Current products on Amazon shown at bottom of article.
June 11th, 2012 update: If you’re interested in simple DIY sponsons, scroll down to the bottom of this post for some tips. I own the Spring Creek sail rig that includes the stabilizer outriggers and use the outriggers without the sail when I’m fishing. To me, they are the best answer, but you can get something less a lot cheaper.
Fishing from nearly any canoe or kayak is possible, but very few are actually designed for that today. Most are built to meet the needs of river travelers and have a tricky point of balance that you simply can’t exceed without tipping. That makes the boat maneuver responsively in rough water, but for fishing it isn’t great. Especially when the boat itself is likely to be moving, hauled around by the fish or spun unpredictably by wind and current, it’s tough to remain aware of that balance point of no return. Dumping a boat with a good load of fishing tackle is expensive even if you’re skilled enough to right it and climb back aboard.
Grumman’s 4 1/2 foot long foam
sponsons clamp to gunwales and
prevent tipping. I used to
distrust foam, but this is
not styrofoam, it’s tough.
Some designs are inherently stable, like the Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 I just reviewed here. Tipping the Scrambler is about as likely as falling out of it, something that can be done but isn’t too common. Adding stabilizers to any canoe or kayak is easy. If you want to fish from a boat that you know is a natural roller, stabilizing flotation ought to be part of your standard gear.
Harmony’s Kayak Stabilizer Sponsons fit either kayaks or canoes and put a stopping point on the natural instability of a river-running boat. If you get caught up in playing a fish or solving a tackle issue, the boat tips but only far enough to rest on the sponson. Harmony’s system includes hardware for mounting these inflatables. With Harmony’s sponson system you can travel with the floats neatly lashed and deflated, blowing them up only when you’re ready to fish. That cuts down on wind resistance and doesn’t make you look like a novice.
Both the Scotty Kayak Stabilizer System and the Sidekick AMA Kit use outrigger arms and hydrodynamic floats, increasing the rig’s stability without adding unnecessary drag. The Sidekick AMA was designed for Hobie kayaks but can adapt to other kayak types. That might require some modifications. The Scotty Stabilizer System fits to either kayaks or canoes with two universal clamps. The Scotty system also includes two baitcasting rod holders. With either stabilizer setup you can adjust the vertical height of the floats to increase boat speed or lock down the greatest stability possible.
Manufacturers show fishermen casually standing up in canoes and kayaks equipped with these systems, but I’d be very cautious about doing that. Having done this myself, I know it requires some practice and instinctive “sea legs.” The trickiest maneuver is to stand in the bow of a canoe at 3 a.m. when you need to pee. I don’t think you can do that with a kayak, even with floats fully extended.
I find the company description of the Yak-Gear Outriggera little misleading and confusing. According to the company, their patented design creates a reciprocal movement in the outrigger floats. When one moves up, the other moves down. Heck, they all do that. In the fine print they explain that some other systems depend on a straight connecting bar that flexes under load. I suppose you might find one that does that but I certainly don’t think you’d notice the difference unless you broke it. The Spring Creek system is exceptionally solid and I would guess it has less flex than the Yak-Gear’s diagonal arms. That part of the sales pitch seems pointless. The Yak-Gear system does have a neat feature that allows you to raise the float arms to about 45 degrees, clearing the way for a full paddle stroke. The Yak-Gear Outrigger was designed for kayaks and requires some drilling to set up properly unless your kayak came ready for the installation. Owners of canoes have devised their own ways of mounting the system on their boats. The company website illustrates several approaches to that.