How to Choose a Kayak Paddle – Essential Advice on What to Look For


Even if your kayak comes with the latest and greatest pedal technology, you’re still going to need a paddle when you’re out on the water.

After all, this is how kayaks have been powered for thousands of years.

And you’ll be amazed at the difference the right paddle can make – even on the shortest of trips.

With that in mind, we’ve put together this article on how to choose a kayak paddle – with an emphasis on fishing, including the material it’s made from, right down to the design of the blades.

By the end of it, you should know everything you need in order to purchase the right paddle for you and your kayaking style.

Let’s get started.

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How to Choose the Right Kayak Fishing Paddle – Too Long, Didn’t Read

For those of you in a hurry in this fast-paced world, here’s the main bullet-points on what you should be looking out for when choosing a kayak fishing paddle.

  • Shaft length – see our fishing kayak paddle length guide below.
  • Materials – durability is key.
  • Weight – as light as possible.
  • Blade design – for high or low angle paddling and an efficient stroke.
  • Shaft design – straight or ergonomic.
  • Extra features and color – useful bonus content and funky color schemes.
  • Cost – sticking to your budget and buying the best you can afford.

Take a look at this article on the best kayak fishing paddles currently on the market if you just want to dive right in.

For anyone who’d like to learn a little more on the ins and outs of kayak paddles – keep on reading.

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

Fishing Kayak Paddle Length

First up, you need to decide on the shaft length of your new paddle, which is imperative in order to have a comfortable, safe, and efficient experience on the water.

There are three/four factors that contribute to making this choice – your height, the width of your kayak, and the position of the kayak seat/the type of kayaking you’ll be doing.

The taller you are and the wider your kayak is, the longer your paddle will need to be.

If your paddle is too short, you’re not going to have an efficient stroke in the water, and you increase the likelihood of hitting the gunwale or some other part of the kayak.

This is going to make every fish within a large radius aware of your presence and have them diving for cover, as well as adding wear and tear to your paddle and/or kayak at the same time.

If your paddle is too long, you might find you tire easily, as once again your stroke isn’t going to be as efficient as it can be, and you’ll be wasting a lot of energy as a result.

Finally, the height of your seat makes a difference because it will affect your paddling style, which will in turn affect an efficient stroke.

High seating positions will offer a more aggressive stroke, with increased water resistance, which is necessary if you wish to boost your speed and distance in a short space of time.

Low seating positions produce a more relaxed stroke, reducing the water resistance and allowing for energy-efficient long-distance paddling.

You’ll find that paddles are designed to be either low angle or high angle, and we’ll explore that in more detail in the blade design section below.

To determine the right length for you, take a look at the kayak fishing paddle size chart below.

A small caveat to this, is while this chart is a useful guide, I would always double-check the manufacturer’s recommendations, which will be specific to the paddle you’re actually interested in.

Paddler Height Kayak Width
Under 23″ 23″ to 28″ 28″ to 32″ Over 32″
Under 5′ tall 210cm 220cm 230cm 240cm
5′ to 5’6″ tall 215cm 220cm 230cm 240cm
5’6″ to 6′ tall 220cm 220cm 230cm 250cm
Over 6′ tall 220cm 230cm 240cm 250cm

The best river fishing kayaks, or most good fishing kayaks for that matter, tend to be wider than any other kind – due to the need for increased stability.

As such, you’ll likely require a paddle with a longer shaft for fishing than you would for that of a whitewater or touring kayak, for example.

It’s worth noting that telescopic paddles have become popular in the last few years, and there’s little wonder, considering the advantages they offer.

Depending on the model, you can adjust the length of your paddle by around 7-10-inches, which is ideal if you’re changing your seating position, or you’re using a variety of different kayaks in your fleet, or borrowed from friends.

And while you’re choosing the right fishing kayak paddle length, you should also take a look at these excellent telescopic fishing rods, which are perfect for travel and/or if you’re short on space.

Finally, you should pay attention to the diameter of the fishing paddle. While there’s only a choice of two options – small and standard, knowing which one is right for the size of your hands is imperative.

Some shafts also come with a raised section that fits in the palm, or helps you locate a comfortable hand position.

Remember, if you wear gloves when paddling, you should take that into consideration when choosing the right diameter shaft.

fisherman kayaking and fishing on lake

Paddle Materials

These days, kayak paddles are made from a variety of materials – each with their advantages and disadvantages – mostly to do with weight, durability, and cost.

Traditionally, paddles for kayaks and canoes have been made out of wood, and there are a number of companies still producing them today.

However, while they can make beautiful works of fine craftsmanship, for the most part, wood paddles are just not that practical for kayaking, nor are they as strong as other materials, and are much more prone to damage, and wear and tear.

To begin with, the vast majority of new kayakers will start out with an aluminum shaft paddle, with some kind of plastic or nylon blade.

Kayaks that come with paddles as part of a set will likely use these materials, as they’re cheap to make, sturdy and robust, and most new paddlers will be oblivious to how much better things can get when just starting out.

Aluminum paddles are also fine if you rarely go kayaking, and you’re not that serious about the sport. As mentioned, for irregular excursions, most casual kayakers probably won’t be too concerned about what else is out there.

Fiberglass paddles – as you might expect – sit comfortably in the mid-range. They provide a nice balance of performance and durability, lighter than plastic or aluminum, but they can be prone to damage.

Fiberglass paddles are ideal if you’re looking to upgrade, and you’re kayaking more frequently, but you’re not quite willing to spend the big bucks just yet.

Finally, carbon-fiber paddles are the crème de la crème when it comes to premium paddle materials.

They’re ultra stiff and extremely durable, and a good carbon-fiber paddle should last a lifetime with care.

Designed to give you the best possible paddling experience, they’re highly efficient tools that direct your energy exactly where it’s required, with minimal wasted effort.

Carbon-fiber is also the strongest, stiffest material for paddle blades, and I would highly recommend using stiff blades, particularly when kayak fishing.

Not only will they help you be more efficient with your stroke, but they’re also useful if you ever need to push off solid objects, help to get you out of a challenging situation, or even help with landing a catch.

A flimsy blade isn’t going to be as practical for such endeavors.

So, for the best possible kayaking experience all round – no matter the type or style of kayaking you’re practicing – a carbon-fiber paddle is the way to go.

angler fishing from the kayak in the river

Paddle Weight

Closely related to paddle material, is the overall paddle weight.

The heavier the paddle, the faster you’ll tire, and the more the muscles in your arms will be hit with fatigue. When you’re using your arms to paddle and to fish, you need all the help you can get.

Which is why many experienced kayak anglers choose to use one of these awesome pedal fishing kayaks, so the legs can help take some of the strain.

Regardless, here’s a pro-tip, one that’s been learned the hard way by a great many kayakers of all skill levels and abilities the world over:

Always purchase the lightest paddle you can afford.

As mentioned above, aluminum paddles might be decent and cost-effective for just starting out, but you’re going to want to ditch them and upgrade as soon as possible – especially the more you go out on the water.

Fiberglass paddles are a good choice for intermediate paddlers, or if you’re just starting to increase your interest in the sport, and you’re ready to take the next step.

But nothing – and I mean nothing – beats a carbon-fiber paddle when it comes to weight.

Lift an aluminum or fiberglass paddle and compare them. There’s definitely a difference, but depending on the quality of each, it might not be immediately apparent. Enough to really notice in the kayak, at least.

Now lift a carbon-fiber paddle, and you will feel like you’re about to take off with the weightlessness, comparatively speaking.

If you’re planning on spending long hours on the water, either fishing, touring, or otherwise, then I cannot stress how important it is to upgrade to a super-light carbon-fiber paddle as soon as you can.

They’re also the best choice if you have any physical health concerns, as you will significantly benefit from a lighter swing weight, and prevent possible injury to your arms and shoulders compared to that of using a heavier paddle.

Of all the features and factors you need to consider when it comes to choosing a good kayak paddle, it is the weight that is arguably the most important.

fisherman floats on a white fishing kayak in ocean along the coast

Blade Design

One of the most complex parts of a kayak paddle is in the blade design.

The size and shape of the blade can make a big difference in performance, depending on your preferred style of paddling, and your seating position.

There are two main types that should be of concern to most recreational kayakers – low angle blades, and high angle blades.

Of course, blade design is actually a lot more complex than that, but for the most part, unless you’re getting into competition, or serious technique, you don’t need to know it all.

Check out this article if you are looking for even more information on paddle blade designs, but keep reading for the essentials.

Low angle paddle blades are slimmer and longer than their high angle counterparts. They’re designed for a more relaxed paddling style, such as for recreational purposes or traveling long distances.

The downside is that the stroke arch is more pronounced, and as such it will take more effort to paddle in a straight line.

High angle paddle blades have more surface area and are designed to be able to displace more water with a higher stroke. Whitewater kayakers – or anyone looking for more speed – will likely choose this option.

As your hands on the paddle are now raised to around the level of your cheek, the blade arch is closer to the kayak, and so the tracking of the craft improves.

However, this is a technique-heavy stroke and requires more skill and effort to get right. It’s also likely to cause fatigue much faster than low angling paddling.

The blade design you choose will depend on your preferred style of paddling stroke, and I recommend taking a look at the video below for a visual guide to a high and low angle paddling.

I would say for a large percentage of kayak anglers, the low angle blade is the most popular and successful.

Additionally, you should take into account if the blades are feathered, or if they’re matched.

This refers to whether or not the blades are aligned with each other along the shaft.

Feathered blades are offset, so they’re at different angles when you lift them out of the water, which can seriously help keep wind resistance to a minimum.

Feathered blades are particularly useful in challenging conditions, such as if you’re piloting one of these ocean fishing kayaks in choppy waters.

Shaft Design

There’s no reinventing the wheel here – suffice to say that kayak fishing paddles come with either a straight shaft or an ergonomic, “bent” shaft.

Straight shaft paddles are the most common, and you’ll easily find them in plentiful supply online or in paddle sports stores.

They do the same job they’ve been doing for thousands of years, only more efficiently than ever. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.

Having said that, ergonomic, bent shaft models are becoming more popular – particularly among anglers as they have a number of practical advantages for kayak fishers.

One-handed paddling is possible with a bent shaft, as you can use your elbows in the bend to help control the paddle.

This is very useful for fishing if you don’t want to put down your rod, but you do need to propel yourself forward some way – for whatever reason.

Bent paddles can also be useful for when you do need to drop the paddle and use your hands for some other activity – especially in the heat of battling a fish.

The ergonomic shape of the paddle shaft is more likely to stay in your lap than if it were 100% straight, and you’ll most likely find this will stop your paddle from slipping away and into the water as a result.

And from a comfort point of view, bent shaft paddles might well be a good solution if you’re experiencing wrist or arm pain, or if you find yourself tiring too easily.

That said, bent shaft paddles are generally more suitable for whitewater, and most kayak anglers get by perfectly fine with a good straight shaft paddle.

And you don’t need to constantly feel for your hand position with a straight shaft – you just pick it up and go – which many anglers prefer, particularly when time is of the essence in hunting and catching fish.

Finally, when it comes to packing everything up, you should be aware of how many pieces a paddle shaft comes in.

The most common are two and four piece options, but one-piece paddles are available, too. The more pieces a paddle breaks down in, the easier it is to transport, but the weaker it’s going to be.

Try looking at these travel fishing rods, too, if you need something that’s going to be more beneficial for on-the-go, guerilla-style kayaking.

person in kayak at the lake

Extra Features and Color

For most types of kayaking, you’ll find that there’s not a great deal more to the paddles other than what’s going to make them efficient at the job they were designed to do.

But when it comes to fishing kayak paddles, manufacturers occasionally like to add a few additional bells and whistles in order to entice the angler to purchase their product.

Paddles might come with a built-in fishing ruler along the shaft, which can be a terrific feature to have close to hand as you’re hastily arranging a snapshot to prove just how large your catch was.

Some paddle blades come with a hook retriever cut into the blade edge. These can be very useful if you manage to snag your line or hook some distance from the kayak.

Another nice feature is a serrated edge on the blade, which can be very useful for pushing you away from obstacles, hazards, and other problems you might encounter while on the water.

I have heard of kayak paddles also coming with a built-in safety whistle – but the best fishing PFDs should come with one as standard, anyway.

And most paddles – kayaking or otherwise – should come with splash guards to prevent water from running down the shaft onto your hands.

As far as color schemes go, the sky’s the limit when it comes to kayak paddles. All the colors of the rainbow are on offer, and you can get some really stunning designs to suit your look on the water.

Be advised, though, for custom colors or particularly striking designs, you’re likely to pay a lot more.

Just remember that black goes with everything – and you’ll be fine.

Cost

In researching this article, I went to my local paddle sports store for information on the current price points of kayak paddles.

And the difference between budget-friendly paddles and high-end models blew my mind.

There are paddles out there that cost more than some kayaks – especially if you take into consideration the best budget fishing kayaks on the market that are priced to get more people into the sport.

It’s certainly possible to blow your annual fishing budget on a paddle, but I would err on the side of caution here.

Always buy the lightest paddle you can afford – but make sure you’re actually going to get use out of it. There’s no point spending close to $1000 for a boondoggle that gathers dust in the garage.

Still, when it comes to kayak paddles, the saying – “buy once, cry once.” is particularly apt.

Honestly, the difference between a top-of-the-range carbon-fiber paddle and just about anything else is astonishing. And if you buy something like that from the get-go, you’ll never need to upgrade again.

A Word on Paddling Technique

Just before we wrap this up, it’s important to touch on paddling technique – especially before you drop hundreds of dollars on a new piece of kit.

Take some time to learn the proper strokes – with an emphasis on the type of paddle blade you’ve gone for, and how you use it effectively.

I’d also highly recommend wearing a pair of paddling gloves, or even some of these excellent fishing gloves can double up to help prevent sores and blisters on your hands.

Remember – good technique will prevent injury and improve efficiency, thus increasing your chance of fishing success.

Check out the video below from some top tips and advice – but practice makes perfect, and the best way to learn is through experience.

And take a look at this article on the best kayak fishing brands for more tips and advice on the kind of products that are currently leading the way in the kayak angling world.

Summary

Kayak paddles come in as many varieties as the kayaks themselves, with almost as many features to consider, as well as some wildly different price points.

I hope this article has helped you choose a kayak paddle that’s right for you, your kayak, your paddling style, and your budget.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, if I’ve missed anything out, or if you have any useful paddle selection advice you’d like to share with the community.

Happy paddling!

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.

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