River Fishing Kayak Review: Crescent Shoalie SF

Buyer’s Guide | Kayak Angler

As I approached the class II rapid, I squared my entry angle, let the current carry me, bounced down a drop, crashed into a rock, scraped bottom and plunged through a two-foot standing wave. In most fishing kayaks, that scenario would have ended in a yard sale, but my river fishing kayak is built to survive swift currents and hard hits.

When I saw the Crescent Kayaks Shoalie SF at ICAST 2022, I knew the little gray boat would be a big hit. In a world of do-it-all boats, a kayak focused on river fishing is bound to be popular with swiftwater anglers. What surprised me was how well the Shoalie handled backwater and open water fishing. Turns out the Shoalie is a river kayak that can do it all.

Crescent Shoalie Sets the Standard for Shallow-Water Kayaks

Crescent Kayaks Shoalie SF Specs
Length: 11’10”
Width: 34”
Weight: 77 lbs
Capacity: 450 lbs
MSRP: $1,599 USD

Key Fishy Features

River anglers have specific needs in a fishing kayak. To ensure the Shoalie SF is the ultimate river kayak, Crescent partnered with tournament angler and kayak designer Drew Gregory.

To navigate swiftwater and rapids, the kayak needs to be quick and loose. On the flat sections, a river angler needs to stand and cast in a stable boat. To slide under overhangs, the topside must be free from obstructions and offer multiple options for horizontal rod storage. Turns out, these qualities make a great fishing kayak for any water. Gregory says, “The Shoalie has a lot of details only a river angler will appreciate.”

Skirting the line between midsize and compact kayak, the Shoalie’s 11-foot, 10-inch waterline keeps the boat easy to manage in tight conditions. The Shoalie’s 34-inch beam is wide enough to stay stable and narrow enough to squeeze between rocks and deadfalls.

The fishiest feature on the Shoalie is its rod and tackle storage. Gregory says he can carry eight fishing rods without using vertical rod holders. The bow hatch has three molded channels and the gunwales each have a molded channel for horizontal rod storage. In the stern, two YakAttack paddle holders stage rods behind the seat.

My favorite rod storage option is below deck. The Shoalie’s large bow hatch hosts a deep storage tray. The tray has two cutouts to accommodate rods below deck and still have room for tackle trays and bags of soft plastics. Gregory says, “Storing rods horizontally keeps them out of trees and overhangs. It also makes it easier to drag the kayak.”

What good is rod storage without sufficient tackle storage? The Shoalie has room for everything and the kitchen sink. In addition to the bow hatch insert, the Shoalie has space for tackle trays under the seat and in molded inserts on either side of the seat.

stern view of man paddling the Shoalie SF from Crescent Kayaks
Shallow water and rough structure are the Shoalie’s playground. | Photo: Patrick Hayes

The tankwell has sufficient space for a YakAttack BlackPak Pro. The large crate will fit another half-dozen tackle trays and a couple drybags with gear and lunch.

In addition to the impressive storage, the Shoalie includes all the other features anglers expect in a serious fishing kayak. There are several options for mounting a fish finder and a recess in the underside for the transducer.

The padded deck provides comfortable standing and safe traction. For tournament anglers and trophy hunters, a measuring board is molded into the deck. The molded measuring board will not only allow you to get unofficial measurements of fish, but it also holds a tournament-approved bump board for more accurate measurements. The molded measuring board is one of Gregory’s favorite features, “I don’t have to worry about the fish jumping overboard before I can get a photo.”

River Ready

The Shoalie’s fishy features are appropriate for any type of kayak fishing. But this boat houses some special accommodations for river fishing.

Swiftwater anglers are always ready to swim. Gregory points out, “Designing the boat to protect my gear makes me more confident on the river.”

The Shoalie has several features designed to keep gear secure in the event of a flip. First, the large bow hatch with secure rod storage is a quick and easy place to stick rods before shooting the rapids.

My favorite in-case-of-a-flip feature is in the tankwell. Instead of bungees to hold the crate, the Shoalie includes two straps with cam buckles. The heavy straps are more reliable and stronger than a stretchy and breakable bungee. Heavy-duty steel pad eyes in each corner of the well provide a solid point to secure the straps to the crate.

River anglers spend a lot of time dragging their kayaks through the woods and over rocks and deadfalls. To ease the burden, the Shoalie has a unique bow handle with a loop of a seven-inch strap and a cam buckle connected to a recessed gear track.

Loosening the strap makes it easier to drag the boat. The handle also serves as a base for a stand-assist strap. Or, use the gear track to mount accessories.

Losing a paddle in a river presents a precarious situation; the swift water quickly carries away your only means of propulsion. The Shoalie has a strap in the bow to hold rod tips and the paddle blade. A bungee on each gunwale adds storage on either side of the seat.

Just ahead of the seat, a molded channel on each side of the boat hosts a small gear track and YakAttack RotoGrip Paddle Holder. When the bow is covered with a half-dozen rods, the perpendicular paddle holder provides a convenient place to secure the paddle.

man stands and fishes from the Crescent Shoalie SF river fishing kayak
From mud flats to whitewater rapids, the Crescent Shoalie feels at home. | Feature photo: Patrick Hayes

Finally, river anglers need a failsafe anchor system. Anchoring a kayak in rushing river water is difficult and dangerous. Get it wrong and the kayak could flip and get pinned.

The Shoalie has a molded anchor line channel along each side of the tankwell. This keeps the boat facing downstream in the current. Near the seat, the cup holders double as a mounting location for an Anchor Wizard winch.

These little touches may seem like small improvements, but for river anglers facing rapids and rocks, small details are a big deal.

Specialized Fishing Seat

In my experience, one of the biggest differences between a premium kayak and a bargain boat is the seat. The Shoalie’s Specialized Fishing Seat ensures the boat a position in the top-of-the-line category.

Starting with a cool-looking, bright red, anodized aluminum frame, the seat is covered with a padded fabric made and handsewn in the U.S.A. A heavy-duty cam strap secures the seat to the deck.

To lower the paddler closer to the water for improved paddling performance and sit-down stability, the seat base sits in molded pockets in the deck. For a better fishing position, raise the seat onto an elevated platform. The cam strap makes it possible to raise and lower the seat without exiting the kayak.

The function is fantastic but comfort is king. The Specialized Fishing Seat has pronounced lumbar support and an angled seat for all-day fishing. The seat back is low to fit under my life vest padding and reduce the boat’s profile.

Rock Star Performance

The Shoalie’s biggest triumph is the swiftwater-friendly hull. To survive rapids, rocks and deadfalls, the Shoalie balances maneuverability and stability.

The rule of thumb is as stability goes up, maneuverability goes down. Many kayaks sacrifice tight turns and rough water performance for a rock-solid fishing platform. The Shoalie takes the opposite approach.

To improve stability, the Shoalie has a 34-inch wide beam. For a sub-12-foot boat, the Shoalie paddles straight, even into wind and current. The rounded hull with shallow channels offers reasonable straight-line tracking and speed. Most impressive, the rounded chine and loose secondary stability along with the high-volume bow allow the boat to roll over waves and turn on a dime.

The turning ability is aided by the significant rocker, which presents less surface area in the water. Less surface area equals less friction making the boat turn and paddle faster. The rocker also absorbs collisions with rocks and waves.

Not surprisingly, the same features making the Shoalie a great swiftwater kayak also make the boat a great kayak anywhere. I spent most of my time in the Shoalie fishing backwater and open water on the coast.

The hull channels improve straight-line performance, but they do slow the boat when sliding over river rocks. The improvement in paddling performance and stability is worth the trade off.

There are a lot of midsize and compact stand-up paddle kayaks, but most favor stability over performance. The Crescent Shoalie SF is a true river boat, with features making it one of the best paddle kayaks.

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Cover of Kayak Angler Magazine Issue 50, Early Summer 2023This article was first published in the Early Summer 2023 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

From mud flats to whitewater rapids, the Crescent Shoalie feels at home. | Feature photo: Patrick Hayes