Best Fishing Kayaks for 2022
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.
Fishing kayaks offer anglers the best of the boating world, without the major drawbacks. You get to be out on the water, where shore anglers can’t reach, without the major price tag of a bigger bass boat. You can get into those tricky, shallow spots or fish deep water. You can carry all your gear without needing a big budget to outfit your kayak. Not to mention, you don’t have to spend a fortune on gas.
Now is the perfect time to get on the water in a new kayak, as anglers have better options than ever for getting a fishing kayak that exactly matches their needs. Whether you’re fishing for striped bass on the flats of New England, paddling out for miles in the gulf coast for mahi mahi, or throwing frogs among the lily pads for big largemouth bass—a kayak is often one of the best ways to get on the water. Here are some of the best fishing kayaks around.
- Best Sit-On-Top Kayak: Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 140
- Best Sit Inside Kayak: Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 12
- Best Tandem Kayak: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL Angler
- Best Pedal Kayak: Hobie Mirage Outback
- Best for Freshwater Fishing: Old Town Topwater 120 PDL
- Best for Saltwater Fishing: Wilderness Systems Radar 135
- Best Under $500: Perception Kayaks Drift 9.5
- Best Under $1,000: Pelican Catch Classic 120
Things to Consider Before Buying a Fishing Kayak
With so many different fishing kayaks available on the market, anglers can feel overwhelmed with choice. What brands are the ones that stand out from the rest? What kind of kayak suits your fishing needs the most? How much does the boat of your dreams cost? Will you flip over the first time you hit the water? All of these question are important to think about. Let’s look into other crucial considerations before you buy a fishing kayak.
The first thing you need to think about is hull type. Do you want a sit-on-top or a sit-inside kayak? Most fishing kayaks nowadays are sit-on-tops, because they are self-bailing. This means there are holes in the bottom of the hull that allow water to drain freely, so you don’t swamp your boat and sink. They usually offer a greater weight capacity, which is good for anglers that carry a lot of gear. But, the boats themselves are often heavier. Plus, they leave you open to the elements and often offer a wetter ride than a sit inside.
Sit inside kayaks are without holes. Often their gunwales, the sides of the hull, come up higher so that you’re sitting deep inside the hull, like a canoe. These are nicknamed “sinks” because when water comes inside the hull it has nowhere to go. They do offer better protection from the elements, so many coldwater anglers prefer a sit-inside. They’re also lighter than most sit-on-tops, which makes getting to and from the water easier.
When considering the length of your ideal fishing kayak, think of how much distance you’ll need to cover to get to the fishing grounds. The longer and thinner a boat is, the faster it will be. Speed plays a large role in how tired you’ll feel at the end of a long paddle. But longer boats are harder to maneuver. If you need to spin on a dime, like on a river, then shorter, more nimble kayaks are your best bet.
The weight of a fishing kayak plays a huge role in how it will behave on the water, and how you get it there. Many anglers transport their boats on the roof of a car, which means they’ll be lifting the kayak frequently. Even if it’s thrown into the bed of a truck, you’ll still need to get it to the water. Kayak carts make your life a little easier with a heavy kayak, but consider what those extra pounds are worth before you have to drag it a quarter mile down the beach.
On the water, heavier boats are generally slower boats. So, if performance is a top priority, choose a lighter boat. Even if performance isn’t a factor, heavier boats require more effort to paddle, so be prepared for your arms to be tired if you choose the heavier kayak. Pedal drive systems make heavier boats easier to live with, as your legs use larger muscles to move the boat than your arms. Still, those pedal boats need to make it back to your truck.
Budget is often one of the most important considerations for a fishing kayak. It’s often the reason an angler chooses to fish from a kayak in the first place, instead of a shiny new motorized bass boat. While bass boats will set you back upwards of $60K, a great fishing kayak can be found, and fully outfitted, for just a few thousand bucks.
Paddle vs. Pedal Kayaks
The fishing kayak industry is constantly changing. Nowadays, it’s just as common to see a fishing kayak with a pedal drive system as it is to see one propelled by a paddle. Even fishing kayaks with electric motors are becoming more and more common.
I’m a paddler myself, and that’s always what I’ll choose for my personal fishing kayak. Paddling is fun for its own sake. Much like fishing, paddling offers its own learning curve, its own skills and techniques, and its own rewards. Done well, paddling can be just as efficient, if not more efficient than pedaling can be. And there’s nothing like showing off to a group of pedal drive anglers that you can move sideways with a simple draw stroke of your paddle when moving up tightly against a dock or piece of structure.Anglers that fish in the best pedal kayaks will often talk about the ability to fish while moving, or fishing “hands-free”. This is a large selling point. Paddlers are often forced to choose between fishing or moving their boat. One-handed paddling works in a pinch, but if you need to fish while moving, a pedal boat is likely to work better for your fishing style.
Best Sit-On-Top Kayak: Wilderness Systems ATAK 140
Why It Made the Cut
Anglers looking for a sit-on-top will be hard pressed to find a better boat than the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140. The comfortable seat, clever fishing setup, and ample storage provide everything an angler needs to get through the day.
- Length: 14’ 1”
- Width: 34”
- Weight: 95 pounds
- Hull Design: The A.T.A.K. 140 is a joy to paddle, short or long distances
- Storage: There’s a giant front storage hatch, a rear tankwell, and in-hull rod storage
- Comfortable Seat: A seat with multiple positions means no more sore backs
- Weight: this is a heavy kayak to lug around at 95 pounds
- Center Hatch: hard is hard to open while sitting down
- Rear Tankwell: smaller than expected on a boat this size
Where some boats get blown around on the water, the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 keeps a low profile and stays put. The designers of this boat made it open concept. This means you can tailor it to your needs, based on either your fishing style, or your target species that day. The seat can move nearly the length of the deck, and its many positions means you can stay comfortable all day long.
There’s a ton of storage on this boat, and the stability of the hull means you can access the giant bow hatch even while you’re on the water. The boat feels nimble, even at 34” wide, and is enjoyable to paddle long distances. The Flex Pod OS electronics console is handy to use, and can even be swapped out for a Helix MDTM Motor Drive if you get tired of paddling.
Best Sit Inside Kayak: Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 12
Why It Made the Cut
The Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 12 is a bit of a hybrid, blending the best parts of sit-insides with some of the flavor of a sit-on-top fishing kayak.
- Length: 12’ 2”
- Width: 30.5”
- Weight: 65 pounds
- Weight: easy to throw over a shoulder and walk to the water
- Stability: lower center of gravity means standing to fish is a breeze
- Foot Braces: anglers with larger feet will love the big, wide foot braces
- Mounting Points: not as many mounting points as other boats
- Range: agile hull design means paddling for longer distances does wear on you a bit
- Color Options: limited colorways for such a popular boat model among anglers
The Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 12 has an open cockpit like a canoe, but the angler’s feet sit slightly below the waterline due to the tunnel hull design. This means the boat is incredibly stable, while still being nimble to paddle around in tight spaces. The sharp bow also cuts through the water nicely, helping it track tightly, even in stronger winds. These characteristics have led to a cult-like following over the years; one I have personally participated in. The original version of this boat was my first fishing kayak ever. I was able to paddle all the ponds, lakes, and protected saltwater bays to target fish in skinny water, jig down deep, and everything in between.
The stability makes this boat ideal for fly fishing, or other activities like photography––it’s rock solid and predictable. The low center of gravity means you can shift your body weight from leg to leg and feel the boat react underneath you, unlike some heavier, dead-feeling sit-on-tops. The footwells do leave your feet with limited positions inside the boat however, so standing for a long time can become slightly uncomfortable. Good thing the seat set the standard for comfort in the kayak fishing industry all those years ago.
Best Tandem Kayak: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL Angler
Why It Made the Cut
Some anglers love a tandem fishing kayak for the extra space it gives them, without bringing anyone else on board. If you do decide to bring another angler with you, the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL Angler gives enough space for both fishermen to cast and land fish comfortably without getting in the way (or getting hooked by their partner).
- Length: 13’ 4”
- Width: 34”
- Weight: 73 pounds
- Weight: Surprisingly light for a boat designed for two people to fish comfortably
- Hull Design: Fans of paddling will love this classic hull design
- Capacity: 450 plus pounds, so you and a buddy could give it a shot
- Rod Holders: The stern angler will have better access to rods and gear
- Storage: Anglers will need to pack lightly if they want to fish from this kayak
- Seats: Basic strap seats may leave lower backs tingling after a long day of fishing
Tandem fishing kayaks often get a bad rap. Some paddling guides even nickname them “divorce boats”, as they may lead to some heated arguments between paddling partners. Still, some anglers swear by tandem boats, removing the extra seat and instead opting for extra storage space. It especially helps if you’re landing large fish and need the deck space in front of you to handle your catch safely.
The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL Angler is an excellent choice if you are planning on going this route. Over 13 feet of real estate give you plenty of space for gear and can tote the biggest fish you’d target from a kayak. And if you do decide to bring a buddy along, the 450-plus pound weight capacity means you can still bring along plenty of tackle.
Best Pedal Kayak: Hobie Mirage Outback
Why It Made the Cut
The Hobie Mirage Outback is fast, capable, and comfortable for a long day on the water. Anglers looking for a pedal kayak can’t go wrong with this one.
- Length: 12’ 9”
- Width: 34”
- Weight: 103 pounds
- Width: At 34” wide this fishing kayak is comfortable, but skinny enough to be fast
- Speed: The Mirage Drive makes the Outback one of the faster kayaks on the water
- Kick-Up Turbo Fins: Advanced fins on the pedal drive make moving fast easier
- Price: A suggested price of $3,449 makes it more expensive than many other boats
- Weight: At 103 pounds fully rigged, the Mirage Outback is tougher to get to the water
- Storage: The front hatch is small, leaving only the exposed tankwell for storage
Hobie’s Mirage Outback has been outperforming and out pedaling the competition for years. It’s often the boat of choice for anglers that have many miles to cover, as the hull is narrower than most pedal drive fishing kayaks. but it’s still wide enough to be stable. It is the gold standard in pedal-powered fishing kayaks, and has attracted legions of
The Mirage Outback offers a stark contrast from one of Hobie’s other popular models, the Pro Angler. Where the Pro Angler is wide, heavy, and tricky to maneuver, the Mirage Outback is fast, nimble, and comparably light. (read our review of the Mirage Outback here.)
I’ve known anglers to get rid of their Mirage Outback only to trade up for the newer model, as Hobie continues to improve on this fishing kayak design. One example, the kayak’s seat. The Mirage Outback seat continues to get better every year.
Best for Freshwater: Old Town Topwater 120 PDL
Why It Made the Cut
An Old Town fishing kayak is a good choice for most freshwater applications, but the Topwater 120 PDL shines, whether you’re going for largemouth bass, or northern pike, in big Maine lakes, or small kettle ponds. The boat is stable, comfortable, and easy to pedal, both forwards and backwards.
- Length: 12’
- Width: 36”
- Weight: 116 lbs
- Pedal Drive: Can go in both directions, seamlessly.
- Stability: Anglers can sit or stand to fish all day long.
- Rod Holders: Ample rod storage on the boat makes fishing on the move a breeze.
- Front Hatch: Front hatch in the Topwater 120 PDL feels small.
- Weight: This fishing kayak is heavy to carry to and from the water.
- Width: Though it aids stability, the width does slow the boat down.
Easy to maneuver, forwards or in reverse, the Topwater 120 PDL is the answer for anglers that don’t want to remove their pedal drive system just to reverse directions. Fans of other Old Town fishing kayaks will be at home in the cockpit of this boat, as it’s similar to some of their other boats.
The carrying capacity of this fishing kayak should be more than enough for carrying all of your gear, and the universal transducer mount means you can install a fishfinder to see down below. The short length makes it easy to cruise the lily pads or tighter banks of your favorite bass hole to get the perfect angle for your next cast.
Best for Saltwater: Wilderness Systems Radar 135
Why It Made the Cut
Saltwater fishing kayaks need to battle more than fish––they’re up against tides, boat traffic, tougher weather conditions, and yes, the fish too. The Wilderness Systems Radar 135 is designed to be a top performer against all those adversaries.
- Length: 13’ 6”
- Width: 34”
- Weight: 90 pounds
- Hull Design: This boat paddles well and slices through chop, tides, and surf.
- Tri-Power: Paddle, pedal, or power your kayak across the ocean.
- Comfortable Seat: The AirPro MAX makes fishing all day enjoyable.
- Weight: This boat is best paired with a kayak cart for launches at long beaches.
- Small Scuppers: Waves drain a little slowly from inside the cockpit.
- Side Handles: Lack of side handles makes it awkward to move the boat around.
Saltwater anglers are an interesting bunch, and they need a special fishing kayak to handle the harsher elements of the ocean. The Wilderness Systems Radar 135 carefully balances those needs with a boat that’s a joy to paddle, while still being wide enough to feel stable, even in rocking surf conditions. with a length that can be paddled over long or short distances, stability to land fish and battle waves, and enough storage to carry all of the gear needed for a long day in the salt.
There’s plenty of storage on this boat, with a giant rear tankwell, a small center hatch, and another front sealed hatch. The Flex Pod OS electronics console is a game changer, allowing you to install a fishfinder, or swap in alternative propulsion modes, such as pedal and power options. The large cockpit offers plenty of space for a long day of fishing. This is a comfortable workhorse of a saltwater fishing kayak.
Best Under $1,000: Pelican Catch Classic 120
Why It Made the Cut
The Pelican Catch Classic 120 is light on the wallet, but packs a lot of features that could be the difference between landing a fish or getting skunked. It’s light to carry and stable enough to stand in all day.
- Length: 11’ 6”
- Width: 34”
- Weight: 68 lbs
- Weight: Car topping or carrying this kayak doesn’t break the back.
- Seat: The seat is surprisingly comfortable for a boat at this price point.
- Rod Holders: This budget boat holds all your rods securely.
- Construction: The hull has some give under your feet, as do the footrests.
- Speed: The tunnel hull design has some difficulty tracking in the wind.
- Stability: Anglers should stand in one position, near the main balance point.
The Pelican Catch Classic 120 has some drawbacks compared to boats at a higher price point, as should be expected, but it still performs admirably where it counts––the fishing. I’ve fished in kettle ponds and larger lakes across New England in this fishing kayak, with little complaint. The boat gets in those tight spaces, and the seat is comfortable for long stretches in the saddle.
The Catch Classic 120 is a breeze to carry from your truck to the water, but that lightness comes at a cost, as the hull feels thin when standing. The slight give to the hull could be destabilizing for some anglers, though most will get used to it quickly. The rear tankwell and front hatch offers plenty of storage space for the sub-12’ length.
Best Under $500: Perception Kayaks Drift 9.5
Why It Made the Cut
Anglers looking to try kayak fishing for the first time, should look to boats like the Perception Kayaks Drift 9.5. This bare bones boat is a sit inside kayak, great for those anglers that don’t like to get wet while they’re out fishing.
- Length: 9’ 6”
- Width: 28.5”
- Weight: 40 lbs
- Weight: Anglers should have no problem transporting this boat where it needs to go.
- Cup Holder: A front cup holder can add some relaxation to your day of fishing.
- Bungee Cords: Hold your paddle, or other gear in place on the deck of the boat.
- Storage: The rear hatch is likely to leave some anglers wanting for storage.
- Stability: Anglers looking to stand up to fish should avoid narrow boats like this.
- Adjustability: The construction of this boat means there is little to adjust for comfort.
Some anglers are minimalistic, they like to fish with just the essentials: one tackle box, one rod, and go. Basic sit insides like the Perception Kayaks Drift 9.5 are a great way to test the waters of a new sport like kayak fishing without blowing the bank on a top-of-the-line fishing kayak that you end up not liking.
Fishing small ponds for freshwater species like crappie or bass are ideal for boats like this. The relatively flat bottom means the Drift 9.5 is stable enough to land fish, but the width is small enough that anglers can spin the boat around easily with the flick of a paddle. The rear hatch offers some storage for a small tackle box, not to mention the storage under the front deck, where most anglers will place the gear they need to access on the water.
How We Made Our Picks
We narrowed down our selections of the best fishing kayaks by scouring the current offerings of the top brands throughout the fishing kayak industry, and matching them up with the needs of most anglers across the country. We made sure that most anglers could pick up one of these fishing kayaks, bring it to their local fishery, and get after their target species while having the a great time doing so.
Many factors were considered while drafting this list, such as fishability, price, weight, common features, brand reputation, and more, as well as the experience of our editorial team. We don’t make these decisions lightly––we consider all of the brands and products available to anglers today.
What sort of paddle should I buy?
The type of paddle you should buy depends mostly on your budget, and the size of your kayak. Simply put, you should buy the best paddle you can afford: Think of your paddle as the engine of your car, you want the most powerful one you can afford. That way your paddle strokes are transferring the most power from your arms as possible, wasting the least amount of energy. Wasted energy is just going to leave you tired at the end of a long day of paddling, with a few more miles to go before you get back to the launch.
Do I need to wear a PFD (personal flotation device)?
Wearing a PFD, or personal flotation device, shouldn’t be optional. That is a lifesaving piece of equipment, which should be enough reason on its own, but it’s also a handy tool while fishing. Many fishing PFDs have handy features such as tool clips, pouches to stash gear or snacks, and usually a lash point for knives, another essential piece of safety, and useful gear. Plus, it should be noted again, that PFD could save your life if you find yourself overboard, conscious or not.
Will I flip my kayak, and what happens if I do flip?
Flipping your kayak is not likely to happen every time you go out on the water, but it could happen any time you paddle away from shore. It’s best to be prepared. Lash down all of your gear that doesn’t float. It often helps to lash things together so that your gear floats as one big piece, rather than ten separate pieces of gear you need to chase down. It’s also crucial to practice re-entering your kayak from the water so that if you do flip over, you can safely right your boat and get back inside. Worry about getting yourself back on board before thinking about any of your gear floating away.
There are now so many fishing kayaks available on the market, everyone should be able to find the boat that fits their local fishery, their target species, their fishing style, and of course, their budget. Before you pull the trigger on a boat, try testing it out on the water first. Many reputable paddle shops will have demo days where you can paddle, or pedal, around in many boats to help you make your decision.