Fishing kayaks have evolved dramatically over the last few years. The best fishing kayaks come with many specialized features for kayak anglers. This guide will show you which kayak is the best for your fishing needs.
Fishing Kayak Buyers Guide
When you’re shopping for a new fishing kayak, the selection of can seem overwhelming. There are so many kayaks to choose from that it can become difficult to decide what features you really need.
In this section I’ll go over the features of fishing kayaks. I’ll also explain the trade offs that features come with. After reading this, you’ll be able to decide what features you’re looking for in a fishing kayak.
Fishing Kayak Features
When starting your search for a fishing kayak, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions.
One of the most important is where do you plan to do the majority of your kayak fishing?
The answer to this question can play a big part in deciding what kayak is best for you.
For example, if you plan on focusing on small lakes and rivers you’ll be fine with shorter, wider kayak. But if you plan on going out in the surf. Or if you plan on nearshore or offshore saltwater fishing. Then, you need to focus on longer sleeker kayaks with a more “V”shaped hull.
Sit Inside Or Sit On Top
This is one of the main questions you’ll need to answer. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to answer.
First, we’ll talk about what the difference is between sit inside and sit on top kayaks.
Sit Inside Fishing Kayaks
A sit inside kayak is a kayak that you enter and sit inside the hull. The walls of the kayak surround your lower legs at the very least. This design is much less common for fishing kayaks. Most anglers prefer the sin on top style.
Sit On Top Fishing Kayaks
A Sit on top fishing kayak is a kayak that you sit on top of a depression in the deck. Your legs are not inside the kayak. The side walls of the kayak (also known as gunnels) do not come up around your body.
Most fishing kayaks made today are the Sit On Top variety. Part of the allure of sit on top kayaks is the feeling of openness. If you were to accidentally flip a sit on top fishing kayak, you’d be easily able to fall away from it. A sit inside kayak on the other hand, could trap you in it if you’re not adept and preventing this.
Another benefit of sit on tops is that they’re outfitted with scupper holes. These are holes that pass through the top deck area all the way through to the water. These holes allow water to escape from the deck and keep it from filling with water.
Higher Seating Position
Higher seating is another benefit of sit on top kayaks. Some fishing kayaks have seats so high that you can bend your knees 90 degrees and put your feet on the deck. Many anglers find this much more comfortable than having your legs extended flat. Having your legs extended straight in front of you can become quite uncomfortable.
These higher seating positions are also beneficial for spotting fish in clearer waters.
The length of your fishing kayak is a very important consideration. It will affect its weight, speed, stability and storage capacity. Let’s go over some popular fishing kayak lengths and see what the trade offs are.
Short Fishing Kayaks
The shortest fishing kayaks out there run at about 10 feet in length. This length of kayak will usually be good for small ponds and creeks.
Short kayaks like these will sacrifice speed and stability for light weight. It will also be less expensive.
You won’t be winning any races with it and standing up on a 10 foot kayak is probably a bad idea.
However, these can be good starter boats. So, if you don’t want to invest a ton of money on your first fishing kayak, then a 10 footer may be a good bet.
Just keep in mind that you should restrict yourself to staying close to shore for safety reasons.
Medium Length Fishing Kayaks
Once you get into the 12 foot fishing kayak range you get more versatility.Fishing kayaks in the 11-12 foot range can be found with all the features you need. You can find 12 foot kayaks for inshore saltwater and freshwater lakes.
These longer hull will allow for better speed. And if they are narrower and have a V shaped front, then they’ll do better in choppy conditions.
Longest Fishing Kayaks
Fishing kayaks 12 feet and over will usually be full featured and can be the fastest and most stable kayaks around. At the longer end of the spectrum, you’ll find kayaks up to 15 feet long. These longer hulls are faster because their hull speed limit is higher.
The width of your fishing kayak really plays a role in it’s stability. This translates into how easy it is for you to stand up in your kayak.
So if stand up fishing is a priority for you, then you’ll want a kayak that’s at least 30 inches wide.
To put it simply, the wider the fishing kayak is, the harder it will be for you to flip it over.
A wider kayak will also have more room for accessories. Gear tracks, tackle pockets and rod holders are just some examples.
If you’re going to be cartopping your kayak, then weight is a key consideration. Kayaks in the 50 to 80 pound ranger can usually be handled by one fit person.
Anything heavier than that and you may need some type of assistance.
Factors that can affect the weight of a fishing kayak will vary. Sit on top kayaks will generally be heavier than sit inside models.
Also, the more accessories on your deck the heavier your kayak will be.
Finally, there are some manufacturers that reinforce the interior of the hulls of some models with foam. Native watercraft is an example.
The hull design is a key aspect that often goes unnoticed. But hull designs will have a big impact on weight, speed and stability.
For example, fishing kayaks with tunnel hulls will be heavier. This is because there is more plastic required to mold the folds in the hull.. A tunnel hulled kayak will also be slower due to increased drag.
What’s the trade off?
A tunnel hull will be more stable. You should be able to easily stand up on one.
Hulls that have a rounded or more v shape will be faster than a tunnel hull due to less drag. The trade off is that you’ll lose a bit of stability.
When it comes to fishing kayak propulsion you have a few options. The obvious double ended paddle is often times included with the kayak. This is a great way to get an upper body workout. It may however limit your range and speed compared to other methods.
Pedal Powered Fishing Kayaks
Pedal powered fishing kayaks can really help extend your range and speed. They take advantage of the additional power in your leg muscles and it makes a big difference. Additionally, efficiency is improved.
Most pedal drives use a drive shaft and gears. This can mean carrying an extra part that can weigh anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds.
Another type of pedal drive is the fin drive.If you use a fin drive like the Hobie Mirage Drive, efficiency is even better. These drives will give you speed and range advantages over kayaks with propeller drives.
The downsides of fin drives are that if you want reverse, it will be expensive. Only Hobie sells a fin drive with reverse capability. And you’ll pay a premium for it.
Other manufacturers such as Pelican and Vibe sell fin drive kayaks that are forward only.
Trolling Motors For Fishing Kayaks
Trolling motors have been used on kayaks and canoes for years. Just put a battery and an attachment point on your kayak and you’re off.
Of course there are custom made setups for using motors on fishing kayaks.
For example, you can get a specially made bracket that allows you to attach a trolling motor to your kayak. Or an entire system that comes with a battery, steering linkage and throttle controls.
It’s really up to you. You can spend a couple of hundred bucks on a DIY setup or thousands on custom fishing kayak motors.
The simplest fishing kayak seats are just molded into the kayak. Then a back support made of fabric will be attached. This back support will be adjustable forward and backward. If you have any type of back problem, I would advise you to avoid these types of kayaks.
You will end up with your legs extended flat in front of you. This position will create back strain.
The next step up in fishing kayak seating molded in rails for custom chairs.
These chairs can often be placed in multiple positions. Having the option of a high or low seating position can add flexibility to you fishing style.
Sitting in the low position will give you more stability as it will move your center of gravity down.
Moving your seat to a high position is more comfortable and gives you a better view of the water. The only downside is that it will raise your center of gravity. This will make your kayak a bit more unstable.
Usually, if you’re not dealing with rough waters, this trade off is fine.
Storage on fishing kayaks is very important. From rods to tackle anglers need extra room for their stuff. Even the most basic fishing kayaks come with rod holders. A basic fishing kayak should also come with a rear tank well and a front hatch or well.
Rear tank wells are great for putting tackle boxes in.
There are even custom tackle crates with built in rod holders intended for the rear tank well of a kayak. An example of this is the blackpack.
Some fishing kayaks also offer under seat storage. This is a great place to store items that you’ll be using frequently.
In hull storage is another possibility with sit on top fishing kayaks. Some even allow you to store rods by placing them through a hatch in the rear or front of the kayak.
Most fishing kayaks will come with one or two hatches. These hatches allow for in hull storage. They often are outfitted with a storage bag that sits inside the hatch. These are a good place for storing things you want to keep dry.
Features For Stand Up Fishing
Standing up while fishing is a must for many kayak anglers. Selecting a fishing kayak that can easily be stood on means looking for certain characteristics.
We already mentioned a wide hull and a tunnel hull as being better suited to standing up while fishing.
There are also straps to assist the angler while trying to stand. These straps are usually anchored to the front of the kayak and draped back towards the angler. To stand the angler grabs the end of the strap and pulls on it to get an assist.
Another feature some kayaks have for help with stand up fishing is a stand up bar. This is basically a metal frame that rises up from the sides of the kayak and has a crossbar a few feet up.
The idea is that the angler can raise the crossbar and either lean on it or hold on to it for stability.
Finally, some anglers who like stand up fishing add stabilizer floats. Keep in mind that fishing kayaks do not normally come standard with this feature. These are outrigger mounted floats. They extend out a foot or 2 from the sides of the kayak. At the end there are floats.
This works to add lateral stability making it much more difficult to flip a kayak while standing on it.
Best Fishing Kayak Under 1000
Vibe Sea Ghost 110 and 130
The Vibe Sea Ghost series of kayaks are a fantastic value. You can opt for the Sea Ghost 110 and save a few bucks. Or go for the 130 and get the full 13 foot version with extra space.
The Sea Ghost 110 is 11 feet long and 33 inches wide. It comes in at 62 pounds and has a capacity of 425 pounds.
These specs make it a very capable fishing kayak. You get many standard features that will help you start fishing right away.
At the front, you have a large hatch for storage that you wont need to access frequently. Some owners use this area for a battery compartment.
As you head back you’ll find the seating area. There you’ll see foot pegs with built in rudder control levers. Yes, the Sea Ghost comes with a rudder as standard equipment.
On the sides of the floor there are scupper holes with included scupper plugs. There is also a center console.
The center console is great for storage of small tackles items and other things you’ll need to access frequently.
The sides of the front seating area are equipped with gear tracks. These tracks are great for mounting rod holders, fish finders or other accessories.
The seat consists of a metal frame with fabric cover. I can be set into a low or high position. The seat folds down for transport.
Best Pedal Drive Fishing Kayaks
Old Town Topwater 120 PDL
The Old Town Topwater 120 PDL is one of the only pedal drive fishing kayaks with a floating pedal drive. But that’s not the only great feature on the Topwater 120. The 120 is 12 feet long and 36 inches wide.
It features a Double U designed hull that makes it stable for stand up fishing. It also features a weight capacity of 500 pounds. So, you can really get all your camping and fishing gear in there.
The Topwater 120 PDL Drive is sealed. This waterproof design not only means that it floats, it also means a maintenance free drive.
If you use a fish finder, the Topwater PDL also includes a universal transducer mount. This mount will allow you to place the transducer at the rear of the kayak in a position that is protected by the hull.
Finally, the hull comes with a 5 year warranty. You can tell that Old Town stands behind their fishing kayaks.
If you like the Old Town Line of PDL Drive Fishing Kayaks, but want something faster, there is an option for you. The Old Town Topwater PDL has many of the great features that the Topwater does.
The key difference is the hull. The Predator’s hull does not have the double U shape. It’s designed to be a more performance oriented hull. The sacrifice in stability however, is apparently not very significant. Many anglers report that they can still easily stand on the Predator.
Native Titan Series
The Native Titan Series of fishing kayaks are built for kayak anglers who want a spacious boat. These fishing kayaks are large and heavy. Car topping a Native Titan is probably not a good idea.
But if you like space and stability, then the Native Titan series is a must look.
The pedal drive on Titan lets you go forward or backward by just reversing you pedaling direction.
It also has an elevated seat that makes it easier to go from a seated to standing position.
The hull has some cool features as well. It comes injected with what Native calls “Plastifoam” technology. This is foam that is injected into the hull for both flotation and hull stiffness.
The hull also has a recessed transducer mount to protect your unit.
This fishing kayak features horizontal rod storage with rod tip protection.
If you need simple shallow water anchoring, the titan comes with a mounting plate for the Power Pole Micro.
You can get the Titan fishing kayaks in 3 sizes. The Titan 10.5 is the shortest of the three versions. This is a very popular length because of its portability.
Some anglers will put the Titan 10.5 in the back of their pick up truck for transport. This can save money on trailers. But you would want something like Boonedox Landing Gear to help transport your yak once you get to the launch.
Below you’ll find a listing with the three versions of the Titan along with their specs.
Native Titan Fishing Kayaks
|Titan 10.5||10’9″||37.5″||97 lbs.|
|Titan 12||12′||39″||109 lbs.|
|Titan 13||13’6″||41.5″||154 lbs.|
Hobie Pro Angler Series
The Hobie Pro Angler Series of Fishing Kayaks are top of the line fishing machines. The Hobie Mirage drive that powers them has evolved to be a full featured drive that can go forward and reverse.
These kayaks are so good that they command exorbitant prices even on the used market.
So, what makes the Hobie Pro Angler a premium fishing kayak worth such high prices?
Well, let’s start with the drive. The Pro Angler series from Hobie comes with the Mirage Drive 180. The Mirage drive uses fins rather than a propeller for it’s pedal-powered drive. These fins area actually more efficient at transferring human power to thrust. It is often why you’ll see large Hobie kayaks beating smaller , lighter weight kayaks in races.
Additionally, the fins can be fluttered so that they lay almost flat against the hull. This will allow you to pass over obstacles while reducing the chance of hitting the obstacle.
In the past, Mirage drives could not be pedaled backwards. This has now changed with the Mirage Drive 180.
Additionally, at iCast 2019, Hobie released the Mirage 360. This is a pedal drive that can be turned a full 360 degrees.
You maneuver it by turning a hand control around a 360 degree circle. Wherever the drive points, that’s where the boat will go when you pedal it. So, with this feature, you can actually pedal your kayak sideways.
So when selection Hobie Pro Angler, you have 2 choices on your drive. The Mirage 180 which will go forwards and backwards. Or, the Mirage 360, which can go in any direction.
Aside from the Mirage drive, there are many other fishing features that make the PA a top choice.
If you use a fish finder, the Pro angler comes with a retractable transducer mount. This mount will automatically retract into the hull if your transducer hits something. Additionally, you have a pulley in the cockpit that you can pull to manually retract the transducer. This comes in handy when you know you will be in very shallow water or when you’re loading your kayak.
There is also horizontal rod storage. You can slide up to six rods into the forward hull. This is a great option if you’re passing under low hanging trees or a low bridge.
The elevated seat gives you a great vantage point so you can bend your legs and get a good look at the water around you.
There are two main versions of the Hobie Pro Angler. They are the PA 12 and the PA 14. The main differences are size.
12′ Feet Long
36″ Inches Wide
109 lbs. Hull Weight
500 lbs. Capacity
38″ inches wide
120 lbs Hull Weight
600 lbs. Capacity
There is also a tandem Pro Angler. This is a huge kayak that is 17 feet long and can carry two or more people with a capacity of 900 lbs.
Best Paddle Fishing Kayak
The Bonafide SS127 is a dedicated fishing kayak for anglers that demand an all around fishing platform. The only thing really missing from the SS127 is a pedal drive. So, if a pedal drive is not a must for you, then the Bonafide SS127 is definitely worth a look.
The SS127 comes with a high rise seat that lets you sit with your knees bent. This is huge if you have back problems. The seat can also be lowered so you are closer to the deck and create a lower center of gravity. This position would be useful in rough waters.
Another key feature of the SS127 is its stability. This can be attributed to is catamaran style hull. If standing is a requirement for you, then the traction pads on the floor of the deck will be a big plus for you.
Other features include power pole ready mounting area, dry pod storage with transducer mount and under seat junk drawer. Of course the SS127 comes with plenty of gear track for you to mount your accessories.
As for the specs, the SS127 is 12 feet 7 inches long, 33.75 inches wide and weighs 85 lbs without the seat.
Nucanoe Frontier 12
The Nucanoe frontier 12 is all about versatility. If you’re looking for a fishing kayak with plenty of space and rigging options, then you should definitely consider the Frontier 12.
The Frontier 12 features an open cockpit design and an elevated seat. The seat is unique in that it rotates in a complete circle. Aside from that you get lots of gear track, a front hatch and some serious room for your gear. You can even add a second seat and carry two anglers on the Frontier 12.
The Frontier 12 is 12 feet long and has a hull weight of 77 lbs. But the spec that really stands out is the width. The F12 is 41 inches wide. This makes it one of the widest fishing kayaks you can find. It makes for a very stable platform. It’s easy to stand on, and you can actually walk back and forth in the hull.
Adding to its versatility, you can outfit your Frontier 12 with options like a pedal drive or brackets for trolling motors. These brackets can be mounted in front of the hull or on the transom. There are even brackets that support gas engines.
Best Entry Level Fishing Kayak Under 400 Dollars
Lifetime Tamarack 120
If you’re looking for a fishing kayak you can get for less than 400 dollars, the Lifetime Tamarack 100 is for you. This is a 10 foot long kayak that’s 31 inches wide. It weighs in at just 52 lbs. so it will be easy to car top.
The weight capacity is only 275 lbs. so it might not be the best choice for larger paddlers who want to bring lots of gear.
There are two 6 inch round storage hatches. One is in front of the seat, and the other is behind the seat.
It also comes with 3 rod holders. Two are flush mounted behind the seat. One rod holder is mounted on the right front rail.
Overall this kayak has a reputation of being a good value for the money.
Best Entry Level Fishing Kayaks Under 600 Dollars
Let’s say you’re looking to get into kayak fishing. But you don’t want to put out a huge investment to get started.
There are fishing kayak options that can get you started for less than $600. This way, you can try it all out and see if it’s really for you.
The Ascend 12T is a great starter fishing kayak. It’s 12 feet long and comes with a framed chair instead of a molded in seat. The seat can be installed in three different positions. This is a key feature for comfortable fishing trips.
The 12T is 31 inches wide and weighs 77 lbs. with the seat installed.
This kayak also includes features for anglers that want to try stand up fishing on their yak.
It comes with a tunnel hull for stability and foam deck padding too.
There’s plenty of room for accessories with tracks on both sides. You also get a tank well in the rear where you can put a tackle box or cooler.
Overall, this kayak isn’t the best fishing kayak on earth. But, it’s a flexible starter kayak that will let you try different waters and fish comfortably.
Fishing kayaks have evolved greatly over the last few years. It’s not hard to find a kayak that has most of the features you’re looking for. Pedal drive kayaks, while more expensive, can really extend your range and provide you with hands free propulsion. Overall, it’s a great time to be in the market for a new fishing kayak.
Let me know your thoughts on this list. Are they any kayaks that I missed? What’s your favorite fishing kayak?