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Best Fishing Kayaks

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 9 Models Considered
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 149 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best fishing kayaks

    Last Updated December 2018

    As the next fishing season nears, anglers everywhere update their licenses, get their gear out of storage, and dream of new ways to go after that elusive “one that got away.” An increasingly popular way to catch those fish is by using a fishing kayak, which does away with the limits of the shoreline and makes it possible to float right to the best casting spots.

    Which fishing kayak is the best one for the type of fishing you plan to do? What features do you need? Which size? Made of what material? We can help you answer these questions and many others.

    If you’re ready to buy a fishing kayak, check out our recommendations. If you still have questions, don your wide-brimmed hat, shrug into your life vest, and learn all there is to know about buying the right fishing kayak for you. Let’s put in!

    Many accessories are available for fishing kayaks, from anchor locks to GPS mounts to cupholders.

    Sit-in kayaks vs. fishing kayaks

    There is a distinct difference between the traditional, sit-in sport kayak and most fishing kayaks.

    Sit-in kayaks

    • Lighter

    • Shorter

    • More maneuverable

    • Lack extra storage

    • Less stable

    • Fewer attachment points for gear

    An anchor helps keep you in the perfect fishing spot, but don’t buy one that’s too heavy, especially if you’re fishing calm inland waters. A 1.5-pound anchor can be easily stowed, deployed, and retrieved.

    Fishing kayaks

    Fishing kayaks are a fairly new variation on the traditional kayak, but they have gained a devoted following. The first purpose-built designs appeared on the West Coast in the 1970s, spearheaded by pioneers like Tim Nemier. These kayaks were developed by fishermen for fishermen, with the goal of getting onto the water quickly with all the necessary gear to catch fish. Fishing kayaks are made of a variety of materials. They even come in inflatable and folding varieties. Their prices vary widely, and, of course, you get what you pay for in most cases.

    • Many are small enough to fit on a vehicle’s top rack or be strapped into a truck bed, unlike bass boats or other lightweight motorcraft that must be towed on a trailer to a put-in location.

    • Anglers can put in almost anywhere to quickly access even hard-to-reach fishing spots.

    • Some of these kayaks are inflatable, taking up even less space.

    • Hauling the kayak out of the water is very easy in most cases.

    • These kayaks have very low maintenance costs.

    • There is an ever-increasing number of accessories made for these kayaks.

    • The double-ended paddle allows users to maneuver efficiently, gliding almost silently into fishing spots that are impossible to reach from shore.

    CAUTION

    Safety first! Always wear a life vest and carry emergency equipment, including a whistle, signal devices, hand-operated bilge pump or pail, extra rope, and flashlight.

    Fishing kayak features to consider

    When shopping for a fishing kayak, it’s important to try out a few different models before settling on one. Below are some features to look for during your hunt for the right kayak for you.

    Construction

    The best fishing kayaks are made using a process called roto-molding that involves a large, two-piece master mold and plastic pellets. The pellets are melted and the mold is spun at different angles so the liquid plastic coats the interior of the mold. This creates a single-piece kayak that is very durable and much less prone to leaking.

    Lower-priced fishing kayaks are made by combining two halves of the hull – usually the top and bottom halves – and sealing the seam. Not surprisingly, the most common failure point of this type of kayak is the seam. Most begin to leak after a few years of use.

    Fishing kayaks have scupper holes, a feature not found in traditional sit-in kayaks. These allow water to drain out of the seating and storage areas rather than having to pump out any water that sloshes into the kayak.

    Stability

    Fishing kayaks generally sacrifice speed and nimbleness for better stability and carrying capacity. These kayaks are much wider than regular kayaks and much less likely to flip over. Look for two types of stability in a fishing kayak: primary and secondary.

    Every model of fishing kayak has a different balance between primary and secondary stability. The hull design – particularly at the edges – determines that balance.

    • Primary stability: This is the overall stability of the craft. When you sit in the kayak on the water, you should not feel like the kayak is going to tip over. Kayaks with sharp edges tend to have great primary stability but may flip very easily if tilted past a certain angle.

    • Secondary stability: This is how much the kayak tilts to one side or the other before it flips. Kayaks with rounded edges usually have very good secondary stability – they don’t tip over too easily – but not as much primary stability. You rock around a lot.

    Pontoons can provide additional stability to fishing kayaks, but they add other paddling challenges.

    Sit-on-top vs. sit-in

    • Sit-on-top: Most fishing kayaks are built so that the angler sits on the deck rather than inside the hull like traditional kayakers do. In general, fishing kayaks aren’t made to roll over or “turtle,” which is a good thing. You don’t want all your gear to end up in the water! With that in mind, fishing kayak designers opted for the more comfortable sit-on-top seating style and a design that’s harder to tip.

    • Sit-in: Some fishing kayaks do have sit-in seats like traditional kayaks. These are used in rougher waters in which waves may wash over the kayak or stability is an issue.

    Length

    Longer kayaks (13 to 16 feet) typically track very well. Tracking means that when you paddle on the left side of the kayak, the bow shifts right. However, longer kayaks are ungainly on land and usually need to be moved around on a wheeled cart. Shorter kayaks (less than 10 feet) are much lighter and easier to move around and store. However, these kayaks don’t track as well as longer kayaks. The tracking issue can be lessened by adding a keel, but that presents its own problems when fishing in shallow waters or over aquatic plants.

    A pole leash keeps your pole from being lost to a fish strike. A paddle leash keeps your paddle from floating away should you drop it or capsize. Both should be on your accessory list if they don’t come with the kayak.

    Gear layout

    This is where you will see the most variation in fishing kayaks, and it may take quite a bit of shopping around and planning to find the gear layout that works for you.

    Many anglers already know what kind of fishing they’re planning to do most, but if you’re just getting into kayak fishing, or you’re changing the type of fish you’re going after or the waters you’re paddling in, it’s a good idea to do more research and talk to experienced anglers who have fished the locations you plan to visit.

    • Casual fishermen on calm inland lakes will need at least a couple rod holders, a comfortable seat, and storage for a small tackle box – and a beer cooler, of course.

    • Anglers who want to launch their kayak through the surf and get out onto the ocean need plenty of storage that can be secured against rough waters. Those fishing with live bait need a bait tank and a tank well big enough to hold it. And, of course, you need a place to store all those fish you’re going to catch.

    EXPERT TIP

    The first accessory you buy for your fishing kayak will probably be a rod holder – or two. Mount it well outside the paddle-stroke area.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Fishing kayak prices

    Fishing kayaks can be built of a variety of materials, and they come in inflatable and folding varieties.

    Kayak prices can range from less than $200 to more than $4,000.

    Lower-end fishing kayaks have fewer features like rod holders, built-in accessories, and attachment points. They may not last more than a couple of years with regular use, and they may have stability or tracking issues in the water.

    Common attachment points on fishing kayaks include rod holders, webbing to secure additional gear, and tie-down points.

    Tips

    Once you’ve decided on a fishing kayak, whether budget priced or expensive, feature loaded or bare-bones, you’ll want to make sure it meets your needs through several fishing seasons. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your new fishing kayak.

    • Put your new kayak into the water as soon as possible. Make sure it meets with your approval when it comes to primary and secondary stability, that the seating is comfortable, and that paddling is not difficult. Make sure water can drain easily out through the scuppers. Note any leaks inside the hull. Check for any damage that may have occurred during shipping.

    • Configure your kayak with the accessories you’ll need on your fishing trips. Be sure to evenly balance the weight of the accessories and gear between the bow and stern of the kayak. It’s a good idea to load and configure the boat at home, ahead of a fishing trip, to figure out where you’ll place everything.

    • Wash down your fishing kayak with fresh water after each trip. This helps to remove gunk or saltwater and prevent metal and rubber components from corroding or breaking down.

    • Store your kayak indoors and/or out of the elements. If you must store your kayak outdoors, look for a shady spot or area that is protected from sunlight, snow, and rain – under a deck, for example. You can also protect your kayak with a tarp, making sure the tarp doesn’t fill with rain and sag onto the hull. The kayak should be either suspended with straps or resting on a rack, with its weight evenly distributed between the straps or rack rails.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Samantha
      Samantha
      Writer

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