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Right now is a great time to be a kayak angler. There are more choices of fishing kayaks than ever, opening up the sport to millions who would otherwise be stuck on shore. Whether you want to move easily and quickly, or go a long distance, or have a motor do the work of getting there—or if you simply want to get out on the water for as little money as possible—there is a perfect kayak for you. Here is a guide to choosing the best fishing kayak for you.
- Best Pedal Kayak: Hobie Mirage Outback
- Best Motorized Kayak: Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136
- Best Sit-Inside Fishing Kayak: Bonafide EX123
- Best Budget Fishing Kayak: Perception Outlaw 11.5
How We Chose the Best Fishing Kayaks
We chose kayaks that are stable and can be rigged for the needs of anglers. We also chose a variety of kayak styles to provide options for all types of fishing scenarios.
Best Fishing Kayaks: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Pedal Kayak: Hobie Mirage Outback
Twenty years ago, Hobie’s Mirage Outback kicked off the pedal kayak revolution. Today, the Mirage Outback has been updated with modern fishing amenities, the most comfortable seat on the water, and unlimited potential for customization. Hobie’s latest generation Mirage Drive 180 with Kickup Fins lets you go from forward to reverse by pulling a cable on the drive. Run over a log or hit a rock, and the Kickup fins and retractable rudder pop up to clear the obstacle. The new Vantage CTW seat is adjustable four ways ,and sits higher in the boat for a more comfortable pedaling position. All these features, along with the quality construction and components, make the Mirage Outback the best fishing kayak with pedals.
Best Motorized Kayak: Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136
One of the oldest paddle-craft companies worked with one of the most advanced electric fishing motor companies to build the best motorized fishing kayak. To design the Sportsman Autopilot 136, Old Town tapped their most popular accessories: gear tracks, a padded deck, and a premium frame seat. But what really sets the Autopilot apart is the Minn Kota Autopilot electric motor. The most advanced, remote controlled, GPS enabled electric motor provides complete control of the Autopilot 136. Use the remote to steer and control speed, and use the GPS to set a direction, repeat a track, or hold the kayak in place. The motor is easy to install and lift for shallow-water clearance. A huge rudder controls steering when the Sportsman is underway.
Best Sit-In Kayak: Bonafide EX123
A wide cockpit and tunnel hull allow Bonafide’s EX123 to handle like a sit-on-top kayak. But the enclosed bow and stern and low seat offer the advantages of a sit-inside. At only 67 pounds, the EX123 is one of the lightest fishing kayaks. The frame seat and padded deck make the sit-in kayak more comfortable for standing or sitting.
Best Budget Fishing Kayak: Perception Outlaw 11.5
Introduced a few years ago, this kayak takes advantage of the most popular fishing features and design in a boat that cost less than $750. Inspired by the best boats from sister company Wilderness Systems, the Outlaw features a tunnel hull that balances stability and speed. The wide, flat deck is padded for all-day standup fishing. The high frame seat is a perfect perch for paddling and casting. Our favorite feature: four horizontal rod holders that keep rods secured and protected from overhead obstructions, but in easy reach.
How to Choose the Best Fishing Kayak for You
The beauty of kayak fishing is getting on the water quickly, easily, and inexpensively—and a paddle kayak checks all those boxes.
While many anglers choose a pedal or motor kayak, paddle kayaks cost less, require less maintenance, and are easier to transport and store. With a stable and efficient hull, paddling is a breeze.
The topside of the best fishing kayak should have rod holders, gear tracks, and plenty of space to mount accessories. A boat ready to fish off the shelf, with plenty of options for customization, is the best choice here because you can get out on the water and then decide if you need to add or modify anything. It should have a tankwell behind the seat large enough to fit a gear crate or cooler. Large hatches offer protected storage below deck and make it easier to reach inside the hull for rigging.
A comfortable seat not only keeps you fishing all day, but also improves paddling efficiency. That’s why we recommend a low-profile seat that provides support without interfering with the paddle stroke. A paddle kayak generally costs a thousand dollars less than a pedal boat. Saving money on the boat gives you more to spend on other kayak fishing essentials, such as a kayak life vest, kayak paddle, and kayak fish finder.
Do You Want a Motorized Kayak, so You Can Put All of Your Energy into Fishing?
For anglers looking to fish without breaking a sweat, a motorized kayak—one that is designed to be used with a motor—is best. Adding a motor to a kayak isn’t as easy as it sounds, and performance can lag. That’s because a kayak and a motor have to be designed to work together.
A fishing kayak with a motor in the center of the hull is efficient, and keeps the propeller clear of fishing lines. Look for features such as gear tracks, rod holders, storage space for tackle, and a comfortable seat. A good electric motor will be powerful to push the boat at a decent speed, and be efficient enough to run all day.
The most advanced kayak motors are GPS connected and remote controlled. Just push a button to navigate.
Of course, all this convenience comes at a cost. Motorized kayaks have the highest price tag. A motor and battery adds time and effort getting on the water. But if you want to take a kayak to the limits of rigging and fishing, an electric motor-powered yak is the top option.
Do You Want a Kayak for Fishing in Rough Water or Cold Weather, or a Very Lightweight Kayak?
While sit-on-top kayaks are the most popular fishing kayaks, some anglers prefer a sit-inside kayak. The paddler sits inside the boat, in a seat close to the kayak’s bottom. This puts the paddler closer to the water for a more efficient paddle stroke. The enclosed bow and stern areas and the closed cockpit protects the angler from wind and cold, and deflects splashes and spray, making sit-inside kayaks a good choice for use in inclement weather.
Another plus: A sit-inside kayak is much lighter and easier to carry than a sit-on-top kayak, making it perfect for accessing fishing holes far from the road.
On a Budget: What You Get for Less Than $750
Now is a great time to shop for a budget kayak. After years of research and development, advanced features once only found on premium kayaks have trickled down to budget boats. Rod holders, gear tracks, storage, and a comfortable seat aren’t the exclusive domain of high-dollar boats. Make sure you get a fishing kayak with a stable hull that paddles efficiently.
Q: What are the best kayaks for fishing?
The best fishing kayaks will be light enough to transport on a car top, drag around a shoreline, and store in a garage or shed. It should be simple to paddle, though a pedal-powered or motor-powered kayak makes the process simple. It should have gear tracks, rod holders, storage, and flat spaces on the deck and cockpit where you can mount fish finders and other accessories.
Q: Is a sit-on-top kayak better for fishing?
To start, a sit-on-top kayak is difficult to flip over. If it does, a sit-on-top is easier to remount than a sit-in. Sinking a sit-on-top is nearly impossible. To drain water, sit-on-top kayaks have holes in the deck, called scuppers. Fishing all day takes a toll, and sit-on-top kayaks have frame seats that keep the angler comfortably elevated off the deck. The biggest advantage is a sit-on-top has more room for fishing. Rigging space is in easy reach and a sit on top has more room to chase a flopping fish. Sit-on-top kayaks also allow anglers to carry more gear on the deck and in the hold. The downside: a sit-on-top kayak is heavier and bulkier than a sit-inside and offers no protection from the elements. But comfort, rigging and simplicity make a sit-on-top kayak better for fishing.
Q: What’s the most stable kayak?
There are two types of kayak stability: primary and secondary. Primary stability is how easily the kayak will lean to the side from a level position. Secondary stability is how easily the boat will transition from a leaning position to flipping over. A boat with solid primary stability will have less secondary stability. And, a boat with strong secondary stability will have weaker primary stability.
Primary stability is great for standup fishing on sheltered waters. It’s primary stability that keeps the boat steady while the angler casts and leans to land a fish. Secondary stability lets the boat roll over waves and turn sharply when paddling through rough water and rivers. To cross the surf zone or bounce down the rapids, a boat with good secondary stability is your friend.
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A Final Word on the Best Fishing Kayaks
Fishing kayaks come in hundreds of sizes, styles and shapes, making it difficult to choose the best fishing kayak but easier to find a perfect boat for you. If you’re fishing open water, look for a seaworthy boat with a pedal or motor drive. If you’re looking to access hidden fishing holes and rivers, a paddle kayak may be best. If you own a pickup truck or trailer, then transporting a big, heavy pedal kayak is easier. If you drive a hatchback and live in a townhouse, you may want to look at a lightweight paddle kayak or a sit-inside.