In many respects, fishing is a game of access. The more water you can reach, the more fish you can catch. And while traditional boats can provide pretty good access to large lakes and rivers, they are expensive, require gallons of expensive gas and take quite a bit of time to set up for a day of fishing. Additionally, they’re essentially useless for fishing small ponds or rivers.
Accordingly, a number of anglers have begun opting for kayaks rather than traditional boats. Kayaks may not be appropriate for fishing 50 miles offshore, but they excel in just about every other type of fishing situation. They’re great in ponds and lakes of all sizes, and they work in mile-wide rivers or narrow backcountry creeks.
But you don’t want to run out and purchase the first kayak you see. Kayaks vary in a number of different ways, and some models are better suited for some situations than others are. We’ll try to help you pick the best kayak for your needs below, as we review the best overall kayaks as well as those that dominate a particular category, such as propelled models.
The Best Fishing Kayaks
Unless you have very specific requirements for your kayak (such as the need for a two-person model), any of the following three kayaks should suit you very well. These kayaks are easily among the best of the best, and they excel in almost every way imaginable.
The first two feature a propulsion system, while the third does not, but they are not listed in any particular order.
The Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 is an extremely well-built craft, made from rotomolded polyethylene. This ensures that the craft is not only durable but quite buoyant too (it will keep up to 600 pounds worth of angler and gear afloat). Measuring 13-feet and 8-inches in length, this craft is long enough to accommodate most anglers, while still being relatively maneuverable on the water.
Of course, the Mirage Pro Angler 14’s most notable feature is the included MirageDrive 180 pedal-powered fin system, which will allow you to cruise across the water very quickly. This makes this craft a great choice for anglers who like to cover long distances while fishing, as well as those who’d rather keep their hands free for fishing instead of paddling.
Most anglers will find the Mirage Pro Angler 14’s cockpit to be very roomy, thanks to the kayak’s width and sit-on-top design. The included seat – the Hobie’s Vantage CT Seat – is one of the best available among kayaks, and it allows anglers to make several different adjustments to attain a comfortable paddling position.
Most anglers will find the Mirage Pro Angler 14 to be stable enough for standing, which can be very important for anglers who’ve grown accustomed to fishing from a standing position. And if you like, you can flip up the seat bottom to provide more room for standing. Two floor mats are even attached to the deck to ensure you remain comfortable while doing so.
The Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 comes with an unreal amount of storage space, so you should be able to bring along almost all of the gear you want. A large flip-top storage compartment is situated at the bow, and it features a liner so that you can use it as an icebox if necessary. Two more storage compartments are provided for tools and tackle. One is placed in the cockpit, directly in front of the seat, while the other is located on the cargo deck.
And speaking of the cargo deck, the Mirage Pro Angler 14 has a very large one. It provides an excellent place to store a cooler, live well or backpack, and it includes bungee straps to keep your gear in place. Two H-rails are included and give you the perfect place to mount electronics or additional rod holders.
However, you may not need any more rod holders, as the Mirage Pro Angler 14 comes equipped with two horizontal rod racks, and two flush-mount rod holders, which are situated behind the seat. An accessory mount at the front of the cockpit and a pair of cup holders are also included.
All in all, the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 is a very impressive fishing kayak. It is quite fast on the water, and despite being very wide and stable, it still tracks and maneuvers well on the water. The included rudder system (which is controlled via a control on the left of the cockpit) also helps ensure you can put the craft right where you want it.
The only real drawbacks to the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 are its weight – at 144 pounds, this kayak is too heavy to carry by yourself – and its relatively expensive price tag. However, a cart or friend can help you overcome the first problem. There’s no easy way to get around the second issue, but if you want a premium kayak, you’ll have to pay premium prices.
Simply put, the Native Watercraft Titan Propel 13.5 is one of the finest kayaks on the market. Well-designed, well-built and well-equipped, it is the perfect option for anglers who just want the best kayak available, without making any significant sacrifices.
Featuring a 13.5-foot-long hull that is a whopping 41.5 inches wide, the Titan Propel 13.5 is a very stable vessel. It will allow you to battle even the biggest fish with confidence and help fledgling paddlers enjoy a bit more leeway than some other kayaks will. You can even stand up on the Titan Propel 13.5, and, thanks to the included anti-slip standing pads, you won’t have to worry about your deck being slippery.
The Titan Propel 13.5 is a bit heavy, thanks to its large hull and included propulsion system. The hull itself weighs 154 pounds, but once you have it rigged up and water-ready, it tips the scales at 178 pounds. However, while this kayak may not be easy to move around, it boasts a very impressive 550-pound capacity, so you won’t have to leave any of your gear at home.
The Native Watercraft Titan Propel 13.5 is powered by the Propel Power Drive – a propeller-based propulsion system that will allow you to zip around the water and travel quickly from one fishing spot to the next. The Titan Propel 13.5 also comes with a built-in rudder, which will allow you to pilot the kayak easily and put it right where you want it.
A sit-on-top kayak, the Titan Propel 13.5 provides plenty of room for most anglers. The cockpit is not only wide but relatively long too. It also comes with a fully adjustable, hand-sewn seat, which is mounted on a long rail, so you can achieve the best possible pedaling position. A small storage tray is even located beneath the seat – but this just represents the tip of the storage-space iceberg.
The Titan Propel 13.5 features two storage compartments. A gigantic, covered storage hatch is located at the bow, and a huge cargo deck – one of the biggest among all fishing kayaks – is located at the stern. Both of these storage spaces are equipped with bungee cords to keep your gear secure. Another, smaller storage hatch is also situated in the bottom of the rear cargo deck.
Horizontal rod holders are provided to keep your rods secure and out-of-the-way, and a single flush-mount-style rod holder is placed on the right side of the cockpit. And finally, groove tracks are situated all around the cockpit, giving you plenty of ways to add more storage compartments or mount electronic devices (and speaking of fishing electronics, the Titan Propel 13.5 also includes a built-in transducer mounting plate on the hull).
Considering the way this kayak is built and all of the features it provides, it is easy to see why it is one of the best on the market. It performs very well on the water and provides everything modern anglers want in a fishing kayak. You’ll certainly pay for the privilege of piloting a Titan Propel 13.5, but most people will be happy with their decision.
The only kayak without a propulsion system to crack our top-3, the Ocean Kayak Prowler Big Game II Angler is a great choice for anglers that want a top-of-the-line kayak, without springing for the added expense of a propeller or fin-system.
Built around a 12-foot-9-inch-long, 34-inch-wide hull, the Prowler Big Game II Angler is ideally suited for anglers that value stability above all else. The Prowler Big Game II is not only stable enough to allow most anglers to stand up while fishing, it’ll allow you to reel in even the biggest fish with ease. And once you drag your monster back to the kayak, you can simply drag him aboard, thanks to the craft’s 600-pound capacity.
The Prowler Big Game II Angler isn’t the fastest craft on the water (particularly given that it lacks a propulsion system), but it handles very well and tracks as though it’s on a rail. It is easy to paddle and achieve a reasonable cruising speed, and you’ll never have problems putting it exactly where you want (although most anglers will want to consider adding the optional rudder system for maximum maneuverability).
Storage space isn’t a problem with the Prowler Big Game II, either. It comes with several built-in storage options and gives you the chance to add plenty of other components as necessary. A medium-sized click-seal storage hatch is located at the bow, and a large cargo deck (equipped with bungee cords to keep your equipment in place) is located at the stern.
But the coolest storage space provided by the Prowler Big Game II Angler is clearly the Mod Pod center hatch console. This console provides several different storage options, and it is ready to hold tools or tackle, and it gives you several places to store rods or mount electronic devices. In fact, one of the scupper holes is designed to accommodate your transducer cable.
If you still need more room to store equipment or mount electronics, the Prowler Big Game II Angler also features six accessory mounting plates located around the cockpit. And just because Ocean Kayak appears to have thought of everything, two paddle keepers are also included on the kayak.
One of the other interesting things that sets the Prowler Big Game II Angler apart from our other top-3 picks is its weight. Unlike the other models, the Prowler Big Game II Angler is relatively light, coming in at 70 pounds. This, combined with the carrying handles located at the front and back of the vessel make it possible for some anglers to carry this kayak without help.
The Prowler Big Game II Angler obviously isn’t as suitable for the open ocean as some of the kayaks with built-in propulsion systems or long-and-lean hulls are, but it performs remarkably well on the water and is perfectly suitable for anglers who fish near shore or in most freshwater situations. It also provides all of the bells-and-whistles, including ample storage space, electronics-friendly features and a place to mount a trolling motor, which most anglers want.
The Best Tandem Fishing Kayak: Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 17T
Many anglers like the idea of fishing from a kayak, but they don’t want to hit the water alone. Fortunately, there are a variety of tandem models on the market that provide seating for two. This way, you can enjoy fishing from your new kayak with a buddy, child or spouse.
However, this also presents a problem: It can be a bit difficult to paddle many tandem-style kayaks by yourself. Neither of the seating positions provided by most tandem kayaks is particularly well-suited for solo paddlers. So, many tandem kayaks are no fun to use on those occasions in which you are fishing solo.
But Hobie has devised a way to side-step this entire issue; one of their tandem models – the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 17T – features seats that can be positioned in three different configurations.
In the in-line tandem configuration, one angler sits at the front of the cockpit and the other sits at the back – like the seating provided by most other tandem models. However, you can also rotate the front seat 180 degrees, so it faces backward. Hobie calls this “social seating,” as it makes it easy to chat while you fish.
The final configuration allows you to remove one of the seats entirely and position the remaining seat in the middle of the kayak. This not only makes the vessel easy to pilot in solo mode, but it opens up a ton of deck space, so you can bring even more gear or equipment with you.
And aside from the fact that the Mirage Pro Angler 17T’s Vantage XT seats can be arranged in three different positions, they are also quite comfortable. These mesh-backed chairs will allow your back to remain cool, while the aluminum frame provides all of the support you need. You can even remove the seats and use them as stream-side chairs if you like.
The Mirage Pro Angler 17T also provides an abundance of storage space. Three rectangular storage hatches are placed on the deck, and each one is designed to hold two medium-sized Plano Tackle Boxes (they even come included with the kayak). Because three of these storage hatches are provided, you’ll always have one right at your feet, no matter which seating configuration you use. A larger storage hatch is located at the bow and features a removable liner so that you can fill it with ice to keep your catch fresh.
The Mirage Pro Angler 17T only comes with two built-in rod holders, but this isn’t a problem, as it also features Hobie’s H-Rail accessory system, which is located on each side of the cockpit. This rail is designed to accommodate a wide variety of accessory mounts, so you can add your fish finder, GPS, cup holders or additional rod holders.
Like many of Hobie’s other high-end kayaks, the Mirage Pro Angler 17T comes with Hobie’s propulsion system, the MirageDrive 180. When combined with the 17-foot-long hull, the MirageDrive 180 ensures that you’ll fly across the water faster than you will in most other kayaks. And, the included rudder system (which either passenger can operate, as there are two rudder controls provided) will help you stay on course while cruising from one spot to the next.
But, if you’d rather not have to pedal at all, the Mirage Pro Angler 17T features a flat stern, which makes it easy to add a trolling motor. It even comes with a battery platform (located directly behind the rear seat), so you can be sure your trolling motor battery will stay safe and secure.
The Mirage Pro Angler 17T handles very well and provides a stable ride, thanks in part to its 43.5-inch wide hull. Most anglers will feel comfortable standing up while fishing, and the included grip pads will give you secure footing, even if water splashes up on the deck.
If you want a tandem-style kayak, but you want to be able to use it by yourself from time to time, the Mirage Pro Angler 17T is the perfect choice, thanks to the adjustable seating configurations it provides. And even if you don’t care about the adjustable seating options, this is clearly one of the best tandem kayaks available. It deserves serious consideration by all anglers.
The Best Inflatable Kayak: Advanced Elements Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055
Inflatable kayaks have been around for a long time, but they’ve only received serious attention from anglers for the last decade or so. Early inflatable models didn’t provide the kind of on-the-water performance most anglers wanted, and they weren’t especially safe, as they would develop leaks if merely brushed by a hook or catfish spine.
But this has changed in recent years, and anglers interested in an inflatable kayak now have a few viable options from which they can choose. Nevertheless, one inflatable model – the Advanced Elements Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 – is clearly the best option in the category.
Part of the reason the Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 performs so well is due to its chined hull, which features aluminum ribs for added stability. This makes the kayak much more stable than most other inflatable models are. Additionally, the Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 also features a drop-stitch floor, which makes the deck more rigid. Brave anglers may try standing on the deck, but those for whom standing is a requirement should probably stick to rigid-hull models.
The Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 provides a very comfortable ride. Part of this springs from the air-filled side walls, which won’t dig into your legs while paddling, but this kayak also comes with a very good seat – the AirFrame Pro — for a kayak. This seat provides much more support than the air-filled seats that are common among other inflatable kayaks, and it can be adjusted in several different ways.
The Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 is also more durable than most other inflatable kayaks, which allows you to fish without worry that your boat will spring a leak and leave you stranded. In fact, abrasion pads are placed in most of the high-use areas of the kayak to provide additional protection.
Additionally, while most inflatable kayaks provide little to no storage space, the Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 actually provides a reasonable amount. Cargo-deck-like areas are located at the bow and stern, and they feature bungee cords to keep your gear secure. Additionally, two accessory rail systems are placed around the cockpit and provide anglers with the ability to mount storage containers, rod holders, electronics and more. And although it isn’t a defined storage area, there is a good bit of open space behind the seat.
The Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 measures about 10.5 feet long and 38.5 inches wide. It weighs only 45 pounds (and of course, it deflates), so it is very easy to move this kayak around, even without help.
Inflatable kayaks certainly aren’t the best choice for everyone, but anglers looking for an affordable, durable and easily transported kayak should give the Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 a look. You may be surprised just how far inflatable kayaks have come.
The Best Fishing Kayak with Pedals: The Native Watercraft Ultimate FX Propel 13
If you are a fan of pedal-style kayaks, you’re probably already aware that the different systems used by different manufacturers often vary wildly in terms of quality – some are simply much better than others. And for those seeking the very best pedal-style kayak on the market, the Native Watercraft Ultimate FX Propel 13 is probably the best choice.
Equipped with the Propel Pedal Drive System, which works in both forward and reverse, the Ultimate FX Propel 13 is a high-performance fishing machine that will help you skate over the top of the water like a dream. The Propel Pedal Drive System is easy to operate and most anglers who try it find that it is one of the most comfortable propulsion systems available.
The Ultimate FX Propel 13 also features a hull that is conducive to reaching high speeds. It not only features a sharply angled bow and stern to help it cut through the water, but it is 13.5 feet long, while only being 32.5 inches wide, which gives it a great combination of speed and stability. And thanks to the included keel and rudder system, it will be easy to keep on course while heading to your favorite fishing spot.
The Ultimate FX Propel 13 is also pretty stable. Most anglers will likely feel confident enough to stand up while fishing, and you’ll never have to worry about rolling while battling big fish. This kayak doesn’t provide a ton of space for your feet, but medium-sized or small anglers will surely find the deck spacious enough to accommodate their feet.
But while the Ultimate FX Propel 13 features one of the best propulsion systems on the market, Native Watercraft hasn’t forgotten that this is still a fishing kayak. They’ve provided all of the things anglers usually want in a kayak, starting with an abundance of storage space.
For example, a hard-shelled storage hatch (with included bungee straps) is located at the bow, and a removable/adjustable thwart box (with two included rod holders) lies behind the seat. An internal battery storage compartment allows you to keep your trolling motor batter out of the way, and a flush-mount rod holder is positioned on the right side of the cockpit. Additionally, accessory mounting plates are scattered around the cockpit, giving you the chance to mount just about any kind of accessories – including additional rod holders, GPS mounts and more – you want.
But aside from the Ultimate FX Propel 13’s high-quality pedal drive, handling, stability and abundant storage space, it also boasts one other very important characteristic: It is the lightest 13-foot-long pedal-driven kayak on the market. Coming in under 100 pounds when fully rigged, the Ultimate FX Propel 13 is a breeze to carry with help (carrying handles are provided at the bow and stern), and with the pedal drive removed, it weighs only 79 pounds. This is conceivably light enough for some anglers to carry without help.
So, if you pedal-drive aficionado, and you’d like to set yourself up with the best pedal-driven fishing kayak on the market, you owe it to yourself to give the Native Watercraft Ultimate FX Propel 13 serious consideration. It will likely satisfy your desire for a high-quality pedal drive, while still providing you with everything you need as an angler.
The Best Cheap Fishing Kayak: Vibe Skipjack 90
Although it is easy to find a great kayak if you have a several-thousand-dollar budget, it can be quite challenging to pick out a winner if your budget is much smaller – say, $500 or less. There are a few excellent kayaks available at this price range, but you’ll have to carefully analyze them to determine the best one.
But we can just go ahead and save you the trouble: Despite the individual differences between anglers, most will surely agree that the Vibe Skipjack 90 is the best model available for less than 500 bucks. Obviously, you’ll have to make some sacrifices when trying to purchase a fishing kayak on a limited budget, but the Skipjack 90 does a great job of emphasizing the things anglers need and employing clever design tricks to keep the price low, instead of cutting corners and producing a low-quality vessel.
For starters, the Skipjack 90 is pretty small, as it measures only 9 feet long. Small kayaks require less material to manufacture, thereby helping to keep the price low. But small kayaks are also quite light (the Skipjack 90 only weighs 46 pounds). And because the Skipjack 90 also comes with four carrying handles, it is easy to carry to the water without help.
This isn’t the best choice for tall or large anglers, but because it is 32 inches wide, it will accommodate most anglers of average size. It also comes with several footwells, giving you five different foot-positioning options, so you can achieve a comfortable paddling position.
The Skipjack 90’s wide shape also makes it surprisingly stable. It’ll support up to 300 pounds of rider and tackle, and many anglers will find that it is stable enough for standing. It even provides a pretty generous amount of deck space for your feet. You’ll sacrifice a bit of speed and maneuverability in exchange for this stability, but no 9-foot-long kayak is going to be especially fast anyway.
You may be wondering about the amount of storage space the Skipjack 90 provides, as this is one of the most common places in which manufacturers try to save money when designing budget kayaks. But Vibe sidestepped this common problem when designing this kayak, and it provides quite a bit of storage space for such a tiny kayak.
Two circular storage compartments (each of which contains a liner) are provided and serve as the perfect place to store tackle, small tools and similar gear. A large cargo deck is located at the stern and includes bungee straps to keep your gear secure. Additionally, a backpack-style pouch is mounted to the back of the seat.
Four flush-mount rod holders are situated around the cockpit, and there is a drink holder in the center console. Interestingly, you can actually put an optional articulating rod holder inside this cup holder if you like. Two paddle parks are also included and make it easy to put down the paddle and pick up your rod.
Ultimately, the Skipjack 90 is a very impressive kayak for the money. It won’t compete very well with kayaks that cost two or three times as much, but it is a great option for cost-conscious buyers and beginners. It’s not terribly fast, nor is it a good option for offshore fishing or large anglers. But it is probably the best pond-patrolling kayaks on the market, and it is incredibly easy to transport too.
The Best Ocean Fishing Kayak: Ocean Kayak Trident 15 Angler
Anglers intent on fishing in the open ocean can’t afford to use a substandard kayak to do so. The ocean demands that you use a high-performance vessel that is up to the task. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the manufacturer’s name, the Ocean Kayak Trident 15 Angler provides exactly the type of quality, safety and performance that off-shore anglers require.
The Trident 15 Angler’s quality becomes immediately apparent upon checking out the 15.5-foot-long, 28.5-inch-wide polyethylene hull. Sleek, swift and saltwater-safe, this kayak will fly across the surface, giving you the chance to move from one spot to another or cross long distances exceptionally quickly. It’s length also provides great buoyancy (it’ll support 455 pounds of rider and gear) and gives anglers the ability to handle large swells with ease.
The Trident 15 Angler may not be stable enough to allow most anglers to feel comfortable standing, but that’s part of the tradeoff you make when you select such a sleek, fast and narrow vessel. But the Trident 15 Angler isn’t only fast, it is pretty maneuverable too, thanks in part to the included rudder system, which anglers can control with their feet.
As you may expect of a high-quality, 15.5-foot-long kayak, the Trident 15 Angler provides plenty of storage space. Two large click-seal storage hatches are located at the bow and stern, and a spacious cargo deck is situated directly behind the seat. Bungee straps are provided with the cargo deck to ensure your gear won’t slip into the ocean when you’re facing high seas.
Like several other Ocean Kayak models, the Trident 15 Angler comes with the Mod Pod II – a multifunction storage console, which provides a number of ways to store tackle and mount additional accessories. Accessory mounting plates are positioned all around the cockpit, and one – located at the front of the cockpit, between the Mod Pod II and the bow storage hatch – features a transducer-compatible scupper, making it easy to mount your fish finder on the vessel. Two flush-mount rod holders, a rod rest and a paddle keeper round out the storage options provided.
But while storage space is important for off-shore anglers, you also want a kayak that provides a comfortable ride. Long journeys are common for open-ocean kayakers, so you’ll want to avoid straining your back and legs while paddling. Fortunately, the Trident 15 Angler provides exactly the type of comfort anglers want.
For example, the Trident 15 Angler comes with Ocean Kayak’s ACS2 Seat, which is both adjustable and padded. Additionally, adjustable foot pegs are included to help ensure that you can achieve a comfortable paddling position. The Trident 15 Angler will also accommodate relatively tall anglers, as it provides 51 inches of space for your legs.
Like most other 15-foot-long kayaks, the Trident 15 Angler isn’t terribly light, and it weighs about 91 pounds. However, it does come with four carrying handles and it is relatively narrow. This means large anglers may be able to carry it without help.
The Trident 15 Angler isn’t a good option for anglers that want an all-around fishing kayak; you wouldn’t want to drag this beast down to a 2-acre farm pond. But, if you want a premium kayak that is well suited for large bodies of water (including freshwater lakes and the open ocean), the Trident 15 Angler is easily one of the best options available.
Factors to Consider When Picking a Fishing Kayak
No matter what type of kayak you are looking for, how much you are willing to spend, or where you intend to use it, you’ll want to consider a few important features, criteria and characteristics when making your choice. This will help ensure that you end up with a kayak that suits your needs and helps you to catch more fish.
Some of the most important things to think about when picking your new fishing kayak include:
Sit-on-Top Vs. Sit-Inside
Modern kayaks come in one of two varieties: sit-on-top or sit-inside. So, you’ll need to decide which style you’d prefer when you start shopping. Neither style is inherently better than the other, although sit-on-top designs are currently the more popular design among most kayakers.
Sit-on-top kayaks are typically the more stable of the two designs, and they offer greater safety too, as they won’t fill with water, should you roll over in deep water. They also provide a bit more space to move around, and you can let your legs dangle in the water while battling fish if you like.
However, sit-inside kayaks are generally lighter than comparable sit-on-top models, and they often perform better in rivers and creeks. Generally speaking, sit-inside kayaks will also keep you drier while riding, which may keep you much more comfortable on long voyages.
It’s important to consider the style you’d prefer first, as it may limit your choices significantly. Most modern manufacturers stick to sit-on-top designs (especially for their high-end models), although a few companies (such as Sun Dolphin) offer a few models that essentially come in both styles.
For example, the Sun Dolphin Journey Series feature a sit-on-top design, while kayaks in the Excursion Series are nearly identical, except that they feature a sit-inside design.
Pedal or Paddle?
Aside from the basic design of the hull, you will probably want to decide whether you want a pedal-driven kayak or one you must paddle to propel (incidentally, this question won’t matter very much to kayakers who prefer a sit-in design, as few include a propulsion system).
Pedal-powered models are the much faster option, and they are typically easier to pilot on long voyages as you can rely on your leg, butt and back muscles, rather than your arms and shoulders to drive you through the water. And because you have more “horsepower” at your disposal, pedal-powered kayaks are often a bit more maneuverable over long distances.
There are two basic types of propulsion systems on the market. Some rely on long, flipper-like fins to push water and propel you forward, while others use a propeller-style drivetrain. Many kayakers find that fin-based propulsion systems allow for greater speeds, but they are hard to use in shallow water, as most fins extend for a considerable distance beneath the water.
Propeller-style drive systems offer a few benefits too. For example, some will operate in either direction, allow you to propel yourself forward or backward. This obviously improves your maneuverability on the water a great deal. Also, propeller-drive systems are usually smaller than fin-style systems, making them useful in shallower water.
But these advantages come with two significant costs, which may convince anglers to forego a propulsion system and select a paddle-powered kayak instead. The first such cost is the price; kayaks with propulsion systems simply cost more than paddle-powered kayaks do – sometimes significantly so. Accordingly, anglers on a budget may have no choice but to select a kayak that relies on paddle-power.
Weight is the second cost you’ll have to pay when selecting a pedal-powered kayak. Propulsion systems are not light, and they can significantly increase the overall weight of your kayak. You can carry them without the pedal system installed, but then you’ll just have to rig up the kayak in the water.
After deciding whether you want a sit-on-top or sit-inside kayak, and you’ve grappled with the pedal-or-paddle question, you’ll likely want to turn your attention to the matter of length. Kayaks are available in lengths ranging from about 9 to 17 feet, with most falling between about 10 and 14 feet in length.
A kayak’s length is one of the most important characteristics that will influence the way it performs on the water. Generally speaking, the longer the kayak, the faster it will be. So, if you routinely fish off shore or need to cover long distances, you’ll generally want to pick a kayak that is at least 11 to 12 feet long, and preferably longer.
On the flipside, longer kayaks are not as maneuverable as smaller kayaks are. This may cause problems for anglers who like to fish in small farm ponds or narrow creeks and rivers. It’s also harder to carry, store and transport longer kayaks, so anglers who live in apartments or who drive small cars may need to determine the maximum length that will work for their needs.
It’s also important to consider your size when picking the perfect kayak length. If you are a tall individual (say, over 6’ 2” tall), you’ll probably want to select a kayak that is at least 11 feet long. This will help ensure you have enough leg and elbow room when piloting the craft.
Stability – the tendency of a craft to remain upright in the water – is a very important criteria anglers should consider when picking a kayak. No one wants to roll over and watch your favorite rod sink out of sight (and then be forced to wrestle with the craft as you try to right it in deep water).
Historically, kayaks were not very stable, and it took quite a bit of practice to keep yourself upright while casting or battling fish. But many modern kayaks are remarkably stable, making them unlikely to roll. Some are even stable enough to allow you to stand up while fishing.
Kayaks typically derive their stability from two key characteristics: the craft’s width (beam) and the hull design. Typically, wider crafts with a low-profile design are the most stable, while narrow kayaks that are rather tall are more likely to rock back and forth in the water.
If you are looking for a stable kayak, you’ll usually want to limit your potential choices to models that are at least 30 inches wide. Just be aware that increased stability usually comes at the expense of paddling efficiency. So, be sure to decide how much stability you truly need before making your choice.
Unlike recreational kayakers, who rarely bring very much gear or equipment along during outings, anglers usually want to load up their kayak with things like rods, tackle, tools and even live wells or coolers. You may also want to mount various electronic devices, such as fish finders or GPS units, to the kayak.
To accommodate these needs, most kayaks designed for anglers come equipped with a variety of storage compartments, pockets, consoles, rod holders, cargo decks and accessory rails. However, the amount of storage space provided varies quite a bit from one kayak to the next.
Entry-level fishing kayaks, for example, typically provide a small cargo deck, one primary storage compartment and a rod holder or two. By contrast, high-end fishing kayaks usually have roomy cargo decks, multiple storage compartments, several rod holders and accessory rails or plates.
Storage space is an important consideration, but it is possible to employ a few creative solutions if you have your eye on a craft that is perfect except for the amount of storage space provided. You may, for example, be able to wear a small backpack or fanny pack, in which you could store tackle. You may also be willing to mount aftermarket accessory rails on the kayak to give you a place to mount fish finders and additional rod holders.
It is important for anglers to be able to position their kayak with precision. This is the only way you’ll be able to avoid obstacles or hazards, navigate crowded waters or turn around in tight spaces. A craft’s maneuverability will also determine how well you can present your lure or bait to the fish – if you can’t put your boat in the right position, you may not be able to cast to the right places.
As mentioned earlier, a kayak’s length will influence its maneuverability (shorter kayaks are usually more maneuverable than longer kayaks are). So, if you commonly fish in narrow rivers or are forced to navigate crowded waters, you may want to select a relatively short kayak. Conversely, anglers who cruise around on the open water will typically prefer longer kayaks.
A vessel’s width will also influence its maneuverability, as wider kayaks will typically be harder to maneuver than narrower kayaks are. This, by extension, also means that stability and maneuverability are often at odds with each other.
Unlike traditional boats, which you’ll haul around on a trailer (or simply leave docked on the water), you’ll usually find it necessary to move your kayak around manually. You’ll need to retrieve the kayak from its storage space at your home, carry it to your car or truck, load it up, drive to the water, unload it and then get it down to the water.
But while you’ll need to carry out these steps with just about any kayak, some make this much easier to accomplish than others. Typically, a kayak’s length, width and weight will be the most important factors to consider. Long kayaks are hard to move through tight spaces and wide kayaks can be hard to grip comfortably. And while many kayaks weigh less than 50 pounds and are pretty easy for solo paddlers to carry, others weigh well over 100 pounds (particularly propelled models).
It’s also important to check out the handles included with a kayak before making your purchase. Some kayaks feature four carrying handles (one at the bow, one at the stern and one on each side of the cockpit), while others only have one or two handles.
While the features and characteristics examined above are among the most important for anglers to consider when selecting a kayak, there are a few other things to think about when making your choice. Most of these are relatively minor considerations, which shouldn’t serve as “deal breakers” if you’ve found a kayak you like in most other ways.
However, if you are trying to decide between two similar models, the following things may help you make your choice.
Does the kayak have a rudder?
Rudders make it easier to pilot the vessel and keep it on track over long distances. They can also make it easy to turn around in tight spaces. And if you are going to choose a kayak with a rudder, try to stick with one that includes a keel to protect the rudder from damage.
Is the kayak ready for your electronics?
Ideally, you’ll want a kayak with a mounting plate or rail that is in a good location for your fish finder display, as well as a transducer-compatible scupper to make it easy to thread the transducer cable through the hull. Additionally, the best kayaks typically come equipped with a transducer mounting plate.
Does the kayak have any protective features?
Some kayaks feature skid plates and other protective items to help prevent the hull from sustaining damage – particularly when you are launching or landing the craft.
Does the kayak have a keel?
Keels can reduce the stability of a kayak slightly, which may make them more difficult to stand in, but they will help improve the craft’s overall performance on the water. Typically, anglers who fish in deep water will appreciate keels; those who fish in shallow water will often be better off with a keelless model.
Will the kayak accept a trolling motor?
At some point, you may want to put down your paddle or pedals and mount an electric trolling motor on your kayak. Some kayaks make this much easier to accomplish than others, by featuring a flat stern and providing space to store a battery.
Is the kayak backed by a manufacturer’s warranty?
Whenever you make a big purchase, you’ll want to be sure that the manufacturer will stand behind the product, should you detect a defect. Most premium kayaks do enjoy some type of warranty protection, but some manufacturers offer more extensive protection than others.
Is the seat removable for transport and storage?
Some kayaks feature removable seats, which can make it much easier to transport your kayak (every ounce you remove makes the hull easier to carry). Additionally, some of the best kayaks feature seats that can actually be used away from the kayak.
Is the kayak available in colors that suit your tastes?
Color is admittedly a somewhat minor concern compared with things like stability, speed and storage space. However, if you are looking at two relatively similar kayaks, and you are having trouble deciding which one is the right choice, color may help you make up your mind.
At the end of the day, you must make sure that you pick a kayak that is specifically suited for your needs. Anglers who frequent tiny farm ponds will want different things from a kayak than anglers who fish far from shore. Some anglers may value portability above all else, while others want a kayak with the most storage space possible.
But no matter what you are looking for, the recommendations listed above should work very well in the circumstances indicated, so they represent the best place to start.