Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For prospective kayak anglers, the first step in the journey begins with a beginner kayak. Choosing the best fishing kayak for a first-time angler is the most important step to a successful introduction to the sport. Picking the wrong boat leads to frustration, discomfort and a bad experience.
Luckily, there are plenty of basic starter kayaks covering a range of uses at a reasonable price. Once you’ve taken the first step with the best fishing kayak for beginners, the rest of the journey will be smooth sailing.
Top picks: Best beginner fishing kayaks for 2023
Best Beginner Fishing Kayaks
Boss 12 ss
Vibe Yellowfin 100 Angler Kayak
350FX Fishing Explorer
11' Sit-On-Top Inflatable Kayak
Shop for beginner fishing kayaks
Follow the links below to Paddling Buyer’s Guide where you’ll find every beginner fishing kayak available along with specs, prices, reviews and places to buy.
Shopping for a used beginner fishing kayak?
The good news is there are plenty of pre-owned beginner kayaks on the market. The bad news is many of these boats are used and abused. And, don’t mistake a beginner kayak for a cheap kayak. Some sellers are moving on from a perfectly good starter kayak and other people are getting rid of a poorly-performing cheap kayak. To know the difference, read the Beginner Fishing Kayak Buying Guide below.
When looking at a used starter kayak, begin with reputable brands and well-known models with a reputation for performance and durability. A good-quality starter kayak lasts longer and performs better than a cheap kayak, making it a better choice for a second-hand boat. For a hint at a used kayak’s quality, read and watch objective tests and reviews of the boat.
Beginner kayaks usually have fewer features and accessories than more expensive boats. Therefore, owners often add components to a starter boat. Before buying a used beginner kayak, be sure any accessories were installed correctly. Check for sealant around holes and sturdy connections with through bolts, self-tapping screws or rivets. Accessories should be mounted where they won’t get in the way of paddling or fishing action.
Many times, sellers will throw in an old paddle and life vest to sweeten the deal on a used beginner kayak. Don’t take the bait. Instead of getting stuck with a stinky PFD and a clunky paddle, take some of the money you saved on a used kayak and invest in the best paddle and life jacket you can afford. A lightweight, stiff and efficient paddle made from high-quality carbon fiber and fiberglass will let any kayaker paddle easier and faster.
To improve comfort, choose a comfortable and durable PFD with ripstop fabric and carved foam with multiple adjustment points to fit any body shape. Then, when you pass your beginner boat onto the next beginner, you can bring your favorite paddle and PFD with you along to your new boat.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used fishing kayak, read our article How To Buy A Used Fishing Kayak.
Beginner fishing kayak buying guide
Many people think a beginner kayak is a cheap kayak. Those people are wrong. In fact, a cheap kayak is the worst beginner kayak as a lack of quality components and design risks frustrating and discouraging a new paddling angler. Sure, a starter kayak is usually less expensive than a full-feature model, but price isn’t the only quality that qualifies a kayak for new kayak anglers.
Instead, we define a beginner kayak as a simple and safe kayak that is easy to store, transport, paddle and fish.
To make storage and transport easier, a beginner kayak is lighter and smaller than a full-feature boat. We like to put first-time anglers in a 12-foot kayak that weighs less than 80 pounds. These boats are long enough to paddle well and light enough to drag around the yard and even cartop.
Another characteristic of a beginner kayak is fewer or simpler features. To keep the price down, and lure new anglers onto the water, manufacturers often produce base models of their more expensive kayaks with fewer rod holders, gear tracks and other accessories.
First-time kayakers prefer a more stable kayak to build confidence in their paddling and fishing abilities. A stable kayak equates to less chance of falling out. If you do end up in the water, a stable kayak is easier to re-enter.
With all other design elements being equal, a wider kayak will feel more stable. However, only focusing on stability may lead you to purchase a kayak that is slow and difficult to turn. Some very stable kayaks are 40 inches wide and 13-feet long. Understandably, this boat’s size makes it difficult to handle in wind and current.
Instead, look for a boat with a 30- to 35-inch beam with a narrow entry and smooth exit through the water. This boat is still stable, but it will be easier to paddle.
Some people think beginners need to start in a paddle kayak and then move up to a pedal boat. While starting with a paddle kayak is a good way to learn the ropes of operating a kayak and fishing from a moving object, there are plenty of great beginner pedal kayaks that are lighter and smaller with simpler rigging and a lower price tag. A pedal system also acts like a keel to further improve stability.
If you decide to start out in a pedal kayak, it is especially important to start with one of the more proven pedal systems from a reputable brand. A reliable, durable and efficient pedal system will make kayaking and fishing easier by improving speed and range. We recommend new kayak anglers look for a base model kayak with the same pedal system used in more expensive models.
The key to choosing the best beginner kayak is finding a boat with basic rigging, great performance and a lower price. Getting into the sport easily, efficiently and safely will keep a new angler on the water for years to come.
Beginner fishing kayak reviews
There’s no better way to choose a beginner fishing kayak than kicking the tires and taking a test drive. If you can’t get to the paddle shop or you missed demo day, the staff at Kayak Angler, our sister magazine, have run the best fishing kayaks for beginners through the gauntlet.
We’ve rigged the boats for fishing, loaded them with gear and hit the water. Our testing includes miles of paddling and hours of fishing in a variety of conditions and locations. Studying our reviews and tests is the next best thing to taking a test drive.
- Fishing Kayak Review: SeaStream Angler 120 PD
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- Fishing Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Journey 10
- Recreational Kayak Review: Pelican Trailblazer 100 NXT
- Fishing Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Boss 12 SS
- Inflatable Kayak Review: Sevylor Colorado
- Recreational Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
- Fishing Kayak Review: Pelican Mustang 100x
- Fishing Kayak Review: Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
- Fishing Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Journey 12 SS