In 2022, three kayak manufacturers released new river-focused fishing boats. Just one year ago, a swiftwater angler’s options were limited. Now, there are more boats for bouncing down light rapids and fishing far away from the pedal and motor crowd.

When Bonafide announced the RVR 119, Crescent Kayaks introduced the Shoalie SF and Jackson Kayak dropped the Coosa X, the signal was clear. As mainstream fishing kayaks grow bigger and heavier to support motors and pedal systems, certain manufacturers are going in the other direction to design specialized boats for anglers looking to explore areas other kayaks can’t reach.

3 Experts on What Makes a Great River Fishing Kayak

The Experts

Hans Nutz, head of design at Bonafide Kayaks, has been designing paddlecraft since before kayak fishing was a thing. Having previously worked with Confluence and now leading Bonafide’s design efforts, Nutz has created the trends that are common among kayaks across the sport. Nutz’s latest project is the Bonafide RVR 119.

Crescent Kayaks owner James Derbecker worked with river fishing legend Drew Gregory to design the Crescent Kayak Shoalie SF. The combination of Derbecker’s production experience and Gregory’s fishing and design credentials, the Shoalie hosts a long list of innovative features focused on swiftwater fishing.

Not to be outdone, Jameson Redding, fishing brand manager at Jackson Kayak, has been with the company since before he worked there. “I bought a Coosa when it first came out,” he says. Last year, Redding helped Jackson release their latest river design, the Coosa X.

man wades down a river with his fishing kayak
When the going gets rough, get a river kayak. | Feature photo: Courtesy Crescent Kayaks

What is a river kayak?

Defining a river kayak really does come down to the hull. Hull design is more about geometry, understanding physics and how water flows. It’s no secret a good river hull offers plenty of rocker and a relatively flat hull with softer edges. The design allows me to slide over rocks and lean away from the current to let water rush underneath the boat. —Drew Gregory

What is the background of the river kayak trend?

In recent years we have seen an entire segment of kayak anglers towing trailers and launching from boat ramps. This drives the market toward larger and heavier designs. Angler-centric improvements are fantastic, but there are so many great fishable waterways requiring a lighter, simpler kayak and a motivated angler. That’s where the river-specific category makes sense: the design really enhances river fishing techniques making fishing safer. —Hans Nutz

As the sport is maturing, new kayaks are intended for specific disciplines without compromising versatility. To us, the systems in a kayak are the most important and valuable aspects. The features should be built around management systems and efficiency. —James Derbecker

What are the latest trends in hull design?

A good river hull provides stability for standup fishing with maneuverability to ferry through moderate rapids. The simple explanation is that the boat needs enough rocker, bow to stern upsweep, to deflect and pivot in current to find eddylines and ferry up or down rapids. With the right hull, I cover more water, make more casts and spook fewer fish. —Hans Nutz

man paddles a river kayak through rapids below a dam
River kayaks excel where pedals and motors go to die. | Photo: Courtesy Jackson Kayak

What are the most recent topside features?

Recessed accessories are less likely to hit a rock or inhibit exiting and entering the kayak. Gear is secured with cam straps and watertight hatches. Rod stagers prevent my rods from banging around and getting tangled. When things go sideways, I don’t end up with a yard sale. —Drew Gregory

River anglers are looking for access. They may be lowering the boat down a steep bank and portaging around rapids and over shoals. Hull weight, simple rigging and plenty of grab handles make fishing easier and safer. —Hans Nutz

The top requests are horizontal rod storage, a stiff deck for standup fishing, gear tracks and rigging options for an anchoring system. We included a large tankwell and bow hatch with below-deck access for gear and rigging. —Jameson Redding

a Bonafide fishing kayak sits on the river bank near a bridge
Access is key. | Photo: Courtesy Bonafide Kayaks

The final touch

I want a very durable kayak. When I launch on a river, I want to feel confident my hull can handle the wear and tear. I want to make it back without hiking out. Technology in rotomolded plastic has come a long way in the last 15 years and most top U.S. manufacturers are building very solid boats for river anglers. —Drew Gregory

There’s this whole trend in kayak river fishing, there’s a beauty in kayak river fishing, it’s the one place that equalizes the technology. There’s a faction of guys who are turning kayaks into small motorboats, and there are guys who maintain this purity of kayaking and kayak fishing as a whole. There’s not a lot of room for extra stuff on the river. —James Derbecker

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.

When the going gets rough, get a river kayak. | Feature photo: Courtesy Crescent Kayaks




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