I got confused when I wanted to buy my first kayak, and probably you are too. This is why I have made this fishing kayak guide, to tell you what a kayak really is and how you can choose the best fishing kayak that suits you the most.
But before we dive into the main aspect of buying a kayak, let me tell you a little bit about the sport and hobby of kayaking and the kayak itself.
Kayaks were first built and used in one of the coldest regions of the world. Inuit and Yupik hunters of the subarctic region. Their first kayaks were made from wooden frames covered in sealskin. Nowadays, you can find kayaks made from various materials. Plastic, fiberglass, wood, etc.
The common interest in kayaking came with the first plastic kayak being built in the 1980s. With so many products, companies, features and online suggestions, I know it gets confusing to choose a good one and be sure of your choice.
So, not boring you anymore with kayak history, let me give you the Top 10 kayaks for fishing and even for general use. After you have an idea of the right kayaks on the market, I will tell you which kayak type is suitable for what purposes, and which factors are important while choosing one.
I hope you enjoy this fishing kayak guide!
The Top 10 Best Fishing Kayaks – Awards and Reviews
I will get right down to it. You all want to choose a kayak and get going right away? So, let’s begin.
I have divided this list into six categories which might fit you. The remaining four kayaks can also fit in any of the categories. All are good and will last you long.
Best Fishing Kayak #1 – HOBIE MIRAGE OUTBACK KAYAK – Best Overall Fishing Kayak
The Hobie Mirage Outback may be expensive, but it is worth every penny.
It has constantly been reviewed as one of the best kayaks with pedals out there and continues to impress. The 2016 version is even better than the already impressive 2014 version, with better seats and more storage for your fishing gear.
Studded with thoughtful features such as molded-in rod holders, generous below deck storage options, and the smooth Twist and Stow rudder, the versatile Outback is perfect for all fishers alike.
Hands-free propulsion in any direction means more time to focus on the fishes.
Other notable features include side-handles, sail mount, large covered bow hatch and one of the most comfortable seats I have ever seen on a kayak.
Because of its features, handling ability and comfort, I believe it is the best overall fishing kayak you can have.
Best Fishing Kayak #2 – SUN DOLPHIN JOURNEY 10 SS – Fishing Kayak For The Money
The Sun Dolphin Journey 10 SS may be cheap, but it gives even the expensive kayaks a run for their money. I have tried this kayak personally, and I loved it.
Two flush mount rod holder, one swivel rod holder, a seat with enough back support, adjustable foot braces and a big storage compartment. It has everything that you will need for a day out on the lake. Made with polyethylene and six ft long, it is rough and easy to handle too. Another benefit of this kayak is the adjustable foot pegs that allow users of all sizes to find comfort
The only downside of this excellent kayak is that it is not very good at tracking. It will be better if you can add a rudder or move to the 12-foot version of the Journey 10.
Apart from this tracking con, the Dolphin Journey 10 is stable and provides a lot of storage for your fishing gear. I am sure even experienced kayakers would want this as a backup, and beginners would love this.
Best Fishing Kayak #3: MALIBU KAYAKS STEALTH 14 – Best Stability Fishing Kayak
Malibu Kayaks is known for making kayaks that are very much worth their price. The Stealth 14 is no exception. This 14 ft long and 33 inches wide kayak is stable as a rock. You can even stand up in it without any fear.
It also features a convenient bait tank storage system and a 3-hatch center deck giving you extra storage. The Deluxe Hinged Gator Hatch at the front is equipped with a bungee system and 2-rod holders. The rear of the kayak boasts a live well 45-degree hatch with a bag, 2-rod holders, and a bungee system over the tank well that can hold a 5-gallon bait bucket.
Add to all these features the fact that the Stealth 14 has cup holders, drain plugs, paddle holders and side carry handles. These features make this kayak super easy to use and very convenient for a fishing guy. There’s a ton of storage, excellent speed, superb tracking and great stability. It was a very close contender for the Best Overall award.
Best Fishing Kayak #4: LIFETIME TAMARACK 120 – Best Fishing Kayak Under 1000
If you want a fishing kayak that you can in no way shape or form beat for the price, but you don’t want to spend over $400, the Lifetime Tamarack 120 sit-on-top kayak is the best.
Its specification list is loaded. The Lifetime Tamarack is 120” in length and weighs 50 pounds. It is made of high-density polyethylene and features multiple footrest positions. An adjustable padded seat back, a stable flat bottom, an easy carry handle, front and rear shock cord straps, a 6” rear storage compartment, two paddle cradles with shock cords, front, and rear T-handles, deep hull tracking channels, and stability chine rails. Almost everything!
But being a dirt cheap option, it does have some downsides. The storage hatches of this kayak open up to the hull which is not very practical. Also, the side carrying handles are not of magnificent quality and may pop off.
Given the price of this kayak and its sturdy build and decent handling, it certainly is a good starter kayak, and I would have loved to have something like this when I started out.
Best Fishing Kayak #5 – Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Inflatable Kayak – Best Fishing Kayak for Beginners
This kayak has gotten the award in the beginner’s category because of 2 things – it is very portable, and it has two seats. A beginner probably does not have a dedicated storage space for a kayak, which is why an inflatable one is suitable. Also, a beginner would like to have a companion when he or she is just starting his kayaking journey, which is also why this kayak is a good option.
Apart from being portable and light, it also has a sturdy build and multiple air chambers to keep you safe. It also as a trademarked Air Tight system, which increases the safety even more.
The kayak is also equipped with Quick Set Rod holders who let you adjust the pole angle easily. Even though there is not much storage area, I don’t think a beginner will need much anyway. And for those who need more power, there is also space for attaching a trolling motor, though the motor Sevylor sells for this kayak is quite small. But all in all, this 2-seater will fit the needs of a beginner nicely.
Best fishing kayak #6: LIFETIME Sports FISHER TANDEM 10 FT – Good Quality Fishing Kayak
Blow molded from High-Density Polyethylene for superior strength and durability and backed by a 5-year limited manufacturer warranty; the Sports Fisher certainly has one of the best build quality and value for money I have seen in a kayak.
This kayak is designed to seat three people with a capacity of more than 200 kgs. Another fact to show how much this boat can handle. The rocker of this kayak is also moderate, which means it can handle tracking and quick turning decently.
Aside from on build quality and decent handling, this boat also features multiple footrest positions for different size riders and includes 2 double-sided paddles, paddle clips, two padded backrests, three fishing pole holders, and a 6’ storage hatch. These features make it a good all-purpose kayak for normal use.
Best fishing kayak #7: Ocean Kayak Prowler 13
This one is my go-to kayak. I love the Prowler 13 kayak for its storage space and portability. The inclusion of the skid plate and the handles at the sides make the Prowler 13 easy to handle. Also, the kayak weighs only around 25-30 kg, which makes it even more portable.
A plus is that they included scupper holes in the bungee well that were designed in mind to take transducers for a fish finder. Being only 28 inches wide with its V-design, it is stable even in rough waters and cuts through currents without any problem.
The Prowler 13 has been one of the best-selling kayaks for fishing, and you will rarely find someone saying it has more cons than pros. The only drawback on this is the uncomfortable seat.
Made with polyethylene and a great design, the kayak handles well. It is quick and stable. The thing which made me fall in love with the Prowler 13 is its huge storage space, the fishing rod holders and the beautiful colors it comes in. Go for it without any hesitation!
Best fishing kayak #8: Old Town Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
This one is a cheap alternative to the Coleman Colorado and Sun Dolphin Journey. It has all the essential features combined with a great build quality and a very low price.
The Vapor 10 is designed as a Single-user kayak perfect for quiet water paddling on lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. Its single layer of polyethylene will last you many years quickly. The Vapor 10 also has some additional features like built-in carry handles, thigh pads, drain plug and skid plate.
Even though it does not have many bells and whistles of the other kayaks in this list, it is easy to use, cheap, robust and stable. I would say a good starter package for a beginner or a lake houseboat for your quiet trips alone.
Best fishing kayak #9: Vibe Sea Ghost 130 Angler
The Sea Ghost 130 is a perfect alternative to the Prowler 13. And it has a hugely improved seat.
The extra wide hull offers unmatched stability and handles everything from rivers to surf. I have used this myself, and I could fish while standing up in the boat. It also has all the features anglers demand like rod holders, large rear tank well, foot controlled rudder system, front and rear hatches, tackle tray holders and a center console for additional storage with a lid to mount additional equipment.
The Sea Ghost 130 tracks extremely well, and with the included rudder, you will save energy on long paddles, windy days or in strong currents. A great stable kayak for fishing or recreational use. I would recommend it to anyone looking for the best fishing kayak under $1000.
Best fishing kayak #10: Sun Dolphin Bali SS 12
The Bali 12 by Sun Dolphin is a perfect choice for new and experienced kayakers. Even when it’s called a sit on the top model, the truth is that the seating area is lowered and is very close to the bottom of the hull, which makes it a very stable kayak thanks to the lowered center of gravity.
You can stand on the kayak without the worry of flipping over. Even though it does not have specialized features for the angler, it has a comfortable seat, adjustable foot braces and a sturdy and stable design, which is good enough for me. The 12-foot length also gives this kayak good speed without being so long that it will be unstable in calm waters.
Like the Old Town, it is not fancy, but it does the job of being a casual kayak for normal use without breaking the bank.
Now that you know a few good kayaks which will serve you well let me explain to you how to actually make that final decision. I will tell you the types of kayaks and the factors which decide the performance of the kayak itself.
Choose the Right Kayak Type for Yourself
There are many types of kayaks, and the categories often overlap. Each one is suitable for different purposes and requires different strength and handling. I started out with a touring kayak, as I was a complete beginner and didn’t want something that will be difficult for me to handle.
What you have to do is choose a kayak based on your own needs. If you want a fishing kayak that is also very easy to use, go for a recreational kayak with more storage and features like rod holders and a fish finder holder, with a lot of stabilit.y
After selecting the type which suits you, go through the factors involved in evaluating the best kayak and check if the kayak you have chosen has all the features you want or not. I chose stability over speed and went for a short wide hull as that gave me stability and maneuverability.
Read this section and the next one to know what you have to look for in a kayak.
As the name suggests, these are kayaks designed for non-experienced people. When I started out, I was more interested in exploring and relaxing in my boat. Hence, I opted for this one.
Touring kayak designs are intended for the casual paddler who enjoys relaxed, fun paddling on calm protected rivers, lakes, and sheltered coastal areas. They can handle a longer weekend outing too, but you will soon realize that you need a bigger and more comfortable boat for that. These models are optimized to be as user-friendly as possible.
Touring kayaks are also easy to get in and out of. They also have more storage space than a simpler and purely recreational kayak and more expensive. Touring kayaks are usually 12-18 ft long which makes them faster than recreational kayaks and offers more stability while sitting upright in it.
Recreational kayaks are the simplest and the cheapest. They are also easy to use and hence preferred by kids and people who are buying it just for some fun on the weekends. Recreational kayaks are often used by casual fishers and beginners as these are stable in calm waters.
These kayaks are about 8-14 ft long and have a large cockpit for ease of use and for providing a comfortable sitting space. The problem with recreational kayaks is that they can be used only on calm waters like small lakes and ponds. I would recommend this only for absolute beginners.
They get damaged very easily in rough waters, and once they flip over, it ‘s hard to get them upright and get back inside. Recreational kayaks differ from sit-on-top kayaks in that they have large, enclosed, cockpits and soft-chined hulls with a moderate degree of rocker. Also, most recreational kayaks are made from rotationally molded polyethylene plastic and thus, they are very tough but, they also heavy.
Go for this type of kayak only if you plan on going small trips during normal weather conditions.
This kayak is the all-rounder. Sit-on-top kayaks are particularly popular for fishing, surfing, touring and diving, since people need to enter and exit the boat easily, change seating positions, and access hatches and storage wells. I own this type of kayak and use it regularly.
Some sit-on-top designs are considered specialty boats, but most sit-on-tops are built for multiple purposes and with recreational or beginning paddlers in mind. They can also be used for going on long trips and can handle some rough waters too.
Paddlers with large body types, long legs, or limited flexibility feel less confined paddling in this type of a kayak. One of the biggest benefits is the self-rescue. Because sit-on-tops have an open deck rather than a closed one, there is no risk of being trapped in the boat if it tips over and no need to practice rolls or wet exits. That really appeals to new paddlers who need safety and comfort.
The seats are above water level, so these boats are typically wider (and slower) than traditional kayaks. With a wider hull, sit-on-tops are generally more stable; I find that they make a good fishing, swimming or diving boat. They usually have more storage too.
I have used many types of kayaks, but I will always prefer the sit-on-top kayak as my go-to kayak and would recommend it highly.
It might seem like a toy, but inflatable kayaks are actually quite popular. They are highly portable and light, which makes them a good vacation kayak. They can be sit-on-top or sit-in style.
I own an inflatable kayak which I use for family trips when I don’t want to paddle, but just sit in the boat and float around drinking coffee. But I will not suggest this for serious kayaking. These kayaks may be easier to use, but they are slow and can get damaged easily.
They are made of durable 15 or 20 ounces double ripstop PVC or nylon and Kevlar knitted fabrics. These kayaks can be inflated with foot, hand or electric pumps withing a couple of minutes. I would advise using this if you are looking for something portable and for casual trips.
Fishing kayaks boldly go where bigger boats can’t – kelp beds, reefs, mangrove shallows, lakes and rivers and coastal cliff-lines with inaccessible shores. They may be sit-on-top or sit-in, inflatable or not. I own a sit-on-top fishing Ocean Kayak and have customized it a little.
Fishing kayaks are similar in design to recreational sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks, but since fishing requires a higher degree of lateral stability fishing kayaks are usually wider and more supportive than standard kayak designs.
Because it is a “fishing” kayak, it needs to be specially designed keeping fishermen in mind. These kayaks often have more stability and storage for your fishing gear. You will get special storage areas for your fishing rods, GPS devices, electronic fish finders, electric bait buckets, etc.
Criteria For Evaluation: Choosing What Suits Your Needs
Choosing a kayak is a game of trade-offs. If you want one set of features, you will have to miss out on some other features. This is why it is important to know what type of kayak suits you and what you are planning to do with it.
Here, I will explain to you what factors mean what. If you have gone through the Top 10 list above and know which type of kayak may be suitable for you, you now need to know what the factors of the kayak you have in mind actually mean, regarding performance and fishing experience.
Once you know the right type of kayak and the right factors with the meaning behind them, you can choose the perfect kayak and enjoy all your fishing experiences!
Length and Width
Length and width decide how fast your kayak will be and how much stability it will provide you.
A longer kayak is generally narrower too, and this makes it a fast kayak. Also, longer the kayak, lesser the maneuverability you will have. The stability of longer kayaks is also not very good in calm waters, as their initial stability is less. People who buy narrower and longer kayaks are probably into speed and use their kayaks in rough waters.
I own a shorter kayak which is wide, as being a fishing guy, I do not have much use for speed, and I generally go into calm lakes and rivers. A shorter and wider kayak have more initial stability and less secondary stability, which means it will not be able to handle rough seas. Shorter kayaks are also easy to maneuver, which is an advantage if you want a fishing kayak to go into all nooks and crannies of a lake.
Sit-on-top or Sit-in
For fishing, I would definitely recommend a sit-on-top kayak, as they offer more space to move around and a 360^ view of the surroundings. Since I own both types of kayaks, I can say with experience that a sit-on-top kayak is more comfortable.
The downside of using sit-on-top kayaks is that they often collect more water which needs to be drained out. Also, you will probably get cold in a sit-on-top as they are open and once the water gets chilly, you will feel it. Even with all its problems, a sit-on-top kayak certainly feels more comfortable and safe to me.
A sit-in kayak is good too, if you are not into kayak fishing and need to stay on the kayak for longer periods. They are kayaks in which you put your legs under the hull, so it offers more protection from cold and water generally stays out of the boat. Use this for longer and colder rides.
Don’t worry about flipping over. It’s not that easy to flip over a kayak, and it’s easy to get out of a kayak, no matter what it’s build. Honestly, it is a matter of your experience, not the kayak itself.
Tracking means how straight your kayak will move without much effort needed. Even though tracking depends on many factors, the main is the design of the kayak itself.
Tracking depends mainly on the “rocker.” Rocker is a measure of how much a kayak’s hull curves up from the center to the ends of the hull. Thus, hulls with a low degree of rocker will be relatively straight along the keel, while hulls with a high degree of rocker will be curved along the keel.
Kayaks which have a low degree of rocker track very well, but are difficult to turn. I would suggest you try to find a kayak which has a low rocker, but not very low. For fishing, it is better to have a kayak that turns easily without much effort. High rocker hulls are better for people who use kayaking as a sport and need their kayak to be straight and on-track always in their long journeys.
All the materials have different properties and hence are good for different conditions. The most common materials used for kayaks are:
- Polyethylene = Polyethylene, plastic, is used in the heaviest type of kayak construction. But they are also very tough and thus, they are an excellent choice for fishing along rocky shorelines and around oyster beds. But, because they have less efficient hull designs than either wood or composite kayaks, they are slower and thus require more effort to paddle. The majority of the kayaks nowadays utilize polyethylene construction.
- Fiberglass = This is a fiber-reinforced plastic and more expensive. The advantage of this materials is that it is very light and strong enough to handle normal trips in normal waters. But it is prone to damage and cracking if used in rough conditions. If you go for casual trips during nice sunny weathers, the portability will certainly benefit you.
- Kevlar = No, this does not make you kayak bulletproof. What Kevlar fiber does is make your boat way lighter and easy to repair. The trade-off here is that your kayak will become very expensive and will not be able to handle bashing into rocks and getting dragged along the ground.
I would suggest a polyethylene kayak, as they are cheap and sturdy. A little bit of weight may be inconvenient sometimes, but it will last you longer. But if do want a lighter kayak and are not going into rough waters anyways, even fiberglass and kevlar will do just fine.
Type of water where you intend to use the kayak
Still, waters and protected inshore waters can be comfortably fished from any of the aforementioned types of kayaks, but moving water is best fished from a recreational kayak because of their soft chines and moderated degree of rocker.
If you are planning to go fishing in deep seas where weather can change, find a long kayak with a moderate rocker. Sit-in kayaks generally have a significantly higher degree of secondary stability than sit-on-top kayaks do which is desirable in rough waters.
But some people do prefer to brave the changing weather and steep waves in sit-on-top kayaks because they are easy to get in and out of, and also are pretty much unsinkable. I would advise you to not take a risk and go for a long kayak for deeper waters. It will keep you dry and warm, and its stability will add to your safety, while also giving you enough speed to get out of bad weather.
Polyethylene kayaks are the cheapest, and the kevlar ones are the most expensive.
It is not true that spending more money will give you better results. What you have to see is whether the kayak suits your needs or not. If you need a kayak good for fishing in placid lakes and ponds, even a less expensive plastic kayak with a wide and short body will be excellent.
You can always buy a cheap enough kayak and then customize it for your fishing needs. You can also choose a kayak that seems right, and buy the next model if you know that you will gain experience and would need a better kayak very soon.
I did not spend much on my first plastic kayak, and it still served me well. I would be willing to spend more on a kayak only if it has what I really really need and cannot add to the boat myself through DIY customization and some ingenuity.
The Final Thought
I know this was a lot longer than you may have hoped. But it is important that you make an informed decision when buying a new kayak.
It is not very difficult to buy the best fishing kayak and is a matter of identifying your needs and your skill level. Once you know what you will do with your kayak, it is easy to determine what features and criteria you will need to look at.
Like I said before, everyone has different needs, and no one kayak will fit all. Make a list of what you aim to do, then decide what you need – speed or stability, maneuverability or tracking, comfort or security in rough seas.
I would suggest that you go through guides like this and understand what actually affects the performance of a kayak. Knowing what you kayak’s features and capabilities are is an essential step in using it to its full extent
However, the most important thing is to keep practicing and having fun. Kayaks can always be upgraded. But how much your talent upgrades will ultimately depend on you, not the kayak.
Go out with whatever boat you have chosen and make the most of it. I hope you learned something from this guide that will help you in choosing your best fishing kayak and using it nicely!