Fishing with a kayak opens up new opportunities to stalk fish in waters that aren’t so easily accessed by larger or motorized boats. It combines the quiet of paddling low on the water with the thrill of reeling in a big one. With a slimmer profile and better portability than traditional boats, you can be stealthy as you glide over waters to your favorite fishing spot and sneak up on fish without spooking them.
With so many options, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make when shopping for a fishing kayak. Here are some key decision points to help you narrow down your choices when you shop:
Where Do You Plan to Fish?
Where you plan to fish is another factor in deciding the type of kayak you’ll need. Are you fishing in moving or still water? Will you spend a lot of time sight fishing or trolling? Here are just a few things to consider:
Types of Kayaks
There are several types of kayaks and canoes, but typically anglers will gravitate towards recreational kayaks. They are popular with novice paddlers, photographers, or fisherman. Most recreational kayaks are 10 or 12 feet long. Specialized angling kayaks take many features of these kayaks and add things like rod holders.
Sit on Top Kayaks
Sit on top kayaks are user-friendly, stable and easy to paddle. They are easy to get in and out of and can be used in many types of water including saltwater, rivers, lakes and canals. They have a sealed hull and the paddler sits on top of a molded seat.
These types of kayaks are typically wider, which makes them quite stable (something important for a fisherman to consider), but the wider hull makes them slower than a touring model. When I am headed out on the water, distance is not usually my aim, so the speed is not a factor that I consider in my own personal purchase!
These kayaks give you a wet ride, as there is no spray skirt to keep you dry, and no protection from wind. There are many brands that make a sit-on-top kayak for sale, and they range from basic models that cost a few hundred dollars to deluxe pedal-powered and motorized kayaks that cost a few thousand.
Inflatable kayaks are the perfect choice of kayak for compact storage needs. They can inflate in minutes and are best for those who paddle on mostly calm waters. While I initially thought these would be like a blow-up toy, they can be surprisingly sturdy. While these make a great inexpensive fishing kayak, you do not necessarily want the cheapest ones out there.
Some of the reviews say they are exactly as I had imagined. Like getting on a blow-up boat! But do not totally throw inflatable kayaks for sale off your radar. There are a few great ones out there that offer a sturdy ride.
Sit in Kayaks
Sit inside kayaks share many of the same features of a sit-on-top kayak (SOT kayak). The major difference is the sit-in kayak has an enclosed place to sit. It is known as the cockpit and the area around it is known as the cockpit rim. A lot of sit-in kayaks have a spray skirt that will keep the paddler dry from spray from the paddles or other drips of water.
Because you sit lower, these kayaks will shelter you from the wind and will likely give you a warmer ride. The downside of the sit-in kayak style is if you flip your kayak, it is much tougher to recover as it will be full of water. There are plenty of sit-in kayaks for sale, just like the sit on top models, which gives you plenty of options, if this is your kayak of choice. Living in the cooler Pacific Northwest I gave these a good look, as a warm ride makes for a nicer day in the spring and fall!
Our Top Picks
We already touched on the subject of inflatable kayaks, so I figured I should start with Sevylor Coleman Colorado – 2 Person Fishing Kayak.
This inflatable 10.75-foot, two-person fishing kayak is made of 18-gauge PVC, coupled with a thick tarpaulin bottom and 840D nylon cover. And it boasts multiple air chambers, too.
Since it’s a tandem, the 470-pound capacity shouldn’t come as a surprise. It also features mesh shock cord deck rigging and storage pockets, D-ring tie-downs, a pair of Berkley Quick Set adjustable swivel holders, for hands free fishing. And to top it all off, a pair of built in carry handles.
You’ll find a mounting spot for the Sevylor trolling motor, too. The lack of a rigid floor means you can’t use it for stand-up fishing, despite the wide beam. Also, the placement of rod holders tends to interfere with paddling.
If you’d like to invest in a single-person hard-shell, consider Lifetime’s Tamarack Angler 100. It’s priced similarly to my previous pick – and lightweight for a 10-foot hard-shell, too – making it an impressive value-for-money option.
The high-density polyethylene hull weighs a reasonable 52 pounds, keeping the load capacity limited to 275 pounds. However, you’re still getting front and rear bungee rigging, two 6-inch dry storage hatches, two flush-mounted, and one top-mounted rod holder.
Given the flat bottom, chine rails, and 31-inch width of the hull, stability shouldn’t be an issue, although you might not have enough deck space to stand up in it.
As for the seat, it doesn’t have the most comfortable cushioning out there – but the backrest’s adjustability is more than welcome.
Sun Dolphin’s Journey 10 high-density polyethylene hull measures 9.5 feet in length, weighs a mere 44 pounds, and is generally more compact than most hard-shell fishing kayaks. And while it’s a bit narrower at 29.5 inches, it’s still stable enough on calm lakes.
With a 250-pound capacity, it’s not the best choice for larger paddlers with lots of gear, but it doesn’t lack fishing-specific features and storage options.
You’re getting two flush-mount and one swivel rod holder, shock-cord rigging, and a rear hatch. It also comes with a P.A.C. – a portable accessory carrier – which is a unique feature. The lack of bottom seat cushioning means comfort isn’t one of its strongest suits, though.
The Elkton Outdoors Steelhead fishing kayak is our top pick because it is the complete package. It comes with everything you need to start paddling as soon as you take it out of the box (except your fishing rods of course!).
It is also suitable for a wider variety of paddlers because it can fit in almost any vehicle that you drive to your favorite fishing location. In other words, you don’t need a truck or one of the best kayak roof racks to transport this kayak.
It also makes the most sense for folks that might not have ample kayak storage at their home or in their apartment complex. Just leave it locked up safely in its carry bag in your car until the next time you want to take it out for a fishing adventure!
The Sea Eagle RazorLite is one of the coolest inflatable fishing kayaks we’ve ever seen. Its additional length is great for longer trips and it boasts plenty of weight capacity for larger paddlers.
This kayak is constructed with drop stitch technology, which is typically reserved for the best stand up paddleboards out there. This allows it to be inflated to 10 PSI and makes it perform much more like a rigid kayak than an inflatable.
The RazorLite doesn’t have as many accessories and attachments as some of the other kayaks on our list, but it’s made for covering ground and keeping you as comfortable as possible.
This is an open-concept low-profile vessel designed to keep you fishing comfortably out on the water from sun-up to sun-down.
The Jackson Bite Angler features a large, stable forward standing space that makes casting a breeze. There are dual, flush-mounted rod holders to keep your rods within reach and storage areas in the bow and stern, as well as tackle storage located along gunnels. The seat is padded and comfortable enough for the longest days out on the water.
What I like most about the Bite Angler is the open deck design that lacks consoles and hatches, keeping your area clear while your rod is in the water.
Hobie kayaks are like the Harley-Davidsons of the kayaking world. They’re totally customizable, have revolutionary technology, and are top of the line. One thing that sets this kayak apart is its MirageDrive 180 foot pedal. This foot pedal allows you to propel the boat forward and backward with your feet, freeing up your hands to manage line, tie on a new fly, or sip your beverage. Hobie kayaks come with their H-Rail accessory systems, which allows you to mount all sorts of gear without drilling into the boat.
As its name suggests, Jackson Kayak’s Mayfly was designed with fly fishermen in mind. Like the Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K., this ‘yak is looking for the sweet spot between premium features and a modest price, and though you’ll find plenty of high-end details on this boat, it’s within reach of most anglers.
The Mayfly comes with the ultra-clean deck fly fishing demands. Designed for you to stand, and equipped with a non-slip surface, this ‘yak practically begs you to take to your feet.
Storage is ample and easy to access, including a large bow hatch with a removable tray and two fly-box storage panels to either side of the cockpit. Two long gear rails allow you to customize your layout and add pretty much whatever you’d like to the mix.
This kayak’s seating system is adjustable and comfortable, and users have no complaints whatsoever about all-day fishing. It also allows Molle mounted accessories on its back.
Native Watercraft’s Slayer Propel is a kayak that has the Hobie Mirage Angler 12 firmly in its sights. Offering plenty of premium options, this ‘yak won’t come cheap. But if you’re looking for something a bit lighter with many of the same options, this kayak deserves a second look.
The Slayer is propelled by a pedal drive connected to a small propellor directly beneath it. Offering both forward and reverse, this hands-free system is a great option for those who demand speed, control, and both hands on deck. Customers report that the Propel system offers great speed and efficiency.
Three rod holders come equipped, and with an easy-to-reach bow hatch and three gear rails, you won’t be pressed to find a place to mount extras. The stern well is huge–a nice feature to consider–and you won’t have trouble fitting a cooler or live well behind the seat.
For an enjoyable ride in a relaxing environment, look no further than the Pelican Sentinel fishing kayak.
Designed for both calm and slow bodies of water, it provides excellent stability and tracking that allows long-distance paddling. The multi-chine flat bottom that keeps the kayak stable at all times is the one to thank for that.
The under-10-feet length along with the 44 pounds of weight means you won’t have any issues transporting and storing the kayak without the help of others. This is particularly important for those who prefer fishing in solitude.
With molded carrying handles, accessory eyelets, paddle holders, and rod tie-downs, you’re guaranteed to have all you need for a productive day out in the open water.
What are the best kayaks for fishing?
The best fishing kayaks will be light enough to transport on a car top, drag around a shoreline, and store in a garage or shed. It should be simple to paddle, though a pedal-powered or motor-powered kayak makes the process simple. It should have gear tracks, rod holders, storage, and flat spaces on the deck and cockpit where you can mount fish finders and other accessories.
Is a sit-on-top kayak better for fishing?
To start, a sit-on-top kayak is difficult to flip over. If it does, a sit-on-top is easier to remount than a sit-in. Sinking a sit-on-top is nearly impossible. To drain water, sit-on-top kayaks have holes in the deck, called scuppers. Fishing all day takes a toll, and sit-on-top kayaks have frame seats that keep the angler comfortably elevated off the deck. The biggest advantage is a sit-on-top has more room for fishing. Rigging space is in easy reach and a sit on top has more room to chase a flopping fish. Sit-on-top kayaks also allow anglers to carry more gear on the deck and in the hold. The downside: a sit-on-top kayak is heavier and bulkier than a sit-inside and offers no protection from the elements. But comfort, rigging and simplicity make a sit-on-top kayak better for fishing.
What’s the most stable kayak?
There are two types of kayak stability: primary and secondary. Primary stability is how easily the kayak will lean to the side from a level position. Secondary stability is how easily the boat will transition from a leaning position to flipping over. A boat with solid primary stability will have less secondary stability. And, a boat with strong secondary stability will have weaker primary stability.
Primary stability is great for standup fishing on sheltered waters. It’s primary stability that keeps the boat steady while the angler casts and leans to land a fish. Secondary stability lets the boat roll over waves and turn sharply when paddling through rough water and rivers. To cross the surf zone or bounce down the rapids, a boat with good secondary stability is your friend.
Is a longer kayak better for fishing?
In general, the longer the kayak, the faster it will be and the more easily it will cover distances. The trade-off is a loss of maneuverability in tight spaces and difficulty in transporting the kayak to launch sites.
Do I need a fish finder on a kayak?
A fish finder can be very helpful when fishing from a kayak, but it isn’t necessary. It depends on what types of fishing you will be doing, and if knowing the depth and detecting fish under your kayak would be helpful.