The 10 Best River Fishing Kayaks in 2022 (Adventure Awaits!)

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.

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.
  • Budget.

With those factors in mind, I think the best options are the Hobie Mirage Passport, the Old Town Topwater 120, and the Sea Eagle 350FX as the inflatable choice.

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 2022

Hobie Mirage Passport Pedal Fishing Kayak

A by-word in fishing kayak excellence, Hobie manufactures premium, market-leading craft designed for the experienced angler – or anyone who wants to take their skills to the next level.

Being a more compact design, the Passport is aptly named, given it’s designed for almost any conceivable fishing expedition.

It features their famous Mirage pedal drive system, with kick up fins that offer powerful, near silent propulsion, so you won’t spook the fish.

With a built-in transducer cavity and scupper for a fish finder, accessory rails, rod holders, under seat storage, retractable rudder, and bow and stern tank well with bungee cords – Hobie has made a dream vessel for river fishing here.

Pros

  • World-class construction.
  • Flush mounted rod holders.
  • Anchor mount.
  • Fingertip rudder control.
  • Raised, comfort seating.
  • Twist and seal hatch.
  • Fins retract over obstacles.

Cons

  • None to speak of.

Takeaway

The Passport is great value considering the brand and that ingenious whisper drive system with kick up fins.

Easily one of the best river fishing kayaks, from one of the best fishing kayak brands. Standard, really!

Old Town Topwater 120 Fishing Kayak

Old Town’s Topwater 120 is up there with the best the century-old company has ever made. This is just an all-round brilliant fishing package, with a stand-up platform for stable casts, super-comfortable ElementAir seating with breathable mesh for all-day angling, high weight capacity for all your gear, and three rod holders in convenient locations.

A universal transducer mounting system allows you to add your own fish finder with ease, and the oversized rear tank well is perfect for adding one of these awesome fishing coolers, or all your fishing gear. It knocks most river fishing kayaks out of the water.

Pros

  • Highly versatile.
  • Lightweight and compact.
  • EVA foam deck pads.
  • Excellent storage space.
  • Flush mount rod holders.
  • Choice of colors available.
  • Accessory rails.

Cons

  • None.

Takeaway

Is it the perfect kayak?! Maybe I’m a little biased towards Old Town as I just love their kayaks and canoes, but this is an absolute gem of a kayak that’s perfect for river fishing.

And you should pick one up while it’s still at a great price, too!

Wilderness Systems ATAK 120 Fishing Kayak

Here we have the famed Wilderness Systems ATAK series, of which the 120 is arguably the best for river use.

More compact than the 140, it’s still packed with features, and has been improved to better negotiate moving water.

It includes a transducer scupper and cover, adjustable foot braces, bow paddle park, SlideTrax accessory rail system, and more.

Rightly praised for its spacious open-top design that allows full customization, the ATAK 120 is the perfect yak for any keen angler who enjoys pimping their ride.

Perfect for calm rivers and flat water, this is the caliber of kayak that anglers demand!

Pros

  • Premium-quality design and build.
  • Large rear tank well with bungee.
  • Stern access hatch.
  • Standing cast platform.
  • Compatible with the WS portable accessory carrier.
  • Increased rocker.
  • AirPro comfort seating.

Cons

  • I still can’t find any.

Takeaway

The ATAK 120 has largely taken over from Wilderness Systems’ “Ride” model as the go-to choice for river fishing, given the vast improvements on an already award-winning formula.

And check out this review if you’re looking for more of the best stand-up kayaks for fishing.

Sea Eagle 350FX Inflatable Fishing Kayak

Here we have the first of our inflatable river fishing kayaks, from (surprise, surprise) Sea Eagle.

The inflatable boat stalwarts have knocked it out of the park with this highly portable fishing yak that comes with everything you need to get right out onto the water.

And that water can be up to class IV if you so choose, as this is one of the best river kayaks for some serious rapids and the odd maelstrom.

Featuring customized front and rear spray skirts, 16 drain valves, reinforced side tubes, and an inflatable seat, the Explorer dares to go where others can’t – and then pack down into a portable carry bag when it’s done.

Perfect for fishing rivers with pep.

Pros

  • Rugged, durable construction.
  • Built-in fish ruler.
  • Adjustable foot braces.
  • EVA non-slip flooring.
  • Spray skirt fishing rod holders.
  • Anchor D-rings.
  • High weight capacity.

Cons

  • Not the most comfortable seating out there – but you can choose the upgraded version.

Takeaway

One of the best inflatable river fishing kayaks out there, this is a brilliant craft from Sea Eagle that you can take anywhere – both on and off the water.

They also do an awesome inflatable fishing paddle board, so check out that review for more fishing SUP options.

Perception Pescador Pro 10 Fishing Kayak

The Pescador Pro is one of the best all-round fishing kayaks there is. With a lawn-chair style seat with breathable mesh, you can have a fully adjustable position that will keep you comfortable all day, while offering a great view of the water.

Flush mounted rod holders sit just behind, and accessory rails allow full customization with scope to add a fish finder or two.

Large front and rear storage options provide room for all your fishing gear, including one of these durable saltwater tackle bags. Ideal for use in multiple conditions and water courses, the highly accessible Pescador will get you into the sport in no time.

Pros

  • Great price for what you get.
  • Built-in buoyancy aid for added safety.
  • Lightweight, compact design.
  • Rod holders.
  • Bungee cord webbing.
  • Molded cup holder.

Cons

  • Perhaps a little on the small side for some rivers.

Takeaway

As far as entry-level kayak fishing craft go – this is up there with the very best. Pick one up before they sell out – again.

And while you’re at it, have a look at these comfortable and practical fishing shoes – which are ideal if you’re angling from any kind of craft or environment.

Pelican Sentinel 100X Kayak

Pelican is famous for their accessible, affordable kayak options, and for many they have been a gateway into the sport.

The Sentinel 100x is one such model, a budget-friendly fishing kayak that still manages to pack in some great features.

The multi-chine bottom offers good stability for casting, two paddle holders keep your hands free for your rods when required, and two rod holders provide a place to store them when you need to paddle. Simple.

Two accessory eyelets let you add additional fishing gear, and a drain plug is on hand should you take on water in choppier conditions.

Perhaps the best feature of this yak though, is its weight. At just 44 lbs, it’s the lightest hardshell in the review – which makes it ideal for getting in and out at those more challenging put-in points.

Pros

  • Excellent price.
  • Super lightweight and compact.
  • Versatile use.
  • Stable hull design.
  • ExoPack storage included.
  • Adjustable foot braces.
  • Bungee cord tank well.

Cons

  • Might be a little too small for some.
  • Low weight capacity.

Takeaway

A terrific little fishing kayak that is ideal for entry-level paddlers looking for something affordable, easy-to-transport and store, and yet still offers decent performance across the board.

For this price, you can’t go wrong.

Perception Outlaw 11.5 Fishing Kayak

Perception certainly seems to have a good showing in this review, and their Outlaw river fishing kayak is arguably the cream of the crop.

This is a remarkable yak for so many reasons, not least the cutting edge, next-level design at an affordable price point. Lawn chair seating offers superior comfort all day long, while four rod holder and integrated tackle trays keep you organized on board.

Large bow and stern tank wells will provide plenty of space for a good kayak fishing tackle box (follow that link for more), and three solo mount recesses are designed to allow full customization with additional accessories.

It’s also compatible with the awesome Outlaw tackle bag, ensuring this yak has got storage potential up the wazoo.

Pros

  • Great price for what you get.
  • Molded cup holders and tackle trays.
  • Fully adjustable, removable seating.
  • Unique carry handles for ease of transport.
  • Self-draining scupper holes.
  • Ample storage.
  • Bow mesh and paddle park.

Cons

  • Not compatible with a pedal drive.

Takeaway

“So good they should make it illegal” says Perception – and they might have a point. At this price, this is probably the best river fishing kayak for the money, so get one while you still can.

And with all the space and storage options at your fingertips, you’ll have plenty of room for some good fishing multi-tools and razor sharp fishing knives to properly kit you out.

Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler PRO Kayak

Advanced Elements are notable for their market-leading inflatables, but they’re not the name on everyone’s lips when it comes to fishing kayaks.

This Angler Pro model seeks to address that, a highly portable fishing yak that utilizes AE’s premium aluminum-frame inflatable technology.

The metal ribs improve tracking and performance in the water, while providing a mounting location for fishing accessories.

It also has a drop stitch floor, making it super durable for standing casts, with front and rear bungee storage and D-rings for lashing additional gear.

Pros

  • Premium-quality inflatable.
  • Multiple inflation chambers.
  • Paddle holders.
  • Removable tracking skeg.
  • Suitable for trolling motors.
  • AirFrame Pro seat for comfort.

Cons

  • It isn’t the most attractive kayak out there – a choice of colors would have been nice.
  • Limited storage space.

Takeaway

AE is one of the market leaders when it comes to inflatable, highly-portable kayaks that offer the comparative performance of a hardshell.

The Angler Pro adds a solid fishing kayak to their stable, and it’s not to be overlooked for versatile river fishing.

Vibe Kayaks Sea Ghost 110 Fishing Kayak

It’s pretty much impossible not to include the Sea Ghost in almost any kayak fishing review (apart from inflatables, maybe). Check out this article on the best kayaks for ocean fishing to catch my drift.

At just 11 feet, it’s a great length for multiple conditions, perfectly marrying speed and maneuverability in one epic performance package.

The Ghost includes two flush-mount rod holders and four integrated gear tracks for customized rigging, and an abundance of storage options for your catch, tackle, and/or gear.

Best of all, however, is the toe-controlled rudder system – which takes the effort out of those longer days on the water, and provides much-needed help in choppier conditions.

Pros

  • Paddle parks for hands-free fishing.
  • Awesome center console setup.
  • High load capacity.
  • Accessory tracks galore.
  • Premium comfort seating.
  • Well-balanced performance.

Cons

  • I’m always having to write about it.

Takeaway

Joking aside, this is easily one of the best all-round fishing kayaks on the market, comfortable in all waters, and able to do the job with aplomb.

Packed with premium features for angling, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better kayak at this price point.

BKC RA220 Fishing Kayak

Here we have a fully loaded fishing machine from the Brooklyn Kayak Company. Highly versatile at just over 11 feet in length, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck onboard here.

The ergonomic comfort seat offers a nice field-of-view for sight fishing, two flush-mounted rod holders are conveniently located to free your hands up, and there’s more storage than you can shake a paddle at, with three watertight hatches and large rear tank well with bungee cord.

And they even manage to pack in a foot-controlled rudder system which is fully retractable – in case you happen to hit shallower waters.

Hopefully, as a budget-friendly kayak company, BKC can stay afloat now that Malibu Kayaks have gone out of business.

Pros

  • Affordable price point.
  • Adequate storage space.
  • Dry storage compartment.
  • Paddle included.
  • Molded in rod holders.
  • High weight capacity.

Cons

  • Not the most stable for standing casts.

Takeaway

The BKC have set their stall out for packing affordable kayaks with plenty of fishing-friendly-features as standard – and that’s exactly what you have here.

They’re also known for some quality tandem fishing kayaks – so check out that review if you prefer to go out there with a loved one or best bud.

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.

angler fishing on the kayak in river

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.

Hardshells

Offering better performance, hardshells are the preferred choice for most river fishing kayaks.

Inflatables

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.

fisherman in small sit-on-top fishing kayak on river

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.

man fishing from kayak in river

Standing Casts

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.

Anchor Mounting

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.

Scupper Holes

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.

man stand up fishing on kayak

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.

Maneuverability

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.

Size

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.

Weight Capacity

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.

fisherman on inflatable fishing kayak with fishing tackle

Fishing Features

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.

Cost

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.

man enjoys fishing from kayak

FAQs

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.

Summary

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 2022, 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.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Recent Content