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.
Take a look at this review of the best river fishing kayaks on the market, and see if you can find your happy place.
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A by-word in fishing kayak excellence, Hobie manufactures premium, market-leading craft designed for the professionals – or anyone who wants to take their experience to the next level.
Being a more compact design, the Passport is aptly named, given that it can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go.
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.
Great value for what you get.
Fingertip rudder control.
Raised, comfort seating.
Twist and seal hatch.
Fins retract over obstacles.
None to speak of.
I usually find myself complaining about how expensive Hobie kayaks are, and while it’s still not the cheapest by a long shot, the Passport is great value considering the brand and that ingenious whisper drive system with kick up fins.
Easily one of the best kayaks for fishing on a river there is.
The oldest kayak and canoe manufacturer in the world has brought out a few legendary vessels over the course of more than a century, but the Topwater 120 has got to be up there with one of the best.
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 the tackle you’ll ever need.
Lightweight and compact.
EVA foam deck pads.
Very stable hull design.
Choice of colors available.
I just can’t fault it! 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 yak that’s perfect for river fishing. And you should pick one up while it’s still at a great price, too.
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 craft is rated to handle 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.
Rugged, durable construction.
Built-in fish ruler.
Adjustable foot braces.
EVA non-slip flooring.
Rod and toolholders.
High weight capacity.
Not the most comfortable seating out there – but you can choose the upgraded version.
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.
The Pescador Pro is one of the best all-round fishing kayaks there is, and packs in some premium features offered at a relatively affordable price compared to other craft in its class.
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.
Accessory rails allow full customization, and large front and rear storage options provide room for 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.
Great price for what you get.
Built-in buoyancy aid for added safety.
Lightweight, compact design.
Bungee cord webbing.
Perhaps a little on the small side for some rivers.
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 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.
Super lightweight and compact.
Stable hull design.
ExoPack storage included.
Adjustable foot braces.
Bungee cord tank well.
Might be a little too small for some.
Low weight capacity.
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.
Being environmentally conscious is always nice to hear about a kayaking company, and that’s exactly the mantra of Native Watercraft.
It also helps that they make some truly outstanding kayaks, and their Titan option is a prime example.
At 10.5 feet in length it’s one of the more compact models with a pedal drive, offering instant forward and reverse to give you more control no matter the conditions.
Surprisingly roomy, you have a super-stable deck for standing casts and reels, integrated horizontal rod holders, large bow and stern storage options, and a frame comfort seat with commanding field-of-view.
Considering NW are one of the best fishing kayak brands, this kind of product certainly doesn’t hurt their reputation in the community.
Premium-quality design and build.
Ideal for bass fishing.
Anchor and trolling motor compatible.
Choice of colors.
High weight capacity.
The drive system isn’t retractable.
A beautiful fishing kayak with all the trimmings, the compact size and lightweight design makes this a real winner – especially considering it has a pedal drive. However, that’s also a bit of a downside for faster rivers, and you might want to consider the NW Slayer line instead.
This is a stable, compact, and lightweight hardshell kayak that is highly versatile, and ideal for beginners, or anyone who wants to enjoy a variety of activities on the water.
Molded carry handles at the bow and stern make transportation easy, and adjustable foot braces inside can accommodate paddlers of all sizes.
Comfort seating with a high backrest is included, as are two, flush-mounted rod holders for your convenience.
A dashboard with cup holder makes it easy to keep a beverage or a pair of quality fishing pliers to hand, and a 10-inch rear storage hatch can stash any extra gear you might bring along down the river.
Excellent price point.
Dual tracking channels.
A great sit-in kayak that offers good versatility as a recreational play-boat that can go just about anywhere. It makes for an affordable, entry-level river fishing kayak for anyone who wants to try their hand at the hobby.
Perception certainly seems to have a good showing in this review, and their Outlaw 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.
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.
Bow mesh and paddle park.
Not compatible with a pedal drive.
“So good they should make it illegal” say 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.
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 over 13 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.
Great price for what you get.
Awesome center console setup.
High load capacity.
Accessory tracks galore.
Premium comfort seating.
I’m always having to write about it.
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.
The Brooklyn Kayak Company is known for their affordable, versatile craft, and here we have a good example of that price/performance balance.
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, 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.
Affordable price point.
Great choice of colors.
High weight capacity.
Not the most stable for standing casts.
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.
The Sevylor Coleman Colorado is a stalwart of inflatable fishing kayaks. A two-person craft (or one person and a furry companion), this is as solid and durable a yak as you’ll find – considering it’s an inflatable.
Built like a tank, it packs in loads of mounting points for all your fishing accessories, including Berkeley Quick Set rod holders for hands-free fishing.
Made with a super-durable 1000 Denier tarpaulin bottom and 840 Denier nylon cover, you have durable protection from punctures, and an air-tight system that’s guaranteed not to leak.
Along with cockroaches, this kayak will still be around after a nuclear winter.
Rugged, durable construction.
Affordable portability for two.
Multiple air chambers.
D-rings for accessories.
Trolling motor compatible.
Mounting hardware can be a hindrance.
Not the most comfortable seating.
Not suitable for standing casts.
A decent option if you’re looking for a portable tandem kayak suitable for all water conditions. Don’t expect hardshell performance, but it’s still rated to class IV whitewater – so you’ll have a great time with a partner on a peppy river.
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 a new fishing kayak that is most suitable for rivers.
Type of River
First, you need to look at the conditions of the river(s) you’ll most likely be fishing on.
Mother nature offers us wondrous variety, each with its own challenges, and the kayak we choose needs to be up to them.
Lazy rivers and slow watercourses will require a different approach to that of whitewater rapids and fast moving currents. Read on to discover exactly what they are.
Either way, it’s advisable that you look for a kayak that is versatile enough to handle all river conditions – and thankfully, there are 13 good examples for you in the review above.
Type of Kayak
Much like rivers, kayaks come in several classes, and choosing the right one can be a bit of a headache to the uninitiated.
Let’s keep things simple – you’re looking for a sit-on-top kayak, as opposed to the sit-in versions.
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 offer better performance, inflatables are more portable. 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.
However – “performance” is the key word here – which is why you’ll find most yaks in this review are hardshells. All things being equal, inflatables don’t even come close.
Kayak fishing professionals and expert boat builders will tell you that there are several things you need to look out for when choosing the right type of kayak for river fishing.
Without going into too much detail – which could potentially take a whole article to explain – for a good river fishing kayak, you should be looking out for as many of the following features as possible.
A performance hull with rounded chine and slight rocker – 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, while a rounded chine offers less water resistance, so the yak is more maneuverable.
Relatively lightweight yet 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.
Spacious deck and storage options – The more room you have, the more gear and equipment you can bring.
The ability to provide standing casts – I would say this was an essential feature in a good river fishing kayak. A solid deck with EVA non-slip walkway is a real winner for those satisfying standing casts and reels.
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 or drag chain mounting point/hole – 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.
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, but 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 12-14 feet in length, with 12 feet about the sweet-spot for handling a variety of river conditions, while not compromising on portable 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.
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 fishing kayak without fishing features is just a kayak.
While you can use almost any kayak for fishing, it’s preferable if it’s already set up to do the job.
This is where things like rod holders, paddle parks, transducer scuppers, anchor points, and accessory railings will come into their own.