Building a Fishing Kayak Cooler #1: The Design

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Blog entry by DustyMark posted 04-30-2019 05:07 AM 765 reads 1 time favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Building a Fishing Kayak Cooler series Part 2: Sandwiching the Foam »


I plan to make fishing a regular past time this summer. I spent the winter customizing my Grumman Sport Boat as a very comfortable small-lake fishing platform for two people. One of the upgrades I made was a Hummingbird Helix 7 fish finder. This will help me to at least locate some fish!

We camp, with our teardrop camper, at Madeline Island, in Lake Superior, twice a year. The past two seasons we hauled our 22.5’ sea kayak with us and did lots of paddling in the Apostle Islands area. That boat is impossible to launch in several desirable areas to include a slough that has some northern pike in it. We decided to take two single kayaks with on future trips. I had built my wife a nice single kayak last year, so she was covered. I opted to buy a used fiberglass kayak that would be safe for day trips in Lake Superior, but also stable for fishing. I purchased a Current Designs Solara 135 Hybrid. It’s 13.5’ long and 28” wide.

I’ve made great progress customizing the kayak for fishing by installing hip pads, thigh braces, a cockpit shelf, fish finder, anchor trolley and three rod holders.

View from the stern. The thigh/knee braces are 1/4” Baltic birch plywood and are epoxied and fiberglassed into place for strength. The mini-cell foam pads glued under the braces are custom fit…to me!

Close-up view of the cockpit shelf made from 1/2” Baltic birch plywood. I also sewed the hook removal kit that is snapped in place in front of the fish finder. Everything has a place and is in its place!

A Cooler to Keep My Catch Fresh

I like fishing for and eating northern pike. It’s realistic to catch up to 36” pike in the areas I fish. Meat should be kept cold for the best flavor (and for safety), so a cooler is an important piece of equipment if you don’t want to rush home after catching one fish. Reliable and Hobie both make nice coolers for storing fish on ice on the deck of a kayak. I showed my wife the Reliable model that listed for $165 on Amazon and she gave the thumbs down to the purchase. I had hit her limit for my fishing spending…I have spent a lot this year!

Undeterred, I bounced the idea of making a cooler from scraps and then buying the necessary hardware to complete the project. I build and modify small boats for a hobby and I had plenty of 1/4” and 1/8” Baltic birch plywood (from my teardrop camper build), some 1” pink styrofoam, epoxy and fiberglass cloth to get most of the construction done.

The cooler I wanted had 1/2” closed cell foam with an R-value of 2. The 1”pink styrofoam has an R value of 5. If I’m going through the tedious process of building a cooler, I might as well make it “way” (2.5 times) better than the Reliable of Hobie coolers!


My cooler is 32” long, 14” wide at the front, 8.5” wide at the back, and 9” tall. If I put the fish in head first, the tail should be able curl and allow a fish longer than the cooler to fit. 9” might seem on the tall side, but by the time I’ve sandwiched the foam and put down 2” thick blue ice, I’m down to about 4” of usable depth.

The cooler will mount on the rear deck. This involves twisting around to put a fish inside, but I experimented with this maneuver and the boat and I are up to the task. A wider sit-on-top kayak would make this maneuver a breeze, but this sit-inside kayak only weighs 42 pounds and will be quite safe in “unforgiving” Lake Superior.


I’m using a stitch-and-glue construction method to assemble the outer shell of the cooler. This method is light and strong. The individual pieces are held together temporarily with cable ties. Cyanoacrylate gel glue tack welds the pieces and the cable ties are then cut away. Next, thickened epoxy is used to create a fillet where adjacent panels meet. 3” wide fiberglass tape is laid over the fillet and bonds the panels in an incredibly strong manner.

This photo shows the final product of one of these stitch and glue joints. The off-white color in the corner is the epoxy fillet. You can see the edge of the 3” fiberglass tape in this photo.

-- Mark, Minnesota

3 comments so far

View Bill Berklich's profile

Bill Berklich

1129 posts in 1191 days

#1 posted 04-30-2019 01:38 PM

Great project – the Apostles are on my bucket list too.

-- Bill - Rochester MI

View DustyMark's profile


447 posts in 2873 days

#2 posted 04-30-2019 02:49 PM

Thanks. We spent about 30 nights in the area last summer. It’s our “cabin” so to speak. I’m interested in seeing how much this cooler will weigh empty. I’ll have to be a bit miserly with the epoxy as I fill the weave of the fiberglass cloth…hoping for 10 pounds or less.

-- Mark, Minnesota

View DustyMark's profile


447 posts in 2873 days

#3 posted 04-30-2019 06:39 PM

Strike that…I’m already at 12 pounds without a top or fiberglass. I’ll be lucky if this thing comes in under 20 pounds. The kayak will tip over if I’m not sitting in it! It will still work out fine. I saw a 21-year old guy load a full backpack on his rear deck and set out from Devil’s Island to Little Sand Bay in 2’ to 3’ seas (no spray skirt and no wetsuit)...oh to be young again!

-- Mark, Minnesota

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