Sit On vs Sit In Fishing Kayaks

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts. Today sees us try and answer another common debate when it comes to fishing with my look at sit on vs sit in fishing kayaks. I use a sit on top model myself and to be honest, have never really considered a sit in model for fishing.

However, I was chatting to a friend of mine recently who picked himself up a good little sit in kayak for fishing and has raved about it ever since. He loves the ‘protection’ of it and recons it moves around a lot easier than the sit on top model – which makes sense as it is a little longer and narrower. So for those of you looking for a new fishing kayak and not sure which to choose, let’s check it all out below…

Sit on Top vs Sit in Kayaks

Ok, so the first thing we probably need to do here is quickly outline what each comprises of so we are clear on exactly what it is that we are comparing. So here is what you are looking at when it comes to the great kayak debate…

Sit on Top Kayaks

what to look for in a fishing kayak - sit on top fishing

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. On the downside, there is no protection from the water (you will get a wet backside) and they are also generally slow moving.

Most base model kayaks move about via the traditional paddle method however some higher end options also have foot peddles and hand held rudders to make fishing a little easier.

Sit in Kayaks

sit in vs sit on top kayak - sit in kayak

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.

Most move around with paddles and do hold the added advantage of offering more protection from water spray etc. making them good for those fishing in colder climates. However, they do lack the on-top storage and access capability of their sit on top cousins.

What should they have?

Now I understand we are discussing the differences between the two here however as we are doing so in the context of a good kayak for fishing, then there are some factors that I believe we need regardless of the type you choose. For example, my number one rule is that if you are looking at a kayak and it doesn’t have at least some rod holders, then it is not a fishing kayak.

Options I would like to see include:

  • Rod holders – As above, 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 – preferably with a dry bag but at the very least somewhere to store your extra tackle, water, cell phone and car keys etc. – even the smaller length craft will normally have at least one of these.
  • 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 (and not common in sit in models) 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…
sit in vs sit on top kayak - kayaks

The number and setup of these will obviously vary from kayak to kayak dependent upon the length (where they can fit more in), and price paid. For a good fishing kayak of any type however I would be expecting some of the above at the very least.

What should you choose?

This is where the debate begins. I have mentioned above that I use a sit on top model when I fish and I will elaborate on that below however for now I am going to simply outline the pros and cons of each. That way, you can hopefully make your choice based on the fishing you plan to do.

Sit On Top Kayak Pros

  • More cost effective and easier to use for beginners
  • Generally more stable due to their wider build
  • Virtually unsinkable
  • More on-board storage space than sit in models
  • More ‘fishing’ room as you can move 360 degrees around the kayak with ease
  • Easier to get back onto should you capsize
  • Easier to ‘deck out’ with options such as fish finders etc.

Sit in Top Kayak Cons

  • Wider beam makes them slower across the water
  • You will get wet if it is windy or the water is choppy
  • Do not move about easily in choppy water

Use these models when:

I would recommend sit in top models for the following:

  • For beginners new to kayak fishing
  • When you don’t need to travel too far to your fishing hole
  • You prefer stability over speed
  • You have a lot of gear to take with you
  • You don’t have to paddle through a lot of choppy water or strong currents
  • If you want to stand and fish (fly-fishing for Bass for example)

Sit In Kayak Pros

  • Great for covering longer distances
  • Faster across the water
  • Greater protection against wet weather etc. – more so if you use a spray skirt/bib
  • Better protection from the elements for equipment inside cockpit

Sit In Kayak Cons

  • Generally not as well appointed for fishing
  • Not as much storage room as a sit on top model
  • Not easy to re-enter should you capsize
  • Can be sunk if cockpit fills
  • Not as stable if you are moving around a bit – or have a big catch on the line
  • Generally more expensive than sit on top models

Use these models when:

I would recommend sit in models for the following:

  • When you need to travel a fair way, or across stronger currents to your fishing destination
  • You constantly fish in areas with higher winds, sea spray or colder temperatures
  • You don’t like getting wet
  • Multi-day fishing trips
  • You only use lures and not live bait (i.e. don’t need to keep it anywhere)


Are sit-in or sit-on kayaks better for fishing?

I personally recommend a sit on kayak for fishing as they are better set out and have more room to move around.

What is the most stable kayak for fishing?

Sit on top kayaks are generally more stable.

What are the pros and cons of a sit-on-top kayak?

See above

What is the difference between a fishing kayak and a regular kayak?

In general, any kayak can be fished from however in my opinion, a fishing kayak has at least a rod holder included in the design. In most cases they should also be set out with enough space to hold all of your fishing gear as well.

What do I use?

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 previous section above. I paid just under $500 for it and 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.

It has 4 rod holders which I use for my two rods and a net, two dry hatches, netted storage at the back and I have attached a small trolling motor to it as well.

kayak fishing tips - kayak carrier

My recommendation

Now, I don’t normally stick my head out in these posts as for every person who likes one thing when it comes to fishing, there are just as many who like the other. However, here I am afraid I would have to say that if you are in the market for a good fishing kayak, unless you need to paddle a long way the get yourself a sit on top model.

They are just easier to use when fishing due to their stability and ability to keep everything you need on top with you. Sure you will get a little wet, but in my experience this is a small price to pay for the advantages you get with these models.


And there it is – my take on the sit on top vs sit in kayak argument. I certainly have my opinions as above however many fish in both and find both just as effective for their needs.

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.