How To Choose the Right Fishing Kayak

Kayak fishing is an ideal way to get on the water and, most importantly, to areas that anglers stuck on land can’t reach.

While you can cast a line from most any craft, today’s fishing-specific kayaks are especially suited to the task, making the pursuit of your target species even easier. No longer just a kayak with added rod holders, the market is now filled with better designs, new innovations, and endless ways to customize your floating fish platform. While shopping for one can be confusing, boil it down to how much you can spend and which waters you’ll be fishing most. If possible, try out a few different options before making your purchase. 

Types

Angling kayaks vary just like the fish you’re after, from those with cockpits to sit-on-tops to inflatables. While “sit-inside” versions offer refuge from colder waters, most kayak anglers opt for plastic sit-on-tops for their open decks, the stability to stand, and ease of use—getting off in the shallows or climbing back on in the event of a capsize. But throw in hull shape, length, materials, plus the type of propulsion system (paddle, pedal, or motor), and there are other factors to determine your ideal fish-slaying sleigh. 

Material

Plastic is the most common material for fishing kayaks for its price point and durability. The downside: It’s heavier, making some kayaks difficult to load and carry on a cartop rack. Some thermo- and blow-molded plastic options offer lighter variations. Fiberglass or composite, typically used for touring kayaks, is another option, but more expensive and easier to damage (however, it’s also easier to repair). Inflatables are another option. While reduced rigidity means less paddling performance, they roll up for storage in your car and garage back home.  

Pedal vs. Paddle

This is a biggie. Many of today’s fishing kayaks have pedal-drive options, making for hands-free propulsion, which lets you troll and manage with your rod while moving. With forward and reverse modes (great for unsnagging a lure), they come with a removable “pod” that slides into the hull, most with a prop for propulsion (Hobie’s “Mirage” pedal-drive comes with fins). Simply insert the pod, hop in and pedal away, controlling the rudder with your hand via a lever by your seat. But pedal drives also add weight, plus you have to be careful not to hit the bottom with the prop or fins (they’re not the best choice for fishing shallow waters, but most pull up manually if needed). The alternative is using a paddle, which is simpler and less cumbersome, but can get in the way while fishing. Pedal drive or regular, most fishing kayaks have a place to store or lash your paddle while you fish and rig your gear (consider a paddle leash if there’s not).

Rudders

Rudders provide assistance in tracking and steering, and are controlled with either foot pedals (paddle craft) or hand toggles (pedal craft). If you get a kayak with a rudder, make sure to lift it out of the water when launching from or returning to shore (or whenever in shallow water) to prevent damage. They’re especially useful for longer boats, which are harder to turn, and when heading far offshore. 

Other Factors

Think about weight and capacity. Make sure you can lift your kayak onto your car, paddle cart, or into your trailer, and that its weight capacity fits your body. When it comes to length, in general, the longer the faster, with better tracking (better for fishing in the open ocean); shorter, wider kayaks are more stable and maneuverable, and better suited for backwater-style fishing (and standing to fish). Other bells and whistles to consider include built-in live wells, dry storage hatches for electronics, rod and paddle holders, deck rigging and rear storage wells to rig the go-to milk crate carry-all. Also make sure the seat is comfortable; you’ll be spending a fair amount of time in it. Look for a higher back and ways to adjust reclining position and height, but don’t overlook the potential need to stand up out of it as well.

Accessories

Once you have your fishing kayak, it’s time to accessorize. As well as the mandatory paddle and PFD, you can augment your kayak fishing package with everything from rod holders and integrated tackle boxes to bait wells, anchors, paddle leashes, landing nets and more. Many kayak anglers even add fish finders, depth finders and other electronics to their package. While it’s easy to spend as much on accessories as the kayak, just remember that your craft only has so much room, so keep things simple at first—and look for fishing kayaks with plenty of accessory mounting locations to keep your options open if you want to level up.

Trolling Motors

Many anglers add portable, electric trolling motors to their kayaks to aid propulsion (some kayaks even come with trolling motors built-in, but check your state’s registration requirements). Some models fit in the front pedal-drive cavity, while others have stern sections compatible with transom-mounting units. A typical upgrade is to install a 45-pound thrust (2.5-hp) trolling motor with a 12-volt, deep-cycle marine battery; simply clamp the motor to a stern bracket, drop the battery in the storage well and head out into the wild bluegill-filled yonder.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.