Kayak fishing was first practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Arctic region. It was a secret means of hunting on the water.
Although you may not be interested in hitting arctic waters to hunt for seal blubber, you are reading this article because you are ready to step off of dry land and into the world of kayak fishing.
That first step is to outfit yourself with a good kayak. Let’s talk about the things you’ll need to know before choosing your aquatic hunting platform.
If you’ve never been kayak fishing, see that it’s much safer and more straightforward to learn that it may seem. Kayak manufacturers have been developing kayaks specifically designed for fishing for well over ten years.
Over that time, they’ve become increasingly more stable, comfortable, and conducive to an extended fishing trip.
Most are outfitted with things like anchoring systems, hatches to store your fish, paddle systems, handlebars, and places to hold your fishing rod.
In this article, we’ll review the best fishing kayaks on the market for 2018. Let’s first start with our top picks this year:
Quick Picks: Best Fishing Kayak for 2018
1. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL
The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL Angler Kayak is a seriously awesome angler kayak. It comes loaded with features, has an extra seat for a friend, and comes in at a very affordable price point.
This kayak was one of the first tandem fishing kayaks to hit the market and is still one of the most popular and highly-rated. At just over 13 feet long and nearly 3 feet wide, the Malibu Two XL Angler has the size to accommodate up to 2 adults and one small child.
This is great for couples who want to go fishing together, a dad who wants to take his son fishing for the first time, or any individual who wants a ton of extra legroom.
This kayak can do it all:
Built specifically for fishing, the Malibu Two XL Angler has ample storage for rods, paddles, bait, and fishing gear for two people. It also allows for the addition of up to two round Gaspachi hatches which will prevent water from entering the kayak.
Our research found that paddlers loved the versatility of this kayak. Most notably the maneuverability in the water (especially considering it can fit two people), the tracking, and the overall comfortability.
You just can’t beat the price, either.
On the downside, the only real complaint we found was that some paddlers found this kayak a bit heavy. At 74 pounds, we’ve certainly seen fishing kayaks that are much heavier, so with two people carrying it; it should be no problem.
Overall this is our favorite fishing kayak of 2018.
It has all the bells and whistles you’ll need to have a serious fishing excursion – either alone or with a companion – all at a price that won’t break the bank.
2. Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler
Next up is another Ocean Kayak model – the Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak. Designed by professional kayak anglers, the Prowler 13 is a perfect balance of everything you’d look for in a fishing kayak.
It performs well on the water, as it’s stable yet quick and maneuverable – especially considering the 13-foot length. Our research has found that it shows best on rough seas but can handle just about any element.
The other thing paddlers love about this kayak is the comfortability. During design, the pros felt that a fishing kayak needs to be comfortable and able to handle a long day out on the water.
The ACS II Seat has adjustable leg and thigh support, a quick-dry mesh fabric, and a sleek, ergonomic design. A paddler we found through our research was 6’6″, 265 pounds and had no problems feeling comfortable.
One other feature we loved was simple, yet innovative. The Sonar Shield is a protective shield outfitted on the Prowler 13 that guards your fish finder against water and glare from the sun.
This keeps your vision clear, so you don’t miss a golden opportunity to reel in a big fish. We found one paddler through our research that weighed over 200 pounds and was able to take his 40-pound dog on the kayak with him without any issues.
Other paddlers also loved the speed and turning ability of the Prowler13 Angler. We found that there weren’t a lot of negatives to this kayak. One user wasn’t expecting the dry-hatch system – which is a locking mechanism, not snapping straps.
The Trident 13 Angler is an excellent choice.
While slightly more expensive than the tandem Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL Angler Kayak, we found that it has a nice balance of features and performance with a fair price, all backed by a good warranty from a great company.
- Johnson Outdoors Watercraft
The Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 Kayak is arguably the best fishing kayak on the market. It has a premium price tag, but it’s loaded with features to match the cost. In fact, if it weren’t for the hefty price tag, this would have been our #1 pick this year.
Hobie has also added more new features since last year’s model, which I’ll discuss below. One of the coolest features of the 2017 Pro Angler 14 is the MirageDrive 180 system. For those of you who aren’t familiar, let me explain.
Typical kayaks need you to use a paddle to propel the boat. Hobie has implemented a paddling system that allows you to move the kayak as if you were riding a bike.
In this year’s version, they’ve added a tab you can pull to switch the direction of the paddles. Meaning you can put the kayak in reverse:
Hobie has also upgraded the seating system for this year. The new Vantage Seating system features a chair with the full lumbar support that you can move up and down.
This helps your vantage point when fishing and helps those who are bigger and taller be more comfortable in the kayak. The seat can also fold up, which is nice because it puts it out of the way when you want to stand up while fishing.
Finally, the chair has a new mesh fabric that dries much quicker than other materials. This is useful because you’re sure to get wet while fishing.
The only primary concern paddlers found with this kayak was the weight. Without any gear, it clocks in at about 120 pounds.
This isn’t that big of an issue, though. A heavier kayak can often be more stable on the water. It won’t wobble back and forth as much as a lighter kayak would.
When transporting it, you can attach a dolly system to the kayak (and store it there). This makes it easy to get from your truck to the water.
If you’re serious about kayak fishing, the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 is the kayak for you. It has a hefty price tag, but all the features make it worth the cost.
This is a perfect kayak for someone who wants to go on full-day fishing excursions, too. The combination of features and comfortability make it one of our top picks overall.
- Powered by MirageDrive with Glide Technology pedal drive system. This innovative system frees up your hands as well as uses a larger muscle group to make kayaking easier and more efficient.
- The Vantage seating system has been added to the 2015 model to provide more comfort during long periods of time on the water and is easily adjustable for maximum support.
- Horizontal storage for four rods, vertical storage for two rods, and easy access to tackle.
- New for 2015 is the H-Rail mounting system for increased versatility and the Tracing Keel for improved tracking.
- Lowrance Ready installation system for simple addition of a fishfinder.
This kayak is seriously awesome. It’s 10 feet long and only 59 pounds but packs a serious punch with features.
Like the Mirage Pro Angler 14, the only thing keeping the Native Watercraft Slayer 10 Propel Kayak Lizard Lick at the top of our list is the price.
The Slayer Propel 10 is one of the few kayaks that features a pedaling system. Also like the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14 Kayak, the Propel allows you to pedal in reverse.
It features two dry storage hatches – a 17 inch one on the bow and another 5 inch one on the back. This provides plenty of space to keep your phone, extra clothes, or any other personal belongings you’ll need while out on the water all day fishing.
It’s stable but also moves quickly on the water. When pedaling, you can typically average 3-4 miles per hour in typical water conditions without wearing yourself out.
Other features include a rudder control system (which will help the kayak stay on course since it’s so light), a clean design that allows for standing and casting (surprisingly accommodating to even tall paddlers), and a seat that’s comfortable for all-day (and hands-free) fishing.
Our research found that paddlers just loved this kayak, even considering the more premium price tag. Users found that it covers long distances with ease, it’s very stable, and turns and maneuvers without any problem.
The paddle system was found to be a huge bonus as well. Often your arms can get tired when paddling all day, so having the ability to paddle with your legs saves the much-needed energy in your arms for wrangling a big fish. Older paddlers also found the paddle system helpful.
One of the negatives our research found was also the paddle system. It’s designed to accommodate what seems like people over 5’6” – so if you’re under that height, you may have a difficult time reaching the paddles comfortably.
Loaded with features and an intuitive, reversible paddling system, the Slayer Propel 10 is a formidable choice for someone who wants a premium fishing kayak at a middle-of-the-road price.
We also recommend this kayak for those who want something that doesn’t weigh a lot or take up a lot of space. It’s short, light, and easy to transport – which makes it another one of our favorite picks this year.
- Features Natives unique pedal drive system which can go in forward or reverse
- Uncluttered flat deck area provides plenty of room to stand comfortably
- Plenty of Groove Track Accessory Mounts provide almost limitless customizing options
- Open Bow Storage is perfect for storing PFDs or other accessories, and perfectly fits Native fishing bags
The Ocean Kayak Prowler Big Game II 2017 is another one of our favorite fishing kayaks this year. It was built for serious anglers who need a premium kayak to carry lots of gear. It has tons of space for comfortable seating and legroom, plus ample storage space for rods, bait, fish, and other necessities.
With all of these features, you’d think the Prowler Big Game Angler doesn’t perform that well on the water. Not true. Our research has found that it’s one of the best performing fishing kayaks on the market.
It features six mounting brackets, all wisely placed, so you can rig it with whatever accessories you want with ease. It also has stern stringers on the back-end so you can haul heavier loads if needed. This is useful if you’re planning on being out on the water for a day or multiple days.
Finally, the Element Seating system just rocks. It has three settings:
- Travel – a lower seating position for more stability
- Attack – raised up for engaged fishing
- Stand-up – rotated out of the way so you can stand to cast
Overall this kayak has a great price point and features a lot of additions that you won’t find on other models. Users love it, and we highly recommend it for its balance of versatility, performance, and price.
- Hull Material: LT900 polyethylene
- Length: 12 ft 9 in
- Width: 34 in
- Maximum Load: 550 - 660 lb
- Cockpit Dimensions: [seat width x leg length] 21 x 50 in
What to look for in a fishing kayak
First of all, it’s impossible for one fishing kayak to fit everyone’s needs and budget. Before deciding what kind you’ll need (and how much you should spend), you need to determine where you’ll be doing most of your fishing.
Before setting foot in a watersports showroom or perusing a single online catalog, you need to consider the type of fishing you would like to do:
- Are you headed offshore to fight in a monster grouper?
- Will bass fishing in a local lake be more to your liking?
- Will you mostly be in clear, calm, fresh water in a warm climate?
- Are you planning to tackle choppy rivers?
- Are you brave enough to venture out into the open ocean?
The best fishing kayaks have ample seating and legroom and plenty of storage space for your food and gear. Be sure to consider the type of fishing you’ll do as well as the representative bodies of water you will spend your time on.
Standing up on your boat while casting for bass will require a broader, more stable platform. If you are launching through the surf on your way to the deeper waters of the ocean, you will need a kayak that can cut through the crashing waves near the beach.
These questions are essential, and unfortunately, you don’t always know. That’s why having a sense of what you want to do, along with our in-depth research, will have you out on the water in no time. For shopping success, start by considering the result you want.
Know the basics
Just like buying a car, buying a kayak means you have to weigh pros and cons. No single one will give you everything you want, so you have to know where you’re willing to give a little.
Whether it’s luxury, features, price, or something else, you have to be willing to bend on something. Before you decide which of these fishing kayaks to go with, you should be familiar with some of the essential components that will help you make your decision.
Some of the most feature-loaded kayaks are also the heaviest. A heavy kayak isn’t a lousy kayak, but it will require you to have a car that can haul it. You’ll also have to consider how you’ll get it from your car into the water, which may require a particular cart with wheels, depending on the distance.
For the actual seat, cheaper kayaks will almost always have a seat formed into them (like an impression) for you to pop right in. Sometimes they’ll have a removable seat pad, too. More expensive fishing kayaks feature advanced, adjustable seating that is far more comfortable for a long day of fishing.
How the kayak moves across the water may not seem like something you need to think about. But if you’re spending all day out on choppy waters, your arms might get tired from paddling. While you maneuver most kayaks with a paddle, some of the premium models feature motors or pedals to help you glide through the water with more efficiency.
Storage is crucial with a fishing kayak, especially if you’re planning to spend most of the day out on the water. You’ll need space to keep food, water (or beer), your phone and other belongings, as well as the fish you catch (or the live bait you might use to find them).
If you’re camping or need an extra pair of clothes, you’ll want to make sure your fishing kayak has a sealed dry hatch that’s big enough to store everything without weighing you down.
Will you sit on top or inside?
The gateway decision for getting your ideal kayak is whether you should purchase a sit-on-top or a sit-inside kayak. Although you will find sit-on-top kayaks to be more popular with anglers, both choices have something to offer.
Sit-on-top kayaks have become increasingly popular with fishers because their sealed chambers make them virtually unsinkable. These reliable boats are self-bailing, which means that any water shipped will drain out the scuppers at the bottom of the seating area. The one caveat with this arrangement is that a self-bailing kayak will always equal wet clothing.
Sit-inside kayaks have points of merit that are worth considering. Since they don’t require as much material to make, they can be lighter than a sit-on-top boat.
It’s also possible to paddle around in a sit-inside kayak without getting the seat of your pants wet. These kayaks place your center of gravity lower, too. A lower center of gravity contributes to a more stable ride.
Which is better – wider or longer?
The answer will depend on the conditions you will fish in and what is important to you. To answer this question for yourself, start by understanding the benefits of each option.
Generally speaking, a wider kayak will give you more stability but will be slower on the water. If you are paddling long distances across the lake or in the ocean, a wide kayak will give you a workout before you reach your favorite fishing spot. While they don’t cut through waves as quickly, a shorter boat will make tight maneuvers with ease.
A longer kayak will glide through the water straight and true. These sleek boats are faster and require less energy to go places. You will see a lot of ocean kayakers in these sharp-nosed versions because they pierce through waves with ease.
According to Ric Burnley at Kayak Angler Magazine, fishers who plan on launching from the beach should consider a long, lean boat that will break through the surf with ease and speed. The breakers near some beaches have a habit of capsizing unsuspecting kayakers in plain view of surfers, fishing buddies, and bikini babes.
A long, slender kayak increases your chances of passing the surf with your dignity and gear intact. You may have noticed that I did not include a long, wide kayak as an option. That’s because a behemoth kayak that is both lengthy and girthy would require a small Viking crew to row you around.
Manufacturers know this, and hence, your choices are long and slender or short and wide. To lay eyes a nice helping of different sized kayaks, check out the video below from Paddling.net. Jeff Little will show you a variety of sizes and point out the benefits of each.
Go on; I’ll wait:
Let’s talk about stability
To understand how a boat stays upright, you’ll need to know at least two terms: primary stability and secondary stability. Throwing technical terms around may make you want to hide under your desk.
But consider that a salesperson is going to use these smart sounding words to sell you a kayak. It’s better to arm yourself before you shop.
- Primary stability is the stability you feel when sitting relatively flat in your kayak. Beginners will gravitate to a boat that gives them lots primary stability.
- Secondary stability is the ability of a boat to return to the upright position after it has been heeled to one side or the other. Experienced kayakers tend to value secondary stability a bit more than primary stability.
It’s common for a beginner to purchase a kayak that has ultimate primary stability, only to later wish that he had considered secondary stability as well. Manufacturers and salespeople will often use a sharp looking graph with an expensive looking squiggly line across it to express a kayak’s primary and secondary stability.
When this happens to you, keep your game face on and keep a few things in mind:
- Look across the bottom of the chart for a set of numbers usually marked in increments of ten. This expresses the angle that you might tip your kayak to the side.
- The initial upward curve of the data line shows you the primary stability. A craft with high primary stability will demonstrate a sharp upward trajectory before its apex and reversal.
- The reversal and downward track that follows the primary stability curve will show you the rate at which the given kayak will stay stable as you heel it further to the side. The sooner this line plunges below the zero line, the sooner you get to go swimming. This part of the curve represents the secondary stability.
If you would like to understand stability better, get familiar with the terms center of gravity and center of buoyancy. Again, these two terms sound like boat design voodoo, but they are simple.
- Center of gravity (or mass) is the point where the weight of your boat and yourself will push down towards the center of the earth.
- Center of buoyancy is the point in space where the air volume in your kayak acts to push your boat upwards. Think of these two terms as a push and pull affair.
I’m going to give you another useful generalization without causing your brain to lock up with formulas and ten dollar words. When a boat tips to the side, the center of gravity and center of buoyancy will both move to the side.
The design of the boat and several other factors will determine how fast and far these two points will travel. When the center of buoyancy moves to the side faster than the center of gravity, the boat has more stability.
Once the center of gravity moves further than the center of buoyancy, the kayak tips over. Remember these terms when perusing data about the stability of a particular kayak. Here’s a quick video recapping the gist of what I’m saying:
Which construction method is best?
If you plan to bring this question up at your next kayaker’s club meeting, be prepared for a ten-hour debate to follow. I’m not going to help you win any arguments here; I’ll give you the basics of the most common kayak materials and the benefits of each.
- Solid polyethylene is the most common material that kayaks are made from today. This material makes a tough kayak that is lightweight. As the name implies, one thick layer of polyethylene forms the walls of the kayak.
- Three-layer polyethylene kayaks are a sandwich of polyethylene, buoyant foam and an inner layer of polyethylene. While these kayaks may be semi-buoyant when swamped, this construction method is not as durable as the single-layer method. In a poorly made kayak, these three layers can delaminate as the hull flexes with use.
- Fiberglass is lighter than polyethylene but not as tough. While a fiberglass kayak may be more comfortable to carry to the shore, it will undoubtedly give your bank account a good paddling when you purchase it. You saw what I just did there, right?
- A Kevlar carbon kayak is the one to have if you are planning on competing and don’t mind selling a kidney to get one. These posh kayaks are lightweight and sturdy.
How does shape affect performance?
As you may have noticed, kayaks come in all kinds of shapes. Some look like a smooth work of art while others appear to have been run over by a dump truck. Is there any point to these wildly varying forms? Yes – and before you shop, get a good understanding of the variables that will affect the performance of your chosen kayak.
Take a lateral slice
If you went into an outdoor store and sliced a kayak like it was a loaf of bread, you would probably go to jail for the night. Let’s only IMAGINE taking a slice of that kayak and looking at its shape. I’m not going to go into an exhaustive 900-page treatise on every hull shape imaginable, but a few general rules seem reasonable to me.
- A flat-bottomed boat will turn tight circles when you want it to. The tradeoff here is that they will not glide forward in a straight line very well. The primary stability of a flat-bottomed boat is usually pretty good.
- A round or “V” shaped hull will track a lot better than a flat one but will not turn as tight. Its primary stability may not be as good as a flat bottom.
There are all kinds of creative and unnatural variations of these two basic hull shapes. If you would like to read further on the subject, check out this design terminology guide.
Check out the shape from above
While considering a kayak’s overall form will not require you to cut it in half, it will tell you a lot about how a kayak will perform in the water. Imagine the kayak from a bird’s perspective. I am not asking you to view all kayaks as a target to mess on, look at it!
According to Tom Holtey at TopKayaker.net, there are a few things you can glean from this overhead view:
- When the front and back of a kayak are symmetrical, they are generally easier to maneuver and turn.
- When the kayak is asymmetrical, resembling a straight teardrop with the front end sharper than the back, this is called a swedeform. These provide more speed and straighter tracking. The nose will pierce through waves easily.
- An asymmetrical kayak that has more volume at the front than the back is called a fishform. The added capacity in the bow will allow the front to ride up over the waves.
What is chine?
Although the term sounds nautical and complicated, it isn’t. Chine is how smooth the shape of the hull is when you look at that imaginary slice.
Whatever the shape is, a smooth transition across the bottom of the hull is a soft chine, and a hard chine has clear lines where one angle meets the other. Flip your prospective kayak over and note if it is a hard chine or soft chine boat.
- A soft chine kayak will transition through its primary and secondary stability ranges gradually.
- The stability of a hard chine boat will transition more abruptly.
Imagine this difference when you are sitting in a kayak fighting a fish that seems determined to pull you into the water.
What’s the difference between an angler model and a stock model?
When a supplier sells you a kayak and tells you it is an angler model, it merely means that the kayak is outfitted with the extras that you will need to use it for fishing. You can buy a stock model and equip it yourself, or go for a kayak that is ready to go the moment you get it home.
Either way, consider these items that you may need in a kayak that you intend to fish from:
- Rod holders
- Pole leashes so you don’t “deep six” your favorite fishing pole
- A hand operated bilge pump for sit-inside kayaks
- Storage compartments or racks
- A small, collapsible anchor on an anchor trolley that allows the anchor to be attached to the bow, but lowered from your seat
- Required navigation lights for kayaking after dark
For a Rolls Royce version of a fishing kayak, your supplier will be happy to sell you a kayak already equipped with some useful extras:
- Fishfinder to locate where the fish are swimming
- GPS/chart plotter so you don’t get lost
- Submersible VHF radio for safety calling
- Trolling motor and installed battery to zip through the water quietly
Consider how you’ll get your kayak to the water
Purchasing the ultimate kayak can flood you with feelings of happiness mixed with a sense of panic once you realize you have to explain to your wife why the bank account seems to have taken a hit. All joking aside, the very reason kayak fishing is so popular is that it’s much more economical than bass fishing from a $23,000 boat.
In all of the excitement, don’t forget to pause and ask yourself a few questions about how you will get your kayak to the water.
Is your vehicle equipped to handle it?
You can add kayak racks to the existing rooftop racks that are already on many vehicles. Once your kayak supports are in place, merely lash the kayak to the support.
Paul Presson at Southern Kayak Fishing Magazine warns us to always tie the bow and stern of your kayak down in addition to the mid-straps. If your kayak is longer than your vehicle, use a long load flag to keep other drivers aware of your added length.
Once you transport your kayak to the water where you will fish, will you usually have a companion to help you carry it to the water’s edge? This consideration may dictate the style and weight of the kayak you should buy.
If you fish alone but still want a more massive kayak than you can carry, you can skip a hernia by purchasing a wheeled kayak caddy.
Make it happen
Now that you understand what the different features and options in kayak designs will do for you, I suggest that you sit down with a pen and paper to write down what you would like in a fishing kayak. Writing this down ahead of time will keep you in charge of the shopping process.
It helps you decide what is essential, rather than letting a salesman determine for you. Grab the kayak of your dreams, pack a lunch, always wear a PFD and for goodness’ sake, NEVER watch the movie Jaws the night before you go kayak fishing.