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Best Fishing Kayaks - Angler's Buying Guide For 2021

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The first time I took a fishing kayak out onto a pond, I was shocked by how stealthy it was for approaching bass without spooking them. And when I learned that it could take me and my tackle miles up the Chickahominy without worrying too much about the tide, it really expanded my fishing options.

As many anglers can attest, a good kayak is an ideal fishing platform. Sea-worthy, stealthy, and loaded with storage options, the right ‘yak is a game-changer.

If you’re looking for a new fishing kayak, we’re here to help!

Below, you’ll find a complete buying guide as well as reviews of some of our favorites: 

Related:

Best Fishing Kayaks Reviewed

Old Town Predator PDL

Length: 13’ 2”

Beam: 36”

Weight: 117 lbs.

Maximum capacity: 500 lbs.

The Old Town Predator PDL really demonstrates the company’s extensive real-world experience building the dominant line of canoes in America. And from a carefully designed hull to the right kinds of storage, to an exceptional pedal drive, the Predator PDL has it all.

The Predator PDL’s stability is exceptional, and while seated, it would take pretty rough surf or a massive wake to cause any trouble at all. For anglers who sight fish in bays, estuaries, and mudflats, this kayak is an awesome choice. Standing is no sweat, and there’s plenty of room to maneuver your feet and get into the right position.

This is complemented by a non-slip surface that improves traction underfoot, even when wet, slimy, or bloody.

On rivers, streams, ponds, and small lakes, the Predator’s stability comes in handy in rough water, when fighting big fish, or when leaning over the gunnel to deal with a snag or land a big one.

Hatch storage is generous, though not nearly as user-friendly as I’d like it to be. Expect a small watertight compartment immediately in front of the chair and a larger hatch at the bow. There are plenty of mounting points for accessories and two molded rod holders behind the seat.

You’ll also find a transducer scupper ready to accept all major brands of fish finders, which is a really nice touch, and two built-in rod holders to the rear of the chair. The rear well is spacious, offering plenty of tackle options, and the raised seating lets you slide a tackle box or two out of the way there.

Old Town equips the Predator with a comfortable seat, and you can expect no trouble on this front.

The PDL drive that Old Town equips this ‘yak with is powerful and dependable, and it’ll get you where you need to be in a hurry. Providing more than enough oomph to fight the current and wind, the Predator cuts the water pretty well, tracks straight, and comes with an effective, easy-to-use rudder.

Overall, this is a winning combination of elegant design and careful engineering that won’t disappoint.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Non-slip deck
  • Lots of storage
  • Good hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat that increases storage
  • Excellent pedal drive

Cons:

  • Hatch design lags a touch behind the competition
  • Heavy!

Wilderness Systems Radar 135 - Most Versatile Fishing Kayak

Length: 13’ 6”

Beam: 34”

Weight: 95 lbs. (without drives)

Maximum capacity: 475 lbs.

The engineers at Wilderness Systems have probably forgotten more about kayak design than most people will ever know, and their robust experience and eye for detail really show in the Radar 135.

Stability is excellent, as you’d expect, and I’d trust this ‘yak to stay upright in really terrible conditions. In normal swells, it’s confidence-inspiring and feels like you’re sitting over a deep, heavy keel. Surely stable enough for sight fishing from your feet, I think the ATAK 140 is a better option for anglers who are dedicated to standing.

That’s just a question of deck design and space.

One place the Radar 135 really shines is hatch placement and design. Immediately in front of the seat, you’ll find a large rectangular hatch that’s easy to access and plenty secure. Ideal for things like a cell phone or radio, you can count on the gasket and design to keep your stuff dry, even when you take water from a wave. 

Farther forward, there’s another hatch near the bow. 

Two pod systems offer lots of possibilities. Both can take electronics like fish finders, and for paddle-minded anglers, they make a lot of sense. But each can also be swapped out with a drive system; the smaller switches out for the Helix PD; the other swaps out for the Helix MD.

With either drive system installed, the other pod offers electronics mounting options, making this a very versatile system that’s clearly thought out.

The Helix PD is a propeller-driven pedal drive delivering plenty of power and ease-of-use. It’ll turn the Radar 135 into a rocket, and it’s almost an essential if you’re making long trips fighting the current and wind. Paired with an excellent rudder system, actuated via a hand lever on the left, the Radar 135 is very easy to keep tracking straight in all but the worst conditions.

The Helix MD is a propeller-driven motor with an onboard battery. Developing power equivalent to a 1 HP outboard, to say this thing really scoots is an understatement! Capable of nearly 6 mph and maximum running times of more than 8 hours, the Helix MD is impressive.

Let’s take a closer look.

The Helix MD drops in place of the forward pod. Drawing juice from a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, you can expect charging from nothing to full in about 12 hours. With reasonable throttle settings, all-day power is pretty much guaranteed, but as the engineers warn, wind, current, and the tide can affect battery life by making that motor work harder than your speed might reveal.

Quiet enough for big water, though slightly louder than a quality trolling motor, you can count me as a big fan of the Helix MD.

But--and this is huge--this motor costs way more than the kayak itself, about 40% more! Even the Helix PD is roughly the price of this boat.

Now, that’s a big sticker shock, but the basic price of this ‘yak plus these options still places it neck and neck with the Old Town, Jackson Kayak, and Hobie price points. The bottom line: if you want a pedal drive, you’ll be looking at roughly the same money across the board. Step up to an electric motor, and the price soars from there.

The seat on the Radar 135 is very comfortable, offering all-day pampering and no issues. Multiple seating positions and easy adjustability are hallmarks of this system.

The rear well is big, offering plenty of storage options, too.

Overall, I really like the Radar 135. It’s well-thought-out, carefully designed, and packed with features that matter in the real world. Both the pedal and motor drives perform well, and other than the price of these additions, there’s nothing to complain about.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Lots of storage
  • Removable, modular electronics pods
  • Good hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat that’s easy to adjust
  • Awesome pedal drive
  • Excellent motor drive

Cons:

  • Super expensive drive options!!
  • Heavy!

Jackson Kayaks Big Rig FD - Most Stable Fishing Kayak

Length: 13’ 3”

Beam: 40”

Weight: 145 lbs.

Maximum capacity: 550 lbs.

Jackson Kayaks is a premier manufacturer of high-end ‘yaks, and you can count on quality from stem to stern. Their Big Rig FD was designed specifically for anglers, and whether you tackle the salt or a massive lake, it’s outfitted to make the most of your fishing opportunities.

Stability is simply ridiculous in this kayak, and you’d need to try to flip it to even have a chance at that. Clearly, the engineers at Jackson Kayaks spent some time on hull design, and given the massive beam, I’d trust this boat for sight fishing without a second question. It’s equally confidence-inspiring in bad swells, and I think you’d be fine rocking really hard to the side.

Details like two rod guards on each side really tell, and for launching in the surf where a roll might mean broken tackle, this is a nod to real-world experience that you don’t often see. They make for a great “docking system” for holding and changing rods, too.

Two excellent hatches, one fore and one aft, offer plenty of access below deck, keeping your gear dry pretty much no matter what happens. The front hatch includes a removable bin that’s ideal for storing things like phones, radios, or lunch, where they’ll stay high and dry.

The Flex Drive system that powers this ‘yak is a pedal drive that’s very hard to beat. Like the rest of the Big Rig, it’s cleverly designed and reflects real-world experience. Powerful and effective, it swivels upward to allow for shallow draughts and bumps, keeping the prop out of harm’s way and letting you access tight spots.

Steering happens through a rudder control on the right, and this combo makes tracking in currents and winds essentially effortless.

And like the Wilderness Systems Radar 135, there’s a motor option called the Flex Drive E. Be warned: it’s very expensive and getting even more so recently.

Unlike the Radar 135, however, you must pick either the pedal or motor, as they fill the same slot in the hull. To my mind, that’s an inferior option, but you may not agree, and plenty of people won’t.

The Flex Drive E draws power from any standard 12 or 24 V lithium marine battery, not included in the cost of the drive. If you’re not familiar with battery tech, that’s going to add a hefty additional cost on top of an already expensive addition. It’ll also require you to find space for that battery and run the cables to the motor.

In contrast to the Helix MD, that means less space, more weight, higher cost, and added hassle.

Recharging times and discharge rates depend on factors that are too various for me to analyze, and this is definitely a case where your mileage will vary. For instance, which battery you choose to run this motor matters as much as it would with a trolling motor, and as usual, your battery will run down more quickly at higher throttle settings and with more wind, current, and tide to fight.

Finally, the seating system on the Big Rig is simply awesome, feeling very much like you’re in a comfy chair on dry land.

It should be clear that I like this kayak a lot, and it’s among the best of the bunch without question. Like the Wilderness Systems’s competitor, the motor option comes at a premium many anglers simply won’t pay, but the pedal drive-equipped standard model is nothing to sneeze at. Fast, easy to steer, and packed with features, it’s an awesome choice for big water.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Lots of storage
  • Awesome rod protecting system
  • Great hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat that’s easy to adjust
  • Excellent pedal drive

Cons:

  • Super expensive drive options!!
  • The Flex Drive E depends on an additional aftermarket battery
  • Heavy!
  •  

Vibe Sea Ghost 130 - Best Budget Fishing Kayak

Length: 13’

Beam: 33.5”

Weight: 92 lbs.

Maximum capacity: 550 lbs.

A pedal drive or motor isn’t essential for angling, and plenty of hard-core fishermen just can’t afford a kayak with these options. Vibe knows this, and the Sea Ghost 130 is a great option for people who can’t take out a second mortgage to buy a nice ‘yak.

Check out our buying guide and reviews for the best ocean fishing kayak

Vibe has thought through the design of this angling-centric boat, and without a doubt, you’ll find what you need for your next adventure.

Stability is great, though probably not on par with the Hobie or Big Rig. That’s ok in my book because you’ll be paddling this ‘yak, and widening the beam any further would really make that a chore.

But though this boat has less total space than many others on our list, storage options are excellent. There’s a hinged dry-storage console with electronics mounting options directly in front of the seat. It’s simply awesome--a feature I really like. You’ll find mounting rails for your fish finder, space for a phone or radio, a cup holder, and accessory spots for essentials like a knife or pliers. 

It’s even got a magnetic tackle holder that allows you to open the lid with a lure or two on top!

This console is something every fishing kayak should have, and the first time you see it, you’ll wonder why it’s not a common feature. It’s almost game-changing.

There’s a larger watertight hatch fore and a smaller one aft, just behind the seat. They give you plenty of access to the below decks for dry storage, but I really love the bungee-secured tackle box slots on either side of the chair.

You’ll also find accessory rail slots running down both sides of the cockpit, providing plenty of mounting options. Two rearward leaning rod holders are built-in behind the seat as well.

The Sea Ghost’s seat is really well designed, making it easy to adjust and ensuring all-day comfort. No complaints here at all.

And the included rudder system, controlled via the foot braces, works really well, keeping you on course in the wind, current, and tide.

There’s a lot to love about this kayak, especially if you’re a strong paddler. And no question, the Sea Ghost 13 is a stable, effective fishing platform whether you chase reds inshore or hunt bass on your local lake.

It’s also a great option if you’re worried about lifting a heavy kayak overhead to load and unload it at the water.

https://vimeo.com/320365664#at=1

Pros:

  • Very stable
  • Great seat
  • Awesome storage options
  • Great hatch design and placement
  • Plenty of accessory mounting positions
  • Reasonably priced!
  • Relatively light!

Cons:

  • No drive options--paddle only

Jackson Kayak MayFly - Best Kayak for Fly Fishing

Length: 12’ 8”

Weight: 94 lbs. (no seat)

Beam: 35”

Capacity: 450 lbs.

Anglers who want to stand while fishing need a ‘yak with uncompromising stability--that’s obvious. But a second feature that really helps is a clean, clear deck with nothing to trip over. The designers at Jackson Kayak clearly understood this, and the MayFly is a hard boat to beat for this reason.

Experienced fly anglers know the hassles of hang-ups caused by long lengths of line ready for their casts, and while not as devilishly snag-prone as standard fishing line, fly line still seems to have a perverse attraction to cannon-style mounts and protrusions.

The MayFly sports an ultra-clean deck with plenty of space. Not only does this give you room to move your feet during a fight, but it also practically guarantees slick casting. Add to that a nonstick coating, and you’ve got pretty much a perfect set up for sight fishing.

Stability is excellent, as you’d expect given Jackson Kayak’s clear nod toward standing. Good hull design and a wide beam provide plenty of primary stability and confidence-inspiring steadiness. Secondary stability is excellent as well, and without a wave to help you over, I think you’d find rolling this ‘yak a challenge.

That said, expect slightly more sluggish handling than you’d get from trimmer, tippier designs. Hydrodynamics are all about trade-offs, and to get stability, you sacrifice speed.

Storage is ample and easy to access, including a large bow hatch with a removable tray and two fly-box storage panels to either side of the cockpit. Jackson Kayak heard the complaints about water leaks on the hatch seals and has improved that system and beefed-up the gaskets.

On each side of the cockpit, you’ll find long gear rails allowing you to customize your layout and add pretty much whatever you’d like to the mix.

The MayFly has an excellent seat that provides all-day comfort while staying reasonably cool. It also allows Molle mounted accessories on its back, adding that much more potential storage to the mix.

One YakAttack Omega rod holder comes standard, and a large stern hatch lets you store more safely below deck. The stern well could be larger, but it’s big enough for a cooler or live well.

Overall, I really like this kayak, and with the front cannon-mount stowed away, I find it to be the best of the bunch for fly casting.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Non-slip deck
  • Clean deck with no snag risks for fly casting
  • Lots of storage
  • Plenty of customizable options
  • Comfortable seat

Cons:

  • Earlier versions had hatch seal issues
  • Heavy!

Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 - Fastest Pedal-Drive Fishing Kayak

Length: 12’

Weight: 132.5 lbs.

Beam: 36”

Capacity: 500 lbs.

Hobie’s Mirage Pro Angler offers an exciting combination of innovative design and real-world performance, helping to justify its high price tag. Expect to spend a few hundred more for this ‘yak than even the already pricey Big Rig from Jackson Kayak.

For sight fishing on your feet, I’d give the Mirage Pro Angler pretty high marks. A wide beam and stable hull contour yield remarkable stability, and casting and fighting while standing are no sweat. The deck immediately forward of the chair is coated in a non-slip matting that improves traction, and there’s plenty of space to reposition your feet.

Hobie’s MirageDrive 180 may be the best pedal drive money can buy--it’s that good. Providing better torque and speed--in my opinion--than the competitors, it also offers a folding design that handles shallows and obstacles with aplomb. Seriously--this is a powerful pedal drive, and if you’re making long trips to get to where you plan to fish, it might be worth investing in this ‘yak.

Even the 28-inch beam won’t slow this kayak to a crawl--the big fins on the working end of this drive just generate so much power!

Storage is exceptional, with hatches fore and aft that are easy to use and watertight. You’ll even find a built-in tackle organizer in the hatch immediately adjacent to your seat.

Accessory rails run down the cockpit to either side, offering plenty of places for electronics, rod holders, and other accessories, and there’s plenty of space at the stern for a cooler, tackle, or anything else you might have in mind.

The seat on this ‘yak is plenty comfortable, and all-day excursions aren’t going to leave you needing a chiropractor!

Overall, the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 is a fantastic pedal-driven kayak for fighting the current, tide, and wind. It’s stable, well-appointed, and eminently capable in salt or freshwater.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Non-slip deck
  • Lots of storage
  • Excellent hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat 
  • Awesome pedal drive

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Heavy!

What We Consider When Buying a Fishing Kayak

Stability

While stability is always something to consider when choosing a kayak, for angling, it’s pretty much the place to start. Fishing demands a lot from you and your ‘yak, whether you’re casting, standing, or struggling with a real monster! And if you happen to break your line, or the fish spits out your lure during a hard fight, you’ll put that stability to the test.

  • Stability is critical- Think of a fishing kayak as a platform to do a lot more than paddling. You’ll be retrieving gear from hatches, casting, fighting fish, leaning over the gunnels, and maybe even dropping your catch in a live well in the stern. Some anglers, especially fly fishermen, prefer to sight fish or need to cast while standing.
    With all that movement, and much of it with a high center of gravity, you can see that you’ll be placing exceptional demands on your kayak.
  • Primary stability - This is a measure of how hard it is to rock a kayak up onto its edge. A ‘yak with high primary stability will give you the sense of solid footing, whereas a boat with low primary stability will feel tippy.
    For touring and whitewater kayakers, low primary stability can be a good thing, allowing them to lean into waves, for instance. But for angling, a solid feel underfoot is critical.
  • Secondary stability - This is a measure of how hard it is to overturn a kayak when it’s keeled over due to a “failure” of primary stability. Essentially, this tells you how hard it is to roll your kayak once you have it rocking up on edge.
    For angling, high secondary stability is important. Flipping your ‘yak loaded with tackle is never a good thing.
  • Broaden your expectations - Sea kayaks are long and sleek--an ideal shape for long paddling expeditions because they’re hydrodynamically efficient. But for fishing, wider is generally better. While that may make your kayak a bit slower and demand more from you as a paddler, that extra beam translates into greater stability.
    Purpose-designed angling kayaks tend to be a bit paunchy, but embrace the bulge!

Portability, Weight, and Encumbrance

lifting a fishing kayak

You’ll be lifting and loading your ‘yak every time you take to the water, and for most of us, that can be a pretty intense overhead lift! Make sure you can handle the weight.

  • Transporting - You won’t feel those pounds on the water, but when you’re lifting and handling a kayak during transport, you’ll feel every ounce. Keep in mind, too, that the longer your ‘yak is, the more unwieldy it’ll be at a given weight. 
  • Portaging - Sometimes, you’ll need to exit your ‘yak and carry it over solid ground or significant shallows. This process is called portaging, and with a heavily-loaded kayak, it can put your whole body to the test. Keep the extra pounds you’ll be adding to your boat from gear in mind if this is something you anticipate.
  • Try before you buy - If possible, we recommend that you try lifting and loading a few kayaks to get a feel for how you manage a given weight and length. Experimenting now can give you a good sense of what’s too much for you and your level of fitness.

Propulsion: Paddle vs. Pedal vs. Motor

While any angler might have a long paddle to and from their fishing spot, on big water, that’s all but guaranteed. Moreover, when things turn to the worse--say, in bad weather--speed can be essential.

Three propulsion options are common for kayaks, and each has strengths and weaknesses:

Paddles have a lot of benefits:

kayak fishing paddle

  • Inexpensive - Paddles range in price, but inexpensive, effective options aren’t hard to find.
  • Low- to no-maintenance - They’re pretty much grab and go.
  • Indispensable - As any experienced kayak angler can tell you, they’re more than just a way to get a kayak going. From push pole to lure retriever to makeshift anchor, a paddle is indispensable in the hands of someone who knows how to use one.
  • Stealthy - While not everyone agrees, many fishermen find that a paddle is the ultimate stealth option for creeping up on the fish.

But they have downsides, too. In the wind or current, prepare to juggle your rod and 

paddle as needed. It’s happened to me on breezy days, and it’ll happen to you, too. 

And unless you’re strong and fit, sustained hard paddling to escape a storm or fight the tide can get really, really tough.

Don’t ask me how I know!

Keep in mind that whatever your propulsion system, a paddle is essential equipment. Pedal drives and motors fail; paddles don’t.

Be safe and bring a paddle.

Pedal drives - These are an option on some premium kayaks, and unsurprisingly, they don’t come cheap.

  • Expensive- Expect to pay a premium for a pedal-driven kayak. This is a top-shelf option that’s going to come with a top-shelf price tag. If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to start fishing your local lake, river, or estuary, you may balk at the prices of pedal-driven ‘yaks.
  • Powerful and effective - Using a basic rotary pedal system powered by your legs, a pedal drive transfers power either to a prop or a pair of fins that propels your kayak forward (and some offer reverse, too!). Because they take advantage of your powerful leg muscles, more than a few kayakers find that they can go farther, faster with a pedal drive than with a paddle.
  • Hands-free - Don’t underestimate this advantage. This is a real godsend in the wind, and it can mean the difference between casting and paddling.
  • Minimal routine maintenance - You’ll need to take care of your drive, even if that only means giving it a quick rinse after every fishing trip. 

Motors - Some kayaks offer the option of an electric motor that mates with the pedal drive’s fins or prop, offering sustained, fast propulsion.

  • Very Expensive - As you’d expect, these systems are pricey, especially when you consider that they’re added to the cost of the already expensive pedal drive.
  • Very effective - These systems are remarkably effective, and the thrust they can produce is far greater than you can manage yourself. It’s also sustainable as long as the battery lasts, which can be quite a while.
  • Heavy - These systems add more weight to your ‘yak, and while that won’t make much difference on the water, it will make carting your boat and gear to and from the water more of a challenge.
  • Maintenance - Expect some maintenance of the battery and motor, and of course, the need to keep that battery properly charged.

Storage

More is almost always better! If you’re new to fishing, you may underestimate how much gear you’ll be packing. Line, lures, rods, fishfinders, batteries, coolers, livewells, sunscreen...you get the idea!

Look for kayaks that have ample stern wells, easily accessible hatches, and plenty of space for accessories. Some even come with removable trays and other cool features that allow you to stow and organize your gear.

Seat Comfort 

After spending hours on your ‘yak, you’ll really appreciate a well-designed seat.

The best seating systems are easy to install and remove, offer quick adjustments for seating positions and height, and really put comfort first.

They offer support for your lower back and plenty of ventilation to keep you cool.

Final Thoughts

We can’t tell you which kayak is the best option for your needs, but we can guarantee that you’ll be happy with any pick from our list!

Whether you’re looking to hit a near-shore rig and fish the pilings for grouper or sneak up on big bass on your local pond, one of these kayaks is going to be just the platform you need.

We hope this article has helped you pick your next ‘yak, and as always, 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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