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Wading No More: The Best Fly Fishing Kayaks Reviewed for 2022

Written by: Pete D
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Traditionally, fly angling meant wading into cold water with a good pair of insulated hip waders. But now, a new breed of angling kayak designed with fly fishing in mind has changed the game.

No longer limited to a short stretch of a river or bank, with the tight ‘yak, fly anglers have a lot more water to call their own.

That said, not just any boat will do, and there are better and worse choices of dedicated fly enthusiasts who want to grab a paddle. We’d like to help you get your bearings and make sense of your options, and below, you’ll find a buying guide as well as reviews of some of our favorites.

Quick glance at the best fly fishing kayaks:

Best Fly Fishing Kayak Reviewed

Jackson Kayak MayFly - Best Fly Fishing Kayak for Casting from your Feet

Length: 12’ 8”

Weight: 94 lbs. 

Beam: 35”

Capacity: 450 lbs.

Fly anglers who want to stand while fishing need a ‘yak with uncompromising stability--that’s obvious. But whether you take to your feet or stay in your seat, you’ll also want a clean, clear deck with nothing to snag your line. 

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, 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 non-slip 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 you’ll be able to stand near the edge of this ‘yak without tempting it to roll.

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.

Overall, I really like this kayak, and with the front cannon-mount stowed away, it’s an awesome platform for fly fishing.

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

Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 140 - Best Fly Fishing Kayak for Saltwater

Length: 14’ 1”

Weight: 95 lbs.

Beam: 34”

Capacity: 550 lbs.

The A.T.A.K. 140 brings Wilderness System’s considerable experience to bear on the problems faced by fly anglers.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that this ‘yak doesn’t have angling as a secondary design feature. While perhaps not quite the equal of the MayFly in terms of stability, the A.T.A.K. is admirably solid underfoot. Forward of the seat, you’ll find a more or less typical kayak deck that provides ample space for standing and repositioning your feet. Non-slip pads improve your footing, especially when wet, slimy, or bloody.

My only complaint? You’ll find the typical adjustable foot pegs to either side, and they’re just waiting to grab fly line during casting. If you're careful with where you spill line, you can generally, but not always, avoid them. Your mileage may vary, of course.

To the fore, you’ll find a modular, removable pod to which your fishfinder, GPS, or other electronics can be attached. This feature makes rigging these accessories a snap, and customizable mounting rails come standard as well. 

The bow hatch is spacious and easy to reach, and while the stern well could be larger, behind it, the A.T.A.K. offers a large rectangular hatch to stow your poles and gear. Wilderness Systems gets hatches right, and these are perhaps the best in the business in terms of usability and watertightness.

The A.T.A.K. 140’s seat is comfortable and all-day ready. Adjustable to three positions, it can move over quite a long distance, creating more deck space when you need it.

That’s a smart feature that elevates the utility of all that deck space even more.

Wilderness Systems’s A.T.A.K. 140 is an excellent fly fishing kayak that just begs you to stand and cast. The MayFly is probably slightly better for fly anglers given just how clean its deck is, but the A.T.A.K. is no slouch in that department. And for big water and high surf, I think the A.T.A.K. is superior in its hull and hatch design, and it’d be my choice for saltwater fly angling.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Non-slip deck
  • Lots of storage
  • Removable, modular electronics pod
  • Excellent hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat that extends usable deck space

Cons:

  • Deck not quite as clear as the MayFly for fly casting

Vibe Sea Ghost 130 - Best Budget Fly Fishing Kayak

Length: 13’

Beam: 33.5”

Weight: 92 lbs.

Maximum capacity: 550 lbs.

Pedal drives and fly lines don’t mix well. Vibe clearly understands this, and the Sea Ghost 130 is a great option for fly anglers who want high performance without unnecessary frills.

Don’t let the lower price point on this kayak fool you: Vibe knows what they’re doing, and this boat is a super-capable fly fishing platform that I wouldn’t hesitate to own.

Stability is great, though it lags just a touch behind the much wider MayFly. Standing to fish is really no sweat in the Sea Ghost, and if you face a bit of chop on a bay or just a few swells, you won’t be worried about tipping.

And though this boat has less total space created by that slightly reduced beam, 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--the best I’ve ever seen.

You’ll find mounting rails for your fish finder or GPS, 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 flies lying 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.

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. And no question, the Sea Ghost 13 is a stable, effective fly fishing platform whether you chase reds inshore or hunt trout on your local lake or stream.

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

Pros:

  • Very stable
  • Great seat
  • Awesome storage options
  • Excellent hatch design and placement
  • Plenty of accessory mounting positions
  • Very reasonably priced!

Cons:

  • The deck isn’t as clean as the MayFly

Old Town Predator 13 - Easiest Fly Fishing Kayak to Portage

Length: 13’ 2”

Weight: 86 lbs.

Beam: 33.5”

Capacity: 425 lbs.

Known primarily for their legendary canoes, Old Town has used that world-class experience to design kayaks with impressive results.

The Old Town Predator 13 is an excellent choice for fly anglers looking for a sight fishing platform, and in truth, it’s just a great fishing kayak in general.

Stability is exceptional, and while there may be a tad of wiggle underfoot when standing, the Predator’s secondary stability is amazing. You can stand on one side of this ‘yak, tilting it up onto its edge a bit, and it’s just glued to the water. 

Deck space is great, essentially on par with Wilderness Systems’s A.T.A.K. 140 or Vibe’s Sea Ghost. The deck sports non-slip ridges and is reasonably clear forward of the chair, but you’ll encounter the usual foot pegs and the problems they offer for fly casting. To my mind, it suffers in comparison on this point with the MayFly, but it makes up that ground on others.

For fly anglers needing to portage, the Predator 13 may just be the best choice on our list. Relatively short and lighter than the competition, this would be the kayak I’d want to haul over rocks or sand to reach the next stretch of water.

Storage is generous, as well, though the hatches aren’t as user-friendly as the A.T.A.K.’s. Expect a small watertight compartment immediately in front of the chair, an integrated electronics pod, and a larger hatch at the bow. Each of these features is well-thought-out, but if hatch storage is your thing, Wilderness Systems gets the highest marks.

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.

For dedicated fly anglers, the Predator 13 is simply a great ‘yak. Packed with features that matter, it’s light enough to portage, stable enough to cast from your feet, and loaded with storage options for your gear.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Non-slip deck
  • Lots of storage
  • Removable, modular electronics pod
  • Good hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat that increases storage
  • Light!

Cons:

  • Deck not quite as clear as the MayFly for fly casting

Things We Consider When Selecting a Fly Fishing Kayak

Stability

Stability is important on any angling 'yak, but it's even more critical if you plan to cast your flies on your feet.

An ideal fly fishing kayak lets you stand, cast, and fight without the worry that you’ll end up in the drink. Typically, that means wider than normal beams, careful hull design, and a no-slip deck to help you maintain traction when balance may become an issue.

Embrace the bulge - Expect that angling kayaks are going to be a good bit portlier than rec or touring ‘yaks. Yes, that’s going to slow them down and make long paddles a bit more difficult. But the hydrodynamic trade-off here dramatically improves stability.

Look for wide beams, typically more than 30”.

Keep in mind as well that all kayaks exhibit two stages of stability, both of which are affected by beam and hull design.

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.

In general, anglers want high primary and secondary stability, and manufacturers understand this. The kayaks on our list score exceptional marks on both, making it relatively easy to fish from your feet without worries.

Pedal drive vs. paddle: why no drive options on our list

Pedal drives and electric motors are increasingly common add-ons to kayaks--and that makes a ton of sense.

I’m a pretty strong paddler, and there’s no way I can paddle a ‘yak at the same speed as I can pedal one. Moreover, the longer the distance, the more clear that difference becomes. Add current, tide, or wind to the mix, and the pedal drive simply gets better and better.

So why aren’t there any drive options on our list?

The answer is simple: they’re darn hard to cast around.

If you’re an experienced fly angler, you already know that you’ll be stripping yards of line prior to your cast. On the river, that line just coils harmlessly into the water, ready to launch itself onto your rod and into the air as you work your casting magic.

But on a kayak, that same line is going to fall to your feet. And with a pedal drive equipped, you’ve basically dropped a line-catching obstacle in the worst possible place.

If you think this won’t snag on a pedal drive, you’re kidding yourself!

For conventional tackle, that drive isn’t a problem, and many--perhaps even most--anglers would do well to consider a pedal drive. But for fly angling, it’s a disaster in the making.

That’s why you won’t see kayak manufacturers posting videos of pedal drives and fly fishing. You’ll notice it’s almost always standard tackle.

When they do, it looks like lots and lots of editing to cut out the inevitable issues:

Pay close attention to 3:48:

It looks to me like he gets hung up on the pedal drive--as expected--and then the camera cuts away from the cast!

The rest of the casting is done from the seated position, where the pedal drive won’t get in the way as much.

Pedal drives also get heavy, leading to another issue.

Light enough to portage?

If you’re fly fishing in the salt or on a pond or lake, kayak weight isn’t going to be a huge issue.

Yes, it can make loading and unloading a ‘yak cumbersome--maybe even a two-person job. And yeah, you’ll probably want a trolly to roll your boat to and from the water.

But plenty of fly anglers fish streams and rivers that are rocky and shallow, demanding portages from time to time.

And that’s when weight can just kill your day.

If I know I’ll be portaging my kayak on my favorite river, I’m looking for weight I can handle. And that means a light seating system, no pedal drive, and as little excess as I can manage.

That doesn’t mean low performance; it just means emphasizing an economy of weight to performance.

Clear deck

As I emphasized when discussing pedal drives, pretty much anything that can snag fly line will.

It just doesn’t get any better than this!

It’s irritatingly common, and everything from cannon rod mounts to foot pegs has an appetite for line that seems to get worse at critical moments.

Fly anglers need an ultra-clean deck with as little to cause a snag as possible. Companies like Jackson Kayak have really thought this through, up to and including redesigning foot pegs to make them snag-free.

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

Every kayak on our list is a winner, and if you’re a fly angler looking for a bat that can get you to the fish, there’s simply no wrong answer here!

We hope that this article has helped you make a more informed choice, 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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