There’s never been a better time to get into kayak fishing.
Here at Bonfire Bob, we spend a lot of time looking at and evaluating gear, equipment, and tools for use in the great outdoors.
And in the past years, we’ve researched and written dozens of articles on kayaks – particularly of the angling variety.
Coupled with our own paddling experience and expertise, I think we’re in a position to bring you the definitive review of the best fishing kayaks currently on the market in 2023.
A full buyer’s guide and FAQ section will follow, so let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- The Best Fishing Kayaks 2023 – At a Glance
- TOP 12 Best Kayaks for Fishing in 2023
- Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 Kayak
- Old Town Sportsman 120 Fishing Kayak
- Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack Inflatable Kayak
- Perception Outlaw 11.5 Fishing Kayak
- Vibe Shearwater 125 Fishing Kayak
- Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 Fishing Kayak
- Bonafide EX123 Expedition Kayak
- Old Town Sportsman 106 Minn Kota Motorized Kayak
- Perception Pescador Pro 12 Fishing Kayak
- Lifetime Teton 100 Angler Kayak
- The Brooklyn Kayak Company Tandem Kayak
- Vibe Skipjack 90 Fishing Kayak
- How to Choose the Best Fishing Kayak Overall
- What Type of Fishing Kayak are You Interested in?
- Where are You Going to Be Fishing?
- How Large and Lightweight Should the Kayak Be?
- What Kind of Cockpit and Seating are You Looking For?
- How Much Gear do You Want to Bring?
- What Fishing Features are Important to You?
- How do You Intend to Transport and Store the Kayak?
- What’s Your Budget?
- What’s the difference between a fishing kayak and a regular kayak?
- What type of kayak is best for fishing?
- What are the best kayaks for fishing?
- Is a sit-on-top kayak better for fishing?
- How stable are fishing kayaks?
- Which kayak is the most stable for fishing?
- Are inflatable or hardshell kayaks better for fishing?
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The Best Fishing Kayaks 2023 – At a Glance
Before we unveil our top picks for the best fishing kayaks in 2023, here’s a bite-sized guide to the features and factors you need to look out for when choosing a new craft.
- The type of kayak – hardshell or inflatable? Sit-inside or sit-on-top?
- Performance – how does it measure up on the water?
- Materials and construction – we like kayaks that are built to last.
- Comfort – what are you sitting on? Can you spend all day in this kayak?
- Size and weight – see this article for help choosing the right kayak size.
- Weight capacity – how much can the kayak safely hold?
- Fishing-friendly features – rod holders, accessory tracks, tackle trays…what’s on offer?
- Storage options – how much do you need? Will it accommodate your loadout?
- Aesthetic – looks aren’t everything, but sometimes – they are!
- Ease of use – what’s your skill level and experience? Amateur, intermediate, or pro?
- Safety – always an important concern.
- Cost – the very best kayaks offer a nice balance of features and performance at the right price.
With these points in mind, here’s a selection of our top five favorite fishing kayaks, just to get you started.
|Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 Kayak||The Best Pedal Fishing Kayak|
|Old Town Sportsman 120||The Best Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak|
|Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack||The Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak|
|Perception Outlaw 11.5||The Best All-Round Fishing Kayak|
|Vibe Shearwater 125||The Best Feature-Rich Fishing Kayak|
The Hobie is definitely the best pedal fishing kayak on the market, while the Sportsman takes the award for the best sit-on-top fishing kayak overall.
For inflatables, it’s hard to beat the Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack. It’s super durable, with a 360-degree swivel chair, and is easily the best inflatable fishing kayak on the market.
I absolutely love the Perception Outlaw 11.5. It’s offered at a great price point, packed with features, and is one of the best all-round fishing kayaks out there when it comes to versatility.
Finally, the Vibe Shearwater 125 is arguably the most feature-rich and complete fishing machine ever made – right out of the box. It’s also one of the sexiest fishing kayaks I’ve ever seen, and it should win an award for aesthetics alone.
But there are so many more that didn’t quite make the cut!
The Intex Excursion Pro is an awesome budget-friendly, highly portable fishing kayak.
The new Vanhunks Elite Pro Angler offers a lot of bang for your buck and a fresh take on versatility.
The Vibe Sea Ghost is tried, tested, and trusted by plenty of keen kayak anglers.
And that’s barely scratching the surface when it comes to kayaks from the likes of Jackson, Wilderness Systems, Native Watercraft and more.
Do you agree with my choices? Read on for the complete review, and let me know in the comments if you’d switch things around.
TOP 12 Best Kayaks for Fishing in 2023
How to Choose the Best Fishing Kayak Overall
As kayak fishing has exploded in popularity, manufacturers respond by flooding the market with products.
Which has its pros and cons.
One of the downsides is that it becomes harder to choose the right fishing kayak for your needs.
We’re spoiled for choice!
So, with that in mind, we’ve compiled the definitive fishing kayak buying guide, to help you with one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
What Type of Fishing Kayak are You Interested in?
As mentioned above, there are so many categories in which you can classify a kayak. To keep things as simple as possible, we’ve trimmed it down to the main types below.
Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayaks
Overwhelmingly the preferred choice for fishing, sit-on-top kayaks offer the most on-board storage, non-restrictive movement, and comfortable seating area.
They have wide hulls with good primary stability on calm waters (how stable the kayak feels when you first get into it).
Sit-on-top kayaks will also give you the most scope for customization, as well as the best field-of-view.
And they also have a flat deck, which is more suitable for standing, should you wish to practice fly-fishing, for example.
However, don’t expect any speed demons here, as sit-on-top kayaks are generally much slower than sit-inside craft.
They’re also not suitable for fishing in choppy or rough waters, so look elsewhere if you want to combine some adrenaline-fueled whitewater with angling on your next fishing adventure.
Sit-Inside Fishing Kayaks
While not as popular for fishing as sit-on-top models, sit-inside fishing kayaks still have their place in the community – not least because of their more budget-friendly price points.
They’re also faster and more maneuverable, and can be a great option if you’re looking for more of a challenge when it comes to fishing rougher waters.
With a covered deck, (and the option of adding a spray skirt), you can stay warmer and dryer in the cockpit of a sit-inside kayak. This is essential if you want to fish in colder temperatures.
Typically slimmer and lighter than other kayak types, sit-inside craft are a great choice if you’re short on space, and/or you’re looking for something that’s easier to transport than a large, heavy, sit-on-top kayak.
The trade-off is they lack storage space, and short of a rod holder or two, customization and gear track options are limited/nonexistent.
And as a sit-inside kayak has better secondary stability (how tippy the craft feels in choppy water), it’s rare you’ll find one you can stand in.
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks
While they might not be as feature-rich as some of the high-end, sit-on-top fishing kayaks currently on the market, inflatables excel when it comes to transportation and storage.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re anything like those beach inflatables of yesteryear.
Modern inflatable fishing kayaks have come a long way – and the technology is improving all the time.
A good inflatable fishing kayak will also have a higher weight capacity than most other kayaks.
Capable of packing down into a carry bag, they’re the ideal choice if you’re short on storage space in the home, or don’t want to purchase a kayak cart, roof rack, or trailer to get to and from the water.
Tandem Fishing Kayaks
They say that two’s company, and if that’s the case, then a tandem fishing kayak and a couple of keen anglers is a match made in heaven.
But it’s not just about enjoying this sport with a loved-one or a buddy.
Most tandem fishing kayaks can be piloted solo, which means you’ll have even more space for all your gear and equipment.
Alternatively, they can be a great choice for taking a furry friend along for the ride. Tandem kayaks are pet-friendly options for carrying an animal instead of an extra human!
Pedal Fishing Kayaks
Kayaks with pedals started to appear on the market back in 1997, and while they were initially exorbitantly expensive, as they’ve increased in popularity, they’ve become more affordable.
That said, they’re still among the most budget-blowing kayaks you can buy. But a pedal kayak purchase is a serious investment, and you’ll likely never look back.
Pedal technology is improving all the time, and these days, the very best pedal fishing kayaks have jaw-dropping capabilities, including kick-up fins, near silent operation, forward and reverse, and more.
Their main advantage, however, is that they afford the possibility of hands-free paddling, so you don’t have to keep switching between a rod and a paddle, and can concentrate solely on fishing.
But paddles are not obsolete just yet, and you’ll still need one for making tight turns, paddling in shallow water, and/or if something goes wrong with the pedal drive.
Check out this review of the best kayak fishing paddles to choose your next set of blades.
Motorized Fishing Kayaks
The next phase of fishing kayak evolution, motorized kayaks are becoming more popular and accessible.
Both pedals and paddles can be replaced with the inclusion of a trolling motor, located somewhere on the craft – bow or stern, port or starboard, or even set into the center console.
(Although I’d still recommend a backup paddle in case the motor ever fails/the battery dies.)
For effortless journeying to and from those far-flung fishing spots, a motorized kayak takes all the physical work out of paddling or pedaling a kayak, and you can approach your target area in double-quick time, too.
If your kayak is compatible, you can add a motor aftermarket. Check out this review of the best kayak trolling motors for more information.
Where are You Going to Be Fishing?
Different fishing kayaks are designed for fishing in different waters, and it’s important you take this into consideration when choosing the right craft for you.
Where will you be doing the vast majority of your fishing?
Calm lakes and glassy ponds? Saltwater and offshore? Peppy rivers and/or tides?
- For calm waters – choose a fishing kayak with a wide, flat-bottomed hull.
- For choppy waters/offshore/tidal areas – choose a fishing kayak with a more rounded hull.
If you’re fishing in saltwater, look for kayaks that have anti-corrosive hardware and features.
And what about the water temperature? Remember – you must always be prepared and dress for immersion. Sit-inside kayaks are the better choice if you’re fishing in colder climes.
How Large and Lightweight Should the Kayak Be?
“What size fishing kayak do I need?” That’s one of the most common questions we get asked, and here’s the answer.
The sweet spot for fishing kayaks is anywhere between 10-12 feet. That’s going to offer you the best balance of speed, maneuverability, on-board space, and overall performance.
Obviously, we all want a kayak that’s going to be easy to get to and from the water, but with some fishing kayaks – most notably pedal and motorized versions – they can be extremely heavy.
Which is why it’s a good idea to invest in a kayak cart for carrying assistance. Follow that link for some great options.
If weight is a concern for you, look for the best lightweight kayaks, or consider an inflatable, instead.
What Kind of Cockpit and Seating are You Looking For?
One of the most important aspects of a quality fishing kayak is in the seating area and cockpit. This is where you’ll be spending most of your time on the water, after all.
Comfort is king, and if you want the very best in lawn-chair style seating for those long days hunting fish, you’re going to have to pay for it.
Seating should be fully adjustable, and the best versions will offer multiple seating positions, so you can have a level for fishing and a level for paddling.
And look for removable seating that will help you transport the kayak and keep the weight down until you get to the water.
Adjustable foot braces are also very important, as they can play a big part when it comes to comfort, power, and control when you’re actually paddling.
A good fishing kayak is going to have a spacious cockpit area, so you can enjoy an unobstructed field-of view, and non-restrictive movement for casting, reeling, and paddling.
How Much Gear do You Want to Bring?
Storage space is another factor that sets genuine fishing kayaks apart from regular recreational craft. The more room you have for all your fishing gear – the better.
Of course, you don’t have to bring everything including the kitchen sink, and some anglers prefer to fish with a skeleton tackle selection.
It’s up to you how much storage you need, but look for fishing kayaks with bow and stern tank wells, bungee tie downs, and dry hatches for keeping valuables safely stowed.
And don’t forget about the kayak’s weight capacity. This number gives you the maximum weight a kayak can safely hold while on the water.
Remember – this includes yourself, your gear, and anything you might catch. Batteries, trolling motors, fishing coolers filled with beer…it can all add up.
Don’t push your luck and try to come close to a fishing kayak’s maximum weight capacity, as you run the risk of tipping, capsizing, being off-balance, hindering performance, and even sinking.
What Fishing Features are Important to You?
A kayak isn’t a fishing kayak unless it has at least one fishing rod holder.
But there’s a whole host of other features available that can make your fishing trip all the more successful and memorable.
The list below highlights some or all of the fishing friendly features you might like to have on your kayak.
- Articulated rod holders.
- Flush mounted rod holders.
- Horizontal rod holders.
- Molded in rod holders.
- Accessory gear tracks.
- Paddle parks.
- Built-in tackle boxes.
- Tackle trays.
- Staging areas.
- Anchor trolley (go here for some excellent kayak fishing anchors).
- Transducer/fish finder mount.
- EVA non-slip deck pads.
- Fish rulers.
- Stand-assist strap.
This is not exhaustive, and there might be other features a kayak includes to improve your fishing experience and success out on the water.
How do You Intend to Transport and Store the Kayak?
When shopping for a new fishing kayak, it’s easy to become distracted with all the exciting products on offer.
So much so, that how you’re going to transport and store the thing can sometimes be overlooked!
We’ve all been there!
Before you can genuinely get all giddy at the prospect of owning your new toy, some logistics should be considered.
Fishing kayaks can be large, cumbersome, heavy craft; and storage and portability might not be as straightforward as you first think.
Consider an inflatable kayak if space is at a premium, or make sure that you have enough room to safely and adequately stow a hardshell before you purchase one. Inside is always better than outside.
For transporting hardshells, you’ll either need a roof rack or trailer for your vehicle, unless you have a long, flatbed truck, and a relatively compact kayak.
As for storage, this comprehensive kayak maintenance guide has some expert tips on how, when, and where to stow your fishing kayak – as well as everything you need to know on how to take care of it.
What’s Your Budget?
Kayak fishing isn’t solely reserved for elites. These days, it’s more accessible than ever – no matter your budget.
You can get out onto the water and start kayak fishing for as little as $200-250.
And you can also spend upwards of $5000 for the latest and greatest in fishing kayak technology.
Paddle kayaks are cheaper than pedals and motorized craft, but a good kayak angler can learn to catch fish from just about any vessel.
And whatever you can find success in, that will truly be the most perfect boat for you – regardless of price.
What’s the difference between a fishing kayak and a regular kayak?
To my mind, the main difference between a regular kayak and a fishing kayak is that the latter should come with at least one or two “fishing features” as standard.
This might include fishing rod holders, accessory mounts, tackle storage options, and room to add as much gear as possible.
Fishing kayaks will typically have more deck space, with comfort seating in a raised position for a good field-of-view and sight fishing.
What type of kayak is best for fishing?
There are many opinions regarding the best kayak for fishing, and many of them come down to personal preference.
Personally, I would say that a 12-foot, sit-on-top, pedal fishing kayak wins overall.
It should have plenty of storage and space, be capable of accommodating standing casts and reels, and offer excellent, all-round performance on the water.
What are the best kayaks for fishing?
Again, it comes down to the individual, as well as budget, weather and water conditions, storage and transportation issues, and more.
The best kayaks for fishing in the ocean aren’t going to be the same as the best kayaks for fishing a river, for example. And they both might not be as good as the best inflatable fishing kayaks.
But for argument’s sake, as a catch-all answer; look for fishing kayaks that are feature-rich, with super-comfortable seating, and stable fishing platforms.
Is a sit-on-top kayak better for fishing?
Overall, I would argue that they are. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally the most popular and widely used kayak type when it comes to this particular pastime.
Of course, you won’t be able to say that about using them for whitewater!
How stable are fishing kayaks?
It depends on the type of kayak you’re using, but for the most part, kayaks that have been specifically designed for fishing are very stable.
So stable that you can comfortably stand up in them – on calm waters, at least.
Which kayak is the most stable for fishing?
Good question, and if I knew the answer, I’d probably be out in it right now!
Short of rigorously testing every single fishing kayak on the market in all kinds of conditions, it would be difficult to know which one was the most stable.
For calm waters, look for a kayak with a wide hull, and EVA non-slip deck pads which are a good indication that you can stand on them.
Are inflatable or hardshell kayaks better for fishing?
Ah, the eternal debate. The never ending conundrum. The $64,000 question.
This article on inflatable vs hardshell kayaks will tell you everything you need to know.
But specifically for fishing kayaks, hardshells are generally the more popular option.
If you’re a keen kayak angler, or if you’re simply looking to upgrade the craft you have, then I hope this article has helped point you in the right direction for the best fishing kayaks on the market.
Let me know in the comments which model you’ve gone for and why, or if you think we’ve missed an awesome fishing machine from our final shortlist.
Stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy kayak fishing!