The Best Paddle Kayaks for Fishing

Light, tough, and fun, paddle kayaks are the original fishing kayaks, and they’re better than ever. Here’s how to choose your best paddle kayak.

With the popularity of pedal and motorized kayaks, the original paddle kayaks don’t get a lot of headlines. That’s because many anglers want to carry everything while expending the least amount of energy, making big kayaks powered by pedals and motors most popular. But there is another category of kayak anglers: Adventurers, diehards, and carefree anglers who are looking for an easy and reliable way to get on the water with as little fuss as possible. These anglers choose a paddle kayak. 

What are the advantages of a paddle kayak?

There are many reasons an angler chooses a paddle kayak. For one, a paddle kayak is less expensive than a pedal kayak or motor boat. Moreover, a pedal drive adds a thousand dollars or more to the price of a kayak. Rigging a motor drive could double the tuition.

Second, a paddle kayak is easy to own. There’s no need to worry about carrying and installing a drive system— paddlers just grab the kayak and go. Pedal systems and motors require maintenance and are prone to mechanical issues. A paddle kayak is always ready. Moreover, they’re lighter in weight and easier to transport and store.

Adventure anglers also prefer a paddle kayak. With fewer pieces and moving parts, a paddle kayak is possible to drag through the woods, drop down a bank and slide through the sand. River fishing requires a paddle kayak. So do farm ponds and mucky swamps. A paddle kayak will go places a pedal kayak would get stuck, because there’s very little draft.

Learning to paddle only takes a few minutes (although you’ll work on perfecting skills for a lifetime). Even though a heavy and wide sit-on-top kayak requires more energy to move through the water than a sleek touring kayak, the right hull design and ergonomic cockpit add up to a very efficient paddle kayak for fishing. In many ways, ease of ownership and reliable operation make a paddle kayak better than a pedal boat.

Do you want to be able to stand in the kayak?

If you fish in quiet waters and want to be able to stand in the kayak for better views, to easily cast a fly line, or simply to be able to stretch your legs once in a while, make sure the kayak is designed for standing. Not all kayaks are stable enough to allow standing safely.

Best Stand Up Paddle Kayak For Fishing: Old Town Sportsman 120

Stable and Comfortable

Stand up and fish with confidence, the Old Town Sportsman 120 balances performance with stability. Old Town

Check Price

The Sportsman uses a modified hull to combine primary stability with decent efficiency. The Double U hull design pushes water to the side of the hull to keep the boat upright, while a center keel keeps the boat paddling straight. The upswept bow will ride over wind chop. The design allows the wide boat to move through the water with the least resistance.

The topside of the Old Town Sportsman 120 is also focused on stand up fishing. A huge, padded deck provides plenty of fishing room. Large scuppers in the deck drain water and improve rigidity for a solid standing platform.

Standup kayaks excel at comfort, and the Sportsman 120’s premium frame seat is designed with support for all day fishing. The breathable skin is supported with comfortable 3D mesh quick-dry padding. The seat has a low position for paddling and a high position that makes it easier to stand up and fish. At 82 pounds, the Sportsman 120 falls into the category of lighter boats, but has a 475-pound capacity for gear and rigging.

Do you need a kayak that won’t take up much space?

Inflatable fishing kayaks entice anglers with easy transport and storage. On the water, however, a blow-up boat is not easy to paddle. The vinyl skin flexes and the shallow draft makes the boat difficult to keep on course. If you want or need an inflatable fishing kayak because you don’t have a place to store one, look for one that is specially designed for stability and navigation.

Best Inflatable Kayak For Fishing: Bote Lono Aero

Inflatable Paddleboard/Kayak Combo

Top performance and great fishing features make the Bote Lono Aero the best inflatable paddle kayak for fishing. BOTE

Check Price

The Bote Lono Aero is marketed as a hybrid kayak and standup paddleboard. As an empty hull, the Lono acts like a standup paddleboard, easy to propel with a single blade SUP paddle. To turn the Lono into a kayak, add an inflatable deck to the stern. The deck features a seat back for a comfortable place to sit and paddle. The open stern allows the LONO to drain water quickly, a unique quality for an inflatable kayak.

The challenge for inflatable kayaks is maintaining rigidity for the most efficient paddling and maintaining tracking in wind and choppy seas. To solve the first problem, Bote uses drop stitch air chambers that make the inflatable super stiff at only 15 pounds of pressure. The Lono is constructed of four individual chambers that work together to make the hull stiff so paddling energy isn’t lost.

To keep the boat from blowing away like a balloon, Bote gave the Lono three skegs in the stern and a rigid keel in the bow. Somehow, they figured out how to shape the inflatable chambers to give the boat a flared bow to cut through the waves. The Aero Lono can be rigged with rod holders, cooler, stakeout pole and paddle in matching colors.

The 12 ½ foot kayak packs down into a travel bag you can keep in a closet.

Do you want a sit-inside fishing kayak?

A sit-on-top kayak is very comfortable and stable, with a large deck that provides many options for rigging. But some anglers prefer a sit-in kayak because they offer more room for protected gear storage, making them more appropriate for extended trips. They’re also lighter in weight, making them easier to handle and transport. Anglers who fish in very cold conditions also may prefer sit-in kayaks because they provide more protection from the elements, and can be rigged with a spray skirt to keep all water out of the cockpit. But not any sit-in kayak is appropriate for fishing, because most are not optimized for rigging. A sit-in kayak specially designed for fishing is key.

Best Sit-Inside Kayak For Fishing: Bonafide EX123

Stability and Light Weight

Bonafide’s EX123 offers great gear capacity and low weight in a stable hull and comfortable frame seat. Bonafide Kayaks

Check Price

The Bonafide EX123 is a lightweight sit-inside kayak designed for fishing and exploring. You can load it up with fishing gear, drag it through the woods and lower it down a steep bank as you search for distant fishing holes.

The EX123 is a modified sit-inside. It has an enclosed bow and stern with a large cockpit and a comfortable frame seat. Instead of a single hull, the EX123 relies on a tunnel hull with pontoons to keep the boat running straight and increase stability. Inside, the padded deck makes the EX123 stable enough to stand in. To keep rod holders and quick grab gear in reach, a removable pod in front of the cockpit holds necessities.

A large hatch in the stern and enclosed bow allows the EX123 to be packed with gear for an overnight trip. The stern hatch is concave to hold a standard fishing crate for more gear storage. A bulkhead behind the seat seals the rear hatch for watertight storage. A covered well in the bow is convenient for lunch and a tackle box. Sitting low in the boat is a better paddling position. The 29-inch hull is easy to reach around with the paddle. It weighs 60 pounds, making it possible to carry over a shoulder and throw on a cartop.

Do You Want An All-Around Paddle Kayak For Fishing?

Everything about kayaks is a tradeoff. A wide kayak is very stable, but not fast. A slim kayak is easier to paddle but not designed for standing. A sit-in kayak protects you from the elements, but a sit-on-top kayak allows for easier paddling. Consider all variables if you want a kayak to check as many boxes as possible.

Best All-Around Paddle Kayak For Fishing: Ocean Kayak Trident 13

Fast and Stable

Balancing performance and stability, the Ocean Kayak Trident 13 is a top all-around paddle fishing kayak. Ocean Kayak

Check Price

The Ocean Kayak Trident 13’s pedigree sets a high standard for a kayak that can push through the surf, cut through wind chop and tackle the biggest, meanest fish. With a proven hull design and the most modern features, the Trident 13 is a great all-around paddle kayak for fishing.

Balancing stability and function with efficient performance, the Trident 13 has a 13-foot hull and is only 29 inches wide, with an aggressive keel that allows the Trident 13 to paddle straight and still turn on a dime.

On the top side, the combination paddle holder and rod tip protector keep both items in place. It has fishing gear tracks, flush mount rod holders and gear bungees. A through-hull scupper ahead of the cockpit holds a depth finder transducer, while a removable accessory plate is a perfect place to mount the display. Run the power cable to the battery bag in the bow and you can install the fish finder in minutes.

Cheap Kayak for Fishing: What You Get for Less Than $1000 (Plus a Warning)

For many anglers, one of the main attractions of a paddle kayak is the price. Paddle kayaks tend to be $1000 cheaper than a pedal kayak. Even within the class of paddle kayaks, there is a wide variation in price. While boats are available for under $500, saving money may require the angler to sacrifice comfort and performance—and those are both necessary features. Don’t skimp here. You don’t want to be stuck with a kayak that is frustrating to use.

Best Cheap Kayak for Fishing: NuCanoe Flint

Premium Design, Good Price

It combines the best features of canoes and kayaks for a serious fishing kayak that’s easy to use. Nu Canoe

Check Price

A wide open cockpit and a streamlined hull borrow the best qualities of a canoe and kayak to make the NuCanoe Flint. The smallest, least expensive model in the line-up, the Flint combines the same premium features and construction in a smaller package. Some anglers leave the Flint as is for quick trips, while others rig the boat to the gunnels for a full-on fishing assault vehicle. It offers great performance and stability.

The wide-open deck from stern to bow offers plenty of room for fishing gear, electronics and standup fishing. The asymmetrical hull is low to the water, resulting in a stable, quick kayak with a functional layout for fishing.

Gear tracks and four flush mount rod holders make the Flint a serious fishing kayak. The deck is channeled with large scuppers, and the seat is a mesh frame seat mounted on long gear tracks in the deck that can be moved forward and back to adjust distance to the molded foot pads. The sporty hull is capable of handling swift water and light rapids.


Q: What length of kayak is best?

For paddle kayaks, length is one of the most important aspects affecting performance. A longer kayak will be faster and easier to paddle a long distance while a shorter kayak is easier to maneuver, transport and store. A paddle kayak over 13 feet long is more seaworthy, while a boat under 13 feet is easier to paddle into thick cover and drag to a distant fishing hole. For an all-around fishing kayak, 12 to 13 feet is a good compromise between speed and maneuverability.

Q: What is the most stable type of kayak?

People new to kayak fishing are often concerned about stability. Out of fear of tipping the kayak and falling overboard, new anglers usually look for the widest boat. However, choosing a kayak based solely on width may be a mistake. A boat hull has two types of stability: primary and secondary. Primary stability keeps the boat upright when you start to lean to the side. Secondary stability catches the boat as it leans just before it tips over. A boat with loose primary stability will roll with seas and turn more sharply. Standup kayaks sacrifice rough water performance and maneuverability for a solid standing platform. That being said, many standup kayaks use a tunnel hull, with pontoons that push volume to the outside of the boat for stability while maintaining a long keel for tracking and rough water performance. If you are focused on standup fishing in sheltered waters, then a wide hull with solid primary stability is the best choice. On the other hand, to fish open water and cover long distances, a boat with less primary stability and solid secondary stability is the answer.

Q: How do I choose the right kayak for me?

To choose the right kayak consider three things: Where will I fish? Where will I store the kayak? How will I transport it? If you mostly fish sheltered waters and rarely travel more than a few miles from the launch, then a standup kayak could be best. On the other hand, if you plan to paddle for miles and cross open water, look at a performance oriented kayak.