Are you looking for a watercraft that can get you closer to the fishing action?
Perhaps you’re considering a fishing kayak?
Maybe your head has been turned by a Jon boat?
HELP! WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?!
When it comes to a kayak vs Jon boat for fishing, we’ve got all the answers right here.
The differences between each, their pros & cons, and ultimately, which is the best option for your needs.
Let’s get to it.
Kayak vs Jon Boat – At-a-Glance
For anyone in a rush who is looking for the “too long, didn’t read” version of this article – here it is:
The advantages of a kayak include:
- They’re generally cheaper – (all things being equal).
- More versatile.
- Lower maintenance costs and effort.
- Easier to store.
- More maneuverable.
- More portable.
- Shallower learning curve.
- No license required.
- Wide choice of types and designs (which can also be a negative).
The advantages of a Jon boat include:
- More onboard space and room for standing.
- Higher number of occupants.
- Perfect for shallower waters.
- More durable.
- Better for hunting.
- Increased speed.
- Highly customizable.
- Limited choice of types and designs (which is a positive for many folks).
That’s it in a nutshell, but for a more detailed view, including the disadvantages of each craft and our final verdict, just keep on reading.
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What is a Jon Boat?
Now, I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining what a kayak is, but not everyone is as familiar with Jon boats.
Do you know why they called Jon boats, for example?
One theory is that they originated in Scandinavia, where Jon is a popular name.
They were apparently popular among fishermen to bring equipment, tackle, and gear to larger fishing vessels, and were so called because every “Jon” had one.
Various other origin stories exist, but the common denominator is that a Jon boat is a flat-bottomed craft with up to three seats.
Unlike kayaks, the bow and stern of a Jon boat has been squared off, and it has a very shallow draft (the keel isn’t far below the waterline), which makes it perfect for use in shallow water.
Types of Jon Boat
Unlike the outrageous selection of kayaks available today (which can get a little confusing, to say the least), there’s only a minimal number of options when it comes to Jon boats.
They are nearly all made from either aluminum, fiberglass, or wood; with the most common and popular being aluminum.
They’re typically available between 8–24 feet in length.
And they either have flat, or slightly V-shaped hulls – but the latter begins to move into bass boat territory.
That’s pretty much it.
Types of Kayak
The same can’t be said for kayaks.
There are a crazy amount of kayaks available today, including whitewater, touring, racing, and recreational craft.
But for the purposes of this article, in comparison with a Jon boat, we’re specifically looking at the fishing versions.
And they come in the following types:
- Sit-on-top fishing kayaks are the most popular, thanks to their stability, comfort, and storage options. Check out this link for a list of the best overall sit-on-top fishing kayaks for 2024.
- Sit-inside fishing kayaks are not as common, but they still have their uses – particularly if you like a challenge. This list of the best sit-inside fishing kayaks will tell you everything you need to know. And go here for an in-depth comparison between sit-inside and sit-on-top fishing kayaks if you’re trying to decide between the two.
- Inflatable fishing kayaks offer the ultimate in portability, and the high-end models are hot on the heels of hardshells when it comes to comfort and performance. This article on the best inflatable fishing kayaks has more info, plus the latest and greatest inflatable tech on the market.
- Pedal fishing kayaks are becoming more accessible and affordable as the technology improves, and are a serious step-up when it comes to comfort. Go here for the best pedal fishing kayaks currently available.
- Motorized fishing kayaks are pricey, but they’ll get you further, faster, and with limited fatigue. This review of the best motorized fishing kayaks boasts some seriously impressive angling machines.
- Tandem fishing kayaks are larger than solo versions, with a higher weight capacity. But aside from the chance to paddle with a buddy, you can still take them out on your own. This allows you to carry more gear, or even a furry friend if you so choose. Check out this review of the best tandem fishing kayaks available today.
Now we’re all clued-up on the terminology, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each craft.
Jon Boat Pros and Cons
More space. Jon boats typically offer more on-board space than fishing kayaks, so you can bring more gear, equipment, and tackle with you.
And they also allow you to stand up and move around, which, even with these super-stable stand-up fishing kayaks, is still going to be limited compared to the freedom you find using a Jon boat.
More occupants. The same can be said for the number of humans/pets a Jon boat can accommodate. If you like fishing with company, unless everyone has a kayak each, the Jon boat is the better option.
Perfect for shallow water. Jon boats have been specially designed to negotiate shallow waters, arguably better than any other craft.
Durability. Good quality kayaks aren’t exactly going to fall apart, but head-to-head, a Jon boat should be more durable overall.
Better for hunting. If you’re out chasing ducks with shotguns, a Jon boat is going to be superior to a kayak in almost every way.
Increased speed. At the races, a motorized Jon boat is going to beat a kayak hands down. This is useful if you’re tournament fishing, traveling greater distances, or you need to vacate an area fast.
Highly customizable. Now, this is not to say you can’t customize a kayak – far from it – but a Jon boat has almost limitless possibility when it comes to decking it out how you see fit.
You can build platforms, add electrics, fish finders, flooring, decking, bait wells, consoles…the list goes on.
In fact, DIY Jon boat loadouts are a huge part of the appeal of the craft in the first place.
Limited choices. This might seem like it should belong in the negative section, but some people can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of kayak choices on the market.
Jon boats are, comparatively speaking, extremely straightforward, with a very simple design; and this can save you a selection headache.
Not suitable for choppy waters. In fact, thanks to its flat bottom, even a moderate swell or change in weather/water conditions is going to cause this boat problems.
I don’t recommend taking a Jon boat offshore, but if you do decide to venture out onto the unpredictability of larger bodies of water, you should never go out further than you can swim.
Higher maintenance and running costs. Not to mention the time and effort it takes to do so – especially if you’re using a gas engine. Regular upkeep, oil, and fuel will soon add up.
Not as portable. Although Jon boats are relatively lightweight, and some can be loaded onto a roof rack or vehicle flatbed, a trailer is most commonly required to transport them.
And you won’t find an inflatable Jon boat, because then it isn’t a Jon boat anymore, and it becomes a raft, dingy or pontoon. (Check out this review of the best inflatable boats that aren’t fishing kayaks.)
Some boating know-how is recommended. Using a motor, it’s important that you have at least a modicum of experience when it comes to piloting a boat, and/or you’re prepared to learn the ropes.
A License is required. Depending on where you live/your state, and your age, local legislation often dictates that you need a license to operate a motorboat of any kind.
This usually involves an online course with a fee, although in some places this isn’t necessary at all, and you could get lucky. Check out this website for boating laws by state if you’re in the US.
More expensive in general. When you include starting, maintenance, and running costs, a Jon boat is already more expensive than a fishing kayak.
Factor in things like storage, property tax, and trailers, and you’re going to be paying much more for a Jon boat over time.
Fishing Kayak Pros and Cons
Cheaper. Kayaks are generally cheaper than all other kinds of watercraft – everything being equal, of course. You can certainly get a less pricey Jon boat than the exorbitant Hobie Mirage Pro, for example.
But for the most part, kayaks will dent your wallet significantly less than other vessels, both from the get-go, and throughout its life with you.
Highly versatile. Fishing kayaks can go where Jon boats can’t, and can handle a wider variety of water and weather conditions to boot.
This is particularly true when it comes to inshore and offshore fishing. Check out this list of the best ocean-going fishing kayaks for more information.
But it’s also true when you’re looking for a launch point. Kayaks are capable of being put in just about anywhere, but a Jon boat is going to need a larger dock or jetty.
Easy to maintain and store. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to practice good kayak maintenance, but they won’t be nearly as much hassle as a Jon boat.
More maneuverable. Kayaks are more nimble than a Jon boat, and are easy to steer. This is advantageous for negotiating hazards and obstacles on and in the water.
Portability. Even the heaviest fishing kayaks are going to be easier to transport than a Jon boat; especially if you’re using one of these awesome kayak carts.
Easy to use. While it’s not rocket science to pilot a Jon boat, you still need to be familiar with motors and boating in general.
Paddling a fishing kayak is more intuitive, although developing a correct, efficient paddle stroke will take more work.
No license required. Unless you’re adding a trolling motor to an existing fishing kayak, you don’t need a license to operate them.
Outstanding selection. I won’t labor the point – there are A LOT of kayaks to choose from, and something for every kind of paddler and every kind of angler.*
*There are A LOT of kayaks to choose from! Sometimes, this can be more than a little confusing, especially when you’re just starting out, and you just want to get on the water as quickly as possible.
Comfort and confidence. Some people are just more at home on a larger boat, and feel restricted and uneasy trying to paddle a kayak. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure!
Physical Fitness. You need to be physically capable of paddling or pedaling a kayak, which some people can overlook, particularly when it comes to traveling longer distances.
Remember, you need to have the energy to get back!
Limited range. Even with a motorized kayak, you’re not going to be able to cover nearly the amount of water as you can with a Jon boat.
The Final Verdict
Both fishing kayaks and Jon boats are not without their downsides, although at first glance it seems there are more black marks in the Jon boat book than in the kayak’s.
But there are a couple of Jon boat advantages that should count double, such as the ability to carry more occupants, and the space they afford for extra gear.
So, which type do you choose?
It all boils down to three simple questions:
Who is using it, what are they using it for, and where are they going to be taking it?
Here’s my two cents in a bite-size summary:
- For hunting – choose a Jon boat.
- For hauling gear and utility work – choose a Jon boat.
- For carrying passengers – choose a Jon boat.
- For speed and range – choose a Jon boat.
- For just about everything else, choose a kayak – especially if you’re going offshore or inshore fishing, or likely to encounter choppier conditions and rough water.
But in the end, for dedicated anglers and hunters, if you can afford it, and you have the storage space, I would suggest owning both!
And whichever option you go for, make sure you’re always being safe on the water. Pick up one of these practical fishing PFDs and don’t leave home without it.
In the battle of the Jon boat vs fishing kayak, there isn’t a clear-cut winner.
It’s just going to depend on what you’re using the craft for, where you’re using it, and your own personal preferences.
Let me know in the comments which option you prefer and why, or if I’ve missed anything important that would make either vessel come out on top.
But no matter which you choose, stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy fishing!