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The Best Inshore Fishing Kayaks for 2022: Reviews and Buying Guide

Written by: Pete D
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Inshore angling offers heart-pounding excitement. Whether you work a salt flat for reds, ply the surf for blues, hunt shallows for flounder, or head out into the open water for monsters like tarpon, a capable kayak is a must.

The market for fishing kayaks is pretty crowded, and separating the ‘yaks that will deliver from those that disappoint isn’t as easy as it might seem, especially given the unique demands of saltwater fishing.

You’ll need seaworthiness, speed, storage, and stability to spare - and combining all that will comfortable seating and easy electronics mounting is a tall order.

If you’re in the market for an inshore fishing kayak, we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find reviews of some of the best kayaks on the market, as well as buying guide to get you up to speed quickly.

Quick glance at the best inshore fishing kayaks:

Best Inshore Fishing Kayaks Reviewed

Vibe Kayaks Shearwater 125 - Best Overall Inshore Fishing Kayak

vibe kayaks shearwater 125

Length: 12’ 6”

Weight: 82 lbs. (hull only)

Beam: 35”

Capacity: 475 lbs.

Vibe’s Shearwater 125 is a slick-looking, ultra-capable kayak for inshore fishing. A worthy competitor for any ‘yak on our shortlist, it’s probably the best buy in terms of performance to price ratio.

Let’s get into the details and see why.

The hull is 12 feet, 6 inches long with plenty of beam to provide stability. And despite that, it’s the lightest on our list! Now, keep your expectation in check: it’s still 82 pounds, and loading and unloading from a car or SUV top will still take some doing for most anglers.

But that said, this ‘yak handles like a dream in the water and provides rock-solid stability. For anglers who like to stand, the Shearwater rivals the ATAK for an uncluttered, non-slip deck, and you’ll find textured padding everywhere you’d want it.

Storage options are plentiful, sophisticated, and particularly well-thought-out.

A storage tray mounted under the seat is an idea every kayak manufacturer should adopt, and it’s far more useful in the real world than anything else I’ve ever seen. From tackle to essentials like pliers or a knife, there’s space for the stuff you need ready-to-hand.

The pod system is ingenious as well, offering three options: a flat deck for fly anglers, a water-tight storage locker for gear hounds, or an aftermarket Vibe X-drive pod that gives you peal power.

I love that versatility and customization.

The X-drive is a powerful pedal drive that’s pretty easy on the wallet, especially when compared with the aftermarket options from Wilderness Systems. 

And when paired with the (included!) Rudder, the Vibe Shearwater tracks well, bucks currents, and handles just like you’d want it to.

Gear rails, bungee storage on the bow, a large well with a tight-sealing hatch at the stern, and two pre-mounted rod holders behind the seat make storage a snap.

The seat is highly adjustable and very comfortable, too, proving that Vibe’s getting it right from bow to stern.

Frankly, I’m a bit shocked at how much you get with the Shearwater for the price, and this is clearly a fantastic buy.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Lots of well-thought-out storage
  • Removable, modular pods for customization
  • Good hatch design and placement
  • Comfortable seat that’s easy to adjust
  • Excellent pedal drive
  • Rudder included

Cons:

  • ???

Hobie Pro Angler 14

hobie pro angler 14

Length: 13’ 8”

Weight: 120.5 lbs.

Beam: 38”

Capacity: 600 lbs.

There’s no questioning Hobie’s quality, and from a revolutionary drive system to a sleek, fast hull, the Pro Angler 14 demonstrates why this company is an industry leader.

At 13 feet, 8 inches, the Hobie is the longest kayak on our short list, and it comes as no surprise that it’s also the heaviest. At a whopping 120.5 pounds for the empty hull, this behemoth is going to be all but impossible for most anglers to handle by themselves when it’s time to remove or replace this ‘yak on a roof rack.

That’s a fact that’s hard to ignore, and I’d love to see Hobie get that weight down to a more reasonable level.

The Pro Angler 14 is plenty sea-worthy, and in swells or surf, estuaries or open water, it’s reassuringly stable and ready for sight fishing and fly casting. Easily the most stable kayak on our list, if you’re not worried about weight but are concerned about tipping, the Hobie might be the best bet.

The Pro Angler comes with Hobie’s amazing MirageDrive 360, a blade-powered pedal drive that’s probably the fastest, most efficient, and most robust option on the market. Capable of turning through a full circle, the MirageDrive provides unrivaled control and maneuverability. And in shallow water, the blades fold on impact, keeping your propulsion system intact.

The seating system is also perhaps the most comfortable option out there. Highly adjustable, it offers multiple seat height options and the kind of all-day back-friendliness that every angler wants.

Storage is excellent. In addition to a huge, water-tight bow hatch, you’ll find an extra-large cockpit hatch and a capacious stern well (with its own twist-off hatch). Two Hobie H-rails run the length of the cockpit, making electronic or rod mounting a snap.

Lowrance transducers are ready to go with the Pro Angler 14, though other options can be made to work, too.

And the (included!) rudder is excellent, providing great tracking.

Obviously, there’s a lot to love about the Hobie, but the weight is a real issue.

At 120.5 pounds for the bare hull, it might even exceed your roof rack capacity and take seriously the problem of transporting and launching this beast of a boat. That also can make it sluggish in rough water, and kayaks like the ATAK or Shearwater - which may not be as fast - may handle better when the water’s less calm.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally stable
  • Lots of storage
  • Good hatch design and placement
  • Very comfortable seat that’s easy to adjust
  • Amazing pedal drive
  • Rudder included

Cons:

  • Super heavy!

Old Town Sportsman BigWater 132 PDL

Old Town Sportsman BigWater PDL 132 Pedal Fishing Kayak (Marsh Camo)

Amazon 

Length: 13’ 2”

Weight: 96 lbs. (hull only)

Beam: 34”

Capacity: 425 lbs.

Old Town made its mark manufacturing some of the world’s most recognizable canoes, and having turned that know-how and experience toward kayaks, you can count on the Sportsman BigWater 132 PDL for all your inshore fishing.

This 13-foot, 2-inch kayak isn’t a lightweight by any stretch of the imagination, and anglers on the smaller side will find it a real handful to load and unload from the top of a vehicle. And for long walks to the launch or the beach, a cart or trolley is going to be a necessity.

That weight, a carefully designed hull, and a more than reasonable beam of 34 inches make the BigWater very stable, however, and in calm water, it’s simply no sweat to stand and sight fish or cast a fly rod. Non-slip padding helps you keep your feet, making this a deadly platform for working sheltered areas for reds, specks, and snook.

The seating system on the BigWater is comfortable and provides plenty of lumbar support. Adjustable for anglers with very short or very long legs, you’ll easily find the right setting for you.

Storage is ample with a large stern well, a sealed bow hatch, and space under the seat in all but its most rearward positions. You’ll find three pre-mounted rod holders, mounting tracks ready for a variety of accessories, and a universal transducer mount that makes rigging your fishing electronics a snap.

Old Town’s PDL drive is powerful and fast, offering instant reverse. That’s a nice feature that allows you to stop on a dime or back up quickly. You’ll also have plenty of speed to get you from your launch to your honey hole, and bucking a strong current isn’t a big deal at all. On this front, there’s simply no competition from a paddle. 

That pedal drive is also easy to remove and install, an added plus.

The only real letdown on the BigWater is the rudder, which doesn’t evince the same level of quality as the rest of this kayak. It works, but it feels flimsier than it should. That isn’t confidence-inspiring, and having a rudder fail while you’re on the water can be catastrophic.

Overall, this is a good kayak for inshore fishing, though for the price, there are more competitive models on our list.

Pros:

  • Excellent pedal drive
  • Very stable
  • OK storage
  • Excellent seat
  • Good accessory mounting options

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Cheap rudder

Perception Pescador Pilot 12

Perception Kayaks Pescador Pilot 12 | Sit on Top Fishing Kayak with Pedal Drive | Adjustable Lawn Chair Seat and Tackle Storage Areas | 12' | Sunset (9351587042)

Amazon 

Length: 12’ 5”

Weight: 85 lbs. (hull only)

Beam: 33 ¾”

Capacity: 475 lbs.

Perception’s Pescador Pilot 12 is a kayak to be reckoned with for inshore fishing, and for anglers whose budget balks at options like the Hobie or adding a pedal drive to the Wilderness System’s Radar, this is a great pick that doesn’t compromise on performance.

This 12-foot, 5-inch hull certainly isn’t light, but you’ll notice the 10-pound difference between it and the BigWater when loading and unloading this ‘yak. Nevertheless, a trolley or cart is going to be a necessity unless you’re using a boat launch, so be aware of where you plan to access the water and be prepared.

The Pescador Pilot 12 is reassuringly stable. You won’t feel tippy at all, and more experienced kayak anglers will find it easy to take to their feet. Anything other than truly rough water is going to provide smooth sailing, and in protected coves or flats, you’ll feel very secure.

For anglers who sight fish, I’d recommend adding some grippy tape to the deck. I’d like to see some non-slip padding applied to the deck by Perception, but at this price point, beggars can’t be choosers.

Perception supplies this ‘yak with an excellent seat complete with an adjustable back rest. It’s really comfortable and cool, with plenty of mesh to allow air to circulate. All-day comfort is all but guaranteed.

Storage is good, too, with four pre-drilled rod holders and mounting tracks to either side. The front hatch is easy to access even on the water, and a mesh cover provides further storage options or a great place to park a paddle while you fish. The stern well is capacious, and there’s plenty of space for a large tackle bag and a small cooler.

Perception brags about small indents on the gunwales of this kayak, suggesting that they make a great storage option for ready-to-hand essentials like lures and pliers. I’d skip that: they’re too shallow to prevent you from knocking something essential into the drink.

Chalk that up as a good idea that doesn’t survive real-world use.

You’ll also find two covered storage compartments just in front of the cockpit. These are great, and they expand your options quite a bit as well as providing a great place for a small battery to power your electronics.

The pedal drive system that Perception supplies the Pescador Pilot 12 with is pretty good. It provides more than enough thrust to maneuver easily, and fighting a tide or current is no hassle at all. You’ll be much faster than you would with a paddle and less tired, too, making reaching out-of-the-way locations that much more reasonable.

Is it as fast as the Hobie or Wilderness Systems’ ATAK?

No. But it’s also a lot less expensive.

The included rudder works well, though it is a little stiff and rough. I’d like to see greater refinement in the controls.

For anglers on a budget, Perception’s Pescador Pilot 12 delivers a lot of bang for the buck.

Pros:

  • Excellent pedal drive
  • Very stable
  • Good storage
  • Really excellent seat
  • Good accessory mounting options

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Cheap rudder controls

Wilderness Systems ATAK 120

Wilderness Systems Atak 120 | Sit on Top Fishing Kayak | Premium Angler Kayak | 12' | Midnight

Amazon 

Length: 12’ 3”

Weight: 86 lbs. (hull only)

Beam: 35”

Capacity: 400 lbs.

For my money, Wilderness Systems makes some of the best kayaks on the market. Their ATAK 120 is an excellent example of what I mean, combining a terrific hull with a great seat, ample storage options, and unbeatable tech.

The heart of the ATAK 120 is a 12-foot, 3-inch hull. Weighing in at 86 pounds empty, it’s par for the inshore fishing kayak course, meaning that you’ll need some muscle to load and unload this ‘yak from overhead. 

A 35-inch beam makes the ATAK rock steady in calm water, and there’s no kayak on our list that feels more confidence-inspiring in this respect. Add to that steadiness a deck that’s padded with non-slip material, and you’ve got a near-perfect platform for sight fishing and fly casting. The deck is also pretty clear, and about the only tangle hazard are the foot pegs.

Wilderness Systems typically shines when you take a close look at seating and storage, and this kayak is no exception. The seat offers a high and low position as well as a reclining back, and comfort is top-notch. That dual-height adjustment allows you to keep your center of gravity low, increasing stability, or raise the seat to give you a better casting position.

Count me as impressed.

Storage is plentiful. Just fore of the cockpit, you’ll find a modular, removable pod for mounting fishing electronics. Most transducers can be mated to the bottom of this drop-in unit, making installation a breeze. It can also be swapped for a Helix motor drive unit, turning the ATAK 120 into a motorized fishing machine.

The Helix MD is an electric-powered prop fed by an onboard battery. Developing power equivalent to a 1 HP outboard, it pushes the ATAK 120 to nearly 6 mph with maximum run times of more than 8 hours. That makes this kayak a real game-changer in terms of range, and if you regularly make exhausting paddles to where you plan to fish or fight heavy currents, you’ll love this excellent - but expensive - option.

The bow hatch is big, easy to use, and water-tight, and while the stern well could be larger, behind it, the ATAK 120 offers a large rectangular hatch to stow your rods when launching in the surf.

You’ll also find two mounting tracks for additional electronics - or as a primary mounting point if you run the Helix drive. Wilderness Systems includes a transducer scupper, too, a nice touch given the omnipresence of fishing-finding tech in modern angling.

The ATAK 120 doesn’t come standard with a rudder, so you’ll need to purchase one from them.

That’s a bit of a let down, honestly, and I’d like to see a rudder come standard on this capable ‘yak. Yes, it’s a nod to keeping costs down, and on lakes and ponds, a rudder isn’t strictly necessary. But navigating currents and waves makes the control a rudder provides essential for straight-line tracking, and the added costs of outfitting an already pricy kayak can really add up.

Pros:

  • Excellent after-market motor drive
  • Extremely stable
  • Excellent storage
  • Incredible seat
  • Good accessory mounting options

Cons:

  • Rudder not included
  • The Helix MD is very expensive

Wilderness Systems Radar 115

Wilderness Systems Radar 115 | Sit on Top Fishing Kayak | Premium Angler Kayak | 11' 6', Steel Grey

Amazon 

Length: 11’ 8”

Weight: 85 lbs.

Beam: 34.5”

Capacity: 450 lbs.

Wilderness Systems has moved on from the venerable Tarpon as its primary fishing platform, and the Radar series shares space with the ATAK as a top-flight competitor.

The shortest Radar measures just 11 feet, 8 inches, putting it in roughly the same neighborhood as the other options on our short list. And as you’d expect, its weight is right in there, too. Lighter than the BigWater, it’s still going to take some oomph to load and unload this kayak from a roof rack, and toting it across a long stretch of beach isn’t going to leave you feeling refreshed and ready to go.

But on the water, stability is exceptional in everything from swells to surf, and if you want to take to your feet to sight fish or cast a fly rod, you’ll find the Radar more than ready for the adventure. I’d like to see some non-slip padding on the deck, but honestly, it’s not much trouble to stand and stay put, and a little after-market skateboard tape can increase traction considerably.

Wilderness Systems really knows hatch placement and design. Just to the fore of the seat, you’ll find a water-tight hatch that’s perfect for stowing a smartphone and wallet. The bow hatch is big enough to be usable, seals tight, and allows access to the hull for storing long or ungainly items like rods, a drag chute, anchor, or spare paddle.

Two pod systems multiply storage and drive possibilities. For anglers who are content with a paddle, they allow mounting options for electronics that save the rails for other uses like rod holders. But each can also be swapped out with a drive system, giving you the possibility to arm your ‘yak with a powerful - albeit expensive - Helix PD or 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 loads of speed. The Radar 115 sprints easily with very little fatigue, and whether you're making a long run or bucking a tide or current, it’ll get you where you need to be. 

The after-market rudder system is excellent on the Radar 115, and from the lever on the left to the blade, it’s top-quality. Again, it's a shame that you need to drop extra cash to make this ‘yak an inshore fishing platform, but that’s the reality of keeping the buy-in reasonable.

Wilderness Systems delivers on the seat, offering all-day comfort, multiple seating positions, easy adjustment, and simple installation.

It’s hard not to like the Radar 115, and if you’ve got the money to spend on a drive option, you’ll be the envy of everyone on the water.

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:

  • Drive options are very expensive
  • Rudder is not included
  •  

What We Consider When Buying an Inshore Fishing Kayak

Stability

Inshore anglers know that stability is paramount, and flipping a kayak hundreds of yards from shore can mean something a lot worse than lost gear.

  • Stability is critical- You’ll be doing a little more than paddling in your kayak. From typing lures to casting, fighting fish to landing them with your hands or a net, to reaching for gear or stowing your catch, you’ll be moving around a lot, shifting your weight quickly, and leaning out over the water frequently.

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.

And for fly anglers who want to stand to sight fish or cast, those demands are multiplied.

We pay close attention to stability for every kayak we review, and all the models on our list score high marks on this front.

Weight

Weight may not seem like a big deal. After all, in the water, it’s not going to make much difference.

But before you get your ‘yak wet, you’ll need to load it and unload it and probably get it from your vehicle to the water, too. And trust me, there’s a big difference between lifting a 55-pound suitcase into a trunk and loading an 85-pound kayak overhead!

Most of the kayaks on our list weigh-in around that 85-pound mark, and for all but the strongest, most fit fishermen, that can be a challenge. When you step up to the massive Hobie Pro Angler 14, you’ve really moved beyond what one (fit) person can handle.

That matters, and injuring yourself or being unable to load your ‘yak at the end of the day is not a recipe for fun.

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:

  • 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=TfTxE4hMIcQ&ab_channel=WildernessSystemsFishing

  • 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.

Our Pick: Vibe’s Shearwater 125!

The competition was stiff, but in our minds, Vibe Kayaks’ Shearwater 125 is the clear winner.

Priced at a level that’s hard to believe given what you get, the Shearwater 125 is an inshore fishing platform that’s nearly impossible to beat. Light enough to load single-handed, its hull is stable enough to stand and cast while still handling and maneuvering well in rougher water.

Its storage options are exceptionally well-thought-out, and customizable pods really up the ante on making this ‘yak your own. Vibe’s aftermarket pedal drive won’t break the bank, and it works well, providing hands-free propulsion.

The Shearwater’s seat comfort is excellent, too, making this an all-around winner.

Anglers looking for an inshore fishing kayak will be impressed with what Vibe has to offer.

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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