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Best Fishing Canoes Reviewed: Solo, Tandem, and Square-Sterns Compared

Last Updated: October 27th, 2020
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While bass boats may dominate your local lake on the weekends, legions of anglers are discovering the advantages of fishing from a canoe.

Not only can you access water far too shallow for larger boats, hitting spots that hold unpressured fish, but you can also save tens of thousands of dollars by skipping the huge outboards, batteries, and electronics.

Has that got you interested? If you’re thinking about taking the plunge on a fishing canoe, we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find a buying guide as well as reviews of some of our favorites:

Quick glance at the best fishing canoes available today:

Tandem Fishing Canoes

Solo Fishing Canoes

Square-Sterned Fishing Canoes

Related: Best Inflatable Fishing Boat, Best Trolling Motors

Best Fishing Canoes Reviewed

Tandem Fishing Canoes

Old Town Discovery 133 Recreational

Old Town Discovery 133 Recreational Canoe, Green, 13 Feet 3 Inches

Amazon 

Material: three-layer polyethylene (thermoplastic)

Length: 13’ 3”

Weight: 78 lbs.

Depth: 14”

Beam: 39”

Capacity: 800 lbs.

Old Town is a legendary name in the world of canoeing.

Tough, no-nonsense durability is something the Discovery series is well-known for, and the 133 is certainly no exception. Its three-layer thermoplastic hull can absorb hard impacts, and even dents tend to undo themselves in the sun!

At 13’ 3”, the 133 provides plenty of space for two anglers and their gear, including tackle bags and boxes, a cooler, and plenty of rods and reels.

And with a generous beam, the 133 has proven to be quite stable. Over the years, it’s earned a place in the hearts of plenty of lake and river anglers. And with capacity to spare, it tends to have a very shallow draught, allowing you to paddle in barely any water at all and reducing the need to portage.

There’s plenty of depth at the center point, too, and 14” strikes a good balance between keeping you dry and not turning into a full-on sail in the wind. That said, expect some effect on breezy days, especially if you’re on an open lake.

For fishermen who make long paddles to their honey-holes, the 133 is an especially good choice: it’s compatible with Old Town’s after-market transom, allowing you to run a trolling motor!

This canoe comes with three web seats and no back support, so be aware that this can be an issue for older anglers or those whose lower back demands more than a bench-style option.

And though just 78 pounds, at more than 13 feet in length, the 133 will be a handful for one person. If you’re very strong and use good technique, loading this canoe onto a car or SUV roof is doable, but you’ll probably want a friend!

Overall, Discovery’s 133 is an excellent tandem fishing canoe that’s a proven performer in lakes and calmer rivers.

Pros:

  • Very tough
  • Relatively light
  • Plenty of space for gear
  • Very stable
  • Compatible with an after-market transom

Cons:

  • The web seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs

Mad River Journey 156 - Best Tandem Fishing Canoe for the Money

Material: Triple-tough TT polyethylene (thermoplastic)

Length: 15’ 6”

Weight: 83 lbs.

Depth: 14.5”

Beam: 35.25”

Capacity: 1100 lbs.

Mad River is known to make excellent canoes, and they’re a direct competitor in quality and price with Old Town.

The Journey 156 is a durable canoe that can really take a beating, though the exterior surface will show its scars. That said, plenty of 156 owners see these as a badge of pride: just more proof that these canoes can take the worst nature can dish out.

Fully 15’ 6” long, space is never a problem for anglers who choose the 156. If you like a full-size cooler, pack a ton of gear, or like the idea of a multi-day fishing expedition, the Journey 156 is head to beat. In my experience, there’s room for pretty much anything you’d like to bring!

This canoe paddles well--indeed, far better than the Discovery 133--which is only to be expected given its water-line length and svelte beam. But beware: it’s not quite as stable as the paunchier 133, and if that worries you, this might not be the best choice.

But on long paddles, the Journey 156 really shines.

It features plenty of depth, keeping you dry when the water threatens to splash over the top of the gunnel, but it may not be the ideal choice for open water and breezy days.

And like the 133, the Journey 156 comes standard with web seating--not the greatest choice for anglers with troublesome backs--though optional rotomolded plastic seating is available for both bow and stern.

Of course, that length increases weight and encumbrance, and this canoe is reasonably beyond the limit one person can handle for loading and unloading. It’s also pretty darn long for roof carry, though it can be done if you’re careful, read your owner’s manual, and take the time to do it right.

If you need speed, massive carrying capacity for expedition fishing, or just like a lot of space for your gear, this canoe is an awesome choice.

Pros:

  • Very tough
  • Massive space for gear
  • Nicely stable
  • Fast
  • Ridiculous capacity

Cons:

  • The web seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs
  • This canoe approaches the limit for car- or SUV-top transport

Wenonah Spirit II Ultra-light with Aramid - Best High-End Tandem Fishing Canoe

Material: Aramid fabric and aluminum plating

Length: 17’

Weight: 42 lbs.

Depth: 14”

Beam: 35.5”

Capacity: ?

For anglers who demand the ultimate in performance from their gear, the Wenonah Spirit II fills the bill.

Wenonah makes very high-end canoes, and their Ultra-light with Aramid is among the best of the bunch. Built from Aramid fabric, which is also used in lightweight body armor, and reinforced where necessary with slim aluminum panels, this canoe is as tough as they come.

It’s also ridiculously light. At 17’, it weighs in at just 42 pounds, making it a handful for one person to handle due to encumbrance, but a breeze for two. If you fish streams that demand portage, I can’t think of a better choice.

But think carefully: this is a long canoe for roof carry! Plan accordingly, and make sure you’re well-prepared with the right equipment for your vehicle.

As you’d expect at this length, the Spirit II also provides tons of room, and like the Journey 156, it’s an excellent expedition fishing choice. You’ll find space for a big cooler, all your tackle, and two big anglers, no sweat!

The Spirit II paddles like a dream, gliding through the water like nothing else. Chalk that up to huge displacement, light weight, long waterline length, and just the right amount of rocker. Of course, this has something to do with slim lines, too, and you can expect stability to suffer a touch.

Expert paddlers aren’t going to notice, but most anglers will.

Expect two web seats with the usual caveats for comfort.

The Spirit II Ultra-Light is a spectacularly capable canoe, and if you find yourself portaging a lot, it’s worth every penny.

Pros:

  • Impressively tough
  • Amazingly light
  • Massive space for gear
  • Pretty stable
  • Very fast

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • The web seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs
  • This canoe approaches the limit for car- or SUV-top transport

Solo Fishing Canoes

Golden Hawk 12’9” Traditional

Material: fiberglass composite with an aluminum keel

Length: 12’ 9”

Weight: 55 lbs.

Depth: 13”

Beam: ?

Capacity: 750 lbs.

The Golden Hawk Traditional is an excellent solo canoe for anglers, providing great stability and plenty of room with enormous capacity that keeps it high in the water.

Famous among trappers, hunters, and anglers, the 12’ 9” Traditional is bomb-proof, as it’s proven over the decades in real-world conditions. Fiberglass composite and a tough aluminum keel shrug off impacts with stumps and rocks, without adding a lot of weight.

And despite its short length, it offers plenty of space for gear, explaining why people who live and work in the outdoors love this canoe. An individual cooler, a tackle bag or two, two or three rods, paddles: there’ll still be room for more!

While the lines on the Traditional don’t promise a lot of speed, they offer fantastic stability and plenty of depth to keep you dry.

Capacity is outstanding for a canoe this size, and with normal loads, you’ll draw very little water, allowing you to slide into places with just a trickle between you and the bottom.

Short enough for roof carry, the Traditional weighs 55 pounds, putting it at the upper end for one person to load and unload from a rooftop. 

Expect wooden plank seating, which can be hard on your butt and back.

Pros:

  • Very tough
  • Fairly light
  • Massive space for gear
  • Extremely stable
  • Crazy capacity

Cons:

  • Slow if you have a long way to paddle
  • The plank seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs

Old Town Discovery 119 - Best Solo Fishing Canoe for the Money

Material: three-layer polyethylene (thermoplastic)

Length: 11’ 9”

Weight: 49 lbs.

Depth: 13.5”

Beam: 31”

Capacity: 500 lbs.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see another Old Town on our list, in this case the unexcelled Discovery 119. An irresistible option for solo anglers, this little canoe is just about perfect.

Made from the same durable three-layer polyethylene as the 133, I doubt there’s anything you can do to this canoe that hasn’t been done countless times before--and with just as little impact on its performance. Slam it into rocks and stumps--it can take it!

Realistically, that shouldn't be much of a problem. At just under 12’, the Discovery 119 is maneuverable, but its wide beam and excellent stability impair its speed. That’s to be expected, and for anglers, it’s not a bad trade-off.

Space is abundant, both fore and aft of the center web seat. For solo expeditions or a long day on the water chasing fish, you’ll have no trouble storing gear like dry bags, tackle boxes, or a small cooler.

And at just 49 pounds, this short canoe isn’t much trouble to load or transport, making it a great option for solo anglers who need to drive to and from the water with their canoe.

As you’d expect, the web seating can be murder on your back, but that’s about the only drawback to this little canoe.

Pros:

  • Very tough
  • Surprisingly light
  • Massive space for gear
  • Extremely stable
  • Good capacity

Cons:

  • Slow if you have a long way to paddle
  • The plank seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs

Square-Sterned Fishing Canoes

Esquif Heron - Best Square-Stern Fishing Canoe

Material: T Formex (thermoplastic laminate)

Length: 14’ 6”

Weight: 69 lbs.

Depth: 14”

Beam: ?

Capacity: 800 lbs.

Esquif is a premium canoe name in Canada, and they’re winning converts below the border as more and more anglers come to know their products.

The Heron is among the best they offer, and to my mind, among the best on the market.

Made from durable thermoplastic laminate, the Heron can take a pounding. Designed with the needs of northern anglers in mind, it can take bigger waves than most and would be ideal for fishing the Great Lakes or any other body of water where chop and swells can be a problem.

A relatively wide beam and high gunnels work together, promising excellent stability and keeping you dry to boot.

When paddling, the Heron is compliant, though not fast, and frankly, there are better paddling options like the Journey 156. But with the capacity for a 3HP outboard, the Heron is simply a beast on open water!

For anglers who need to make long runs to and from their fishing spots, the Heron is ideal. Equipped with a small outboard, it simply flies across the water, and from running bayous in Louisiana to the Lake of the Woods in Oregon, it’s as fine a square-stern canoe as you can find.

Space is excellent in this canoe, with plenty of room for two anglers’ gear. Coolers, tackle bags, and rods won’t be cramped or in danger of taking a dip.

Expect the usual web seating, with all that entails.

At 14’ 6” and 69 pounds, the Heron can be a handful. I’d probably trailer this canoe or slide it into the bed of a truck, as the total weight with outboard and fuel is going to be heavy.

Pros:

  • Very tough
  • Very seaworthy
  • Fantastic space for gear
  • Extremely stable
  • Excellent capacity

Cons:

  • Heavy with outboard
  • The plank seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs

Grumman 16' Square-Stern

Grumman 16' Square-Stern - Burgundy

Amazon 

Material: .125” aluminum alloy

Length: 15’ 7”

Weight: 75 lbs.

Depth: 13.25”

Beam: 36.25”

Capacity: 650 lbs.

The time-tested Grumman 16’ is a long-distance angler's best friend. Produced by the aerospace company behind the B-2 stealth bomber, it’s fair to say that they know aircraft-grade aluminum construction pretty well!

Built from a .125-inch thick aluminum alloy, the Grumman can really absorb hard impacts and has proven itself time and time again in the hands of anglers and sportsmen. It’s tough, tough, tough.

The 16’ Square-Stern handles well under human power, and its generous beam makes it pretty darn stable, too. I’d compare it in this sense with the excellent Mad River Journey 156, which is saying a lot.

But that’s not where this canoe really struts its stuff.

Designed to be driven by a 5HP or smaller outboard, the 16’ is crazy fast, making it an excellent choice for long rides to and from your boat launch. While not as capable on open water as the Huron, the Grumman is no slouch, and I wouldn’t hesitate to run this canoe for inshore reds in the saltmarshes of Louisiana, Texas, or Florida.

It provides loads of space for gear and reasonable capacity for a canoe this size--though again, I’d give the Huron the nod on this front, too.

Expect aluminum plank seating in the bow and a square-ish seat in the stern.

And like the Huron, this isn’t a canoe I’d like to transport a lot.

Pros:

  • Extremely tough
  • Pretty seaworthy
  • Great space for gear
  • Very stable
  • Excellent capacity

Cons:

  • Heavy with outboard
  • The plank seating isn’t kind to those with bad backs

Common Fishing Canoe Materials

Wood

Traditionally, canoes were made from wood (or bark), and strip-wood canoes are still available--if you can afford them!

I doubt you can find a more beautiful material for building a canoe than strips of wood.

And while wood is certainly not a space-age material, these hand-built canoes are designed by true masters. Indeed, canoe experts say that a well-crafted wooden canoe is so much faster and easier to paddle that nothing else even compares.

The downsides of wooden construction are obvious: cost and low durability compared to modern materials.

We’re going to skip wood canoes in our reviews as they’re just too expensive for what you get, easily exceeding the price of ultra-lights like the Wenonah Spirit II.

Aluminum

Aluminum canoes are constructed from durable, lightweight aluminum or aluminum alloys. 

Tough as nails, I’ve used aluminum canoes on rivers and lakes, and let me tell you, they can take a beating like nothing else!

Aluminum canoes are a staple for outfitters.

Impervious to the effects of UV, they can be left in the sun without fear of long-term damage. 

They’re also surprisingly light for their size.

The downside of aluminum is that if you do manage to puncture it, you’ll need an expert welder to make a repair. A minor issue is that it’s also cold in winter and hot in summer, and is pretty noisy when you hit the gunnel with a paddle. 

Thermoplastics

Various plastics, some filled with foam to improve floatation, are used in canoe construction, and plastic canoes are now among the most common and popular that you’ll find. Bomb-proof, a good thermoplastic canoe can shrug off impacts from rocks and stumps like nothing happened.

Plastic canoes are tough as nails!

The thermoplastics used in these types of canoes are relatively inexpensive, keeping costs down. But the final results are typically heavier than aluminum.

And that weight is the chief downside of thermoplastic. Additionally, keep in mind that long-term UV exposure will weaken all plastics--so these canoes need to be kept out of the sun!

Fiberglass composites

Fiberglass canoes are often shaped by hand, and the fiberglass fabrics and resins they’re made from allow very clean lines. As a result, these canoes tend to be fast and easy to handle, and if made well, quite light, too.

A good fiberglass canoe can be lightning fast.

In my experience, the only downside to fiberglass composite is impact durability. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with this material, and where rocks and other hazards are a problem, I’d give it a pass.

But on open lakes and clear rivers, it’s amazing.

Kevlar/Aramid composites

Kevlar is tough stuff, and it’s commonly used in bullet-proof vests and body armor as a result. It’s also amazingly strong for weight, allowing very light, very durable canoes to be built from it.

You won’t find a lighter, stronger canoe than kevlar composite.

But as you’d expect, this is a case of pick two: cheap, strong, or light. You’ll pay a premium for a kevlar composite canoe, but you’ll love it every time you need to pick it up!

What We Consider When Selecting a Fishing Canoe

Depth

Depth is the distance from the top of the gunnel to the bottom of the canoe. Basically, it tells you how tall the sides are.

Depth primarily affects two things: how dry you and your gear will stay and how badly the wind will catch your canoe.

Obviously, the greater the depth, the dryer you’ll stay, but the more trouble you’ll have when fishing in the wind.

In my experience, being pushed by the wind matters quite a bit on lakes, and it can become a real nuisance.

Beam

Beam is a measure of how wide your canoe is at the waterline.

Wider beams typically mean greater stability, and they can certainly more easily accommodate larger items like coolers. But wide beams typically mean slower canoes, so this is something of a trade-off.

Seating

A variety of seat styles are available in canoes, ranging from molded seats to simple planks.

Canoes are a little harder on your lower back and butt than a good kayak or bass boat, and that’s something you should consider carefully.

If possible, give any canoe you’re considering a long sit and assess how comfortable you are. If your back aches after a few minutes, it’ll be a misery to fish all day.

Capacity

Canoes were initially designed to allow the transportation of heavy loads in relatively shallow water, and they can hold an amazing amount of weight.

Keep in mind that you may often have two anglers as well as all their gear. That weight adds up quickly!

Maneuverability

All other things being equal, the shorter a canoe, the more maneuverable it’ll be, but the less well it will run in a straight line (tracking).

This is affected by keel design and the curve from bow to stern (rocker).

For smaller water, more maneuverability can be a big plus. But for long trips, better tracking is important.

Weight and Transport

The total weight of a canoe matters every time you pull it from the water. And whether you’re dragging it across the beach, up a grassy slope, or portaging it across a particularly shallow section of a river, weight matters.

But so too does length, as the weight and length work together to increase encumbrance. Basically, a 70 lb. canoe that’s 9 feet long will be easier to handle than a 70 lb. canoe that’s 12 feet long.

And for anglers who’ll be transporting a canoe in a truck or on the roof of their car, these numbers really matter!

Assess your level of fitness and strength carefully. Can you lift your solo canoe by yourself, stowing it for transport? Can you and your fishing partner lift your tandem without extra help?

Is your canoe’s length appropriate for your means of transport?

Measure carefully: a mistake will make your canoe worthless to you!

Canoe Types for Fishing

Solo canoes

Solo canoes are typically shorter, lighter, and less capacious than their tandem brethren. Designed for a single paddler to sit near the stern, they tend to be pretty maneuverable but may suffer a bit in terms of speed.

Solo canoes are a great option if you tend to fish alone.

Tandem canoes

Tandem canoes are designed for two or more people, and they’re typically larger than solos. They can hold more gear, and given their length, they tend to be a bit faster and track better than solos, too. But they’re often less maneuverable, especially when paddled by a single person.

A tandem can be paddled alone, but there’s space for two.

Square-stern canoes

Square-stern canoes are designed to accommodate a trolling motor or small outboard engine.

If you need to run miles to your fishing hole, a square-stern canoe might be the best choice.

For long trips, these are hard to beat!

Final Thoughts

We hope that this article has helped you narrow your choices for a new fishing canoe, and if it has, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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