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  • How to Choose the Best Kayak for Fishing

    Fishing is fabulous any way you do it, but if you ask us, there’s something extra special about kayak angling. A quiet, intimate, adventurous, and versatile manner of fishing, it offers a slew of particular advantages, not least the ability to get into waters your average boat can’t readily reach.

    Whenever you shop for a kayak, consider what you’ll be using the craft for to help select the best design and model for your needs. This is especially true if you’re buying it for fishing, which is certainly one of the more specialized uses for a ‘yak. In this guide—part of our extensive library of resources for hunters and anglers here at the Mountain House blog—we’ll run down some of the factors to weigh when looking for the best fishing kayak in which to pursue those marvelous gamefish of riffled streams, oxbow lakes, and tidewater flats.

    Different Types of Fishing Kayaks

    Whether you go with a specially designed fishing kayak or simply one you can adapt for your favorite on-the-water pursuit, here’s a rundown of the basic categories of watercraft you’ll be choosing between.

    Man kayak fishing.

    Photo by Harrison Kugler on Unsplash

    Sit-on-Top Kayak

    The sit-on-top kayak is probably the most all-around popular style of fishing kayak. The typically broad beam of sit-on-tops offers great stability; they’re easy to hop into and out of and make for easy turning to access gear. Scupper holes deliver a self-bailing design, making the occasional wash-over no sweat. And you’re perched high in a sit-on-top kayak, giving you excellent sightlines while casting.

    That said, you’re more exposed to the elements in a sit-on-top kayak vs. a sit-in model and also liable to get wetter, so if you’re fishing in a colder, stormier season or in rougher waters, you might want to think twice before going the sit-on-top route. Of course, properly suiting up in cold-weather (and cold-water) gear mitigates some of those drawbacks. But keep in mind that your average sit-on-top is also heavier than a sit-in of comparable dimensions.

    Inflatable Kayak

    The modern inflatable kayak can be a fabulous fishing craft. It’s hard to beat its lightweightness and portability; it’s possible to haul these suckers into remote—even (tantalizingly) roadless—mountain lakes and trout streams. You can also more easily transport a stowed-away inflatable on an airplane for long-distance fishing adventures on far-off waters.

    A high-quality inflatable kayak can be very stable, and many models allow for standing up while casting. Cheaper models, though, can be much flimsier. Furthermore, you’re usually sacrificing some speed, maneuverability, and responsiveness with an inflatable, though higher-end models certainly compare well with recreational hard-shell ‘yaks.

    Sit-in Kayak

    Sit-in kayaks—the traditional design—are trickier to master in terms of general technique and self-rescue, and they lock an angler in a bit more compared to a sit-on-top or inflatable. But you can’t beat ‘em when it comes to “weatherproof” kayaking, given the secure, below-deck seating and spray-skirt seal. They’re also lightweight and nimble, offering in narrow, elongated versions unparalleled speed and tracking.

    Sit-in kayaks can also provide more extensive and secure storage, making them ideal for multi-day fishing treks and therefore unlocking lots of remote waterways for your angling pleasure and adventurous spirit.

    Paddle vs. Pedal Kayaks

    The traditional kayak—founded on tried-and-true, age-old, highly sophisticated designs of Inuit, Aleut, Yup’ik, and other Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples—is driven along by paddling. Yet many kayak anglers favor a pedal-powered craft.

    Push-style pedals or bike-style turning pedals in such kayaks power fins to give propulsion, while a hand control operates the rudder for steering. One obvious benefit of a pedal-drive kayak when it comes to fishing is the freeing up of your hands for casting, bait management, and fish handling. The foot-operated propulsion can also translate to steadier trolling when considered against comparatively jerky paddle strokes.

    Disadvantages of a pedal-drive kayak include the low-hanging fins, which might prevent you from accessing very shallow waters, and it's generally heavier in weight compared to traditional paddle-propelled ‘yaks.

    Paddling means you can’t be casting while maneuvering or moving between fishing grounds, and requires some reliable system of managing one’s paddle when it’s not in use. But paddle-powered kayaks are usually lighter in weight and give you a nice upper-body workout to boot.

    Fishing-Specific Features & Add-ons

    There are many ways to rig out your kayak with fishing-specialized upgrades, many of which pre-exist on specifically designed angling kayaks. These include trolling motors, integrated rod- and paddle-holders, capacious storage compartments, fish finders, anchors, and other deck-mounted accessories.

    People fishing on an orange kayak in a lake.

    Photo by James Hou on Unsplash

    Other Considerations: Design Features, Tradeoffs, & Intended Angling Environments

    It’s worth drilling down on some general rules of thumb in terms of kayak design at this point. Shorter kayaks are more maneuverable than longer kayaks, which, in turn, are speedier and track better (that is, they more efficiently and easily stick to a straight-ahead course). Broader kayaks confer more stability at the expense of speed and maneuverability.

    If you like to bring a lot of gear along on your fishing outing, you’re going to want more compartment space or at least a good, broad recreational-style kayak within which you can stow or strap more stuff. Minimalist anglers, by contrast, might focus more exclusively on how a ‘yak moves and handles on the water.

    If you intend to fish in a river, you might be gravitating toward a shorter, more maneuverable kayak as compared to somebody mainly fishing on big open bodies of water, where a sleek, narrow design, and the speed and tight tracking it delivers are pluses.

    Anglers who like to prowl into backwater flats and shallows might choose a sit-on-top kayak they can more easily slip on and off of. A kayaker keen to cover a lot of ground—and maybe who’s expecting to contend with cold temperatures, nasty weather, and/or choppy waters—might go for a sit-in model.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Let’s run through some common questions that pop up when fisherfolk think about purchasing a kayak.

    Is it Hard to Fish From a Kayak?

    No! Not with the right model, anyway. From offshore saltwater to fast-running rivers and placid ponds, kayaks can be adapted to most sorts of fishing environments, and, depending on your preferred method of casting, there’s a model out there tailor-made for you.

    Can You Fish on Any Kayak?

    Hardcore anglers often end up buying a fishing-specific kayak, but that’s not necessary if you carefully select a design that lends itself to the activity. A kayak specially designed for, say, whitewater or long-distance sea travel is not going to be an ideal fishing vessel.

    How Big of a Kayak Do I Need for Fishing?

    That varies depending on the environment you’re planning to fish, the duration of trips you intend to take, and other factors. Generally speaking, a classic recreational kayak length of around a dozen feet is the sweet spot, but again, there’s lots of variability and personal preference involved.

    Close-up of the front of a kayak with a fishing rod.

    Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

    Take Mountain House on Your Next Angling Adventure

    Whether it goes down on a pedal-drive or paddle-powered kayak, a sit-on-top or inflatable, a long narrow slicer, or a stubby sidewinder, make sure you’re well stocked with Mountain House freeze-dried meals for your next kayak-fishing expedition!

    Hero image: Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

    Inspired for an Adventure? Check out Beef Stroganoff - Pouch and Beef Stew - Pouch