How to choose the best kayak to fish from
I have always loved fishing - one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me to a nearby shingle beach to catch mackerel. I remember the warmth of the summer evening, the burning red sunset before us, sparkling off the sea. I remember the mackerel we brought home - possibly the first food that I remember not coming from a shop or supermarket.
From there on out, I remember crab fishing for sport nearly every day of the summer holidays for years when until I was about sixteen. I became too cool for fishing then, I guess, or too lazy. The passion came back with a vengeance though during my university years. I'd spend the evenings on the beach with a rod, reading Kant's Critiques or Nietzsche's Thus Spake. Jeez, I was pretentious.
And now here we are, many years later. I still love fishing, and what better way to improve the experience than getting right out on the water in a kayak. It's a relatively inexpensive upgrade to your fishing trips and can get you to some fishing grounds that would otherwise be unreachable or out of bounds.
Fishing kayaks come with all kinds of gizmos and accessories, but in essence, all you need is something that floats (the kayak), your fishing gear (rod, tackle and bait) and something in which to store your catch. Of course, a purpose-made fishing kayak is an ideal option for your floaty thing, and we'll look at why in this guide. I'll also put forth my top picks for the best fishing kayak for your money, including the best inflatable fishing kayak.
Hobie Mirage Oasis
Rigid pedal powered
Tandem - 550 lbs
Sevylor Tahiti Hunt & Fish
Tandem - 360 lbs
NRS Pike Fishing Kayak
Old Town Predator
Single - 400 lbs
Perception Sport Pescador
Single - 325 lbs
Ocean Kayak Trident
Single - 355lbs (13' model)
This inflatable fishing kayak is one of my top picks - because it's versatile, being inflatable, and is excellent value for money.
It doesn't track as well as some of the other choices, and I would recommend either purchasing or making a skeg for it (making a skeg is a good shout because you can make it a bit bigger, and so it is more effective).
But for the price, you really get a good deal. It can carry about 160 kg, so about 360 lbs - that should be enough for you and a load of gear and fish. Or just about enough room for you, your tiny friend and a bit of gear (I weigh over 200lbs on the best of days, so I have to assume two people is a bit of a push).
By the by, an alternative with a higher capacity (470 lbs) is the Coleman Colorado Fishing Kayak.
The Tahiti fishing kayak is not as stable as I would like for rough seas, it's best for calmer waters - however, if you are feeling risky, coastal waters on a calm day are certainly accessible. Be sure to have an anchor though, because of the Tahiti's high profile it catches the wind easily.
The Hobie Mirage Oasis is a 14-foot tandem, pedal-powered kayak and considered one of if not the best fishing kayak available on the market. It's pricey, but it's fast, and the pedal power feature allows you to be hands-free to use your rod with ease.
Regarding storage, the Mirage Oasis has a watertight compartment by each seat - it's enough to store a few bits and bobs, your phone for instance, and you needn't worry about a dry bag. It has further storage bow and stern, although the stern storage isn't easily accessible while you're on the water.
The seats are super comfortable, with a good amount of padding. The Hobie range also comes with sail mounts, and this is no exception - pedal, paddle or sail. The choice is yours!
A great little kayak - you'd expect it for the price - with only a few minor niggles (draining incurred water, anyone?).
The NRS is another inflatable specifically designed for fishing.
It has a drop stitched floor which is remarkably rigid - something you really appreciate when fishing, but probably don't really notice unless you have tried fishing from a lilo or something - it's not fun, especially trying to reel something in!
It also has three air chambers, much like the Tahiti by Sevylor, so it is almost unsinkable (don't jinx it though!).
As far as storage goes, it is covered in D-rings so you can rig it up with bungees and lash stuff to it to your heart's content. It comes with three scotty mount pads for rod holders or fish finder or whatever you like.
Price wise, it's not far from the other inflatable available - I would choose Sevylor, but NRS is a fantastic choice too.
The Old Town Predator 13-foot long kayak is made of polyethene and thus is strong and can stand a good beating. Not that you should be giving it too much abuse - it is well designed for fishing, being stable and tracking well.
With paddle and rod holders included, it is pretty much ready-to-go.
It has a bow hatch with roomy storage below it, as well as tackle holders on both sides of the boat which keep all your bits in easy reach.
A very stable, easy to use sit-on-top kayak, this kayak is ideal for fishing - maybe a contender for best kayak overall. Again, made from polyethene, somewhat heavy but it tracks fairly well while retaining a reasonable amount of manoeuvrability.
The Perception Pescador a bit bigger inside than some other kayaks, which is no bad thing - also, being sit-on-top, it is stable and easy to get in to or out of (or back in).
It doesn't come with loads of gear; you'll have to rig it up yourself for the most part - usually, it comes with a rod mount holder, but it's not difficult to make additions and, in fact, it suits many people to fit it out just the way they want it.
It has a tank well and a bow hatch as well as a centre day hatch, so more than enough room for storing your tackle.
Available in 11, 13 and 15-foot versions - the Trident is a professional angler's kayak of choice. They come with adjustable foot pegs and a fancy seating system to allow for maximum comfort. Suited for a single rower only, but it gives amazing performance in surf and rougher conditions as well as flat water.
It has a rear tank well, a big one at that, and a bow hatch for storage. There are also accessory tracks on the gunnels and a dedicated pod for your fishfinder as well as two rod holders. Again, it's fairly expensive but a very, very good piece of kit.
There are seemingly dozens of different types and sub-types of fishing kayak. How can you possibly choose? Well, let's break it down into nice, simple nuggets. First of all, you have the design:
These two broad categories account for pretty much all of the subtypes.
Further, you have the construction:
Most fishing kayaks are rigid bodied kayaks, but you can get some really good inflatable kayaks for your money too, and they are well worth considering (we'll look at why you should get an inflatable kayak later in this guide).
From there you would look at your intended use of the kayak - saltwater or freshwater fishing may lead you to different choices, as would the choice of still or moving waters (such as a river or a lake). We'll look at some general guidance here, but if you have specific needs, you may be better talking directly to someone with relevant experience.
This encompasses lakes and rivers. For larger bodies of water, a faster kayak would be desirable. It's much more exciting when you actually start fishing, so you probably don't want to spend all of your time getting there. For this, a narrower kayak would work - but you may have to compromise on storage. You also get slightly less initial stability with a narrower kayak. Personally, I would use a kayak with a large, open cockpit such as the Old Town Predator. A sit-on-top kayak would also be perfectly acceptable on calm waters such as a lake.
For rivers - well, fast-moving water isn't to my taste for kayak fishing, personally, but if you feel you might encounter these conditions, then more manoeuvrability is a must. A fifteen-foot tourer going down grade III whitewater might get to be a bit hairy.
Obviously, fishing on the open ocean has its own challenges and requirements. You will need some safety gear, for sure - PFD, mobile phone (radio even better), even a flare and a whistle.
I'm going to be totally honest - I prefer to stick to inshore waters in my kayak - the open ocean gives me the willies. I like to be a relatively short paddle from relative safety. But it's still challenging sometimes, with big swell and tides to contend with. The first thing you should be sure of is the behaviour of the water you're heading out on.
Anyway, a stable sit-on-top kayak or an inflatable canoe-style kayak are my preferences for less challenging sea conditions - the same as for a lake, really. Primary stability is the yak's initial resistance to tipping over - i.e. you can lean over or almost "rock" the boat quite a way, and it wants just to stay bottom-down. But once you get past a certain point, it will almost throw you off and capsize easily. Think of it as one of those big foam rafts that you get at swimming pools - they are really stable when they're flat, but if you tip it enough, you'll end up underneath it in no time. I remember this well from being a kid....
A kayak with good secondary stability will "tip" easily but won't capsize - imagine like how a motorbike tips over into the turn. The yak will tip, but be resistant to capsizing completely (unless you lack experience, in which case your panic at tipping slightly might throw you off completely).
This is a good attribute for kayaking in rougher waters, which is why sea touring kayaks have good secondary stability.
In light of this, when you choose your kayak, try to take account of where you are likely to use it and the sort of conditions that you are comfortable taking it out in.
The different types of kayak available can be broken down, as I mentioned above, into
And further into
I'll go into a bit more detail as to what the implications of these difference is now.
A sit-on-top fishing kayak is pretty much unsinkable - it's like a moulded paddleboard or surfboard or something. It typically has something like a hollow or foam interior - double hulled - to aid with its buoyancy. It has an open cockpit, usually moulded to allow you to sit in comfort and store your gear.
Of course, an open cockpit allows the water to enter the kayak, so they will usually have scuppers (drain holes) to guide the water back out.
A sit-on-top kayak has better initial stability than a sit-in kayak because the craft sits mostly above the water line. However, when they do tip they tip well - and you come right off because you're perched precariously atop it!
Luckily, the big, open cockpit is easy to get back into if you do happen to come off. This makes them ideal for beginners or those who aren't intending to go out onto rough and changeable seas.
A sit-in fishing kayak has a more enclosed cockpit and a different hull design. Rather than being double-hulled, like a big milk carton floating on the seas, it is more like a traditional boat, sitting in the water. This usually lends them better secondary stability but poorer initial stability - you can't have excellent stability in both areas - meaning they are more suited to the ocean, usually are more manoeuvrable and more efficient at travelling longer distances too.
They also have the benefit of being able to keep you drier - despite fishing models having a relatively open cockpit, you are more enclosed than with a sit-on-top, and you can also fit a spray skirt to keep your leggies dry.
Despite the improved efficiency, sit-on-tops are generally more popular for fishing - I guess because they are very easy to use, and are pretty inexpensive. And they don't sink! In fact, you can roll them over, and they won't fill with water whereas a sit-in kayak, with the enclosed cockpit, can do. This makes it trickier to right them especially if they are full of gear.
Fishing kayaks are increasingly commonly pedal powered - yes, just like those pedalos on the lake at your local park.
As you well know, the most common method of propulsion for a kayak is a paddle rather than a pedal. Sounds similar, maybe, but totally different things. However, models such as the Hobie Mirage make use of leg-power. These are popular when looking for a fishing kayak because it keeps your hands totally free as you move along - you can reel in or switch bait while making progress across the water.
Of course, you need to be able to steer, for which you would use a rudder. You mustn't forget that, although a paddle is more versatile, pedals don't preclude paddles - that is to say that you can still bring a paddle along with you and switch it around as necessary.
The downside to a pedal yak is the extra weight - especially important when you consider your method of transporting it to and from the water.
When choosing the best fishing kayak for your purposes, keep in mind the following points - all of which can be related back to what I've said above. You'll probably come across mention of these in any kayak's specification, so this should help you make sense of what it means and what you should be looking for:
Consider whether you are going to use it on calmer waters such as lakes or on the sea. Secondary stability becomes more of an issue when you anticipate being thrown about or when you require more manoeuvrability.
Generally, a SOTK (sit-on-top kayak) will have more initial stability but less secondary stability.
The longer the kayak, the better at going in a straight line. Think of a touring kayak - up to 15' long or more, whereas a recreational kayak or a whitewater kayak will be much shorter. Longer hulls also track better, so are good for open water where you will be travelling longer distances because you won't have to waste energy keeping it in a straight line.
The downside is, of course, that a longer kayak is less manoeuvrable.
Width is also important - a wider kayak has better initial stability, but will be slower (more drag).
Rocker is the degree to which the hull of the kayak curves, like a banana. A whitewater kayak, for instance, will have a high degree of rocker. The reason being that a whitewater kayak should be more manoeuvrable. The curve means there is less surface of the hull dragging through the water, so it can turn better.
On the flip side, it also means the yak is less suited to going in a straight line. But it is faster with higher rocker. But you'll need a skeg to help with tracking. You get the picture.
Your skill level is a super-important factor in choosing your yak. If you are a veteran angler, but this is your first foray into kayaking, well - maybe fishing on the open seas isn't the right first stop. Or perhaps you are a long time yakker and want to try a bit of fishing to keep things interesting. There is bound to be a kayak for you.
If you are the latter, then you know your capabilities when it comes to kayaking. Choose a kayak with enough storage for the extra gear which suits your intended venues.
If you're the former, I would suggest a SOTK because of the ease of getting on and off and the fact that righting them if you do happen to capsize is simple. They are also pretty stable for the most part, which means you can concentrate on fishing rather than seamanship.
Obviously, it isn't too much of a consideration when you're on the water, but getting it there can be much more a challenge if you choose a heavier kayak. An inflatable yak is probably the best choice if you want lightweight (and portable) - but some rigid kayaks are incredibly light for their size!
Also consider that a lighter kayak may be taken off course by the wind more readily, especially a SOTK or inflatable because they have a higher profile above the water.
This ties in with the above consideration of weight - a polyethene kayak is going to be heaviest, but they are also quite durable. A wooden or composite kayak is more prone to damage, but they are often lighter and can be cheaper.
A wood or composite kayak is also likely to have a more efficient hull and so will be faster and have a high degree of secondary stability.
This is a two-for-one consideration here - how much space do you need on your kayak? For rods, gear, fish finder, bait box, game bag, your personal kit and emergency supplies. Will it all fit on one of the smaller yaks? A good fishing kayak will have a decent amount of space for all of that stuff.
Second - how much space do you have in your one bedroom apartment to store a fifteen-foot boat?
Obviously, I'm joking, but it is a serious consideration. Transporting a big yak can be a pain, but just keeping it somewhere where it won't rot or get damaged or stolen is worth your thought too. The beauty of an inflatable, of course, is that it will fit in your closet - and in the trunk of your car, or on your back like a backpack.
There's no point paying $2000 for a piece of kit you'll use once or twice before never having time for it again; equally it would be a false economy if you spend $200 on a new inflatable kayak every few months because you wear through your inflatable by fishing over reefs at low tide every week.
You can get a very good fishing kayak for less than $500, or something pretty special for around $1000-1500.
Spending more may not benefit you - it really has to be an informed decision. Will you make the most of the extra features you are paying for? Will you use it regularly enough to warrant the price? Is it really a high-quality product or are you paying for a name? The kayaks I've mentioned above are really solid choices, and worth every penny - if you are going to use them!
I know that when you get a new piece of kit, you want to personalise it - my first guitar when I was a teenager, I tied a shoe to the tuning peg (I found it in the street, a baby pink Converse All Star). Kayaks are much the same, especially something like this which can actually be beneficial.
I won't go into too much detail here but things you might consider upgrading or adding to your purchase:
A type of small sonar device which can detect fish in the water beneath you - a pulse of sound energy is transmitted into the water, and the detector interprets the echo, telling you the location of any fish and their approximate depth.
These can be mounted on the sides of the kayak, allowing you a place to put your rod while you do something else. This gives you some hands-free time.
A cool box to hold your bait, or a live well style bait bucket if you are using live bait, is essential unless you want to either lose your bait immediately or be picking it out of your kayak for weeks. A game bag is an insulated bag for your catch to go in, you can also use a bucket or a coolbox depending on the space you have.
Mounting systems such as Scotty pads or tracks allow you flexibility with where you position your gear on your boat.
For your essentials, spare clothes or phone and radio etc. A roll-down dry bag can be had fairly cheaply; they are pretty good at keeping your stuff dry. Nothing worse than remembering your phone is in your pocket as a wave breaks over you.
You probably already have a paddle, but if you are buying your first yak, make sure you get a decent paddle - sometimes the ones that come with the boat are not of the best quality. Get one that is a suitable length for you and try to get a light one, especially if you're spending any length of time out on the water - it may only seem like a few hundred grams, but it gets tiring!
An anchor trolley is the system to which your anchor is affixed and the anchor, as you guessed, is the piece of equipment that keeps you anchored in the prime spot for fishing. A drogue, on the other hand, is designed not to stop you entirely but to slow your drift - these are sometimes called sea anchors.
A net could be useful, especially if you come across a shoal of baitfish which you can add to your bucket. Not essential, but any means.
Just as it says, a Global Positioning System - not really necessary if you're on a small lake, but you can mark the position of any catches if you like. They are also a good shout for emergencies, so long as you keep it charged it should be able to tell you where you are and even give coordinates if you require the emergency services.
Some other things you should definitely have in your arsenal - a lot of these are a given, but I thought I'd mention them just in case. Yes, I've been fishing without any bait or rigs before - just my rod. It wasn't a long fishing trip.
If you're on the sea or in rough water, you will probably get wet. In a SOTK there's not much you can do about that - wear a wet suit or dry suit, I guess. But in a sit-in kayak, you will get drenched without a spray skirt. Definitely worth the cost! It keeps spray and waves out of the cockpit.
Bait that is suitable for your quarry, as always. If using live bait, you'll also need something to store it in - well, you'll need somewhere to store your cut bait, too, but you don't have to keep it alive so it could be in an old sock for all I know.
You don't really need your 14' beachcaster if you're out in the ocean, so make sure your gear is appropriate to what you are aiming to catch. Take plenty of extra rigs ready made is my advice - I inevitably lose some, and my fingers are pretty cold after a good soaking and don't do knots as well as I'd like. It saves a bit of time too.
Another obvious one - get a good PFD, with a crotch strap to stop it just floating up and off your shoulders. If you get an inflatable one, beware of accidental deployment and familiarise yourself with the manual inflation valve - usually, there is a straw for you to blow into in case it doesn't deploy automatically.
You'll need a priest (billy club) to stun and kill your catch, if you intend to keep and eat it. I don't recommend whacking them with a priest if you intend to catch and release. You could also do with packing a sharp knife to bleed out and dress your fish - you don't have to do it immediately, but it improves the quality if you do it as soon as possible.
Don't just let your fish languish and die slowly, because this:
Have a cool box or a game bag or a sack on hand to put your catch in immediately afterwards. Having a frozen water bottle or two in there is better than ice cubes because the bigger block of ice will thaw out more slowly, keeping the container cooler for longer.
I hope this guide has been helpful - tight lines and happy paddling!