What To Look For In A Fishing Kayak

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts. Recently I was chatting to a friend of mine who is looking to buy himself a kayak to fish from. We talked through it all and I sent him on his way. It was then I realised that I hadn’t actually discussed that in any great detail here. So to fix that, welcome to my post where I discuss what to look for in a fishing kayak…

Now as usual, when it comes to fishing kayaks there are just so many different types and variations that it can be hard to work out exactly what you need. To assist then, I have broken this down into three areas:

  1. What they must have
  2. What they should have
  3. What they can have

So grab yourself a nice cold beverage and a snack and let’s see if we can help you work through what to consider as you look to purchase a fishing kayak…

Types of Kayaks

I guess the first thing we should look at is that there are the actually three types of kayaks available out there to purchase. There are variations to each – I.e. ones made for fishing, recreation, racing or other sports – however in general, there are:

Sit on top kayaks

As the name suggests, sit on top kayaks are the style that you sit on top of as you paddle along. They 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.

Shorter models are great for estuaries, rivers and lakes etc. where you might be maneuvering between logs, tree and other structures as they can turn quite quickly. If however you are looking to head out on the ocean or need to travel further to get to your fishing spot then a larger, longer option may suit.

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

Most move about via the traditional paddle method however some also have foot peddles and rudders to make fishing a little easier.

Check out these: Sit on top kayaks

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 manoeuvrable as well.

Most move around with paddles and do hold the added advantage of offering more protection from water spray etc. as well. The only real issues with them is a matter of real estate. Sit in models suffer from a definite reduction in accessibility to items such as tackle boxes and extra rods as if they do fit in, they have to be squeezed down beside you inside the hull.

Check out these: Sit in fishing kayaks

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

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are pumped up with air for use and come in both sit on or sit in options. Many do come with fishing capabilities and can definitely be used in this capacity. They are also very good where storage and transportation space is limited (I.e. you don’t have a roof rack or trailer on which to carry the hard plastic versions).

If I am being honest however, I have been fishing with people in inflatable kayaks and they just don’t work as well as the two types listed above. My opinion, keep them for recreation purposes where they are a lot of fun but maybe leave them alone as a fishing option (would love however some comments below if you do fish from an inflatable kayak).

Check out these: Inflatable fishing kayaks

Other Factors

Before we look at what we need in our kayaks, let’s just have a quick look at some other factors to consider…


In addition to the three main type of kayaks outlined above, environment can play a factor as well. So as you start to look into the type of kayak you would be looking to purchase, the first thing to consider is where you will be using them. Think about:

  • 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, sit in 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 sit on top model will work better.
  • Hazards – Some water locations (especially lakes) contain hazards such as rocks and fallen trees etc. which whilst generally do not bother a kayak as they may a faster moving motor boat, they are still something to be aware of. 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.

There is more to this but from the point of view of fishing from a kayak, as long as none of the above are too extreme, then you should be ok in any model. At the end of the day, the main question to ask yourself is whether you need to more balance or more speed to be able to manoeuvre around your chosen waterway.

what to look for in a fishing kayak - inflatable fishing kayak


As mentioned above, there are definite considerations in terms of length when it comes to a fishing kayak which can range from around 8 ft up to 13 – 14ft long. Depending on the environmental and fish factors we have discussed above, you may consider the following:

Short craft (8 – 9ft) – The shorter the craft, the easier it is to turn however not the fastest thing you will ever sit in. It will also not hold a glide over the water for very long and is very susceptible to anything other than flat water. Very good for lakes etc. where waters are not rough and manoeuvrability around trees and rocks etc. is required or estuaries with minor currents (like the one I fish in).

Medium craft (10 – 12ft) – Many consider this to be the perfect length for a fishing kayak as they can handle rougher water whilst maintaining stability with a little more speed. They are a little harder to move around in than the short craft but a little faster with better water glide (a.k.a. tracking) to keep the craft moving forward with momentum.

Long craft (13ft+) – If speed a must, or are you planning to do a bit on the open ocean, then I would suggest a longer kayak option. Manoeuvrability and turning is a problem here (think Titanic) however but if you are chasing fast fish – or need to travel larger distances to get to the fishing grounds – then good length is a must. Longer models can also be fitted with foot pedals for faster movement as well however they are also a bit more on the expensive side.

What they must have

Ok, now we get into what we need to ensure we have on our kayak to make it suitable for fishing. As I mentioned above, as long as it floats, there is no reason why you cannot fish from any kayak (a friend of mine fishes from a stand up paddle board of all things). However, if you are purchasing one for the express purpose of fishing, then I my personal opinion, it MUST include the following:

Rod holders

Yep – to be considered a fishing kayak, I strongly believe that it must come with rod holders. Fishing rods are the number one need for fishing so it goes without saying that you will need somewhere to put them when you are not actually fishing. I use them for a number of reasons:

  • Somewhere to put my rod when I am paddling.
  • I can take more than one rod with me.
  • Stops my rods from falling off/out.
  • I can carry a net as well.
  • I can drift/troll with multiple rods.

In most cases, rod holders will be flush mounted into the vessel however if needed, you can screw extras onto the side or centre as well.

DIY fishing kayak modifications - rod holder

And to be honest, that is it! That is the only thing that I think you absolutely must have if you are looking for a kayak for fishing.

Check out these: Rooftop Kayak Carriers

What they should have

There are however obviously some other inclusions that I would like to see on a decent kayak to the used for fishing. These include:


Generally when you head out onto the water, you will be taking more than just some rods with you. So if you can, look for a kayak with some storage cavities – preferably with a dry bag. This way you will have somewhere to keep your extra tackle, water, cell phone and car keys etc. – even the smaller length craft will normally have two 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 (as you can use a bait belt) but very nice to have. Larger models also contain wet ‘bucket’s for live bait, ice slushies for your catch or even just ice and drinks etc.

DIY fishing kayak modifications - Hatch

Netted storage

Netted storage areas 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…

The number and setup of these will obviously vary from vessel to vessel dependent upon the length but for a general fishing kayak however I would be expecting one or two at the very least.

Check out these: Life jackets for the kayak

What they can have

Again as I have mentioned above, there are a great number of other options and accessories to choose from, look for, or add to a kayak. I will not go into them all too much here however many come with general inclusions as such as chairs, paddle holders and clips rings all of which can certainly make things a little easier or more comfortable when out on the water. If you are looking at larger models however then you may want to consider:


To account for their lack of manoeuvrability, some larger model kayaks come equipped with rudders to assist with steering. They are generally managed via foot pedals and used in conjunction with the paddle. They are also great if you are drifting in the current and wish to keep the vessel moving in a particular direction.

Foot pedals

Larger ocean going or long distance options can be fitted with foot pedals to be used either in conjunction with, or instead of, a paddle. These are also great for those who want to keep the kayak moving in one direction whilst keeping two hands free for the art of fishing.

There are of course many other after market options as well such as anchors, trolling motors and lights etc. however the above are the basics as I see them.


What type of kayak is best for fishing?

In my opinion, Sit on Top kayaks are best for fishing as they are more stable and easier to get on and off. They provide more room to move around in and in the case of larger options, can allow the fisher to stand up on as well. And finally, many come with essentials such as rod holders and storage cavities built in.

Are pedal kayaks good for fishing?

Absolutely. Pedal kayaks provide a number of advantages for fishing such as the ability to move around without needing to paddle – which obviously means your hands are free to hold the fishing rod instead. Another advantage is the fact that they are really good if you need to travel a bit further to your fishing spot as well.

What do I use?

kayak fishing tips - kayak carrier

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 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 (small crustations we call ‘yabbies’).

I keep my life jacket in the back netted storage (as we are only required by law to have on one board) as well as a fishing knife. In the first dry pocket storage I keep a small plastic container with some extra tackle as there are some snags in the water and a ‘dry wallet’ with my phone, wallet and keys. In the front dry pocket I keep a ‘keeper bag’.

It has 4 rod holders which I use for my two rods and a net which is needed as one of the species we chase will drop the hook if you try and lift it into the kayak.

The kayak is easy to manoeuvre and will run quite well with the current. It’s downfall however is if I have to paddle against the tide or wind where the kayak does become a bit cumbersome and I get soaked…


And there it is – what to look for in a fishing kayak. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.

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


What To Look For In A Fishing Kayak - Pinterest

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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.