Let’s make one thing clear, there is no such thing as a “bad” fishing kayak. After 15 years testing hundreds of kayaks, the editors and contributors at Kayak Angler have never met a boat they didn’t like.
Instead, we talk about the best fishing kayaks for how you fish. Just because a kayak is flashy with all the bells and whistles and a price tag to match, doesn’t make it the best. For many anglers, a simple boat with a few accessories and a three-figure price tag is a perfect fit.
When it comes to the best fishing kayaks of 2021, we have put together a list of candidates that will appeal to every angler. Kayak Angler has reviewed each boat looking for the positive, noting the negative and always thinking about how it should be used, where would be the best place to use it, and who would be the ideal owner. The following article includes best bets by brand, length, category, propulsion and price so you can pick your best kayak.
Best fishing kayaks
Best fishing kayaks by brand
Most of the following brands have been building fishing-specific kayaks for over a decade. In that time, they have developed designs informed by years of experience. As two dozen of the best fishing kayak brands compete to build a better kayak, we are the winners with more features at a lower price.
Check out our pick for top rides from each brand to fit the needs of any angler.
- Best 3 Waters fishing kayaks
- Best Advanced Elements fishing kayaks
- Best AIRE fishing kayaks
- Best Bonafide fishing kayaks
- Best Eddyline Kayaks fishing kayaks
- Best Feelfree fishing kayaks
- Best Hobie fishing kayaks
- Best Jonny Boats fishing kayaks
- Best Kaku fishing kayaks
- Best Native Watercraft fishing kayaks
- Best NuCanoe fishing kayaks
- Best Ocean brand fishing kayaks
- Best Old Town fishing kayaks
- Best Pelican fishing kayaks
- Best Perception fishing kayaks
- Best Sea Eagle fishing kayaks
- Best Uncharted Watercraft fishing kayaks
- Best Vibe fishing kayaks
- Best Viking fishing kayaks
- Best Wilderness Systems fishing kayaks
- Best Ascend fishing kayaks
- Best Lifetime fishing kayaks
- Best Jackson fishing kayaks
- Best Sun Dolphin fishing kayaks
Best fishing kayaks by price
Looking at the price tag on some fishing kayaks can cause sticker shock. While a super ‘yak featuring top-of-the-line accessories and propulsion can cost as much as a used car, there are great options at the other end of the price range, too. Limiting accessories and sacrificing some comfort can get you on the water for less than a few hundred dollars.
Just like purchasing a car, there are high-dollar premium models and budget-friendly utility vehicles, which means you can look for the best fishing kayak by price. Regardless of how much it costs, any kayak will catch fish.
Best fishing kayaks by propulsion
The first kayaks were used by Inuit hunters over 4,000 years ago. Back then, a kayaker carved their own paddle out of driftwood. Today, kayakers have a wide variety of propulsion choices. The result is more anglers are able to get on the water, regardless of physical ability. And, intrepid kayakers are able to go farther and fish harder than ever before.
The simplest way to get on the water is with a two-bladed kayak paddle. Paddles are light, less expensive and allow the kayak to go anywhere. For beginners, there is a slight learning curve. But after a day spent churning and banging around the lake, most anglers get the hang of it.
Paddling is about as exhausting as a brisk walk, qualifying the activity as good exercise. The key to choosing a paddle is picking the lightest, stiffest stick you can afford. With each mile requiring hundreds of paddle strokes, any weight or loss of efficiency adds up.
To make kayak fishing easier and more accessible, designers have come up with pedal systems that are simpler and more efficient to control. Driving either a small propeller or a pair of flippers, pedal-drive boats take the intimidation out of kayaking. Since legs are stronger than arms, pedal kayakers can travel farther and faster with less energy. Pedal kayaks are heavier and more expensive, and there are more moving parts to break down. To travel in shallow water or make tight turns, a pedal angler will still need a paddle.
Pushing the edges of kayak fishing, many anglers are using gas- or electric-powered motors to propel their boats. Most of these boats use an electric motor, but some models will accommodate a gas outboard. Adding a motor will add considerable weight and will require a heavy battery or gallons of fuel. There are options for installing a motor on a paddle kayak and many manufacturers now offer motorized models with integrated power systems.
With more options for propelling a kayak, more anglers are able to get on the water and take the sport to another level. When choosing the best fishing kayak by propulsion, consider how you will use and transport the boat and how much you want to invest in your hobby.
Best fishing kayaks by category
As kayak fishing explodes, anglers are demanding special design features focused on specific styles of fishing or types of users. Pond hopping for panfish requires a different kayak than crossing open water for trophy species. Fly anglers are looking for a different layout than a bass guy. With the sport spreading coast to coast, there is a best fishing kayak category for every angler.
- Best sit-on-top fishing kayaks
- Best sit-inside fishing kayaks
- Best standup fishing kayaks
- Best saltwater fishing kayaks
- Best river fishing kayaks
- Best fly fishing kayaks
- Best inflatable fishing kayaks
- Best tandem fishing kayaks
- Best beginner fishing kayaks
Best fishing kayak by size
Unlike gold bars and diamonds, when it comes to fishing kayaks, bigger is not always better. A kayak’s length, width and weight play a crucial role in its performance. As a rule of thumb, a longer, narrower kayak will be faster than a short, wide boat. A boat’s length also affects tracking, or its ability to travel in a straight line.
Length will usually add weight, too, making the boat harder to carry to the water and propel to the fishing grounds. When choosing the size of the kayak, consider the size of the kayaker; smaller, lighter and more maneuverable boats can be a better choice for a young or petite angler.
Best by store
Just the other day, at the grocery store, I saw a fishing kayak for sale. It seems like you can buy a kayak anywhere. Online retailers offer easy shopping and at-home delivery, but make it impossible to try it before you buy it. At a big box store, you can kick the tires and check under the hood, but you might not find an employee with experience to help.
Paddlesports outfitters offer the most experience and motivation to match you with the perfect boat. You will find the widest variety of premium models and accessories, and assistance to rig it for your needs. Many kayak shops also host demo days and offer loaner boats for a test drive.
- Best fishing kayaks at Walmart
Kayak design has developed to the point where there are now best boats for specific species of fish. Bass anglers have different needs than tuna anglers. So manufacturers have released kayaks that are a perfect fit for everything from marlin to lake trout.
Kayak Angler’s editors and contributors cover the water and fish for everything. Whether we’re charging the surf in search of king mackerel or charging river rapids to target smallmouth bass, we know the boats that are best for every type of fish.
Most popular fishing kayaks 2021
Using the wonders of technology, we scoured the internet for the most popular fishing kayaks for 2021. The following list represents the kayaks the largest number of anglers dream of paddling. From high-priced super ‘yaks to bargain beginner boats, your dream kayak is below.
The Journey 10 from Sun Dolphin is a hard-shell, sit-on-top fishing kayak. Features include one swivel and two flush mount rod holders, recessed tackle holders, a removable Portable Accessory Carrier that can be used as extra storage, and more.
The Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is a hard-shell, sit-on-top fishing kayak that has a comfortable padded seat and back rest for your long paddling and fishing adventures. Designed for extreme safety and stability, the Tamarack Angler has a stable, flat bottom with deep tracking channels and stability chine rails. With fishing rod holders, shock cord straps, multiple foot rest positions, and two storage hatches, this kayak has plenty of extras to enhance your paddling and fishing experience.
The Boss 12 SS from Sun Dolphin is a hard-shell, sit-on-top fishing kayak that has an extremely stable tri-hull design with a large stand up walking area and four traction foam pads. Amenities include a three-position deluxe padded honeycomb seat with aluminum frame, a stand-up strap, universal mounting plates, two storage compartments with bag inserts, front and rear storage wells with bungees, four flush mount and one adjustable rod holders, paddle holders and carry handles.
The SS127 from Bonafide Kayaks is hard to beat when it comes to fishability from a kayak. Every feature was designed from the ground up to create an amazing angling experience. Featuring a hybrid catamaran hull design that provides uncompromised stability in various conditions, this boat is not kind-of-stable, it’s crazy-stable (at only 33.5 inches wide!). This allows for the comfortable HiRise seating system to raise to an ultra-high position for improved sight casting and to relieve pressure on your lower back.
The Pescador 12.0 from Perception Kayaks is a renowned performer when it comes to versatile sit-on-top fishing kayaks. The multi-chine hull, broad shoulder and tracking keel creates a boat with maneuverability, glide and stability. It also supplies plenty of speed and capacity for any size paddler to enjoy a full day on the water. Other features include gear tracks, a drink holder and a Comfort Seating System with thick ventilated padding.
View all Perception fishing kayaks.
The Vapor 10 Angler from Old Town is perfect for anglers looking for a compact kayak that can carry a load. This kayak offers a stable and efficient ride with a large, comfortable cockpit. Equipped with a comfortable seat, flush mounted rod holders, and an anchor trolley system, the Vapor 10 Angler goes beyond the basics to create a solid sit-inside fishing platform.
View all Old Town fishing kayaks.
The Frontier 12 from NuCanoe provides exceptional stability and a completely customizable wide, open deck, allowing you to truly fish without limits. Whether you fish solo or tandem, seated or standing, rivers or lakes, paddling or trolling, the Frontier’s remarkable stability and 360 Pinnacle Seat will keep you confident and comfortable on the water.
8. Ascend 12T
The 12T is one of Ascend’s stablest fishing kayak models. The company’s advanced tunnel design has a wide transom and flared bow sections, making this boat stable enough to stand up and cast from. The non-skid foam deck mat ensures you can do so safely and comfortably. The 12T also features port and starboard accessory mounting rails, paddle holders, a large stern tank well, bow and stern carrying handles, and more.
9. Ascend 10T
The 10T is a sit-on-top fishing kayak that’s stable enough for standing and boasts superior customizability. Enjoy adjustable foot braces, a removable and adjustable seating system, accessory mounting rails, D-rings for securing gear and more. Add on the fact that the tunnel hull design allows for great maneuverability and stability, and you’ve got a fishing kayak built for anything.
Venture farther in the Sea Ghost 130 Angler kayak from Vibe Kayaks. The extra-wide hull offers unmatched stability and handles everything from rivers to surf. The Sea Ghost 130 has all the features anglers demand like extra rod holders, a large rear tank well, a foot-controlled rudder system, easy to reach front and rear hatches, tackle tray holders, a center console for additional storage with a lid to mount additional equipment, and so much more.
View all Vibe fishing kayaks.
Buying a fishing kayak
How do I choose a fishing kayak?
With so many models of fishing kayaks in all categories and at every price range, choosing a kayak can be hard. Narrow the field by considering where you fish, how you will store and transport the boat, how you fish and what species you target. Then, look for a boat that will meet your needs at a price you can afford. For a detailed primer on picking the perfect boat, check out our Guide To Choosing A Fishing Kayak.
How much does a fishing kayak weigh?
Experienced kayak anglers will tell you, weight is the number one concern when choosing and rigging a kayak. Whether the boat is paddle-, pedal- or motor-powered, every ounce adds up during a long day on the water. Regardless of category or style of kayak, choose the lightest boat that meets your needs.
A lighter kayak not only performs better and more efficiently, but it’s also easier to drag around the yard and move to the water. After hours paddling, pedaling or motoring, your muscles will thank you.
How stable are fishing kayaks?
Kayak stability comes in two flavors: primary and secondary. Primary stability measures the boat’s propensity to tip while sitting upright. A flat bottom boat will have solid primary stability, making it steady for standup fishing.
Once the boat begins to tip, secondary stability measures how quickly it will flip upside down. A boat with strong secondary stability can be leaned far to the side before going over. Looser primary stability and strong secondary stability make the kayak easier to turn and allow it to absorb rough seas or whitewater.
How much is a fishing kayak?
Like most sports, when it comes to buying a kayak the sky’s the limit. With price tags on some kayaks pushing $5,000, serious anglers could get frustrated chasing the best performance for the buck.
Luckily, in kayak fishing the more you pay doesn’t necessarily affect how much fun you have; there are great kayaks at any price point. High-dollar kayaks will feature the most advanced propulsion systems in feature-rich designs that are comfortable for all-day fishing.
However, anglers can save serious dough by foregoing top-of-the-line pedals or motors and doing the rigging at home. You’ll find many manufacturers offer the same models at several price points. You can get the same performance and quality, with fewer bells and whistles, at a lower price.
When putting together a list of potential kayaks, choose the best five or six boats in your class, then look at the price.
How to start kayak fishing
How to launch a fishing kayak
Although kayak fishing seems to offer many dangers, the most precarious moment for many anglers is the short period between standing on land and sitting in the kayak.
If you are launching from the shore, walk the boat into calf-deep water, turn it parallel to the beach, and stand between the boat and shore. Then, hold the back of the seat to steady the boat, turn around facing away from the kayak and sit down in the seat. Then, swing your legs over and push off into deeper water.
Starting your trip from a dock is a little more difficult. The best bet is to use a bow rope to hold the kayak close to the dock. Facing away from the kayak, lie down on your stomach with your legs hanging over the edge. Find the kayak with your feet and slowly, while holding onto the dock, stand in the kayak. Finally, still holding the dock, turn to face the bow. With your weight over the center of the boat, quickly and decisively sit down in the seat.
To return to land, reverse the process, always steadying the kayak and maintaining balance over the center of gravity to avoid falling into the water.
- How To Launch And Land Your Fishing Kayak In Surf
- 3 Steps To Get Into Your Fishing Kayak From The Dock
- How To Launch Your Kayak In Soft Sand Like An Expert
How to transport a fishing kayak
The biggest challenge to owning a kayak is often the last thing new owners consider. Once you buy your new boat, how are you going to bring it home and store it? The average fishing kayak weighs almost 100 pounds and, at 10 to 15 feet long, takes up a lot of space. Quickly and easily moving your boat to the water, then conveniently storing it at home, will contribute to more time and greater enjoyment on the water.
Car topping is most convenient. Attach high-quality roof racks to the car and use straps and rope to lash it down. To hold the kayak upright, use saddle attachments on the rack. Any kayak over 80 pounds will be a bear to wrestle onto the car. Roof-rack manufacturers offer load assist devices to make it easier to get the boat in the air.
For heavier kayaks, anglers will want to use a trailer or bed extender on their pickup truck. Kayak trailers can be configured to fit multiple boats and carry paddling and fishing gear, too. Use a bed extender when carrying the kayak in a pickup truck if more than 50-percent of the boat is hanging past the end tailgate.
Once at the launch, save time by rigging your kayak at the car and then using a cart to move it to the water. Be sure the cart is rated for the weight of the rigged kayak. Also, check that the saddle will fit the bottom of your boat. Drop the kayak at the water and use a bike chain to secure the cart while you’re away. For more information on moving your boat, check out How To Transport Your Fishing Kayak.
How to fish from a kayak
Fishing from a kayak is the same as fishing from a boat. The tactics don’t change as the platform changes, but kayak anglers will face challenges in presentation. First, you can only carry a handful of rods, so each combo should be able to do many jobs. Second, a kayak angler sits closer to the water, making it more difficult to cast and work lures. As a result, many anglers favor stable kayaks for standup fishing.
Since a kayak is light and sits close to the water, even a five-pound fish will pull the boat. Use the rod to direct the bow of the boat and follow the fish as it runs. Landing a trophy can be the biggest feat. Lower gunnels make it easy to get the fish into the kayak, but difficult to keep it on the boat. Be prepared for hand-to-fin combat with your catch. If a boater can have it, a kayak angler wants it. Find more advice on how to fish from a kayak below.
- Expert Tips For Fly Fishing From A Kayak
- How To Troll From A Kayak
- 6 Ways To Catch Fish From A Kayak
- Expert Advice To Bow Fish From A Kayak
- How To Spear Fish From Your Kayak
How to outfit your kayak for fishing
On a fishing kayak, rods, tackle and gear are always within reach and no space is wasted. With advanced kayak design and a wide variety of aftermarket accessories, each angler can turn his ride into the ultimate fishing kayak setup. Using rod holders, tackle storage, safety gear, seats, paddle, electronics and even cup holders is completely up to the angler’s fancy.
Are you a minimalist? Then limit rigging to a few can’t-fish-without items. Do you bring everything and the kitchen sink? Then your rigging should focus on organizing and securing your gear in the kayak. With so many options for rigging and outfitting, no two fishing kayaks are the same. For more details, read our article on the Ultimate Fishing Kayak Setup.
How we chose the best fishing kayaks
We consider several factors when choosing the best fishing kayaks. From ensuring we judge the kayak according to its intended purpose to making sure you’re actually able to buy it, here are the things we consider when picking the best fishing kayaks in each category:
- Purpose. Comparing apples to apples.
- Performance. How well does it do its job?
- Features. Sometimes we’re all about bells and whistles, sometimes not.
- Real-world testing. We put them to the test on the water.
- Price. Is it affordable? Does its performance justify its cost?
- Sales. Best-selling models are best-sellers for a reason.
- Availability. It won’t be good if you can’t buy it.
- Designer and brand interviews. We ask the people who made it why.
Let’s find you the perfect fishing kayak
Use the Kayak Angler Buyer’s Guide’s reviews, specs and expert rankings to help you find the right fishing kayak at the right price.