If a kayak isn't for you, there's always a canoe. Here's what novices and infrequent paddlers should be thinking about before investing in a basic canoe suited for fishing and touring:
1. First, as with kayaks, evaluate the water in which you'll mainly use the canoe. Is it open water with grassy shorelines or shallow running rivers and streams choked with rock gardens? How will you transport the canoe? Are you going to have to do a lot of portaging to and from launches or around obstacles? How much stuff do you like to haul on your expeditions?
2. Stability rules. Get enough width to allow you to maneuver to fish, turn yourself around, and counter a dog or a child's unpredictable actions without tipping over or losing control.
3. Canoes can tip, and if there isn't enough "freeboard" — height above the water — they can swamp. Also, even without sinking, the more water that enters the canoe, the more difficult it is to handle. Some experts recommend up to 10 inches of height above the waterline with a normal load in the canoe. Fewer than 6 inches likely will cause problems.
4. Few people baby canoes. There's a reason many commercial canoe liveries have polyethylene canoes. Many people don't have the skills, especially in current, to avoid rocks, logjams and other things that'll bang hulls and scrape bottoms. Heavier-gauge aluminum or durable-yet-somewhat-flexible polyethylene canoes are the safer, lowest-maintenance bets. Kevlar is also a light and durable option. Some canoes have skid plates to guard against punctures.
5. Maneuverable canoes are vital when fishing. You need to be able to make that craft deftly turn by using a paddle at the stern. A canoe with a perfectly flat keel line along the bottom will have a tougher time turning than a canoe with a couple inches of "rocker" from the center toward bow and stern. Some plastic canoes can be too flat in the center.
6. Get a quality paddle that'll do the job without being oversized; otherwise you're doing a lot of extra weightlifting on any paddling trip.
7. If you have the opportunity, try before you buy. Talk with a knowledgeable salesperson and get the canoe on the water.