Fishing Kayaks and SUPs: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Picking The Right Model

Fishing with a paddle saves you time and gas, but which method best fists your style and home water? We break down the pros and cons for four types, from electric kayaks to simple paddle boards.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks: Your Floating Tackle Box

A sit on top fishing kayak is more popular among anglers.
A sit on top fishing kayak is more popular among anglers.Field & Stream Online Editors

While some traditional sit-in kayaks are still made for fishermen who venture into rough and cold water (such as the Wilderness Systems Pungo, $829), sit-on-tops far outnumber them today. Sit-on-top fishing kayaks let you change positions easily to rest sore parts. They're also easier to get into and out of, are more stable, and are more customizable than most sit-in kayaks. All you need is a drill, a rivet gun and a tube of silicon to attach lights, anchor trolleys, extra rod holders, pontoon stabilizers, and a million other gadgets that let you tailor your boat to the places you fish.

Disadvantages: These kayaks are generally slower and heavier than sit-in boats, making long paddles and headwinds a chore. They're also difficult to fish from in a wind. You can mount a rudder to help you track while trolling, but the minute you set down your paddle to pick up your casting rod you're at the mercy of any stray breeze, which means fewer shots at choice targets.

Great for: Open water and light winds. Exercising. Empty wallets.
Bad for: Heart conditions. Long-distance paddling. Winds over 15 mph.

Example: Ocean Kayak Trident 13 (MSRP $1,029.99)
Stability: 5/5
Speed: 2/5
Range: 2/5
Weight: 2/5
Fishability: 3/5
Cost: 4/5

Electric Power: The Lazy Man's Kayak

These boats are stealthy, hands-free fishing platforms.
These boats are stealthy, hands-free fishing platforms.Field & Stream Online Editors

Kayaks with built-in trolling motors offer all the advantages of the standard sit-on-top with none of the drawbacks. These boats are stealthy, hands-free fishing platforms that can hover over prime spots in all but the heaviest wind or current, and let you troll for hours while burning zero calories. Hard-core yakkers look sideways at them, but who cares about exercise when you're catching more fish? They do, however, have two big points against them.

Disadvantages: First is that they're generally very heavy. This matters little in the water when your prop is doing all the work, but hauling 130 pounds of yak, battery, and gear from your truck to a put-in can be a real drag over slopes and sand. Beach carts with balloon tires help, but cost money, which leads to the second disadvantage. Electric kayaks are expensive. The yaks themselves cost more, and you have to buy an expensive spillproof battery to power them. They're still a whole lot cheaper than a boat, though. If catching fish is more important than improving your upper-body strength, an electric kayak is your best option.

Great for: All fishing conditions. Gaining weight.
Bad for: Empty wallets. Car-top luggage racks.
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Example:_ Ocean Kayak Torque (MSRP $1,999.99)
Stability: 5/5
Speed: 1/5
Range: 4/5
Weight: 1/5
Fishability: 5/5
Cost: 2/5

Pedal Drives: Hands Free Power

Pedal-driven kayaks are popular with anglers who love to troll.
Pedal-driven kayaks are popular with anglers who love to troll.Field & Stream Online Editors

The strongest muscles in your body power your legs, which is one big reason why pedal-driven kayaks are so popular with anglers who love to troll, or who fish where strong winds and currents are common. Hobie's patented Mirage Drive system of pedal-driven flippers is the most efficient muscle-powered way to cover water on the market. Period. Like electric kayaks, these boats let you keep your hands free to cast or change rigs without losing position in wind or current. They're also much lighter than the electric variety, and they're less complicated to set up once you get down to the water.

Disadvantages: The only drawback is that you can't pedal them in reverse. For that you have to use a paddle, which makes keeping your stern to the wind while casting a real challenge. This is a minor drawback -- these are excellent fishing boats.

Great for: Trolling. Long distances. Tides and currents.
Bad for: Tight water. Going backwards.

Example: Hobie Outback (MSRP $1849)
Stability: 4/5
Speed: 5/5
Range: 5/5
Weight: 2/5
Fishability: 4/5
Cost: 3/5

SUPs: The Simple Option

There are a number of big, highly stable SUPs on the market.
There are a number of big, highly stable SUPs on the market.Field & Stream Online Editors

The polar opposite of the electric kayak is the Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP), which is just what it sounds like; a simple surfboard designed to be paddled from a standing position. There are a number of big, highly stable SUPs on the market that even large-framed paddlers can use with ease, and many of them were designed with anglers in mind. SUPs offer three distinct advantages over sit-down boats.

  1. Because you're standing, you get to see more of the water you're fishing, including more of what's under the surface. This makes them an excellent choice for sight fishing.
  2. Standing up also means you can use your full range of motion when you cast, giving you the most distance and accuracy of any paddling option.
  3. SUPs are extremely portable. Even the biggest boards weigh only 30 pounds or so, and there are a few inflatables on the market you can easily check on a plane.

They're also extremely simple; you don't need to fuss with straps, rudders, seats, batteries, or anything else. Just plop one in the water, step on board, and paddle off into the sunset. This comes in very handy when you've only got a few hours at the end of the day and the fish are biting when you arrive.

Disadvantages: Drawbacks? Light breezes will blow you all over the water, so they're best in sheltered spots or days when there's very little wind.

Good for: Still water. Sight fishing. Casting accuracy. Improving balance.
Bad for: Wind.

Example: Starboard Fisherman (MSRP $1799)
Stability: 2/5
Speed: 4/5
Range: 3/5
Weight: 5/5
Fishability: 3/5
Cost: 3/5

Click here for a Guide to Picking the Right Waterproof Outerwear for Kayak Fishing