Fishing Boats

Choosing the Best Fishing Kayak

fishing kayak on beach

If you’re looking to buy a fishing kayak, you’ll find you have plenty of options. They come in many different shapes and sizes and have various features.This can make the process of buying a kayak a bit overwhelming at first. Just like other fishing gear, you’ll want to do some research before deciding which one to purchase. Finding the right kayak can make your fishing adventure safer and more enjoyable.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you try to determine which kayak will work best for you:

Fishing Location: Where are you planning to fish? Will you be in fast-moving water, like creeks and rivers, or slow-moving water like a calm lake?

  • Amount of Gear: Do you plan to bring a lot of gear with you, or just a small amount? Think about your size and weight, then factor in the amount of gear you plan to bring. Use this information to find a kayak that has the weight capacity and space to handle everything.
  • Kayak Type: Do you prefer a traditional kayak that you sit in or one where you sit on top? Do you prefer a rigid structure, or something that’s inflatable? If you’re limited on space, an inflatable kayak is your best bet, but they are more difficult to get into and out of.
  • Moving Through the Water: How are you going to move your kayak around on the water? Do you plan to paddle, pedal or use a motor? Do you want to get some exercise, or do you prefer to relax? While some people enjoy paddling, it can be easier to pedal or use a motor so you can keep your hands free to hold your fishing rod.
  • Standing or Sitting: If you’re someone who wants to be able to stand up when you’re fishing, you’ll want to make sure you get a kayak that is stable. Generally, the wider the hull, the more stable the kayak. However, the tradeoff for a wider hull is a slower boat.
  • Transporting: How are you going to get your kayak to the fishing location? If you have a truck, you may be able to put it in the bed. However, if you have a car, you’ll need to decide if you want to attach it to the top or get a trailer. You’ll also want to consider if you’ll be fishing alone or with someone else. If fishing alone, you’ll want something you can handle by yourself.
  • Design Features: What type of kayak catches your eye? Kayaks come with many different features and in a variety of designs. Consider the length, width, hull design and material – all of these can have an impact on how the kayak performs on the water.
  • Budget: How much can you afford to spend on your kayak? The smart option is to decide on your budget before you head out to shop, then choose something that falls within that price range. The cheaper kayaks will run you around $800, where the more expensive versions will cost you $1,200 or more.

Where Are You Going to Be Fishing?

man fishing in kayak on lake

When looking for any fishing gear, the first thing you’ll need to consider is where you’ll be fishing. You’ll need to think about things like how fast the water will be moving. If you plan to fish on a fast-moving river or creek that may contain rapids, you’ll need a kayak that is shorter and easier to maneuver. Look for something less than 12 feet long. If you’ll be fishing in a larger body of water where you need to cover a lot of distance, opt for something between 12 and 16 feet long. And if you’re headed out to the open ocean, choose a long, thin kayak that lets you easily paddle out into the deep waters. Generally, this means choosing something longer than 16 feet.

If you plan to fish in a variety of locations, choose a kayak based on where you’ll be doing the majority of your fishing. Here are some things to consider depending on your preferred fishing location:

  • Lakes and Ponds: If you enjoy fishing in bodies of water that are calm and slow-moving, consider buying a sit-on-top kayak that offers a good amount of stability.
  • Rivers and Streams: If smaller, tighter fishing locations, like creeks and rivers, are your location of choice, you’ll want to choose something smaller so you can move around obstacles more easily.
  • Oceans: Those who prefer to brave the waves, currents and tides of the ocean should opt for a kayak that is equipped with a rudder system to help you maneuver in the rougher waters.
  • Open Water: If you plan to fish in a large, open body of water that requires you to go long distances, like a large lake, look for a long, skinny sit-on-top kayak. These tend to move fast and easily cover a lot of distance.

How Much Gear Are You Going to Be Hauling?

When it comes to gear, some people like to carry everything under the sun, while others like to keep things simple. If you’re one of those who likes to bring a ton of gear, make sure you choose a kayak that has the space to handle all of it. On the other hand, if you don’t like to carry much equipment, you don’t need to be as concerned about space.

But space isn’t the only thing to think about when it comes to gear. You’ll need to take the boat’s weight capacity into consideration as well as your own weight and that of your gear. Try to determine a rough estimate of how much weight the boat will need to hold, then choose a kayak rated for those requirements. If you don’t buy a boat rated for your specific needs, you may end up in a potentially dangerous situation.

Types of Fishing Kayaks

When it comes to fishing kayaks, there are three main types: Sit-on-top, inflatable and traditional. Here’s what you need to know about each one:

Sit-on-top Kayaks

Because they are easy to get in and out of, sit-on-top kayaks are the most popular option for fishing. Here are some important things to know them:

sit on top kayak


  • They tend to be more stable, which means you can fish from either a sitting or standing position. This makes them more versatile and helps make it easier to cast out your line or fight with a large fish.
  • They have scupper holes that allow the water to automatically bail out, so you don’t need to pump it out yourself.
  • They allow you to sit higher in the water, which lets you keep your eye out for fish, structures or obstacles.
  • They let you move around so you can easily access your storage and hatches.


  • They aren’t the best option for colder climates since you’re more likely to get wet in these type of kayaks.
  • They aren’t as light as sit-in kayaks, which can make them more difficult to carry.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are great for those with limited space since they require minimal room to transport. If you choose one of these, make sure you also purchase a good-quality pump to go along with it. Here are some important points about inflatable kayaks:

inflatable kayak


  • They tend to be more stable, which means you can fish from either a sitting or standing position. This makes them more versatile and helps make it easier to cast out your line or fight with a large fish.
  • They have scupper holes that allow the water to automatically bail out, so you don’t need to pump it out yourself.
  • They allow you to sit higher in the water, which lets you keep your eye out for fish, structures or obstacles.
  • They let you move around so you can easily access your storage and hatches.


  • They aren’t as durable as traditional kayaks, so be careful where you launch and land them or you may end up with a puncture.
  • They tend to be more difficult to paddle and can be slower than a hard-shell model.

Traditional Sit-in kayaks

If you buy a sit-in kayak, it will usually come with a spray skirt that is designed to keep the seating area free of water. This isn’t something commonly used for fishing, but may be something you want to consider if you aren’t looking to get wet. Here are some things to consider with sit-in kayaks:

traditional sit in kayak


  • They’re easier to paddle – just note that you can’t move around as easily in them as you can with sit-on-top kayaks.
  • They’re great for colder water since the cockpit insulates your legs from the cold.
  • Their compartments are covered, which keeps your gear safer – although it can be more difficult to access.


  • They don’t offer any self-bailing features, so you’ll need to buy a bilge pump to use if you start taking on water.
  • They’re designed so you sit lower in the kayak, which can reduce your view of objects and fish in the water.

Paddle vs. Pedal vs. Motor Kayaks for Fishing

When many people think of kayaks, they picture something you paddle. However, some modern kayaks have a pedal drive system or even a motor.

pedal powered kayak

Pedal-powered: Just like paddle boats, these kayaks allow you to move the kayak by pedaling with your feet. This is an appealing option for fishing because you can hold the rod and fish while you move the boat. You simply pedal like you would on a bike, which moves a propeller on the back of the boat. To steer, you use a hand-operated rudder. If this sounds like something you may be interested in, just be aware that, due to these additional features, pedal-powered kayaks are harder to maintain and cost more than a paddle kayak. The pedal mechanism can also make it harder to use in shallow water. Still, these kayaks have plenty of positives, like the ability to move with your feet and glide at a consistent speed, which makes them perfect for trolling.

paddle kayak

Paddle: Known as the traditional kayak, the paddle version is simple to use and less expensive than the other options. Paddle kayaks don’t have all the extra mechanisms, so they tend to be lighter, which makes them easier to carry. They also skim over the water pretty easily, which means you can use them even in very shallow areas. Plus, by using a paddle, you’ll be able to combine fishing with exercise, which is something that many people find appealing.

motorized kayak

Motor: Several modern kayaks now come with a motor, or with the ability to install one later using a kit. This option is perfect for those looking to cover a lot of water with ease, but who also enjoy the agility and stealth offered by the traditional kayak.

Standing While Fishing

If you’re a fisherman who likes to stand up in your kayak and fish, you’ll want to take a close look at the cockpit of the kayak you’re considering. Some offer footwells specifically designed to make it easier to stand, while others give you the ability to add assist straps or support bars.

Another very important thing to consider for standing is the stability of the boat. As a general rule of thumb, the wider the boat, the more stable it is to stand on. A wide boat will be easier to stand up on, and once you’re up, it will be easier to keep your balance while you fish. There are other things that can affect a kayak’s stability, such as hull design. Some manufacturers have even found ways to make a boat more stable without increasing the size. Your best bet is to go for the wider kayak just to be sure.

How Are You Going to Transport Your Kayak?

It’s not enough just to buy a great kayak – you still have to be able to transport it. Think about the type of vehicle you own and what size it can handle. There’s also the option of buying a separate trailer for your kayak so you don’t have to put it on the top of your car.

If you aren’t planning to buy a trailer and you don’t have a truck bed to put it in, you’ll have to transport your kayak on the top of your vehicle. This means you’ll need to choose something that is not only the appropriate size, but also easy to carry and handle. This is especially true if you plan to go fishing alone. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere and realize you’re unable to get your kayak back on your car.

Design and Performance Features

Kayaks come with many different design and performance features – all of which have different purposes. The main things to consider are hull design, length, width and materials.

Hull Design

A kayak’s hull design generally affects its performance. For example, look down the center on the bottom of the kayak. Does it have a large, pronounced keel? If so, that kayak is made to glide easily in a nice, straight line in the water. Is the bottom rounded? If it is, it will be able to turn easily, but won’t be very easy to stand up in.

Primary stability and secondary stability are the most important things to consider when looking at a kayak’s hull. Primary stability refers to how difficult it is for you to turn a boat to the point just before it flips over. Secondary stability refers to how much effort is takes to flip the boat over after it reaches that initial point.

Length (Speed)

Length is the feature that correlates most to the kayak’s speed. In general, the longer a boat is, the faster you’ll be able to get it to move when you paddle. When it comes to a boat’s speed, many other features can factor into the equation, like weight and hull design. But all those things being equal, the longer boat will be able to move faster. This option is best suited for those who plan to use their kayak in large bodies of water or in places with large tides. Be aware, however, that the thinner the boat, the easier it is to tip over.

If you aren’t covering a lot of ground and need something more nimble, you’ll want to think about getting a shorter boat. These boats turn much more easily and can maneuver around rocks and other obstacles. If possible, see if you can try out several different types of boats to see which one works best for you.

Width (Stability)

The easiest way to check the stability of a boat is to look at its width. Generally, the wider it is, the more stable it will be. This is especially important for those who plan to stand up in their kayaks and fish. But width isn’t the only thing that determines stability. Many factors, such as hull design can affect a kayak’s stability. But in general, the width is the easiest way to determine how stable a kayak will be.


Kayaks can be made of many different materials. Here are just a few of the options you’ll find:

Rotomolded Plastic

The most common material used for kayaks is rotomolded plastic. This material is easy and cheap for companies to produce and is also durable. These kayaks are meant to take the abuse of hitting trees, rocks and other obstacles without being ripped apart. They’re a great option for those who are looking for something that can take a beating. However, if you’re looking for something that is lightweight, you may want to consider other materials. Just be aware that the lightest kayaks are generally not the most durable.

Thermoformed Plastic

Thermoformed plastic is a newer material that is popular with many sea kayakers due to its ability to produce a fast, lightweight boat. They tend to be coated with a very shiny finish, which makes them very appealing to those looking for something a little sexier.

Wooden Kayaks

Known for their beauty, wooden kayaks are often coveted by traditionalists who enjoy a more natural material. You won’t find many wooden fishing kayaks, but you may be able to hunt down a canoe or sea kayak made of this natural resource. Because wooden kayaks are so beautiful and rarely seen, don’t be surprised if they inspire envy from other people on the water who don’t have one.

How Much Do You Want to Spend on a Fishing Kayak?

Your budget should be a big driver in which kayak you choose. Before heading out to the store, it’s advisable to look over your finances and determine what you can afford to spend. This way, when you get to the store, you can limit yourself to looking only at kayaks that fit within your budget.

There are generally three price levels for kayaks. Your budget versions will cost you around $800 or less. The mid-range kayaks are generally priced between $800 and $1,000. And for those who have a little more to spend, there are the high-end kayaks – these will run you upwards of $1,200.

Budget Kayaks (Less than $800)

While they may be less expensive, budget kayaks are still a great option. The most important things to consider are comfort and transport – and as long as your boat meets those requirements, you’re good to go. Even budget kayaks can have some great features. Just be sure to try out the kayak on the water, if possible, before buying it.

Mid-range Kayaks ($800-$1200)

As you’d expect, paying more for a kayak gets you better features. Kayaks that fall in the mid-range generally have more features than budget kayaks, but less than the high-end kayaks. If this is your price range, you’ll have a good selection of models, features and designs to choose from.

High-end Kayaks ($1200 or more)

If money is no object, why not splurge on a high-end kayak? By buying something more expensive, you’ll be sure to get your choice of the best features, models and designs. But don’t just choose something because of the price tag – make sure you’re getting your money’s worth and only splurging on items you really need. If you aren’t really sure if you’ll like kayak fishing, or don’t plan on doing it very often, it may make more sense to opt for a less expensive version. At the very least, check out the less expensive options. You may just find something that is perfect for you.

You can usually identify a higher-priced kayak from its many features and fancy designs. It’s on these expensive models that you’ll find all sorts of bells and whistles, such as comfortable seats, rod holders, gear track and wiring for electronics. If you can imagine it, these kayaks probably have it. Another positive about high-end models is that they tend to be very durable and have well-made hulls, which means they should last you a long time.

When you’re ready to buy your kayak, you could head down to the nearest sporting goods store, but you’d do much better going to a real paddle shop. The people employed at these stores generally know much more about kayaks and can help match you up with your ideal boat. Make sure you give them a lot of information and ask plenty of questions. The better they understand your situation and needs, the more likely you’ll end up with a purchase that makes you happy. These shops also often have something called a demo day where you can test out the kayaks before deciding which one you want to buy.

Brian Walters is an avid angler that has been fishing since he was old enough to pick up a rod. With over 40 years of experience fishing all over the country for.... read more
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