.

More Leg Power
There’s no doubt that hands-free kayaking makes fishing much easier, freeing up both hands to concentrate on the rod and reel — and the fish. But Hobie isn’t the only manufacturer in the game anymore. Native Watercraft (, the North Carolina-based kayak manufacturer, offers its own version of a leg-powered propulsion system.

The Propel Pedal Drive system features a pair of bicycle-like pedals that power a prop in the water. The system is fashioned from marine-grade aluminum and stainless steel, and it is sealed against sand and grit.


Offered on 7 Native Watercraft models, the unique system makes counteracting current and wind easy — and perhaps the coolest function of the Propel system is that you can go in reverse. It’s easy — simply reverse-pedal just like you would on a bike, and the prop spins in the opposite direction, pulling the kayak backward. It is a unique function among leg-powered kayak systems that distinguishes Native Watercraft.

Electric Power
One of the great benefits of kayak fishing is that you simultaneously get a great workout — in the upper body when using paddling kayaks and in the lower body with leg-propelled kayaks. But for those who may not be as interested in fitness as convenience, electric motors have been incorporated into these boats to zip around the water.

Freedom Hawk’s ( new Pathfinder, for instance, provides inserts for an optional motor mount, while Ocean Kayak’s ( Torque comes with a 36-pound-thrust Minn Kota trolling motor built into its hull.


There’s no shaft or powerhead on the Torque’s trolling motor unit — just the lower unit attached to a motor module weighing approximately 20 pounds.

This module fits into the hull through a large scupper toward the back. The battery is kept in a box in the front of the boat to optimize weight distribution. Control panels offering speed control and forward and reverse functions are conveniently positioned in front of the seat.

But Sara Knies, marketing director at Ocean Kayak, says “it’s not about replacing traditional kayaks. Rather, it’s about giving anglers another option.” Knies says it’s important to note that the Torque can also be paddled when the motor is swapped out with a skeg. “This comes in especially handy in shallows going after redfish and other species,” she says.

Wind Power
So, in addition to arm power, kayaks can be effectively powered by an angler’s legs and with electric motors. But what about harnessing the power of Mother Nature to move a yak?

While it may be somewhat fringe, there’s been a growing trend of angler’s fishing offshore with kayaks that employ sails to harness the power of the wind. The idea is that when conditions are right, a kayak can be moved quickly enough with these sails to effectively troll for pelagic species.

“The integration of sailing and fishing is the biggest buzz I’ve seen,” says Morgan Promnitz, fishing product manager at Hobie.

But just as this is a highly specialized type of kayak fishing, the boats must also be highly specialized, and not many manufacturers outside Hobie make such an animal.

But Hobie’s Island series — a hybrid sailboat/kayak design that incorporates crossbeams and outrigger-like ama floats for stability — is being used with great effectiveness offshore, according to Promnitz. “They’re impossible to flip, and they go fast enough that you can troll marlin lures.”

What’s next in the evolution of kayak propulsion? Who knows?

Hobie’s MirageDrive system propels a kayak with two vertical fins that work in a back-and-forth motion.
Native Watercraft’s Propel Drive system uses bicycle-like pedals that power an underwater prop.
The Freedom Hawk Pathfinder has inserts for conveniently mounting a trolling motor if desired.
Because Hobie’s Island series of kayaks are both stable and fast, they have been used successfully for offshore trolling.
Ocean Kayak’s Torque model is equipped with a 36-pound-thrust Minn Kota trolling motor built into its hull.