Are Fishing Kayaks Good for Recreational Use? (The Answer!)

Have you ever wondered what makes a fishing kayak a fishing kayak?

And are fishing kayaks good for recreational use?

If you’re new to kayaking, or you’re thinking about getting into the sport, the differences between these boats might not always be apparent.

In this article, we answer both of those questions, and more besides – to help point you in the right direction.

Because sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of versatility!

Table of Contents

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Can You use a Fishing Kayak for Recreation? The Short Answer

I understand that you might be in a bit of a rush and don’t have time to scroll through this already short article.

So, here’s the answer in a nutshell.

With some caveats, you can use a fishing kayak for recreational purposes.

But why?

And what are the limitations?

How are they different from recreational kayaks?

What is a recreational kayak anyway?!

Read on for the answers to these questions and more – plus some top tips for using your fishing kayak for recreation.

kayaker with paddle on lake

Types of Kayak

Depending on the kind of paddling you’re into, there are several types of kayak available:

  • Recreational kayaks.
  • Fishing kayaks.
  • Whitewater kayaks.
  • Racing kayaks.
  • Sea/touring kayaks.

And they are usually available in the following designs, or variations thereof.

  • Sit-inside kayaks.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks.
  • Hardshell kayaks.
  • Inflatable kayaks.
  • Tandem kayaks.
  • Pedal kayaks.
  • Motor kayaks.

For example, you can have a sit-on-top, pedal, tandem, recreational kayak.

And you can have a sit-inside, hardshell, touring kayak.

But you won’t find an inflatable racing kayak, or a pedal whitewater kayak.

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t advise using a whitewater kayak for fishing, or a touring kayak for recreation.

And a whitewater kayak isn’t going to be suitable for racing, while a touring kayak isn’t suitable for whitewater.

Makes perfect sense, right?!

It might be a little confusing at first, but by applying a bit of common sense, you’ll soon get the hang of what goes where.

And watching the video below will also help.

If you’re looking for fishing-specific kayaks, we have plenty of reviews for you to explore at your leisure.

Try this article on the best inflatable fishing kayaks for the ultimate in portability.

Go here for the best pedal fishing kayaks for the ultimate in luxury.

They say that two’s company, and you can find that out by trying one of these tandem fishing kayaks.

This review offers what we think are the best fishing kayaks currently available overall.

But we’re looking at recreational kayaks vs fishing kayaks here, so let’s explore the main differences between the two, and see if the latter can be used as the former!

What is a Recreational Kayak?

Recreational kayaks come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re most commonly nine to twelve feet in length.

They can be sit-inside or sit-on-top versions, and they can be inflatable or hardshells.

They are usually very basic boats, with streamlined or limited features, offering a balance of moderate performance.

A recreational kayak will typically favor maneuverability over speed and tracking – although they generally track better and are faster than fishing kayaks, depending on comparable quality.

As they’re suitable for beginners, recreational kayaks usually offer good stability, but this is where a fishing kayak will have them beat.

Recreational kayaks are typically very lightweight, and can easily be transported for vacations and fun days on the water at short notice.

As for price, you’ll find that recreational kayaks are by far the cheapest models on the market, which is beneficial for new kayakers or anyone on a budget looking for access to the sport.

Finally, recreational kayaks are intuitive to use, and they have a very shallow learning curve.

Basically, they’re the kind of boats you take to the seaside for a fun time splashing about on the water.

Some great examples include the Intex Challenger , the Perception Joyride, the Sun Dolphin Aruba, the Pelican Argo, and – at the higher end – the Old Town Loon, and the Wilderness Systems Targa.

Of course, that’s barely scratching the surface of what’s out there when it comes to recreational kayaks, and they are by far the most popular, and best-selling type of kayak in the world.

But how do they compare to a dedicated fishing kayak?

kayak fisherman in early morning fishing

Fishing Kayaks vs Recreational Kayaks – What’s the Difference?

How much do you read online kayaking websites, blogs, and review content?

You might notice that some so-called “kayak fishing” sites will try to shoe-horn in any old kayak and claim that it can be used for fishing purposes.

And while you can fish out of almost anything (there’s literally a guy who made a fishing boat from a couple of bathtubs) I think a genuine fishing kayak should come with some fishing features at the very least.

As such, when reviewing fishing kayaks, I try to look for the following features that generally set these craft apart from typical recreational boats.

  • At least one rod holder – but the more, the merrier.
  • Plenty of storage options – including tackle trays, center consoles, and tank wells for kayak fishing coolers, or fishing crates and tackle boxes.
  • Gear accessory tracks.
  • Staging areas.
  • Paddle parks for hands-free fishing.
  • Scupper holes for adding fish finders/transducers.
  • A wide, spacious deck area.
  • Comfortable seating – a padded seat with an aluminum frame is preferable.
  • EVA deck padding if it’s been designed to be a good stand-up fishing kayak.
  • Anchor trolley.
  • Transom mount/motor compatible.
  • Fish rulers.

Note – not all fishing kayaks have all these features – and there are plenty of exceptions.

The Wilderness Systems Radar 135 is an excellent fishing machine, for example, but it doesn’t come with rod holders as standard!

Aside from these features, there are a couple of other factors that set fishing kayaks and recreational kayaks apart.

Fishing kayaks tend to be larger and heavier. That’s not always the case, but it isn’t a bad rule of thumb to go by.

You will likely need a good kayak cart to help you transport a fishing kayak to and from the water, whereas most recreational kayaks can be carried by one person, and easily hoisted onto a roof rack.

However, this extra size and weight allows fishing kayaks to have higher weight capacities, and you can carry more gear and equipment in a fishing kayak than you can in a recreational one.

They’re also slower and less maneuverable than a recreational kayak – again, comparatively speaking.

So, with all the main differences laid out, the question remains…

angler fishing on a kayak in the fog

Can a Fishing Kayak be Used for Recreational Paddling?

Yes – with two main caveats.

As fishing kayaks are usually larger and heavier than your typical recreational kayak, they might not be the best for solo paddlers or youngsters when trying to get them to and from the water.

However, you might like to take a look at this article on the lightest fishing kayaks on the market, as most (if not all) of them can double as an excellent recreational craft.

The Pelican Mustang 100X is a prime example.

The second caveat comes down to performance.

Fishing kayaks are generally designed to offer excellent primary stability. That means they’re super stable in calm, flat conditions – and feel solid when you first step into them.

They’re not the fastest, and they’re not the most maneuverable kayaks out there. Nor are they suitable for whitewater.

So, if you or your fellow paddlers/family/friends enjoy racing, or even negotiating some choppier conditions – a fishing kayak isn’t going to be your best choice, and will clearly show its limitations.

That said, you might like to try this article on the best sit-inside fishing kayaks.

Sit-inside craft can offer a happy marriage between fishing and paddling in more challenging conditions, and their slim hull design with more pronounced keel will help increase speed.

In short, there’s no reason why you can’t use a fishing kayak for a recreational paddle – simply by leaving all your fishing gear at home the next time you go out on the water.

kayak fisherman on lake fishing

Recreational Kayak vs Fishing Kayak – Which to Choose?

If you’re still pondering which type of kayak is right for your needs, here’s a bite-sized guide to help you make a decision.

Choose a recreational kayak if:

  • You’re a complete beginner, or are purchasing for a new paddler.
  • You’re not interested in fishing – or are not likely to be in the future.
  • You prefer a balance of speed, maneuverability and stability.
  • You’re attracted to fun, casual paddling.
  • You’re on more of a budget.

Choose a fishing kayak if:

  • You’ll be fishing more than recreational paddling.
  • You want the versatility to fish if you want to.
  • You want more on-board storage, and/or to carry more gear.
  • You prefer stability over speed and maneuverability.
  • You’re willing to spend more.

My picks?

For recreational kayaking, something from Pelican or Perception is a great option – especially for beginners – and you can’t go wrong with the Pelican Argo to first get you on the water.

For a dedicated fishing machine, the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler is one of the finest angling kayaks ever made – but with a price tag to match.

And for a hybrid option, a kayak like the Lifetime Teton offers a great balance between the two.

I wish you the best of luck in finding the right kayak for your needs!


So, what do you think?

Are fishing kayaks good for recreational use?

I think so, providing you keep a few of the above factors in mind. But let me know your thoughts in the comments. Have you successfully used a fishing kayak for recreational purposes successfully?

Stay safe out there, and happy kayaking!

Stuart Jameson

Stuart is passionate about travel, kayaking, camping and the great outdoors in general. He's not quite as enthusiastic about angling as his father was, but out of the two of them, he's yet to hook his ear lobe while fly-fishing, which he sees as an absolute win.

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