Inflatable vs Hard Kayaks For Fishing

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Hey there my beachy lovers of all things fishing. Today I am going to take a look at what can at times be a passionate argument as I discuss inflatable vs hard kayaks for fishing. In short, inflatable kayaks are the ones that we blow up whereas hard kayaks are the more traditional model that is made of a hard plastic. I am an avid kayak fisher myself and have always used the hard bodied options however I have seen more and more inflatable options around the place as well.

So what is best? Well of course there are advantages and disadvantages to each so for those of you who are looking to purchase a new kayak and are not real sure on what you should be looking at, let’s check out the ins and outs of each type below…

What should you consider?

Ok, before we get into kayak types, there are a few things to consider that will influence the type of kayak that you are looking into. These are:

Fishing capabilities

From the outset, we are discussing the use of either type here for fishing then regardless of the type chosen, it needs to be able to handle our requirements in this area. So, in short, any kayak that is set up for fishing should include:

  • Rod holders – These are in my opinion a must for a fishing kayak – even if these are the only fishing related options on the vessel. I mean, where do you put your rod when you are paddling otherwise?
  • Storage – Check if there is somewhere to store your extra tackle, water, cell phone and car keys etc.
  • Bait cavity – These are little sections in the top of the kayak where you can put your bait (some are round for drinks as well). These are not critical (as you can use a bait belt) but very nice to have.
  • Netted storage – These are generally located at the very front or back of the kayak where you can put larger stuff such as a life jacket (if not mandatory to wear), tackle bags, drink coolers and so on.
  • Comfortable seating – Kayak fishing can take a bit of time so a comfortable seat is well worth the effort as well.

Kayak type

Kayaks generally come in one of two options as follows:

1. Sit on Top kayak – As the name suggests, these are the style that you sit on top of as you paddle along. These are great for fishing as they are generally wider and more stable than some of the others as well as giving you the ability to swing a rod 360 degrees around the vessel with ease.

2. Sit in Kayaks – These are the ones where you sit inside the kayak (via the little ‘cockpit’ at the top). They can be just as effective for fishing as the sit on top models and work well in areas with stronger current. They do tend to be narrower and longer making them a little faster across the water however this makes them a little less maneuverable as well.

Use location

When it comes to where you intend to use your kayak, consider the following:

  • Water type – Will you be on a lake, in an estuary or on the open sea? Check the recommended usage locations for any model that you are thinking about.
  • Current – Estuaries generally are susceptible to tidal currents – if these are strong then a longer model might suit better if you have to paddle a distance to get to where you want to fish. If the fish are where you launch however, then the stability of a shorter, wider model will work better.
  • Hazards – Some water locations (especially lakes) contain hazards such as rocks and fallen trees etc. which do offer extra ripping or scratching hazards if just under the water. Longer, narrower kayak models are not as easy to turn around between rocks and/or trees in the water as the sit on top flatter models.
  • Rapids – Look, if your kayak is built for fishing, it is probably not going to perform too well in any environment where there are rapids to deal with – such as a river, stream and upper reaches of an estuary. In all honesty, I would be looking at converting a more appropriate vessel to allow for fishing if you were looking at spending a bit of time within these areas.

Transportation requirements

To be honest, this is probably one biggest influencing factor as to the type of kayaks that people may buy. Hard bodied kayaks are definitely a lot harder to transport than inflatable models as they need to be carried on a roof rack, trailer or truck tray. Inflatable kayaks however can be folded into a carry bag and placed into the car boot or back seat.

Inflatable vs hard kayaks

Ok, so based on the above, let’s compare the two:

Inflatable kayaks

inflatable vs hard kayaks - inflatable kayak

As the name suggests, inflatable kayaks are generally made of thick PVC that can be inflated and deflated as required. Most are designed for recreational purposes however there are others that are setup for fishing expeditions as well. In general, they are inflated by a hand pushed pump however others have powered pumping capabilities that are either battery powered or run from a car ‘cigarette lighter’ port.


  • Easily stored in small spaces
  • Easier to transport to the waterway
  • Carry bags make carrying to water way easier
  • Can inflate to be as hard as plastic models
  • Available in sit in, sit on and two person options
  • Tend to be cheaper


  • Not always as well appointed for fishing as the hard bodied options
  • Need to be pumped up at water’s edge – leading to lost fishing time
  • Generally not as fast or maneuverable
  • They can be torn or ripped (this is not as easy as you would think however)
  • More susceptible to sun damage etc.

Best for:

Inflatable kayaks are a very good option for those:

  • With limited transport or storage options
  • Who want a good all use kayak that they can fish in
  • Looking for a cost effective option

Hard shell kayaks

inflatable vs hard kayaks - hard shell kayak

Hard-shell kayaks are the most commonly used kayaks across all recreational, sporting and fishing uses. They are generally made out of fiberglass, polyethylene or other plastics and are moulded into their shape from the outset. In terms of fishing craft, this build type means that they can be manufactured with requirements such as rod holders and seats moulded right into the hull.


  • Stronger and more durable than inflatable models – and can’t be torn
  • Often better appointed for fishing
  • Generally faster and more maneuverable
  • Can have added extras such as peddles and rudders
  • Can be launched immediately once at the water’s edge
  • Greater fishing variation (such as the ability to stand)


  • Harder to transport and store
  • Most often heavier than an inflatable model
  • Harder to ‘carry’ from the car to the waterway
  • More expensive

The other factor here to consider is that as you purchase your first baitcaster reel, you are generally going to be up for new rod as well as they are not interchangeable from spinner to baitcaster reel.

Best for:

Hard shell kayaks are a very good option for those:

  • Who need speed and maneuverability
  • Who fish in areas where underwater hazards are evident
  • Looking to stand and cast
  • Who want more options on their vessel (such as trolling motors etc.)
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02/19/2024 11:14 am GMT

What do I use?

As mentioned, I do a lot of kayak fishing in a tidal estuary where I use an 8.5ft sit on top model with all of the options listed in the above as well as a trolling motor attached. To be honest, it is perfect for what I use it for which is drifting up and back with the tidal current with two small rods running a lure and locally sourced bait. That said I see no reason why I couldn’t do the same in an inflatable model however – and some do.

I transport it to the water in the tray of my truck and use a trolley to get it to the launch point. It is robust and holds a good track (for its length) and I don’t have to worry about it on the oyster beds etc. near where I launch. The issues with it I experience are to do with storage at home – it does take up a lot of space in the garage and it is heavy to lift when loading onto the truck by myself.

3 best fishing kayaks under $1000 - my kayak


And there it is – my take on the inflatable vs hard kayak for fishing argument. I know I probable didn’t do anything to really answer the question here and that is because there are definite uses for both and both are loved by many. At the end of the day, my recommendation is:

Use a hard shell kayak for most fishing unless you don’t have the option to transport or store it easily, or wish to use to for recreation more often than fishing, then go inflatable.

I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them. I would love to hear why you love one over the other below!

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time

Have fun

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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.