Fishing from a kayak affords anglers unparalleled access to small waters. Unlike those angling from the bank, kayaking anglers can access the water outside of the casting range.
And unlike those fishing in conventional fishing boats, kayaks slip easily into shallow, weed-choked waters where the big fish often hide.
But to reap the advantage of these benefits, you must use a kayak well-suited for your purposes.
The 6 Top Fishing Kayaks of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for fishing kayaks in 2018:
- Best sit-on-top: Get Hobie Mirage Outback
- Best sit-inside: Get Old Town Loon 126
- Best tandem: Get Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 15 Tandem
- Best for the money: Get Riot Kayaks Escape 12 Angler
- Best for the ocean: Get Wilderness Systems Thresher 155
- Best for small water: Get Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Angler
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Length||12 ft 1 in||12 ft 6 in||15 ft 3 in||12 ft||15 ft 6 in||10 ft||11 ft 2 in|
|Width||33 in||31 in||31 in||30.7 in||30 in||30.5 in||32 in|
|Weight||75 lbs||56 lbs||86 lbs||68 lbs||80 lbs||61 lbs||65 lbs|
|Maximum Capacity||400 lbs||450 lbs||600 lbs||300 lbs||450 lbs||325 lbs||400 lbs |
|Seating Configuration||1 - Single||1 - Single||2 - Tandem||1 - Single||1 - Single||1 - Single||1 - Single|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||$$|
1. Best Sit-on-Top Fishing Kayak: Hobie Mirage Outback
Sit-on-top kayaks are preferred by most anglers as they offer improved visibility and a drier ride. Moreover, they generally provide greater storage space than most sit-inside models do.
Good to Know
The Mirage will not be complete without covering the proprietary drive mechanism – the MirageDrive 180.
This allows the user to move his or her feet back and forth to push a set of pedals in the cockpit area. These pedals then transmit the energy into two fins extending below the hull.
These fins beat back and forth, pushing the water away and driving your kayak forward.
You must still supply the muscle power to propel the craft by using your legs rather than your arms, and enjoying a greater mechanical advantage.
Though the Mirage bears a high price tag, it is worth the expense.
• The 33-inch-wide kayak provides a stable platform for anglers
• Includes the MirageDrive 180 pedal propulsion system for hands-free kayaking
• Comes with a twist-and-stow rudder that folds out of the way when not in use
• Fish-finder ready, the Mirage features through-hull cable plugs and a built-in transducer mount
2. Best Sit-Inside Fishing Kayak: Old Town Loon 126
While most anglers prefer sit-on-top kayaks, some prefer the drier ride, lighter weight and improved safety profile of traditional sit-inside models.
If this sounds like you, then it is hard to go wrong with the Old Town Loon 126 Angler Kayak.
Good to Know
This 12-foot-6-inch long craft includes a number of features that will make fishing a breeze. Part of its appeal is the comfort it provides.
It’s like the difference between riding around in a luxury automobile and a beat-up old Jeep.
The Loon’s seat is unparalleled and it can be adjusted in myriad ways. There is ample padding to comfort your caboose and the fabric is a quick-drying mesh to help reduce problems with sweat.
With other subtle creature comforts, like a cup holder and water bottle bracket, the Loon provides one of the plushest rides available.
• Removable work deck with USB port that allows you to keep all your handheld devices (GPS, cellphone, etc.) charged and at your fingertips.
• Active-comfort seat provides anglers with a comfortable ride
• Includes anchor trolley system
• Sharp keel line improves tracking and stability
• Flush-mounted rod holders
3. Best Tandem Fishing Kayak: Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 15 Tandem
Tandem kayaks are a great choice for those seeking a kayak built for two.
You can still pilot them by yourself but it typically doesn’t make sense to opt for a tandem model unless a partner tags along for the bulk of your fishing trips.
In all cases, it is important to select a high-quality tandem kayak which includes all the features you require, and the Ultimate FX 15 certainly fits that bill.
Good to Know
While it has all the standard features you’d expect from a fishing-ready tandem kayak, it also borrows some design principles from canoes which makes the craft innovative as it is effective.
Note that while some Native Watercraft kayaks feature their proprietary propeller-based propulsion mechanism, the Ultimate FX 15 Tandem does not.
It must be paddled, although many users report that they managed to paddle effectively while riding it solo.
The Ultimate FX 15 is not cheap but you can’t get such high-quality craft for much less.
• Tight line anchor trolley
• Adjustable seats offer anglers the ability to ride low, ride high or flip the seat up and stand
• Convertible to a solo-seat arrangement
• Padded arm rests
• Grooved tracks for mounting accessories
4. Best Fishing Kayak for the Money: Riot Kayaks Escape 12 Angler
Every time cost becomes the primary consideration for a purpose, you are forced to make sacrifices and compromises.
The important thing to do in these cases is to forego those things that you can do without while still ensuring that you select a unit with the features you need. The Riot Kayak Escape 12 Angler provides exactly this.
Good to Know
It is a 12-foot-long, sit-on-top kayak that offers premium performance and options at an intermediate price point.
At 30 inches wide, it provides enough stability to allow you to fish with confidence, yet still tracks well and travels fast.
This is a great model for those who are just starting out in the hobby, who want a little more substance and style than many of the economy models offer.
• Pilot rudder system allows precision control of the craft
• Four flush-mounted rod holders and one swivel-mounted rod holder
• Anchor and trolley system
• High-backed seat provides great comfort
5. Best Ocean Fishing Kayak: Wilderness Systems Thresher 155
When selecting a kayak for open waters, speed, stability and the ability to track in a straight line for long distances are the most important considerations.
However, reliability – which is primarily a manifestation of smart design and quality craftsmanship – is also important given the high-stakes of open-water kayaking.
The Wilderness Systems Thresher 155 has all of these qualities and more.
Good to Know
This sit-on-top kayak is built for speed. But unlike many other quick kayaks, it is incredibly stable even in the open water.
It also has ample storage room and a clean deck design, giving plenty of room to cast, retrieve and battle big fish.
In the end, the Wilderness Systems Thresher 155 provides a great value for the money.
• 450-pound capacity allows you to drag big fish back to shore without worry
• Fully removable fishfinder pod
• Adjustable foot pegs to provide the ultimate in comfort
• Oversized bow hatch holds a ton of gear
6. Best River Kayak: Jackson Kayak Coosa
While you can use any kayak suitable for small waters to scoot around a lazy backwater stream, you need one that’s built to handle fast current if you intend to fish large, powerful rivers.
You have to prioritize a kayak that is fast and stable but remains nimble enough to slip by rocks and other hazards. Jackson Kayak Coosa fits this bill perfectly.
Measuring a hair over 11 feet in length and 32 inches in width, the Coosa provides a great combination of stability, speed and performance.
• 23-inch standing platform allows you a better view of the water while you fish
• Go Pro camera mounts are positioned around the kayak which makes filming your adventures a breeze
• Removable skid plate
• Ergonomic seat makes your ride comfortable
Not all kayaks are suitable for all applications.
You wouldn’t want to use a 10-foot-long, sit-on-top, budget-priced kayak out to fish miles off shore.
Nor would you want to use a 15-foot-long, custom-built, high-performance sea kayak to catch bluegill with your kids at the local pond.
There are a few generalizations that can help you decide on the right type of kayak for your intended use but these should not be treated as hard-and-fast rules. For example:
- Longer kayaks are generally preferable for open-water use.
- If you are an experienced kayaker who prefers a little more maneuverability at the expense of speed, you should follow your heart.
After all, the main reason you want a kayak in the first place is to have fun. So get the one you want, and make sure it is a reasonable choice for your preferred application.
It is important to draw a distinction between the ways you may dream of using a kayak and the ways in which you are to actually use it.
While perusing a selection of kayaks and looking at the beautiful photos of people using them in incredible locations, try to stay level-headed about your choice.
You’ll probably use it to go to the closest water that you can find and spend a few hours there.
Don’t lose sleep over the fact that your kayak is not suited for a 7-hour tour up the Alaskan coast. Get one that is based on your needs, not on what you want. review
Significant Choosing Factors
Most of the primary decisions that you have to make when selecting a kayak for fishing relate to five different factors:
These characteristics are not easy to alter with after-market upgrades and they are all essential to the kayak’s performance.
In other words, these are the factors that you cannot change. For example, you cannot easily convert a small-water craft into a sea-worthy kayak ready to take you out to open water.
Likewise, you can’t turn a sit-inside kayak into a sit-on-top.
Begin your kayak selection process by determining the primary application in which you intend to use it – all of your other considerations will precipitate from this.
Do you intend to charge through the surf, head for open water and catch Mahi-Mahi over a 100-foot-deep coral reef?
You need a boat that is fast and stable enough in the open ocean, as well as one that is roomy enough to enable you to battle a giant fish.
On the other hand, if you intend to creep through quaint little ponds, trying to fill a cooler with bluegill and crappie, you need a boat that has enough storage space to hold your gear and that is small enough to remain maneuverable in tight spaces.
It’s also important to consider the things in the water that may affect your ride.
For example, if you spend a lot of time kayaking in fast-moving rivers, you need a very durable unit that can withstand the constant collisions with rocks.
Or if you fish a lot in weed-choked ponds, you may want to avoid propeller-driven kayaks as the prop can become tangled in the vegetation. Fin-driven models by contrast tend to do well in weedy waters.
In fact, the depth of the water should also factor into your decision. Fin-based propulsion systems are often able to fold up and out of the way, allowing you to traverse shallow sand bars or sunken trees.
But those units that feature a propeller will run into problems while facing these kinds of obstacles.
After identifying the core application in which you’ll use your kayak, you must decide what style you want.
- Do you want to sit inside of it or would you prefer to sit on top of the craft?
- Do you prefer to pedal vs paddle kayak while fishing?
While most anglers prefer sit-on-top styles for their comfort, ease of use and storage space, others prefer the relative light weight of conventional kayaks in which you sit inside the boat.
It is important to consider your experience level when making this choice. If you roll in a sit-on-top kayak, the boat will not take on any water as they are designed to be self-bailing.
However, a conventional kayak will likely fill with water if you roll. This can represent a serious safety hazard that new kayak pilots should consider.
Likewise, it will be harder to retrieve a sit-inside kayak, should it capsize as the craft will likely fill with water.
To an extent, you can just select a kayak with a size that reflects the body of water you’ll be fishing on.
In other words, if you intend to fish in the open ocean, you’ll need a larger, longer craft than you would if you decide to fish in small lakes, rivers and ponds.
This is not only because larger crafts are generally more sea-worthy than small crafts are, but also because large crafts are typically faster.
While you won’t need much speed to cross a 1/2-mile-wide pond, you’ll need every ounce of speed you can muster to travel great distances in open water.
However, longer kayaks are harder to turn – particularly in small bodies of water. So, if you are fishing in a creek, small bass pond or similar waters, opt for a smaller kayak.
Whereas water size and speed concerns primarily relate to the length of a kayak, the width is important for stability. Wider crafts are less likely to tip over than narrow crafts would.
While everyone wants a stable craft, it is more important for anglers that wish to stand up while they fish.
Capacity concerns are not typically an issue for anglers that are on the small side and are seeking small quarry.
However, if you are a large person, you are targeting extra-large quarry or you use a lot of gear, it is important to check the capacity of the kayak before making your selection.
As much as possible, select a craft that offers as much head room as possible to enjoy better performance.
In other words, if you and your gear weigh about 400 pounds, search for a craft with a 600-pound-capacity, not one with a 450-pound-capacity.
If you are forced to select a kayak with a low capacity, you may have to forego items like live wells or ice chests which tend to represent the bulk of the weight on a kayak.
A kayak’s weight is primarily related to three factors:
- Dimensions — Larger kayaks use more materials than smaller ones do so they weigh more. This is another reason to select a small kayak whenever possible.
- Features and Add-ons — A kayak outfitted with a fish finder, propulsion mechanism and a heavy, adjustable seat will weigh much more than a stripped-down, no-frills model.
- Materials — Kevlar kayaks weigh more than plastic kayaks which will weigh a bit more than ones made of fiberglass. Although each of these materials has its own collection of pros and cons, the weight of the material is an important factor.
You need to transport your kayak from your home (or wherever you keep it) to the water every time you want to fish. So it is vitally important to select one that is light enough that you can handle the hauling duties.
Select a light-weight kayak and you’ll be able to carry it easily to and from the water.
Select a heavy-weight model instead and you’ll be forced to get help every time you want to fish, or you’ll have to use a wheeled-platform to move it.
It is also essential to identify your car’s roof rating so you can ensure you won’t exceed it with the weight of your kayak.
If it exceeds the weight that your car can handle, you have to invest in a trailer or devise some other way to get it to and from the water.
Learn more about how to transport a kayak.
Considerations Before Purchasing
After using the primary factors to narrow down your choices, you’ll need to look into other essential considerations that will influence your kayak selection.
These will also let you enjoy the kayak more if you give them some thought.
Remember that all your choices will involve trade-offs. For example, you may want a supremely durable craft so you select a Kevlar-constructed model.
But this will also be little lighter than a plastic kayak and therefore be more subject to wind blow.
Kayaks are made from different materials, each of which offers a different slate of pros and cons. There is no perfect kayak material that works in all situations so be sure to select the material that suits your circumstances.
Most entry-level kayaks are constructed from plastic. Polyethylene is the most commonly used material for making budget boats but polycarbonate plastics are also used to make kayaks.
- Plastics tend to handle direct impacts well but they scratch easily and flex as they are piloted through the water.
- Plastic-hulled kayaks are very difficult to repair if broken.
Fiberglass – which is a glass-fiber-embedded plastic resin – resists scratches better than plastic kayaks do.
Accordingly, fiberglass boats are rarely used in white-water situations but they are commonly used in open lakes and the ocean.
Fiberglass kayaks are easier to repair than plastic boats are which helps to extend the life of your craft.
- Does not handle impacts as well as plastic boats can.
Kevlar, the same stuff used to make bullet proof vests, is essentially a tightly woven fabric. It is both lighter and stronger than fiberglass.
- Despite these attractive attributes, some Kevlar kayaks are prone to flexing so they aren’t always the smart choice.
- One of the most expensive materials available.
Although wood kayaks are not as common as they used to be, they still have their place in the modern kayak market. They are typically lightweight and strong, but their price and quality vary greatly.
- Low-cost, economy models are inexpensive but they are unlikely to last very long.
Conversely, high-quality, custom-built wooden kayaks may outlast their plastic- or fiberglass-built counterparts.
When selecting a kayak, it’ll be wise to focus your attention on the factors that influence its performance while on the water. However, you must also consider how you’ll get the kayak to and from the water.
Most kayak anglers transport their craft by strapping it to the roof rack of their car, and those with a truck often use their truck bed. Truck beds vary between 6 and 8 feet in length.
Unless you have a truck with a long bed, the craft will extend beyond the bed’s tailgate.
Alternatively, you can use a truck bed rack to hold the kayak up over the cab or to help support it as it extends beyond the bed’s gate.
In other cases, particularly for those using large kayaks, trailers are the ideal tool for transporting your craft.
You can retrofit a general-purpose trailer so that it holds a kayak, or you can purchase a trailer specifically designed for it. In either case, you need to make sure that your car or truck has a trailer hitch capable of towing the trailer.
But even if you use a trailer, you still need to be able to move your kayak onto and off of it.
If you usually fish by yourself, you must purchase one that is light enough that you can load and unload yourself, or you’ll need to invest in a commercially made kart or lifting device that will help you deal with the weight and bulk of the boat.
It’s important to consider how you will store your kayak as it will spend the bulk of its time on dry land — stored somewhere in your home. If space is a concern, you may have to select a smaller kayak.
Rudder or Skeg
Many kayaks feature a rudder or skeg to help with tracking and performance.
Rudders are placed at the rear of the kayak. They do not retract, but move from side to side to help you steer the craft.
Both devices present challenges in shallow water but some models allow for quick adjustments which can make them useful in any water depth.
Skegs are adjustable fins that emerge from the front portion of the kayak’s bow. They are often retractable but they do not move from side to side.
Experienced kayakers often swear by one or the other, but there is no right-or-wrong answer here. It is simply a matter of preference whether you use a kayak with a rudder or a skeg or neither one at all.
In most cases, beginners are best served by considering their intended use then proceed accordingly.
Accessories complicate the kayak selection process. You may want things like:
- rod holders
- storage compartments
You can purchase all of these after selecting the suited kayak for your needs.
Some models are already equipped with things like camera mounts, while others does not. These add-ons affect the prices of the various kayaks you’re looking at, so be sure to do an apples-to-apples comparison.
Some important accessories for kayaking anglers include:
- rod holders
- storage boxes (preferably more than one storage box)
- shock cords to tie down your gear
- an anchor system.
Consider things like cup holders and other simple creature comforts – these things are typically considered frivolous.
You will be spending a lot of time in your kayak, and before long, you’ll appreciate the added comfort that some of these things provide.
Nevertheless, you must be careful to avoid overcrowding your kayak or overburdening it with too much weight.
Always keep the craft’s capacity in mind while loading your gear (or large fish), and keep your equipment and accessories organized neatly for safety’s sake.
You’ll have to include a first-aid / emergency survival kit on board in case you run into trouble.
Its contents vary based on your intended location (you don’t need a flare gun to alert help if you are only going to a 5-acre pond), but it is always better to stay on the side of caution and preparedness.
For recreational kayakers, color selection is primarily a matter of personal preference. But kayaking anglers may not feel the same way.
Anglers disagree about how much the color of your kayak matters to the fish, with some believing it makes no difference at all and others arguing that subdued color schemes will spook fewer fish.
If you are worried about fish seeing the bottom of your boat, go with a light-colored natural tone. When fish look up at the surface of a body of water, it looks pretty light.
This is why many fish are dark above and white below: camouflage.
Whether or not the fish will see your craft, you should consider a few other things when selecting the color.
1. From a safety perspective, bright colors make your kayak more visible to other boaters as well as rescue personnel, should that unfortunate need arise.
2. Also consider if you will be using your kayak for other applications like hunting, bird watching or wildlife photography. Such applications will benefit from a camouflage-colored kayak which will help keep the critters from noticing your presence.
Overview of Leading Kayak Brands
Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, you’ll probably develop your own opinions about the various major manufacturers. However, those just getting started will benefit from the experience of others.
Use the following characterizations as a broad guide to the differences among some of the major manufacturers.
Note that manufacturer-specific tendencies are most pronounced on advanced kayaks, entry-level models are more interchangeable and exhibit fewer company-wide construction tendencies.
Ocean Kayak produces a diverse array of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
The bulk of their kayaks are at the intermediate price range but they have a few higher priced models for the more discriminating kayaker.
Most of them are designed for fishing that come with a full slate of angler-friendly features such as rod holders, live bait wells and more.
Some models in their angler line include:
• Tetra Angler
• Trident Ultra
• Trident Angler
• Caper Angler
Old Town Canoes and Kayaks has been manufacturing and designing canoes and kayaks for more than a century. They produce an array of kayak models, including several that are specifically designed for anglers.
While the company prides itself in using high-quality materials, most anglers speak highly about the stability of these kayaks (including the ease with which large fish can be battled from them), as well as the well-conceived designs.
Most Old Town kayaks are priced at the middle of the cost spectrum.
Some of their angling kayak models include:
• Twin Heron Angler
• Vapor Angler Series
• New Loon Angler Series
• Predator Series
Sun Dolphin manufactures a variety of recreational and angling kayaks, including both sit-inside and sit-on-top models. They also produce paddleboards, dinghies, boats and canoes too.
In business since 1982, they are a vertically oriented company who also manufactures a number of important kayak accessories.
Anglers who have used Sun Dolphin fishing kayaks rave about the padded paddle rests (which help you avoid spooking the fish) and generous collection of rod holders.
Sun Dolphin kayaks are high-value crafts that outperform their entry-level price tags.
Their angler-oriented kayak models:
• Excursion (sit-inside models)
• Journey (sit-on-top models)
With 45 years of history, Pelican International is one of the leading manufacturers of entry level and intermediate kayaks.
In addition to a wide selection of angling kayaks, they also produce several recreational and tandem models.
They construct their kayaks with proprietary materials and manufacturing techniques, demonstrating their position as an innovator in the industry.
Some of their angling kayak lines include:
• Strike Angler
• The Catch
Originators of the MirageDrive pedal-powered propulsion system, Hobie kayaks are quite popular with anglers. They produce intermediate- and advanced-level kayaks which appeal to advanced anglers.
In addition to the pedal drive system (which comes standard on most, but not all Hobie kayaks), most of their kayaks feature high-quality materials, craftsmanship and intelligent design decisions.
Hobie produces the following kayak lines:
• Mirage Pro Angler
• Mirage Revolution
• Mirage Outback
• Mirage Sport
• Mirage Outfitter
• Mirage Oasis
Native Watercraft is a company that produces intermediate and high-end kayaks primarily for anglers. They are the only major company besides Hobie that produce kayaks with a pedal-driven propulsion mechanism.
Native Watercraft models with the “propel” distinction come equipped with a propeller-based drive mechanism.
Most of their kayaks come equipped with a number of important features including skegs, tag-a-long wheels and high-quality, adjustable seats.
Some of their model lines include:
• Manta Ray
• Versa Board
At the end of the day, the most important things you need to do when selecting a kayak are to consider the way you’ll use the craft — including the waters you’ll fish on, the species you’ll target and the amount of tackle you’ll need.
Plus the real-world constraints placed upon you such as your size, your car’s ability to haul the kayak and your budget.
Experience is the Best Teacher
In most cases, dedicated kayakers will purchase several crafts over the course of their lives, and each will differ a little from the previous.
This is normal and a good reason to opt for a straight-forward, no-frills kayak when you are starting out.
This will allow you to decide whether you prefer your kayak to be on the short side or the long side, fiberglass or plastic, sit-inside or sit-on-top models and so forth.
Although it seems obvious to say, one of the most helpful ways to select the best kayak for you is to try a few different models at a local lake or river.
Many kayak clubs exist and members are willing to help newcomers learn more about the sport and try out a bunch of different kayaks.
You never know, you may think that you want a short, wide kayak so you can stand up while fishing but once you get in the water you may find that you can stand easily enough in a longer, narrower model.
In any case, be sure to learn as much as you can about the kayaks in your budget that fit your perceived needs and make a deliberate choice.
Be careful to avoid the temptation of saving $50 at the expense of things like performance, comfort or style. These things can make all the difference in a kayak you enjoy and one that you never take out onto the water.
Other resources worth checking:
Hobie Forum – Kayak cleaning.
Meetup – Meet other local kayakers.