Are you a paddler or a peddler?
Kayak fishing technology is improving all the time, and as it does so, it becomes more accessible than ever.
And since Hobie first pioneered them in 1997, pedal kayaks have made a serious splash in the kayaking community.
In this article, we discuss paddle vs pedal kayaks for fishing. The advantages and disadvantages of each, which one is better overall, as well as some viable alternatives.
Are you ready to make the switch?
Let’s find out.
Table of Contents
- Paddle Kayaks
- Pedal Kayaks
- Pedal and Paddle Alternatives
- Final Verdict
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Paddle vs Pedal Kayaks – At-a-Glance
If you find yourself in a bit of a hurry, here’s a summary of the article, and the main plus points when it comes to each type of kayak.
Paddle kayak advantages include:
- More affordable and accessible.
- Ideal for beginners.
- Uncluttered deck space.
- Highly portable.
- More maneuverable.
- More variety – and more versatile.
- Less maintenance.
Pedal kayak advantages include:
- Hands-free fishing.
- Helps minimize fatigue.
- Easy to use.
- More control.
- Increased speed.
- Higher weight capacity.
- Increased stability.
- Improved comfort.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that, so read on as we also explore the downsides to each type of kayak, which is the better choice, and we have some interesting alternatives coming up, too.
Paddle kayaks come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be sit-on-top models, sit-inside, tandem, hardshell and/or inflatable.
Of these, sit-inside and inflatables are paddle kayaks only, but the other types are available as pedal craft.
Check out this article for the best inflatable fishing kayaks on the market, for the ultimate in portable paddle power.
And go here for the best sit-inside fishing kayaks – which, in spite of not being nearly as popular or practical for the sport, still have their place in the kayak angling community.
But to use a paddle kayak, you’re going to need a paddle!
If the kayak you purchase comes with one, it’s a great way to get started, but I highly recommend you upgrade as soon as possible.
This article on the best kayak fishing paddles will tell you why that’s important, as well as offer a great selection of new blades for you to try.
Paddle kayaks are by far and away the market leaders when it comes to kayak type, whether it’s for fishing, whitewater, touring, or recreational purposes.
Incidentally, this article addresses whether you can use fishing kayaks for recreation, if you’re interested.
Since the craze really took off, from big box stores to supermarkets, paddle kayaks are everywhere.
And that’s largely thanks to their affordability, too. Just check out this review of the best fishing kayaks under $500 to see what I mean.
As an offshoot to the first point, paddle kayaks are typically where we all start in the sport, as this article on the best beginner fishing kayaks will tell you.
And although it might take a bit of practice to perfect an efficient and safe paddling technique, paddle kayaks are pretty intuitive creations, and you can get right out onto the water in no time.
If you are just starting out, you can go here for some top tips for new kayak anglers.
Uncluttered Deck Space
Although pedal fishing kayaks tend to be the larger of the two types, with a paddle kayak you don’t have a pedal drive system on deck, which allows for an unrestricted staging and standing area – depending on the model.
Moving parts, gears, and other such machinery can break down. By and large, paddles do not.
Of course, stranger things have happened, and I highly recommend you have a back-up paddle on board your fishing kayak, or at least use a paddle leash to prevent it from floating off or sinking.
In short, there are fewer things that can go wrong in a paddle kayak than there are in a pedal one.
The lightest fishing kayaks on the market are overwhelmingly paddle versions, and when you take inflatable models into account, they are by far the most portable, and easiest to store.
For superfast fishing trips and easy-loading, paddles have pedals beat.
And speaking of storage, check out this article for some top tips on how best to store a kayak to improve your craft’s lifespan.
While pedal kayaks do have the use of a rudder, they’re generally larger, bulkier boats that have a wider turning circle than that of their paddle counterparts.
Which makes paddle kayaks more suitable for fishing areas where you might encounter hazards and obstacles, both above and below the waterline.
Paddle kayaks offer more choice, with a wider selection of designs and sizes to choose from on the market.
They also provide the paddler with more variety when it comes to the water and weather conditions in which they can be used, while pedal fishing kayaks have their limitations.
I certainly wouldn’t take a pedal drive kayak on any kind of whitewater, for example.
Again, without the intricate technology and innovative design of a pedal drive, there are fewer things to go wrong with a paddle kayak.
As such, they’re a lot easier to maintain, and nowhere near as costly to repair if something were to go wrong.
Click this link for a complete kayak maintenance guide for help keeping your craft in tip-top condition.
Rod or Paddle?
The most obvious and significant downside to paddle kayaks is that you need both hands to pilot them.
As such, even with flush-mounted rod holders, trolling is difficult, and fishing and adjusting your position at the same time is almost impossible.
Can Get Tiring
Paddling takes effort, particularly if you’re tackling waves, currents, or any kind of headwind.
And if you’re traveling greater distances, fatigue can set in quickly if you’re using your arms alone.
Practice Makes Perfect
Although paddling is pretty straightforward, it takes practice to develop a sound technique, and turning can cause some people a spot of difficulty to begin with.
Especially when compared to using a toe or hand-controlled rudder on a pedal kayak.
Paddle kayaks are generally smaller than pedal versions, and if you’re an angler who likes to take out the kitchen sink (and all your fishing gear), you might be hampered by their limitations.
Furthermore, they typically have lower maximum weight capacities, so you might want to try a tandem fishing kayak instead.
Off the Pace
Put two anglers with similar skill sets in a tournament, and give one a pedal kayak, and one a paddle kayak, and I bet my bottom dollar the pedal kayak wins 99% of the time.
Paddle kayaks are much slower than pedals, and it’s barely going to be a contest when pitted head-to-head.
Famous boating stalwarts Hobie introduced the world to pedal drive fishing kayaks back in the late 90s, and since then, the technology has taken the fishing kayak world by storm.
Today, the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler is the pioneer’s flagship model, a jaw-dropping fishing machine that needs to be seen to be believed.
As the technology has developed, and other kayak brands have gotten in on the act, pedal drives have steadily become more accessible and affordable.
It’s a technology that’s here to stay and will only get better – but it’s not without its disadvantages, either.
Let’s take a look at the pedal drive pros and cons.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of pedal drive kayaks is the opportunity for hands-free fishing.
You don’t need to constantly be downing your rod and picking up your paddle if you drift, which makes it ideal for fishing structure, as well as trolling lines as go.
The best pedal fishing kayaks on the market are going to seriously help lower the chance of fatigue when you’re out there, as your legs are much stronger than your arms.
That means you can stay on the water for longer, and cover more area – which in itself is a huge plus point.
While paddle kayaks might be better for complete beginners, using a pedal drive isn’t exactly rocket science.
It’s very similar to using a recumbent bicycle, and if you can ride, you can pedal a fishing kayak.
Not only that, but a toe or hand-controlled rudder is going to make turning a breeze.
Further to the above point, pedal kayaks allow you to fine-tune your spot, and offer increased control over how and where your kayak stays on the water.
Most pedal drive kayaks are going to leave their paddle counterparts in their wake, which makes them the most advantageous choice for tournament fishing, or if you need to exit an area fast.
Remember, kayak fishing isn’t without its risks, and you might need to hot foot it out of there in a hurry. In case of an emergency, I would much rather be piloting a pedal drive than a paddle kayak.
But I don’t mean to scare you! This article on kayak fishing dangers should help put any fears you have to rest. So long as you’re aware of them and prepared, you’ll enjoy a lifetime of incident-free kayaking trips.
Higher Weight Capacity
Aside from inflatables, pedal drive kayaks by and large have a higher weight capacity than typical paddle versions – which means you can take more gear, equipment, and tackle with you.
Get yourself a large fishing cooler for the rear tankwell, add a bunch of fish finders, or even bring along a four-legged friend for the ride.
Thanks to their design, with a wider hull and the pedal drive itself extending down into the water, pedal fishing kayaks are typically more stable than most paddle versions.
And under the surface, the fins or propeller can act as an additional skeg, keeping the craft balanced and on course to help improve tracking.
As such, when it comes to the best stand-up fishing kayaks, you’ll find many are pedal drives, or pedal drive compatible.
Pedal fishing kayaks are often seen as the top-of-the-food chain when it comes to kayak luxury, with companies throwing all their mod-cons and best features to go along with the already impressive technology.
Even the cheapest pedal drive kayak is going to set you back over $1000, and as much as $5000 for the best of the best.
However, as with just about everything, when the technology improves and becomes more mainstream, costs begin to go down.
Pedal kayaks are, relatively speaking, cheaper than when they were first invented, a trend that one hopes to continue with the rise of the sport’s popularity.
Pedal fishing kayaks are much larger, bulkier and heavier than almost any other kind of kayak, and as such are more challenging to transport to and from the water.
You will almost certainly need one of these kayak carts to help with this process, and go here to find out what to do with your kayak cart while you’re on the water.
Pedal kayaks can certainly cause a bit of a headache when it comes to portability, and if that is concerning to you at all, this type might not be the best choice.
More Maintenance Required
Pedal drives have moving parts, and anything with moving parts is going to require more maintenance.
This is especially true if you’re fishing saltwater, where, over time, corrosion is a real threat to such devices.
As an aside to the above point, worthy of its own section, the drive system that sits below the waterline can get damaged.
While high-end pedal drives have retracting fins or propellers, some do not, and hitting obstacles, or getting tangled in weeds can choke the life out of your propulsion system.
This can then become a costly, or time-consuming effort to repair, and can make for a negative pedal drive experience overall.
When it comes to the where and when of kayak angling, pedal kayaks are generally more suitable on flat, calm bodies of water.
That’s not to say they can’t go out offshore – as some of these awesome ocean fishing kayaks will testify.
But for the most part, you’ll find your fishing location options more limited if you’re choosing a pedal drive over a typical paddle kayak – not least because getting to and from a location can be a challenge in itself.
Pedal and Paddle Alternatives
Pedal and paddle kayaks aren’t the only craft available when it comes to fishing in your favorite spots.
If you really want to push the boat out, you can try one of these motorized fishing kayaks, which removes almost all the effort for getting around.
If you want to go the other way, these fishing float tubes provide a serene, calming experience that brings you much, MUCH closer to nature!
For a different kind of paddling, you might like to try one of these super-cool fishing SUPs, which offer the ultimate in recreation, fishing, and exercise.
And instead of paddles, pedals, fins, or motors, you might like to try oars instead. This review of the best pontoons for fishing will point you in the right direction.
Is there a clear-cut winner between pedal and paddle kayaks?
No, is the short answer.
The choice you make is going to depend on a number of factors, which I’ve highlighted in the handy bite-sized selection guide, below:
Choose a paddle fishing kayak if:
- You’re just getting into the sport.
- You’re on a budget.
- You want more versatility.
- You’re fishing rivers and streams…
- …With weeds and grassy material.
- You want a highly portable kayak for quick trips.
- You enjoy the simplicity and “purity” of paddle kayaking.
Choose a pedal fishing kayak if:
- You have the means…
- …And the storage space.
- You kayak fish regularly.
- You’re a tournament angler.
- You’re fishing larger bodies of water.
- You tend to stay out for longer, and travel greater distances.
- You fish structure, and practice trolling.
- You’re not as physically capable as you once were.
Of course, you could always choose a kayak that starts its life as a paddle craft, but can be converted to a pedal drive at a later date. The Wilderness Systems Radar 135 and the Vibe Shearwater 125 are great examples.
Finally, although you can travel in all directions when using a pedal fishing kayak, you should still have a backup paddle just in case.
Paddles can be useful for fine-tuning your position, providing even more speed, and are invaluable in the event of a pedal drive breaking or malfunctioning in some way.
Check out this article on how to choose the best kayak fishing paddle, as you’re going to need one regardless!
And no matter what you’re piloting out there, you should always be wearing a good quality fishing PFD, so follow that link for a list of the most practical life-savers on the market.
In the battle of the paddle vs pedal kayak for fishing, there isn’t a clear winner.
Both have their merits, and both have their downsides in almost equal measure. Some might argue they are completely different beasts entirely.
I hope this article has helped you decide which one is right for you. Let us know in the comments which you prefer, or if you have an opinion on the matter you’d like to share with the community.
And, whether you’re a paddler or a peddler, stay safe, tight lines, and happy kayak fishing!