There has long been a debate in the fishing community when it comes to the best watercraft for catching fish.
Dinghies, float tubes, pontoons, Jon boats, rafts, kayaks, SUPS…there’s a lot to choose from.
In this article, we attempt to choose either the fishing kayak or inflatable pontoon, and find out which one is better for angling purposes.
We’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of each, pitting them head-to-head to see who comes out on top.
So read on, because you might be surprised with the results.
Kayak vs Pontoon for Fising – At-a-Glance
If you’re in a bit of a rush, here’s a quick summary of what’s to come, with the advantages of each boat when compared with the other.
The plus points in the kayak column include:
- More storage space and options.
- More versatility.
- Tracking – how straight they move through the water.
- Easier to maintain.
- Highly customizable.
The advantages of a pontoon include:
- Elevated seating position.
- More stability.
- More maneuverable.
- Lightweight and portable.
- Excellent for fly-fishing.
- Good for shallow water.
We explore each point in more detail in the article below, as well as covering the disadvantages of inflatable kayaks and pontoons, so you can make an informed decision as to which one is right for you.
Table of Contents
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What is a Pontoon?
I’m pretty sure everyone is going to be familiar with a kayak, but I think it’s important to clarify what we’re talking about when it comes to a pontoon.
A pontoon is actually a buoyancy device/float used to support a structure – usually metal – on the water.
Floating jetties or docks are great examples of structures that make use of pontoons.
Seaplanes are often called pontoon planes, as they use similar floats mounted under the fuselage.
And – for the purposes of this article – you can purchase pontoon boats, which are usually defined as flat-bottomed craft supported by two or more pontoons.
They are not to be confused with a catamaran, which tend to be larger, and provide access to the hull – where a pontoon boat does not.
The origin of the pontoon boat is thought to be credited with one Ambrose Weeres, a farmer from Richmond, Minnesota, who, in 1951, put a wooden platform on two columns of steel barrels welded together.
Today, the pontoon boat industry thrives, as folks use the watercraft for pleasure boating, work and utility purposes, and – of course – fishing.
Check out this article on the best inflatable pontoon boats for fishing for some great examples.
Types of Pontoon Boat
Pontoon boats come in all shapes and sizes, but you will perhaps most commonly see them as pleasure cruise craft on local lakes and waterways.
You might also hear of boats – and some kayaks – having “pontoon-style” hulls for extra stability.
Inflatable pontoon boats are highly portable craft that are perfect for on-the-go fishing. The pontoons are made from durable PVC or similar material, and feature several air chambers that inflate to a high psi.
Although not as common, hardshell pontoon fishing boats are also available, with the pontoons made from the same type of polyethylene as hardshell kayaks.
Finally, float tubes use pontoon-style wings, but are much smaller and are piloted by the paddler having their legs in the water.
For the sake of this review, we’re looking at the inflatable versions, as they’re perhaps the most common and popular for fishing, and larger pontoon boats are in a different class altogether.
But you can check out this review for the best fishing float tubes if that type of pontoon is more what you’re looking for.
Types of Kayak
While there are limited types of pontoon boats, the same cannot be said when it comes to kayaks.
Whitewater kayaks, recreational kayaks, touring kayaks, racing kayaks, sea kayaks…there’s something for everyone in the paddling community.
But we’re specifically interested in fishing kayaks, and for this particular type, there are several denominations.
- Sit-on-top fishing kayaks have rapidly risen to become the most popular type for fishing purposes. This review of the best sit-on-top fishing kayaks will show you why.
- Sit-inside fishing kayaks are less popular for angling, as they’re not as spacious, or as stable. However, they do have their merits, and this article on the best sit-inside fishing kayaks explains what they are.
- Inflatable fishing kayaks have come a long way since those early days of rubber beach play boats, and the technology is improving all the time. Check out the best inflatable fishing kayaks at that link for more.
- Pedal fishing kayaks were first pioneered by Hobie in 1997, and the Mirage Pro Angler is their current flagship model. Go here for more examples of the best pedal fishing kayaks on the market.
- Motorized fishing kayaks are compatible with trolling motors, or come with them already built in. This review focuses on the latter, so click the link to see the best-motorized fishing kayaks currently available.
- Tandem fishing kayaks are designed for two or more people, so you can take a buddy, a loved one, or even a furry friend along for the ride. This article on the best tandem fishing kayaks will show you that two’s company – but you can still paddle them solo and have more space for all your gear.
If you’re still confused, check out our complete guide to choosing a fishing kayak, which should give you all the information you need on what to look for if you’re interested in this type of boat.
Pontoon Pros and Cons
Elevated Seating Position
Thanks to their design, pontoon boats provide the paddler with a higher seating position when compared with a kayak.
This is particularly true when it comes to inflatable fishing kayaks, where the seat typically sits lower and closer to the waterline than hardshells.
The high position in a pontoon is great for an improved field-of-view, and is especially savored by fly anglers.
By their very nature, pontoon boats offer unbeatable stability, with each pontoon arm creating a rock-solid platform on the water.
As such, it’s much harder to tip a pontoon – if you can manage it at all.
Using two oars that can operate independently of one another, this class of pontoon boat is much more maneuverable than a fishing kayak.
The ability to make turns on a dime can be very useful when you’re fine-tuning your position on the water.
Lightweight and Easy to Transport
Inflatable pontoons are much lighter and easier to transport compared to hardshell kayaks.
However, when comparing them to inflatable kayaks, you’re more or less on an even keel, and overall weight will be similar – depending on the product.
Check out this article for more of the lightest fishing kayaks on the market.
Ideal for Fly Fishing
Many keen fly anglers swear by inflatable pontoon boats as the best option for practicing their particular craft.
Check out this article for a complete equipment guide for fly fishing in a pontoon boat.
Suitable for Shallow Water
Like Jon boats, inflatable pontoons are excellent for shallow water, and can arguably negotiate such conditions better than a kayak.
And speaking of Jon boats, you can check out this article which compares Jon boats to fishing kayaks, just in case you didn’t have enough choice to worry about!
Unless you’re using a trolling motor, pontoon boats for fishing are arguably the slowest craft on the water.
They’re sluggish to row, and you’re certainly not going to win any races piloting one, which makes them pretty useless for tournament fishing.
Trolling motors aside, pontoon boats aren’t designed to travel great distances, so if you have a lot of water to cover, they’re not going to be the best option to do so.
Inflatable pontoon boats tend to be smaller than fishing kayaks, and – considering their design – they offer significantly fewer options when it comes to storage.
You might struggle to find a place to store a good kayak cooler, or a kayak crate, tackle bag, or box – for example.
Without a deck, you’re pretty much stuck sitting down in an inflatable pontoon, with no chance to get to your feet or stretch your legs.
Additionally, the oars might get in the way, and the whole cockpit area might feel a bit restrictive and claustrophobic to some paddlers and anglers.
DIY May be Required
Most entry-level inflatable pontoons don’t come with a deck, so if you want to practice standing casts and reels, you’ll be looking at a bit of DIY, or the extra expense of an aftermarket accessory.
Easily Affected by the Conditions
Pontoon boats can blow off course easily, and you might struggle to hold a position if the wind picks up even a fraction.
Fishing Kayak Pros and Cons
Space and Storage
Fishing kayaks offer outstanding storage options, and you only have to look at something like the Vibe Shearwater 125 to see what I mean.
Tackle trays, tank wells, center consoles, dry hatches, and more, a fishing kayak has a pontoon beat hands down for bringing more gear and keeping it organized.
However, this is relative to hardshell kayaks only, and if you’re using an inflatable, you might find that storage space and options are as limited as that of an inflatable pontoon boat.
Provided you’re using the right fishing kayak for the right conditions, these craft are capable of going pretty much anywhere.
There are awesome river fishing kayaks, and incredible ocean fishing kayaks. There are fishing kayaks you can use inshore and offshore, for touring and kayak camping, and even for whitewater.
The same cannot be said for pontoons, which are pretty much limited to calm lakes, and slow moving rivers.
Speed and Tracking
A pontoon might have a kayak beat when it comes to stability and maneuverability, but for speed and tracking, a kayak is so far out in front, it’s not even a contest.
Minimal Set up Time
Hardshell kayaks are ready to go, and you can get right out there and start fishing as soon as you get to the water.
And even inflatable versions are generally quicker to set up than inflatable pontoons, so this is another win for fishing kayaks.
Easy to Maintain
By and large, fishing kayaks are more straightforward to maintain than inflatable pontoons. Check out this article for a complete guide to fishing kayak maintenance.
And by the same token, fishing kayaks will last longer than inflatable pontoons, with a bit of TLC, of course. Go here for tips and tricks on how to store your fishing kayak.
While it is possible to customize an inflatable pontoon – especially if you add a solid deck – a hardshell kayak offers much more scope for adding accessories, such as fishing rod holders, fish finders, and GPS devices.
While there’s an abundance of cheap and budget-friendly fishing kayaks on the market (follow that link for some great examples), fishing kayaks are generally more expensive than most pontoons.
Lower Seating Position
Although there are many kayaks that offer an elevated seating position – such as the Perception Outlaw 11.5, it’s not going to come close when compared with a pontoon.
Not as Stable
Again, fishing kayaks might be crazy stable, like the best stand-up fishing kayaks on the market, but they can’t match an inflatable pontoon when it comes to a rock-solid fishing platform.
Even the most stable kayak will tip eventually, but with a pontoon, it’s going to be nearly impossible to flip.
If you’re at all concerned that your kayak or the kayak you’re interested in will flip, you can always add some outriggers/stabilizers for extra peace-of-mind. Click that link to find out more.
Can be a Hassle to Transport
Unless you’re using an inflatable fishing kayak, hardshells will need either a roof rack or trailer, and you might need to use a kayak cart for getting to and from the water.
The Final Verdict
So, bearing all that information in mind, when it comes to choosing between a fishing kayak and an inflatable pontoon – which option is better?
I might be biased, but I would say the sheer versatility, performance, comfort, and storage options that a fishing kayak offers far outweigh any advantages an inflatable pontoon brings to the table.
That said, a good inflatable pontoon with a solid deck still has some attractive qualities – particularly to fly anglers.
In the end, it will probably come down to personal preference, but overall, it’s hard to see past the fishing kayak as the clear victor in this battle.
For me, the fishing kayak or pontoon debate is a bit of a non-starter, and I think it’s the former that is the clear winner.
But the inflatable pontoon does have its merits, and it might just come down to personal preference.
Do you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments.
Stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy fishing!