Published May. 7, 2021

Almost 50 years ago, a southern California surfer named Tim Niemier designed a surfboard with a hollowed-out seat, and the sit on top kayak was born. In 1988, Niemier started producing kayaks out of rotomolded plastic, increasing availability and decreasing costs, putting the boats in the hands (and under the butts) of anglers. It caused a sea change in kayak fishing.

Since the ancient Inuit, kayakers have fished out of their sit-inside touring kayaks. But Niemier’s sit on top fishing kayak really kicked off the modern kayak fishing movement.

How To Choose The Best Sit On Top Kayak For Fishing

Sit on top kayaks now come in hundreds of sizes, styles and types. You can choose to paddle, pedal or, motorize the kayak. You can get one designed for speed, or for mobility, or for a compromise between the two.

When choosing the best sit on top kayak for fishing, ask yourself three questions: Where will I fish? How will I fish? How will I store and transport the kayak?

If you plan to fish sheltered waters only a short distance from the launching point, then a lightweight paddle kayak may be the best choice. If you are looking to cover distance and fish open water, think about a longer, narrower kayak. Do you make a thousand casts in search of a trophy catch? Then a standup kayak is your choice. For fishing on the go, check out a pedal kayak. Are you looking to have your cake and eat it too? Then you’ll love the motorized sit on top kayak. Do you live in an apartment and drive a compact car? A lightweight sit on top kayak is right for you.

Do you want the best all-around sit on top kayak for any type of fishing?

To varying degrees, a sit on top fishing kayak is lightweight, adaptable, and easy to maintain and store. To excel in all three categories, a 12- to 13-foot paddle kayak is the best choice. Here’s why:

A paddle kayak is lighter and easier to transport (and less expensive) than a pedal or motor kayak.

A short kayak is more maneuverable while a longer kayak will be faster. A 12 to 13 foot sit on top kayak gives the paddler the best of both worlds. The best sit on top kayak has a wide enough hull to provide stability but a beam that’s narrow enough to make for efficient paddling.

A kayak that weighs less than 80 pounds and is small enough to store in a garage or a corner of the backyard is most convenient, and most 12 to 13 foot sit on top paddle kayaks check that box.

The topside should be rigged with gear tracks and fishing rods for grab-and-go fishing. Anglers looking to customize the boat with electronics, storage and rod holders appreciate open areas and flat spaces to mount accessory bases with storage for fishing equipment.

Most importantly, a sit on top kayak is comfortable for all day fishing. The seat supports the lower back and butt for a more powerful paddle stroke while draining water and drying quickly.

Best All-Around: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

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At the dawn of modern kayak fishing, there were only a few choices for sit on top kayaks. Wilderness Systems’ Tarpon 130 was one of the early favorites. Today’s Tarpon has been updated with modern features like gear tracks, a dry box, and a mesh covered tankwell to store fishing equipment. Combining the comfort of a frame seat with the performance of a low-profile seat, the AirProMax is elevated off the deck and covered in mesh to help keep you stay cool and dry. It weighs 63 pounds, making it easy to transport and carry.

Do you want a pedal kayak?

Shortly after the introduction of the sit on top fishing kayak, Hobie made the bold move to add a pedal system to propel the boat. The idea caught on and today many manufacturers offer pedal-powered kayaks. Instead of paddling, the driver pumps pedals with his legs to turn a propeller or flap flippers. A pedal system is more efficient and faster than paddling and allows anglers to fish while they go. Pedal systems also let anglers carry more fishing equipment with a heavier, more stable boat. A pedal boat uses a more comfortable elevated frame seat that makes it easier to stand. This also makes entering and exiting the kayak easier. Anyone looking to get a kayak for serious fishing will prefer a pedal-powered sit on top kayak.

Best Sit on Top Kayak With a Pedal System: Hobie Mirage Compass

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The Hobie Mirage Compass gives you the best pedal system on a kayak without spending a lot of money. The hull balances tracking with maneuverability to go the distance and get you into a tight fishing spot. It’s light enough to cartop, and the molded-in bow, stern and side handles make it easy to move the boat to the water. A comfortable seat keeps anglers fishing all day.

Hobie’s advanced Mirage Drive 180 pedal system uses efficient and powerful Kickup fins that spin 180 degrees to go in reverse. When the drive or rudder hit an underwater rock, log or the bottom, they pop up to clear the obstruction.

Do you want a small kayak that has the advantages of a small boat?

Recently, several companies have introduced “kayak boats,” or sit on top kayaks designed to be rigged with a motor system. These are small kayaks that can be paddled and transported without a trailer, but large enough to support an electric or gas outboard. The cockpits on these are large enough to allow an angler to stand up. If you want a kayak with boat-like qualities, look for one with a wide, stable hull with large capacity to accommodate the weight of the motor or fuel tank.

Best Sit On Top Kayak Boat: Jonny Boats Bass 100

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Based on the iconic Jon boat, Jonny Boats Bass 100 is designed to be customizable or left basic. Like a kayak, the 10-foot-long rotomolded plastic boat is light and easy to transport. On the other hand, the wide, stable hull has 400-pound capacity to accommodate a gas or electric motor. The Jonny Boat keeps rod holders, gear and electronics in easy reach from the elevated frame seat. It also is stable enough for you to stand on the padded deck and fish all day.

Are you looking for a two-person kayak?

Because fishing is more fun with a friend, many anglers want a two person kayak called a tandem kayak. A tandem sit on top kayak for fishing features two comfortable seats spaced far enough apart to allow both anglers to cast and land fish. Or, one person paddles while the other casts. Make sure the tandem kayak has room for gear in both the stern and bow. Some tandem kayaks can be transformed into a single-seat kayak for solo fishing trips.

Best Tandem Sit on Top Kayak: 3 Waters T42 Tandem Kayak

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A wide hull is stable enough for standup fishing on the T42, though comfortable, padded seats allow anglers to sit and fish comfortably for hours. You can remove the front seat and move the rear seat forward to turn the tandem into a solo kayak. You’ll have to add rod holders to make the 3 Waters T42 Tandem Kayak fully fishing capable, but it’s otherwise a great choice for a tandem/solo kayak.

The Budget Fishing Sit on Top Kayak

As fishing kayak designs improve, the best features and performance can now be found on budget sit on top kayaks. If you can add your own rod holders, gear tracks and other features, then you can save money and still get a great sit on top kayak. Budget kayaks often have the same hull and cockpit design as a more expensive model with fewer included accessories. A budget kayak usually has a simpler seat that is still comfortable. You may have to give up a padded deck and bow hatch, but you can still get a well-appointed fishing kayak for short day trips with limited tackle and gear.

Best Cheap Sit on Top Kayak for Fishing: Vibe Yellowfin 120

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The Vibe Yellowfin 120 isn’t like one of those cheap kayaks you see outside of general sporting goods stores. The classic hull design is stable and efficient. Two flush-mount rod holders and multiple gear tracks provide unlimited options for rigging. A high-quality, super comfortable frame seat is on par with more expensive boats. A large V-hatch in the bow holds fishing rods and gear below deck.


What’s better, a sit in or sit on kayak?

Sit in kayaks offer more internal storage space and better performance in a lighter boat. Sit on kayaks are more stable, more comfortable and easier to access and exit. Sit on top kayaks also offer more options for rigging with rod holders and other accessories. Most anglers find a sit on top kayak better for fishing.

What is the best sit on top kayak?

The answer depends on where you will fish and how you will transport the kayak. Look for quality construction with tough components. A comfortable seat allows all-day fishing and a stable hull makes it possible to stand and fish. Anglers like to carry a lot of tackle and gear, so the best sit on top kayak for fishing has a large area in the stern for a gear crate, kayak cooler or livewell. Gear tracks and flat areas make it easy to add accessories and electronics.

What size kayak should I get for my height?

Body size and weight matter for a sit-on-top kayak, but not so much for a sit on top. Sit on top kayaks have adjustable seats and foot pegs to accommodate anglers of various heights.

The One Big Advantage of a Sit on Top Kayak for Fishing

Sit on top kayaks can carry a lot of fishing gear and keep it all in easy reach. That alone is reason to go with a sit on top fishing kayak. All you really have to decide is the color.