What Makes a Fishing Kayak the Best Fishing Kayak

Picture of a person fishing from a kayak

As interest in fishing in general grows, so has the amount of ways for people to fish. One of these growing subcategories is by using a fishing kayaks. Providing a unique way to fish in the water without the cost of a boat, more and more kayak makers are jumping on this trend. By using the expertise from this article, you’ll be able to understand what you need to know in order to find the best fishing kayak.

Ranking#1#2#3#4
ProductImage of the Ocean Kayak Prowler
Ocean Kayak Prowler
Image of the Sun Dolphin Journey
Sun Dolphin Journey
Image of the Emotion Stealth Angler
Emotion Stealth Angler
Image of the Lifetime Muskie Angler
Lifetime Muskie Angler
Score9/108.5/108.5/107.5/10
Weight56 lbs.48 lbs.51 lbs.50 lbs.
Weight Capacity400-450 lbs.395 lbs.275 lbs.275 lbs.
Length13 ft. 4 in.12 ft.10 ft. 3 in.10 ft.
ProsWeight Cap.
Comfort
Stability
Storage
Weight Cap.
Stability
Comfort
Stability
Tracking
Comfort
Stability
Cheap
Comfort
ReviewGo To ReviewGo To ReviewGo To ReviewGo To Review

Before we begin discussing fishing kayaks, it’s important to clarify the what a fishing kayak entails. Generally, kayaks designed exclusively for fishing place an emphasis on stability and comfort. This is because since you will likely be seated for long periods of time.

In addition, their added features are geared towards fishing. These include rod holders, tackle hatches, live wells, and anchor systems. Beyond this, though, there are a wealth of options to choose from.

Sit-on-Top Vs. Sit-In

The question of sit-on-top or sit-in kayaks is something that will come up very quickly in your search. Sit-on-top kayaks are designed around a molded-in depression on the kayak’s deck. Rather than sitting inside a kayak as you are probably used to, you literally sit on top of this depression. Many of the best sit-on-top kayaks will have some sort of cushion or back support on the seat for added comfort.

Many anglers will tell you that sit-on-top kayaks are a better fit for fishing needs, and the reasons can be convincing. On a sit-on-top kayak, it is far easier to get out and wade in the water if needed. You can also add accessories to your rod if you need to. Sitting on top also grants you a better view of your surroundings.

The tradeoff here is that it is a lot easier for you to get wet on a sit-on-top kayak. They also aren’t preferable in conditions like cold water, strong currents, or waves. Sit-in kayaks also tend to be more stable because the center of gravity is lower.

Sometimes, regardless of seat design, some kayaks are better suited for certain water types. For example, an upswept bow, increases performance in waves and strong current. They don’t work as well in flat water. Keep in mind where you plan on fishing before you make a purchase. There is no right answer when it comes to this discussion, only what suits you best.

The Best Fishing Kayak: Our Selections

Finding the right fishing kayak for you is a two-part combination. First, it’s something that you find comfortable in the water.

Second, you want something that fits both your lifestyle and the way you like to fish. As we mentioned before, there are only a few traits that separate fishing kayaks from regular sports kayaks, so there’s a lot to choose from.

Here are some of the top sellers in this category.

Lifetime Muskie Angler

Image of the Lifetime Muskie AnglerIf I could describe this Lifetime in one word, I would choose “sturdy.” As a fishing kayak, in particular, I find this a very important trait. While you want to be able to maneuver, your top concerns will be safety and comfort both while you wait for your catch as well as reeling it in.

The Lifetime delivers in that regard. In fact, I was able to stand in it with minimal concern. In addition, I was also able to get out of the kayak to try and wade without worrying about any teetering.

I found that the seat on the Lifetime was extremely comfortable. It has plenty of back support and cushion on the bottom for an easy fishing experience. There are also multiple footrest positions should you want to try them out. As a sit-on-top kayak, I place special attention on the seat.

Because added comfort is a major selling point for these types of kayaks, I wanted to make sure that this met expectations.

As an added bonus, it has both front and rear handles, making transport easier than many other kayaks this size. There isn’t too much in the ways of added accessories other than what I have mentioned, and while that wasn’t a major minus with me, it bears mentioning.

With this said, the Lifetime doesn’t necessarily have the best tracking or speed, even among these other kayaks. If you are doing a more casual type of fishing on a quiet lake, this won’t really affect your experience too much. Overall, this Lifetime is excellent if you plan on a lower-octane type of kayak fishing.

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Sun Dolphin Journey

Image of the Sun Dolphin JourneyAt 12 feet long, this Sun Dolphin has the length necessary for some proper handling and speed in the water, which opens up your potential options as to where you will be able to fish.

In my testing, as far as maneuverability goes, this kayak performed about where I would expect for a kayak this size — not exceeding expectations, but perfectly serviceable. It also has a surprisingly low weight, so transport isn’t as difficult as other similar-sized kayaks.

The high point for me regarding this kayak is not so much its performance (which is perfectly adequate) as much as its design. Out of the four kayaks I’ve covered here, this was probably my personal favorite in terms of its setup. This has a large sit-on-top seating design with plenty of padding as well as adjustable foot braces. Taller people can sometimes struggle with default kayak settings, so the customization is a welcome addition.

This also has three fishing rod holders, two flush, and one swivel holders. While you likely won’t need all three at once, I find that variety can be helpful if you are in a more constrained area and don’t have the wiggle room you would like to fish.

In terms of drawbacks, I find that there are two major issues that you should be aware of. First, the onboard storage can be difficult to access by virtue of where it is. This is part of the tradeoff for that lower weight. In addition, a lower weight means less stability than you may expect. Personally, I didn’t find too much issue staying stable, but other kayaks in its price and length range outperform it here.

Overall, I feel that the Sun Dolphin’s positives outperform its negatives. This leaves a kayak that is relatively inexpensive but designed for convenience. From its weight to its seating, this is one made for a more leisurely fishing style.

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Ocean Kayak Prowler

Image of the Ocean Kayak ProwlerI like to think of this Ocean Kayak as a great jack-of-all-trades option, as is the case with many of the other kayaks from this brand. While it isn’t necessarily the best option for any one situation, it is viable for nearly all of them. If you are a more regular fisherman or like to travel a lot for different catches, this may be an ideal option for you.

While this is a hard shell kayak and has a bit of weight to it, it does have side handles. This can make it easier to transport than some of the alternatives out there. In the water, this handled excellently, both tracking well and staying steady while I was fishing. Note that this versatility and ease does come at a premium. Also, paddles are not included, so you may have to tack them onto your price tag.

One of the nicest things I enjoyed about this Ocean Kayak is its storage. First, this has a large front hatch, which makes it easy to get to the natural internal storage of the kayak. I even found myself capable of storing multiple rods below deck.

This may be a bit of overkill for more casual fishermen, but storage is one case where there’s rarely too much of a good thing. Along with this hatch, there is also an oversized rear tank. This is big enough to fit coolers, tackle boxes, and bait wells.

Personally, I would consider this to be a good second kayak for those trying to get into kayak fishing. To explain, the price may be a bit prohibitive for beginners, but this does handle well and can be used both near the coast and in freshwater. In addition, the added storage allows you to bring more equipment so you can experiment when you are more comfortable doing so. As a result, once you’ve gotten a beginner kayak to see if you enjoy kayak fishing, this is a great option to expand your horizons.

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Emotion Stealth Angler

Image of the Emotion Stealth AnglerThis Emotion Kayak is a sit-on-top kayak with a bit more weight to it than some of the other kayaks on the list. As mentioned before, this leads to a bit of a tradeoff. While you have more stability in the water, carrying it around becomes more difficult. Granted, it does have side handles to help make ground transport a bit easier.

Whether or not this is a positive or negative depends on how you like to fish. I was fishing in calm water with this, so the difference in experience wasn’t as pronounced.

In terms of movement, this kayak comes with a skeg wheel, which not every kayak in this price range has. This is helpful when it comes to improving your tracking. The seat itself was perfectly adequate, while not the best one I’ve found, it was comfortable for me. The foot bracing was also very strong, which was a positive.

Moving the discussion to storage, while this kayak does have a hatch between the seat and rod holder, it’s not entirely waterproof. I have a waterproof box that I use for these type of situations and recommend that you use the same.

Overall, I would say that this is a solid choice, but doesn’t necessarily have that one major plus or focus that would make it the best in a certain category. Then again, that overall simplicity and basic may be one in and of itself. If the extra weight doesn’t bother you, then this may very well be one of the better choices for a beginning fisherman.

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What You Should Look For In A Fishing Kayak

Fishing kayaks cover a lot of ground, from kayaks made specifically for this purpose to more traditional sporting kayaks with the ability to be customized for a fisherman’s needs. With this in mind, here are a few things that should always be in the back of your mind while you are trying to find the best fishing kayak.

Dimensions

As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the kayak, the slower it is compared to longer ones. Also, wider kayaks tend to be more stable in the water than narrow kayaks. At the same time, getting a huge kayak may not be the ideal choice. Keep in mind that you need to store the kayak when you aren’t using it as well as have a way to take it to wherever you plan on fishing.

Location of Fishing

While the speed demands of a kayak aren’t necessarily as high when fishing as opposed to other sports, these can still be important depending on where you choose to fish. If you plan on fishing close to the shore or in smaller areas, speed won’t be as important, and you can choose your dimensions accordingly. However, areas like bays, reservoirs, sounds, and the open ocean will require a faster kayak.

In addition, certain areas may have higher maneuverability demands than others. If you plan on fishing in a narrow creek or estuary, it is important to invest in a kayak that is easier to turn in. These will generally be shorter ones.

Rigged vs. Unrigged

This difference is really a matter of price. All fishing kayaks will have one or several built-in rod holders for your fishing rods. However, this feature generally results in a higher price. If you are skilled at doing things yourself, you can set up your own rod holder on an unrigged kayak and save. However, this may not be worth the trouble, in which case a rigged kayak is what you want.

Motor vs. Paddle

The vast majority of the time, you’re going to want to use a paddle for kayak fishing. Not only are motors more expensive, but using them on a kayak goes against one of the main reasons you would want to fish in a kayak, to begin with.

Regardless, though, there are trolling motors that exist, so they bear mentioning. If you don’t want to use the paddle that comes with your kayak, I recommend trying to find the lightest one you find comfortable.

Storage

Depending on the way you like to fish, you may need to invest in extra storage. Do you plan on bringing an extra set of clothes? Keeping the fish you catch? Use live bait? All these and more are worth your consideration. The more storage you want, the larger a kayak you will need.

Fishing Kayaks In Review

The fishing kayak market has exploded, which has made it easier and harder to make that ideal choice. This may sound like an oxymoron, but the best thing you can do when you choose your fishing kayak is knowing what you want and where you are fishing. Let’s revisit a few of the main topics you will need to ask yourself while you shop.

  • How much of a role will speed and maneuverability play? If you plan on fishing somewhere quiet with peaceful waters, you can compromise more on speed. This means you can use lighter paddles and smaller or inflatable kayaks without an issue. In other waters, though, you will need a faster choice.
  • How big can I go? Larger kayaks are great for many reasons but are harder to store and transport. Personally, if you are just trying it out for the first time, I recommend using a smaller kayak simply for the ease of use.
  • What is my price range? This sounds rather obvious, but you need to prioritize what type of features you want when it comes to price.

By taking the time to consider these and other important questions, you will be properly prepared to figure out which is the best fishing kayak for you, as well as how to use them to create a proper fishing experience. Happy Fishing!

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