Kayak fishing on a river requires unique knowledge about angling and paddling—you’ll need to learn how to read the water to know where to cast, and how to read water to know where to paddle. It also requires a more specialized kayak, one that can handle the changing variables you might find along a river.
If you’ll only be fishing wide, slow-moving rivers, an all-around fishing kayak will provide you with the performance and features you need. However, narrower, windier and faster-moving rivers are more safely and enjoyably navigated on a river fishing kayak. These kayaks track well in flatwater sections, while being maneuverable in low-class rapids. This maneuverability also translates to being able to negotiate obstacles and tight corners, which are part and parcel on rivers. At the same time, a good river kayak will be stable enough for you to stand and fish from, and provide all the storage space and fishing features you’d expect from any other fishing kayak.
Because of their shorter length, many river fishing kayaks are naturally on the lighter weight end of the spectrum. This can make it easier to launch from the steep and uneven terrain that’s characteristic of many riverbanks. If you often put-in in difficult spots, pay extra attention to weight when selecting a river fishing kayak.
These river fishing kayaks from Old Town, Feelfree Kayaks, Hobie, Vibe Kayaks, Wilderness Systems, Bonafide Kayaks, Ocean Kayak, Perception, Kaku Kayak, Native Watercraft, NuCanoe, Pelican, Viking Kayaks, Advanced Elements and Jackson Adventures offer a variety of features to help you fish and explore winding waterways to your heart’s content.
Here are the best river fishing kayaks on the market today:
- Old Town Topwater 106
- Feelfree Lure 11.5
- Hobie Mirage Outback
- Vibe Sea Ghost 110
- Wilderness Systems Ride 115
- Bonafide SS107
- Ocean Trident 11
- Perception Pescador Pro 10.0
- Kaku Wahoo 10.5
- Native Watercraft Slayer 12
- NuCanoe Flint
- Pelican Sentinel 100XR Angler
- Viking Profish GT
- Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler
- Jackson Bite Angler
[This article is part of the Kayak Angler Buyer’s Guide for The Best Fishing Kayaks For 2021. Find all the best fishing kayaks from the top brands for all situations.]
The Topwater 106 from Old Town offers large fishing kayak performance in a compact, nimble package. A marriage of stability and performance, the Topwater—with the all-new ultra-stable DoubleU Hull—quietly glides through any water condition while providing a stable, comfortable standup fishing platform. Equipped with thoughtful on-board tackle and rod management and a revolutionary universal transducer mount, even the saltiest of anglers will be impressed by the overall fishability of the new Topwater series. At 10’6″ in length, the 106 is easy to maneuver. At 73 pounds, it’s easy to transport. And with a 440-pound weight capacity, it’ll support you and all your gear with no worries.
The Lure 11.5 from Feelfree Kayaks is a versatile kayak designed for fishing or other activities where stability, capacity and an open deck space are necessary. A key feature of the Lure 11.5 is a removable sonar and electronic pod, making it easy to install a fish finder. The kayak comes with a variety of comfort features including the removable, multi-height adjustable Gravity Seat and Wheel in the Keel. The Lure 11.5 is also available with the Overdrive Pedal & Motor System.
The Mirage Outback from Hobie is a fully loaded fishing machine that’s built for every conceivable fishing expedition, whether you’re prowling the ocean for monster gamefish or stalking bass in your favorite freshwater fishing hole. This boat is propelled by the efficient reversing MirageDrive 180 with Kick-Up Fins, which automatically retract upon impact. The extra-wide standing deck offers an improved casting platform and convenient vantage point for sight fishing. Other features include the new Vantage CTW seat, providing extra width for unmatched room and comfort, as well as four molded-in rod holders, multiple deluxe H-Track mounts and more.
The Sea Ghost from Vibe Kayaks is built for adventure. This kayak provides the best of speed and stability so you can maneuver flatwater, rivers and tight quarters with ease. The well-balanced hull provides unparalleled performance while the included rudder system saves you energy during long paddles, windy days and strong currents. The dual-position Vibe Hero seat provides comfort and support for long days on the water. Features include two flush mount rod holders, four integrated top-loading gear tracks, side side bungee paddle parks, a fish finder transducer port and more.
The Ride 115 from Wilderness Systems is a sit-on-top kayak designed bow-to-stern for paddlers and anglers looking to push their limits. This boat is compact and nimble for extra responsiveness in tight rivers and creeks, yet with enough speed and glide needed for covering water to get to your destination. The AirPro Freedom Elite seating system provides comfort and functionality as it both slides and can be fully removed. And the wide standing platform and overall stability make it possible to stand and fish with confidence.
View all Wilderness Systems river fishing kayaks.
A shorter version of its big brother, the SS107 from Bonafide Kayaks offers virtually all the same features of the larger model, coming in at 10’7” in length for those looking for improved portability and transportation options. It retains the hybrid catamaran hull design and HiRise seating system and an almost identical deck space for standing and moving around the boat. There are very few fishing kayak options in the 10’ to 11’ range that offer these kind of high-end feature sets, making the SS107 a great choice.
View all Bonafide river fishing kayaks.
The Trident 11 from Ocean Kayak is the most compact kayak in the Trident fleet and is built for convenience, agility and easy transportation. The all-new Mod Pod makes storing and organizing your gear a breeze. Other features include two flush mounted rod holders, gunnel accessory tracks, a paddle holder with rod rest, an oversized tankwell and more. This boat is a great choice for inland waters, slow-moving rivers and moderate ocean swells.
The Pescador Pro series of sit-on-top fishing kayaks from Perception Kayaks are outfitted with the features and performance serious anglers demand. Fast, stable and designed to track straight in variable conditions, the Pescador Pro 10.0 is the total package for effortlessly covering water on your favorite lake, pond or flatwater river to find the fish. Smart features include secure attachment and storage zones to keep gear within reach. All in a boat that’s lightweight for easy transport and storage.
View all Perception river fishing kayaks.
The Wahoo 10.5 from Kaku Kayaks provides fishing performance in a compact design. It’s stable for easy standing, has an aggressive bow and deep keel for straight tracking and easy maneuverability, and features Micro Power-Pole integrated mounting to boot. Also included are a raised aluminum chair, aluminum top-load gear tracks and two flush-mounted rod holders. Kaku Kayaks shaved 2 feet and almost 10 pounds off the Wahoo 12.5 and created the Kaku Wahoo 10.5. The goal was to create a more compact fishing kayak without compromising on features from its big brother, so they flattened the rocker to make sure it was easy to stand on, lowered the keel to maintain good tracking and added a sick deck pad. This easy-to-handle, quick little ‘yak has all the features of the Wahoo 12.5, minus a little storage.
The Slayer 12 from Native Watercraft shares simplicity, easy customization and rock-solid stability. It features high/low seating positions for out-of-the-wind paddling and comfortable ergonomic fishing. Fish and depth finders are a cinch to mount. A clean, open cockpit makes it perfect for stripping line while fly fishing, and allows bait casters freedom of movement when snatching that big bass. Other features include two flush mount rod holders, a rear 5″ dry storage hatch, a tackle box keeper with bungee, adjustable foot braces and more.
The Flint from NuCanoe brings unprecedented performance, features and quality to the sub-$1,000 fishing kayak market. The Flint has rock-solid stability, while being fast and nimble. Featuring a clean open deck and all the features an angler would need—rod storage, tackle storage, gear mounting, paddler holders, and a Pinnacle Seat providing all-day comfort—this ‘yak rocks on choppy surf and cruises on calm days.
The Sentinel 100XR Angler from Pelican is tailored to the angler looking for exceptional comfort and quality features that will make their experience more enjoyable. At only 50 pounds and with its ergonomic carrying handles, the Sentinel 100XR is easy to carry around, transport and store. This kayak comes equipped with Pelican’s Ergocast SB Seating System—an extremely comfortable chair that allows you to adjust seat tension to make sure you get the support you need.
View all Pelican river fishing kayaks.
At just under 12 feet long, the Profish GT from Viking Kayaks is designed for paddlers of all experience levels and sizes looking for a compact paddling and fishing platform that is exceptionally easy to handle both on and off the water. This boat is compact, easily managed and incredibly maneuverable. The stability of the Profish GT will appeal to both all-water anglers and recreational paddlers looking for a worry-free ride. New for 2020 is the optional High Seat for an elevated perspective.
Designed for the kayak angler, the StraitEdge Angler from Advanced Elements has great stability, multi-layer material, and multiple air chambers, providing maximum durability for aggressive conditions. Its removable Accessory Frame allows anglers to customize the kayak with aftermarket accessories. This inflatable kayak also features a high-back lumbar seat with rod holders, D-rings, deck lacing, paddle holders and a patented aluminum rib-frame technology for superior tracking and performance.
View all Advanced Elements river fishing kayaks.
The Bite Angler from Jackson Adventures performs to the paddleability and stability standards you are used to, while not skimping on comfort. The open-concept deck features numerous storage placeholders for standard-sized tackle boxes. Flush mount rod holders as well as long-awaited integrated recessed cup holders, gear tracks on both sides, adjustable foot braces and a hog trough recess make the Bite a full-featured kayak. This boat is at home across a variety of waterways, including small lakes and rivers, ponds, streams and inshore saltwater.
View all Jackson river fishing kayaks.
How we chose the best river fishing kayaks
We consider several factors when choosing the best river 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 kayak 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 kayak for fishing rivers
Use the Kayak Angler Buyer’s Guide’s reviews, specs and expert rankings to help you find the right kayak at the right price. Find all the best fishing kayaks from the top brands for all situations in The Best Fishing Kayaks for 2021.