Of all the places to enjoy kayak fishing, surely it’s rivers and winding waterways that are the most rewarding.
Aside from an excellent chance of catching fish, the scenery can be stunning – especially if you get the weather for it.
They can also pose a significant challenge – one which you’ll need the right equipment for.
But with the right kind of kayak, some good-quality gear, and maybe even a buddy or two – it can be a match made in heaven.
So, check out the best river fishing kayaks on the market, and see if you can find your happy place.
Table of Contents
- The Best Kayaks for Fishing on a River – TLDR
- TOP 10 Best River Fishing Kayaks for 2023
- Hobie Mirage Passport Pedal Fishing Kayak
- Old Town Topwater 120 Fishing Kayak
- Wilderness Systems ATAK 120 Fishing Kayak
- Sea Eagle 350FX Inflatable Fishing Kayak
- Perception Pescador Pro 10 Fishing Kayak
- Pelican Sentinel 100X Kayak
- Perception Outlaw 11.5 Fishing Kayak
- Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler PRO Kayak
- Vibe Kayaks Sea Ghost 110 Fishing Kayak
- BKC RA220 Fishing Kayak
- How to Choose the Best Kayaks for River Fishing
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The Best Kayaks for Fishing on a River – TLDR
Before we dive into the reviews, let’s outline some of the things you should be looking out for when it comes to the best river fishing kayaks.
- The type of kayak – hardshell or inflatable? Sit inside or sit-on-top?
- It should be 11-14 feet long.
- Comfortable seating.
- Pedals should be retractable.
- A more rounded hull/chine is better for rivers.
- Likewise – the rocker – the curve from bow to stern.
- Consider the maximum weight capacity.
- Transport and portability – how are you getting to your fishing spot?
- Storage options – including rod storage and extra gear.
- Onboard, fishing friendly features.
- Standing casts/reels – and convenient vantage point.
Having said that, all these kayaks are excellent for river fishing, and it will likely just come down to your own personal preference.
Without further ado, let’s see what’s available.
TOP 10 Best River Fishing Kayaks for 2023
How to Choose the Best Kayaks for River Fishing
Below, you’ll find a handy guide on what to look out for when you’re in the market for the best river fishing kayaks.
Type of River
First, you need to look at the conditions of the river(s) you’ll most likely be fishing on.
Lazy rivers and slow watercourses will require a different approach to that of whitewater rapids and fast moving currents.
Either way, it’s advisable that you look for a river fishing kayak that is versatile enough to handle all river conditions – and thankfully, there are 11 good examples for you in the review above.
Type of Kayak
Much like rivers, kayaks come in several classes, and choosing the best river fishing kayak can be a headache to the uninitiated.
Sit On Top Kayaks
- Ideal for calm rivers.
- More storage space.
- Ability to do standing casts and reels.
- Excellent primary stability.
Sit Inside Kayaks
- More suitable for peppy rivers.
- Great for a challenge.
- More compact/portable overall.
For more information about the differences between the two, check out this article on which is better for fishing.
Once we have that established and out of the way, you need to decide between a hardshell and an inflatable.
Again, a whole article can be dedicated to this choice, and it’s really down to your own means and circumstances.
Offering better performance, hardshells are the preferred choice for most river fishing kayaks.
With the advantage of portability, an inflatable kayak is also less likely to get damaged if it happens to hit rocks (highly likely in rapid waters) as it will simply bounce off.
Take a look at this review if you’re interested in a dedicated article on the best inflatable kayaks for fishing.
Features to Look For
Bear in mind the following features when you’re in the market for a new river fishing kayak.
The kayak’s Hull
The chine is where the walls meet the bottom of the kayak, and the rocker is how much curve there is in the hull from bow to stern.
For river fishing, the best kayaks will have a slight curve in the rocker to handle any fast moving water you might encounter.
And a rounded chine offers less water resistance, so the yak is more maneuverable.
Bear in mind the initial and secondary stability. A craft with good initial (or primary) stability makes the best river fishing kayak over a craft with secondary stability.
Lightweight and Durable
You need to think about where and how you’re getting it into the water. An absolute behemoth of a yak isn’t going to be practical for rivers, especially when it comes to difficult entry and exit points.
And yet you still need something durable enough to handle challenging conditions and terrain, so this is where a good balance needs to be struck.
Plenty of Storage Space Onboard
The more room you have for storing gear, the more gear you’ll be able to bring.
Adequate storage space is essential for a good river fishing kayak, and look for craft that have dry storage compartments to prevent your valuables from getting wet.
I would say this was an essential feature in a good river fishing kayak – especially if you’re looking to practice fly fishing.
A solid deck with EVA non-slip walkway is a real winner for those satisfying standing casts and reels, so look for a craft with a good fishing platform.
Drop Skeg/Retractable Rudder
One minute you might be tackling a spot of whitewater, the next you’re on a glassy mill pond.
Having a retractable skeg or rudder will make this transition a breeze – up for fast moving currents, down when it’s calm.
By their nature, rivers tend to move. Unless you want to move along with them, you’ll need to anchor your river kayak to stay in one spot.
Look for yaks that accommodate this, and offer the chance to add a drag chain or anchor somewhere on the craft.
Frame Comfort Seating
While not an essential feature (some kayak anglers prefer to sit lower in the water for more maneuverability on a river) I would say a frame seat is preferable for day-long comfort.
Remember though – a lot of the manufacturing cost goes into this part of a yak, and the better the seating, the more cash you’re going to fork over upfront.
Kayaking on rivers can result in taking on a bit of water – especially if you’re paddling with pep. Scupper holes will allow you to clear the decks and keep you dry.
Pedals vs Paddles
Now, this is something of a tough one – as while pedal power is the ultimate luxury when it comes to kayak fishing, it’s not always ideal for use in a river.
Unless, of course, the undercarriage happens to be retractable, and you can bring it up if you’re experiencing shallower, fast moving waters.
For calm, deep rivers, pedals offer the best possible fishing kayak experience.
Either way – you’re not going to be able to do without a paddle – so look for a kayak that offers somewhere to park it when you’re actually fishing.
Again, consider the conditions (and your budget) if you want to go for a pedal drive system – and try to choose a propulsion system that can be retracted or removed to suit the circumstances.
As mentioned, a good river kayak will have a rounded chine and slight rocker to improve maneuverability and performance through a variety of conditions.
It’s important that your yak can handle turns, and can take a bit of chop in its stride.
Heavy, flat-bottomed yaks might be great for quiet lakes, but when it comes to maneuverability, they’re going to be too sluggish for a peppy river.
This can be a problem if you’re suddenly presented with obstacles, such as fallen trees, rocks, or other water hazards.
For more information on the kayak hull design – which is really quite interesting – check out the video below.
Good river fishing kayaks will come in around 11-14 feet in length, with 12 feet about the sweet-spot for handling a variety of river conditions, while not compromising on maneuverability.
While there are exceptions, you should be looking at the more compact yaks to get in and out of the water easily, as your put-in and take-out location isn’t always a nice jetty or easy boat slip.
Remember, the longer a kayak is, the better it tracks (moves through the water) and the faster it can go – but they’re not your top priorities for a river fishing craft.
And the best river fishing kayaks will have an extra wide standing deck for anyone who enjoys standing casts and reels on the water.
Buoyancy is important when it comes to tackling fast moving, shallower rivers, and so you don’t want something that’s going to sit too low in the water.
This is where weight capacity comes in, and even if you have a yak that has a heavy load capability, you might want to hold off from stashing everything and the kitchen sink on board.
And speaking of sinking, it’s not likely to happen with a good-quality river fishing kayak, but you might run into problems when trying to slalom down rapid waterways if you’re overloaded with gear.
Never max out your kayak weight capacity, no matter how much it says it can hold.
A river fishing kayak without fishing features is just a river kayak.
While you can use almost any kayak for fishing, it’s preferable if it’s already set up to do the job. And the best river fishing kayaks will pack in plenty of “fishing friendly features!”
This is where things like flush mounted rod holders, bungee paddle parks, transducer scuppers, anchor points, and accessory railings will come into their own.
The best fishing kayaks will have at least two rod holders to keep your fishing rods organized and out of the way.
Look for mounts to add fish finders.
A stand-up leash is really useful for getting to your feet – and lowering yourself back down.
A place to stash one of these awesome kayak fishing nets is also a nice addition.
Try to purchase the best kayak you can afford, and something that suits your skill level and how often you’re actually going to use it.
A Word on Safety
River kayak fishing can be hazardous, and it’s not the best option for complete beginners. If you’ve never tried kayak fishing before – start on a quiet lake or lazy waterway instead.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a total noob or a seasoned pro, or if you’re piloting a more specialized kayak – you should always be wearing a good quality fishing PFD.
Don’t forget about those harmful UV rays, and pick yourself up a fishing hat to keep them at bay, and your face and head from turning the color of a tomato.
Which is the best river fishing kayak?
That’s impossible to say, but any of the craft in this article is definitely up there. The best for me might not be the best for you!
What size kayak is good for rivers?
I would say any kayak that is between 11-14 feet in length – but the sweet spot is around 12 feet.
Kayak river fishing is one of the most rewarding and challenging things you can do with a yak and a rod – and it’s oh so worth it.
I hope this review has pointed you in the direction of the best river fishing kayaks in 2023, and you too can enjoy memorable river fishing experiences.
Let me know which model you’ve gone for and why – or if I’ve missed anything out.
Stay safe, tight lines, and happy kayaking.