Fishing Kayak Reviews

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

The backyard at the Kayak AnglerPaddling Magazine‘s sister publication—editorial office looks like a used kayak dealership. Big boats, little boats, pedals, motors, inflatables, foldables and standup paddleboards are parked in rows and stacked in every corner.

Each boat is scratched and muddied from hours of testing. Our contributors and editors hail from every corner of the country and target every type of fish. We test these boats in real-world conditions and on the water where each boat performs best. Ocean boats go surfing, river boats shoot the rapids, pedal boats travel the distance and motorized kayaks are put through their paces.

Testing begins the moment the boat arrives at the office. We unpack, rig and outfit each boat, noting how the parts fit and the features come together. Then, we go fishing. On every trip we look at how we transport, enter, paddle, pedal or motor the kayak. We test the stability, maneuverability and fishability of each boat as it was intended to be used.

After testing nearly every fishing kayak on the water, we know what works and what doesn’t. We don’t compare apples to oranges, we judge each boat on its own merits, determining the most appropriate application and ideal owner.

Below, you’ll find the comprehensive resource for all our fishing kayak reviews, categorized by type of kayak and by brand. Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Let us know, and we’ll add it to the list of kayaks to test drive next.

Person dragging a sit-on-top fishing kayak over sand toward water
Photo: Courtesy Ocean Kayak

Kayaks by type

Sea fishing kayaks reviews

Modern kayak fishing was born on the coast. Wishful surf anglers hoping to fish beyond the breakers bastardized recreational kayaks with rod holders and gear storage to reach the open ocean. Today, sea fishing kayaks are purpose-built for fishing, but they still employ the design principles of surf and open-water paddling and pedaling.

To efficiently cover miles of water, these boats are long and narrow with plenty of capacity. To survive the surf launch and recovery, paddle kayaks have a pronounced rocker and loose stability. Pedal and motor kayaks will have high sides, a wide beam and streamlined profile. On the open ocean, an angler has to be ready for anything. The best sea fishing kayaks have plenty of internal and external storage to carry a wide variety of gear and tackle.

River fishing kayaks reviews

One of the biggest advantages of kayak fishing is almost unlimited access to the water. Drag it to the launch, drop it down a cliff or wheel it across the beach, these small, lightweight craft get into water no other angler can reach.

River anglers especially appreciate the freedom of kayak fishing. Ricocheting off rocks, scraping the bottom and bouncing down rapids is no problem for a little plastic boat. River rats favor paddle kayaks with a short water line and loose stability. They like a boat that will drain water quickly and store rods and gear below deck. Inflatable standup paddlboards and kayaks are popular for their light weight and indestructible skin. When choosing a kayak for river fishing, look for a boat that can take excessive abuse and keep fishing.

Fishing pedal kayak reviews

Almost 20 years ago, Greg Ketterman was floating in a pool on an inflatable raft. “I was lying on my stomach and using my hands like flippers to propel myself around the pool,” he remembers. As his hands fluttered and flipped under the water, Ketterman had a brilliant idea. The result of the Hobie engineer’s pool toy became the Mirage Drive pedal system.

As kayak fishing took off across the country, many hopeful anglers saw pedal kayaks as an easy way to go fishing without having to learn how to paddle. After two decades, nearly every kayak manufacturer offers a pedal-powered model.

Pedal kayaks are more efficient and easier to use. They are popular with inexperienced anglers, expert anglers and anglers with mobility issues. Driving the kayak with your feet leaves your hands free for fishing, changing lures and updating your social media status.

Hobie’s pedal system uses pedals to move flexible flippers that propel the kayak. Other manufactures use bicycle pedals to turn a propeller. Anglers argue over which system is best. Each system has its advantages, so the choice comes down to personal preference.

While there are many advantages to pedal power, these boats also have their limits. Pedal kayaks are generally heavier and larger than a paddle kayak. They require more gear and, of course, anything with moving parts is at risk of a breakdown. Most important, the lower unit increases the boat’s draft, making the system more difficult to use in shallow water.

Many people who are intimidated by being on the water in a little boat feel completely comfortable in a pedal kayak. And pedal power opens kayak fishing to new anglers and new limits.

Inflatable fishing kayak reviews

At first look, an inflatable kayak and sharp fishing hooks don’t match. Upon closer inspection, air-filled kayaks are perfect for many anglers. To begin with, the heavy PVC material is virtually impenetrable. In fact, inflatable kayaks are so tough they are popular with river anglers fishing the roughest conditions. After years of testing, we have never put a hole in an inflatable.

Inflatables are also popular with anglers facing storage and transportation limits. These boats can be folded to the size of a suitcase—most can be checked as baggage on an airline. Store the boat in a closet and load it into a hatchback. You can even take an inflatable kayak on the bus.

Once you’re at the water, you’ll face the biggest challenge: inflating the boat. A double action manual pump will blow up the boat and provide an aerobic workout. After 15 minutes of sweating and breathing hard, the kayak will be ready to go. To save some energy, we recommend a battery-powered pump.

On the water, inflatable kayaks can go anywhere. They are lighter and tougher than a plastic boat, so an inflatable easily crosses rocks, logs and low water. Since the blow-up boat is filled with air, inflatables have a shallower waterline and higher gunnels. This hurts long-distance paddling performance, but the best inflatable fishing kayaks use a pronounced keel or fin box to improve straight line tracking and wind resistance. Inflatables are most popular on sheltered waters and rivers.

Inflatable kayaks designed for fishing have ingenious solutions for adding rod holders and other accessories. And, many of these boats are stable enough for standup fishing. For hopeful anglers with limited options for storage or transportation, inflatable kayaks can be a perfect fit.

Sit-on-top fishing kayak reviews

No other advancement has fueled kayak fishing more than the invention of the sit-on-top kayak. Since the paddler sits in a seat on top of the hull, instead of inside the cockpit of a traditional kayak, sit-on-top boats are more stable, offer more opportunities for rigging and allow anyone to get onboard.

Most important, sit-on-top kayaks are more stable and don’t fill with water. In the event the boat flips over, a sit-on-top is easier to return upright. Whether paddle-, pedal- or motor-driven, sit-on-top kayaks open the sport to more anglers in more locations.

Sit-inside fishing kayak reviews

To increase speed and stability while carrying loads of gear, the first kayaks required the paddler to sit inside the hull and closer to the water. Today, sit-inside kayaks are still popular with anglers looking for a lighter kayak with greater capacity. Many paddlers like the protection in inclement weather.

Sit-inside kayaks for fishing are wider and more stable while offering areas on the deck to attach accessories and storage. The best sit-inside kayaks offer comfortable seating and a wide, easy-to-access cockpit. Anglers who need a lightweight boat with high capacity and a lower profile will want to look at a sit-inside kayak.

Fly fishing kayak reviews

Stealth and sneakiness make a kayak perfect for fly fishing. Waving a long rod to propel a heavy line requires solid footing. To maintain balance, fly anglers look for a kayak with solid primary stability. An open deck with no obstructions prevents the fly line from tangling. Look for a kayak with multiple rigging options to store long fly rods vertically or horizontally.

2-person fishing kayak reviews

Anglers looking to get on the water with a friend will want a two-person kayak. Tandem kayaks have two seats and space for extra gear. These boats are great not only for two adult paddlers, but one person can easily take a kid or a pet as well.

Bass fishing kayak reviews

Observing trends in fishing kayak design, it’s obvious bass fishing has been driving innovation for the past decade. Not only is a kayak perfect for chasing the most popular sportfish in the world, but big-money bass tournaments are pushing kayak designers to develop the most advanced fishing platforms.

Kayaks for bass fishing feature solid stability, options for adding electronics, complete customization, tons of storage and comfort for a full day of hard fishing. Bass anglers race to the best fishing so pedal and motorized kayaks are most popular. Whether they are chasing personal glory or competing for a tournament win, bass anglers are looking for a kayak that offers every advantage.

Standup fishing kayak reviews

Spend any time in a kayak and you’ll realize fishing is easier when you’re standing up. Sitting low to the water reduces range of motion and room for the back cast. Standing up makes it easier to cast and work the lure. A higher viewpoint also allows the angler to see farther into the water to spot structure and fish. And, after a long day on the water, it’s nice to stand and stretch your legs.

Standup fishing kayaks will have solid primary stability and a wide beam. They will also feature a wide, open, flat deck with plenty of room for your feet. An elevated frame sits higher off the deck making it easier to stand up and sit down.

Person fishing from kayak with paddle

Kayaks by brand

3 Waters fishing kayak reviews

With a focus on stability and fishability, 3 Waters Kayaks have become popular with new anglers looking for safety and comfort. Advanced features, like dry storage, accessory tracks and a unique hull design, get the attention of seasoned anglers. For a solid boat at a great price, many people are jumping into 3 Waters Kayaks.

See our 3 Waters fishing kayak reviews below.

Ascend fishing kayak reviews

Built in Missouri, Ascend Kayaks are part of the Bass Pro Shops family of brands under White River Marine Group. As a dominant leader in angling supply and one of North America’s largest outdoor retailers, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Bass Pro has their own kayak label.

With affordably priced sit-inside, sit-on-top and hybrid options, Ascend fishing kayaks focus on stability, comfort and value. Their Yak-Power series adds a built-in battery and plugs to power electronics—in a fully featured fishing kayak priced under $1,000 USD.  Ascend Kayaks can also be found at Cabela’s and smaller marine retailers carrying Bass Pro brands.

See our Ascend fishing kayak reviews below.

Bonafide fishing kayak review

Opening their doors in 2016, Bonafide Kayaks seems to be the new kid on the block. But the company’s origins go back further; their team is composed of some of the most experienced anglers and designers in the sport’s history. The result is a line of kayaks that are thoughtfully designed to optimize comfort, efficiency and fishability.

See our Bonafide fishing kayak reviews below.

Brooklyn Kayak Company fishing kayaks

Newcomers to the kayak fishing scene, Brooklyn Kayak Company is an online-only retailer based in New Jersey that ships their entry level fishing kayaks across the Lower 48. BKC kayaks are manufactured in China and come with everything you need to start fishing, including paddles, making them an enticing choice for beginner kayak anglers on a tight budget.

See our Brooklyn Kayak Company fishing kayak reviews below.

Coming soon

Emotion fishing kayak reviews

Founded in Pennsylvania in 2002, Emotion Kayaks established itself as a leader in recreational paddlesports. Their sit-inside and sit-on-top fishing kayaks quickly became popular for use on lakes, bays and slow-moving rivers. In 2011, Emotion Kayaks was purchased by Lifetime, with many of the most sought-after designs being rebranded under the Lifetime label. Today, classic fishing kayak designs like the Emotion Stealth Angler series are sold under the Lifetime brand.

See our Emotion fishing kayak reviews below.

Coming soon

Field & Stream fishing kayak reviews

Field & Stream is a retail brand selling outdoor gear since 1871. The Field & Stream brand is owned by Dick’s Sporting Goods and available here as well at dedicated Field & Stream retail stores. Field & Stream produces low cost recreational kayaks with features helpful to anglers, including rod holders and tankwell storage, making them a popular choice for aspiring kayak anglers with a limited budget.

See our Field & Stream fishing kayak reviews below.

Coming soon

Hobie fishing kayak reviews

Since 1950, Hobie has been in the business of shaping quality products for a unique lifestyle based around fun on the water. From their headquarters in California, Hobie Cat Company and its global subsidiaries produce an impressive collection of watercraft and accessories. In addition to their twin-hulled sailboats, for which they are well-known, Hobie Cat also offers standup paddleboards, surfboards, kayaks and boats for both recreation and fishing.

For kayak anglers, Hobie is best known for the Mirage Drive pedal system. The introduction of hands-free kayaking has opened the sport to anglers of any ability. Each product line is also complimented with a comprehensive array of parts and accessories, so Hobie fans can customize their kayaks with matching rod holders and storage options. See our Hobie fishing kayak reviews below.

Jackson fishing kayak reviews

Jackson Kayak was founded by its namesake, world-renowned whitewater daredevill Eric “EJ” Jackson. After working with Wave Sport Kayaks as a team member and designer, Eric Jackson and business partner Tony Lunt formed Jackson Kayak in Rock Island, Tennessee. Since 2003, Jackson has been a leader in innovations that have become standard across the industry.

With boats in every design category, Jackson Kayak stays true to its river roots with some of the best swiftwater craft on the market. See our Jackson fishing kayak reviews below.

Lifetime fishing kayak reviews

Until recently, Lifetime was better known in the sporting goods world as the first manufacturer of adjustable-height basketball hoops, which soon became ubiquitous in driveways across North America. Founded in 1986, the company went on to make other durable outdoor goods like picnic tables and garden sheds.

Headquartered in Utah, Lifetime wasn’t exactly positioned to become a player in the kayak fishing scene. This changed with Lifetime’s acquisition of California-based Dragonfly Kayaks in 2010 and Emotion Kayaks in 2011. Since then, Lifetime has gained a foothold in the kayak fishing scene with their widespread availability and inexpensive options for aspiring kayak anglers. Lifetime is also expanding their lineup with offerings for the dedicated kayak angler, including pedal kayaks like the Lifetime Renegade.

See our Lifetime fishing kayak reviews below.

Native Watercraft fishing kayak reviews

The people at Native Watercraft have spent a lifetime knocking around the outdoors as a passion and a career. Their decades of boat-building knowledge is behind each Native Watercraft. This experience is evident in Native’s legacy of innovation. The team is credited with the first frame seat and the first pedal kayak with reverse. And the chase continues with new materials and designs focused on making each outdoor experience the best it can be.

See our Native Watercraft fishing kayak reviews below.

Ocean kayak fishing kayak reviews

In 1971, in a backyard in Malibu, California, Tim Niemier took an old surfboard and carved out two spaces: one to sit in and another for his scuba gear. At that moment, the sit-on-top kayak was born. Word spread, demand skyrocketed and a few years later Niemier opened Ocean Kayak to shape kayaks out of rotomolded plastic.

Today, and tens of thousands of boats later, Ocean Kayak is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of sit-on-top kayaks. They build a variety of recreational and fishing models with an eye for open-water capability. While Ocean Kayaks perform great in any type of water, the company’s name says it all, these boats were meant to be at sea.

See our Ocean fishing kayak reviews below.

Old town fishing kayak reviews

Over 100 years ago, the first Old Town canoe was built along the Penobscot River in Old Town, Maine. After a century-long journey, some of their oldest boats are still on the water. Today, Old Town leads the way in bringing innovation to every type of angler. Whether you fish the local farm pond or you’re chasing tournament victories, Old Town has a kayak to make your experience unforgettable.

See our Old Town fishing kayak reviews below.

Pelican fishing kayak reviews

The folks at Pelican are world leaders in the design and manufacturing of kayaks, canoes, pedal boats and fishing boats. For over 50 years, Pelican’s mastery of thermoform plastic molding has created durable, quality products at an affordable price. The process molds sheets of plastic that are joined together to create a lighter, tougher and less expensive boat, perfect for newbies and old salts.

See our Pelican fishing kayak reviews below.

Perception fishing kayak reviews

For over 40 years, Perception has been proud to introduce people to paddling. The company is staffed by passionate kayakers who design, mold and hand-assemble every Perception kayak in Greenville, South Carolina. With paddling experience running through the company, Perception’s team knows the personal touches that make kayaking fun for paddlers of all experience levels.

See our Perception fishing kayak reviews below.

Vibe fishing kayak reviews

Since 2013, the people behind Vibe have focused on one thing—giving paddlers of any skill level the opportunity to experience the freedom of escaping into nature. The brand is built on a passion for the water, fishing and outdoor living. Their products are a perfect combination of good looks, great features and affordability. With models in every category, Vibes boats are designed to hook anglers and keep them on the line.

See our Vibe fishing kayak reviews below.

Wilderness Systems fishing kayak reviews

All week we dream of being on the water and away from the daily grind. We dream of finding perfection in nature. Since 1986, Wilderness Systems has been producving kayaks to take you there in comfort and style. The result has been innovative designs tuned for performance, premium outfitting and top quality. From new entrants to seasoned experts, Wilderness Systems kayaks are designed to get you where you want to be—on the water.

See our Wilderness Systems fishing kayak reviews below.

Kayaks by store

Walmart fishing kayak reviews

There are more than 3,500 Walmart Supercenters in the United States alone. This makes Walmart one of the most accessible places for prospective kayak anglers to pick up an inexpensive fishing kayak. Walmart carries a variety of some of the largest and most affordable fishing kayak brands, including Pelican and Lifetime.

See our Walmart fishing kayak reviews below.

Coming soon

Kayaks by size

12-foot fishing kayak reviews

Twelve-foot fishing kayaks are like the porridge that’s just right. Not too long, not too short. They provide a good compromise between maneuverability and tracking, and between speed and stability. Many kayak anglers are well aware of the benefits of 12-foot fishing kayaks, and so are manufacturers. This is why 12-foot fishing kayaks are some of the most popular on the market.

The general range of fishing kayaks is usually between 10 and 14 feet. A 12-foot fishing kayak provides more speed and straighter tracking than a 10-foot kayak, giving anglers the ability to cover more water faster, and enjoy more time actually fishing. Compared to a 10-footer, a 12-foot fishing kayak also provides more deck space, increasing gear storage and comfort for larger anglers.

Longer may be faster, but the tradeoff is decreased maneuverability. Again, a 12-foot fishing kayak strikes a great balance—more nimble than a 14-footer, but still relatively quick on the water. This difference in length also equates to less weight, making a 12-foot kayak easier to transport.

There is a reason 12-foot fishing kayaks are one of the most popular size fishing kayaks. These boats offer increased speed and capability without sacrificing ease of use.

See our 12-foot fishing kayak reviews below.

Coming soon

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