Choosing a Fishing Kayak

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Choosing a Fishing Kayak

Choosing a fishing kayak is never an easy task. You may ask, what are the best fishing kayaks? Well, unfortunately that’s subjective, everybody has different needs and with so many variations, features and opinions available there is no simple answer. Thankfully we’re here to help.

In this article we aim to break down the decision process into smaller more manageable pieces, hopefully simplifying the selection process for you.

So let’s get started on helping you in your quest to find the best fishing kayak

In this article we discuss:

  • Sit-on-Top vs Sit-In vs Inflatable
  • Propulsion – Paddle vs Pedal vs Motor
  • Hull Shape – What best suits your fishing spots
  • Rudder
  • Weight
  • Transporting Your Kayak
  • Seat
  • Storage
  • Rigged or Bare

Sit-on-Top (SOT) vs Sit-in kayak (SIK)

choosing a fishing kayak options - SOT SIK Inflatable

And the debate goes on… sit on top vs sit in kayak… or Inflatable!

Sit-on-Top (SOT)

Pros

Easy to get on and off. There you have it folks, ease of use is one of the deciding factors with a lot of anglers.

An open deck design gives you room to move around on, dangle feet in water or even sit side saddle. All while providing plenty of space for storage, attaching gear and even customising.

They are generally more stable too, often stable enough to stand up on with a bit of practice which is great for sight fishing.

Safer. As mentioned previously most SOT’s are designed to be very stable making it harder to tip out. If you capsize, re-entering your kayak is much easier on a SOT kayak. It definitely takes some practice but it’s much more achievable than with a SIK.

Due to the closed hull design and scupper holes they are virtually unsinkable. As long as  the hull is not punctured they’ll keep on floating.

Easier to cast (more elbow room) Although this is subjective, in general having you elbows above the deck allows more freedom for your casts

Good in the surf. Definitely safer on the waves in something you can bail from if you need to, and, provided your gear is well strapped down you can always jump off and hold the stern on your way back in if the surf is too big. It’s worked for me before.

Cons

Typically heavier. They are usually built wider with stability in mind which does of course have a downside… weight.

SOT’s can be slower, due to the push towards more stable designs they tend to be wider and therefore slower. 

Open to the elements. Yes, you do get wet, no hiding from it. But on the positive side, you can dress for it. In summer getting wet isn’t too much of an issue and it can be pleasant. In cooler weather a drysuit with good layering underneath eliminates the issue.

Sit-in-Kayak (SIK)

Pros

One of the often noted advantages of a SIK is that provided you use a skirt your lower body will stay dry and out of the elements. This is often a consideration for those fishing in colder weather. Just be aware though, in cold water your legs will only have the kayak wall between them and the cold water so some extra insulation there would not go amiss.

Generally speaking, SIK’s are often lighter, faster and easier to maneuver, although often requiring a bit more skill to operate.

Lighter is definitely a plus when it comes to lugging it around and as far as speed goes, if I was planning on paddling long distances, it would be my pick. My SOT is great but it’s definitely not fast.

A lower center of gravity. In theory, a lower center of gravity has an effect on stability. Though in truth, kayak stability is a complicated topic and is influenced by much more than center of gravity.  Hull shape, width and length play a much bigger role.

Ease of paddling. Their lighter weight, narrower design and lower center of gravity all combine to make them more efficient to paddle. Especially important if you travel long distances.

Cons

The biggest con with SIK’s is when you capsize. They will take on water which makes re entering them require a special skill set and for some, specialty gear. Definitely not for the faint hearted.

Depending on the size of the cockpit opening they are definitely harder to get in and out of. If you’re young and nimble I’m sure it’ll be no problem but if like me, you’re a bit more mature with a few parts that don’t work and bend like they used to, it’s a definite con.

They are more restrictive, less room to move about. Let’s face it. You’ll have to remain seated in these when you’re out on the water, your bottom half will remain firmly below deck. This can be a good thing in cold weather though so having a positive or negative view will depend on your perspective.

Less on deck storage for you fishing gear. Lets face it, most of us fishermen have a fair bit of gear so the more room the better.

Or Inflatable…. 

This is a viable option for some anglers, here’s why.

Pros

Portability.
When it comes to portability you just can’t beat an inflatable. Lighter weight and a smaller package make them ideal for those with limited space either in the vehicle or at home.

Lightweight. 
As above, great for those wanting less weight to lug around.
One of the downsides to having a hard shell kayak is having to transport it. Personally it’s my least favourite part of kayak fishing. They’re big and bulky, not to mention heavy. Having them lighter and smaller is a definite plus in my book.

Ease of storage.  
Yes, stating the obvious here! If storage is at a premium then this option might be for you.

Cons

Puncture resistance. This concern may be unfounded though as most of these are tougher than you might think. Look at white water rafting, those rafts take a beating and keep on going. Multiple layer fabric increases puncture resistance and baffled/chambered construction keep things contained. Not all have these features though so remember, you get what you pay for, the more money you spend the tougher it will be.

Performance. They are just not as fast or streamlined as a hardshell kayak. 

Conclusion: SOT vs SIK vs Inflatable?

As far as fishing kayaks go, sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks are winning the race with anglers and I can see why.

They may be a bit heavier and slower compared to their counterparts but their ease of use, stability, deck space and safety all combine to make them the most popular option for kayak fishing. As such there are many more options available in SOT kayaks than SIK or inflatables.

Of course everybody has different needs so if a SOT doesn’t work for you then don’t be swayed by the multitudes, get what you need for your situation.

Propulsion

Paddle, Pedal or Motor

choosing a fishing kayak options - paddle pedal motor

Paddle

The original and most simple form of propulsion. Also the least expensive!

Pros

Simplicity. What made kayak fishing so appealing for me was the simplicity of it all.That rustic, back to basics, back to nature quality. Being able to grab my kayak and a rod and head out for a fish. I’m sure this has also been the appeal for many others. 

With advances in technology, the sport of kayak fishing is evolving rapidly. Pedal was a step up from paddle and now motors are the next thing. These kayaks are becoming small boats and some purists might say, not really a true kayak…

Low cost. This definitely a pro as there is a significant increase in price between paddle only and kayaks with a drive system. Being much more affordable also opens up the world of kayak fishing to more people which is great as something this enjoyable should be shared.

Upper body fitness. With a large proportion of jobs these days being sedentary, our upper bodies don’t get the exercise they need. What better way to do that than to go for a paddle. When done properly kayak paddling uses the whole upper body and is a great workout.

Cons

Learning curve. If you have never paddled before it can take a while to learn. There are techniques to learn to be able to turn, slow down, stop, back paddle and probably most importantly, to paddle efficiently. 

It is worthwhile getting some instruction or at least watching some videos on how to paddle correctly and efficiently. This will allow you to paddle using less energy, increasing your time on the water. The less fatigued you are the more enjoyable the experience.

Slower. There is some debate on this but for the average person people agree that paddling a kayak is generally going to be slower than a pedal drive system.

Potential to lose your paddle. This is only an issue if you have chosen not to use a paddle leash. In the unlikely event that you knock your paddle overboard and it floats out of reach, well, it’s going to be a slow trip home. Hands don’t make very effective paddles for a kayak.

Easily avoided though by using a paddle leash!

Pedal

A great choice if you want your hands free. There are propeller or fin versions.

Pros

Hands Free. The ability to be able to move whilst having both hands free to fish with is a plus.
Using legs instead of the upper body is a positive thing for many anglers.

Without dropping anchor, these give you the ability to use forward, reverse and rudder to stay over your favourite fishing spot a lot easier than with paddle only.

Speed and Efficiency. There is some debate on this topic but most generally agree that for the average person greater speed and can be achieved with less effort with a pedal drive system. Using your legs muscles which are larger and stronger is a more efficient use of your energy.

Stability. The propeller unit or fins act much like the keel of a yacht providing extra stability.

Improved tracking. As with above, a ‘keel’ improves the kayaks tracking ability, keeping it on course easier.

Less noise. No matter how efficient you are, having to dip your paddle in and out of the water does create splashes and noise. With a pedal unit the moving parts are under the water making it a much stealther option.

Easier for beginners. With regards to propulsion, if you have never paddled before it can take some time to get proficient at it whereas most of us already know how to pedal. This means you’ll be enjoying the fishing sooner.

Cons

Weight. If weight is an issue then it may be worth keeping it simple and going with a paddle only option.

Cost. These kayaks cost a significant amount more than a paddle only version.

Water depth. With pedal drives you will need greater underwater clearance. You can flip your fins up or lift your drive  but it’s something that needs to be considered.

Motor

If you’re looking for maximum thrust for minimal effort, a motor may be your best option, though not for the purist kayaker.

Pros

Minimal physical effort required. 

Many come with a remote for easy control or sync to your phone.

Cons

Expensive. Yes you do pay a premium for this option. They are another set up from the pedal option.

Potential for mechanical failure

Fishing Kayak Hull Shape

choosing a fishing kayak - row of boats

Width = Stability

Although hull design plays a large part in performance and stability, generally speaking the wider the hull the more stable it will be but it will also be slower as it creates more drag. 

If you intend to stand and fish from your fishing kayak then choose one which has a wide stable platform. Take a good look at the hull design though as some can be wide but not have great primary stability. Fishing kayaks with good primary stability will often have a pontoon style hull like the Old Town Sportsman 106

Length = Tracking and Speed

Again, these are generalizations only.

A shorter kayak is more maneuverable and therefore suited to rivers and smaller lakes or ponds. They are easier to turn but don’t track as well and tend to be slower.

A longer fishing kayak is more suited to longer trips where speed and efficiency are needed. These are ideal for open water and offshore kayak fishing. They tend to be efficient and track well making them much quicker than their shorter counterparts.

In Conclusion it will depend on where and how you plan to fish.

Ocean and Open Water. A longer narrower fishing kayak will provide you with greater speed, efficiency and tracking, all worthwhile when you are covering larger distances.

Smaller Lakes and Calm Rivers. Without the need to travel great distances a wider more stable fishing kayak is a great option. They often have the stability required to stand and fish from and most offer a high seating position for greater comfort.

Rivers and Streams. A shorter fishing kayak would be our recommendation here. They are more maneuverable, providing the agility needed for navigating these smaller water courses.

Rudder

As expected a rudder comes as standard with pedal or motor drives but is a rudder necessary with paddle fishing kayaks? I would say no but in some cases recommended. Specifically ocean/offshore and open water kayaking. With wind, waves and current all working against the kayak a rudder can make a world of difference, often significantly improving paddling efficiency and tracking.
More energy spent on paddling equals less energy you have for fishing!

Weight

This is not an important factor once on the water but getting your kayak to and from the water is another story. A lot will depend here on how you intend to transport it and whether or not you will be doing it alone.

If you go it alone a lightweight fishing kayak is definitely a wise choice. Likewise if you car top. An important factor that is sometimes overlooked is the vehicle’s roof rack weight limit. Each vehicle and roof rack brand will have its own maximum weight limit. If you plan on car topping your fishing kayak, make sure you take that into account.

There are some innovative kayak loading systems on the market and multiple self loading tips available online which are worth checking out.

A heavier fishing kayak is not so much of an issue if you plan on using a trailer or maybe the bed of your truck. Which leads us to the next thing…

Transporting Your Fishing Kayak

choosing a fishing kayak - transporting kayak on truck

What options are there?

Car Topping. The simplest and probably the most common method. As mentioned, remember to play it safe and check out your roof rack and vehicle’s load limits to make sure your kayak or kayaks don’t exceed that limit.
If you already have roof racks installed this is a great option, if not, then this is another cost you may need to consider. There are some cheaper options like soft top roof racks if you are on a tight budget.
There are also various load assist products available that can attach to your roof racks or even your tow bar to help make the job easier.

Truck bed. Another popular and one of the easiest options is to simply load your fishing kayak onto the bed of you truck, provided you own one of course! There are frames available such as Extend-A-Truck to connect to your tow bar providing extended support if required. Don’t forget you will need to hang a red flag off the end that sticks out!

A Trailer. A nice easy loading option although if your kayak is too heavy to manually load on and off you are limited to boat ramp landing options. Having to drive and park with a trailer can be a nuisance at times too.

Kayak Cart. These are fairly simple to use and options abound here . The simple kayak cart can make a world of difference with manoeuvring you kayak to and from the water.

Seat

There are basically two main options here. Most open water and offshore style kayaks and many cheaper fishing kayaks will have a clip in style seat. The former use them as they keep your center of gravity low in the kayak offering much needed stability with swells and waves. The latter do so for economic reasons.

There has been a trend towards lawn chair or stadium style seats in recent years with an emphasis on comfort. These generally offer more comfort and a drier ride. It would be prudent to mention here that if you are an offshore kayak angler dealing with surf and swell then a lower, clip in style seat would be a better and safer option.

Fishing Kayak Storage

How much storage do you require? Most fishing kayaks will offer an open rear tankwell, usually designed to take a milk crate or similarly sized tackle box or cooler. Some will come with ‘sealed’ hatches which in my opinion are a great idea if you are going over night or perhaps through surf and need secure storage but they are not very accessible whilst on the water therefore not necessarily a great idea if you are lake or river fishing and need everything within easy reach.

A good idea is to think about what you would need easily accessible and see if the model you’re looking at has space and storage features to accommodate it.

Rigged or Bare

Another choice here is whether you want to fully customise your kayak rigging or do you want it to arrive rigged and ready to fish.

The good news is that most dedicated fishing kayaks come with multiple mounting options, usually offering tracks and built in flush mount rod holders. Mounting tracks offer easy customization.

Choosing a Fishing Kayak – Summary

Hopefully you’re now well on your way to choosing the right fishing kayak. For further info on buying a fishing kayak check out our kayak fishing gear guides here.

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