Sit On Top vs Sit In Kayak for Fishing – Which is Better?

Are you aware just how popular kayak fishing has become?

I mean, it’s going crazy right now. Everyone is in a rush to get out onto the water and get in on the action!

But with so many kayak types and options on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right craft – especially if you’re a total beginner.

In this article, we keep things simple, start at the beginning, and explore the grand “sit-on-top vs sit in kayak for fishing” debate.

Which is better? Read on to find out.

Table of Contents

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Sit On Top or Sit in Kayak? TL, DR

For anyone in a rush or who isn’t interested in exploring the why’s and wherefores of this fascinating contest, the winner is:

The sit-on-top kayak.

It isn’t even close, really. When it comes to kayak fishing, the advantages of a sit-on-top kayak dominate that of sit-in versions.

Let’s explore this in more detail, below, and find out exactly why the sit-on-top kayak has literally come out on top.

Alternatively, you could always head straight on over and check out the very best stand up kayaks if you’re ready to purchase a super-stable craft and get out there.

red inflatable fishing kayak on the autumn river and fishing rod

Kayak Fishing – What’s It All About?

Why are so many people turning to kayak fishing as a means to enjoy the sport? Why use a kayak to go fishing in the first place?

It’s nothing new – our ancestors have been fishing from kayaks for centuries. So why this sudden boom?

The advantages are numerous, but one reason will surely have to do with the advancement in technology, with cutting-edge design and manufacturing that has made kayak fishing safer and more accessible than ever.

Not least when it comes to these amazing inflatable fishing kayaks – which have come a long way since blow up PVC play boats, and are highly sought after for their practical portability.

But perhaps the most obvious answer for the increase in popularity – is that kayak fishing is affordable.

Boats aren’t cheap, and with a kayak you can get out onto the water and be catching fish at a fraction of the cost. There’s a kayak out there to suit every budget – no matter what style you choose.

Storage and portability is another huge plus point. Even if you’re using a hardshell, you don’t need nearly as much space when it’s not in use, and getting to and from the water is relatively straightforward by comparison.

Kayaks are unique in the sense that they can access all areas – and you can fish in spots where larger craft aren’t able to go. Explore places many anglers can only dream about – and catch the monster fish to prove it.

Kayaks are ideal for taking a trip through the mangroves, down meandering waterways, in secret inlets, bays, and coves, and just about anywhere else a boat would be overkill.

And with no loud, smelly engine, you’re going to be a silent hunter, which is perfect for stalking fish that are easily spooked.

Finally – and not to be overlooked – fishing from a kayak is great fun. It’s a unique challenge, and can produce some truly wonderful memories – whether you go alone, or try one of these awesome tandem fishing kayaks to enjoy the trip with a buddy or loved one.

For more info – check out the video below on what you need to start kayak fishing.

What Makes a Good Fishing Kayak?

There are several features a kayak should have if it’s going to be classed as a “fishing kayak,” and before we take a look at the pros and cons of sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks, it’s a good idea to know what to look for.

The best fishing kayaks will have:

  • Good primary stability.
  • Ample storage room for tackle and gear – including tank wells and storage hatches.
  • A variety of rod holders in convenient locations.
  • Adjustable comfort seating – raised for the best field-of-view.
  • Accessory mounting rails – or the ability to customize the kayak.
  • Paddle parks.
  • A practical center console.
  • A high weight capacity.
  • (Optional) A built-in fish measuring ruler.
  • (Optional) The ability to do standing casts and reels.
  • (Optional) A pedal drive system.
  • (Optional) Trolling motor compatible.

You should keep those features in mind as you read on, or anytime you’re in the market for a new fishing kayak.

two fisherwomen on inflatable kayaks fishing at lake

Sit On Top Kayaks – Advantages

In recent years, sit-on-top kayaks have become all the rage, particularly in the recreational category. When it comes to fishing, they have several key advantages.

  • Primary stability – This refers to how stable a kayak is when you first step in it. Most sit-on-top kayaks are designed with a wider, flatter hull, which makes them rock-solid in calm waters, and difficult to flip over.
  • Easier to board – Which, in turn, makes getting into them that much easier. This is especially useful if you’re not as young as you once were, or have the balance of an elephant walking a tightrope.
  • More storage space – A sit-on-top kayak that is the equal size of a sit-in kayak will still offer more space on board due to the open deck design. This makes them much more suitable for carrying a quality fishing cooler – an absolute must when kayak fishing with beer.
  • Stand up casting – That primary stability and wider hull also makes it possible to enjoy stand up casts and reels in a sit-on-top kayak. However, not all models are capable of this, so check this article dedicated to stand up fishing kayaks if you’re in any doubt.
  • Self bailing – Just in case you do take on a bit of water (and well you might) sit-on-top kayaks will nearly always come with self-bailing scupper holes to drain you of the drink.
  • Mounting accessories – Sit-on-top kayaks offer plenty of scope to customize with extra fishing gear and equipment, particularly if they come with mounting rails pre-installed.
  • Elevated seating position – Be master of all you survey with a commanding view point over the water. Sit-on-top kayaks will nearly always offer an elevated seating position that offers a great field of vision. You’ll see even more if you’re using one of these handy fishing headlamps – for those who enjoy kayak fishing in low light conditions.
  • Furry companions – Even if they’re sure-of-foot, our four-legged-friends much prefer accompanying you on a sit-on-top kayak to a sit-in. Choose this option if you want to bring your best friend along.

Sit On Top Kayaks – Disadvantages

Alas, as with everything, sit-on-top kayaks also have some downsides.

Nothing is perfect, after all.

  • Heavy and bulky – Unfortunately, given their hull design, sit-on-top kayaks tend to be much heavier than their sit-in counterparts. This can have its drawbacks, especially if your kayak is on the larger side.
  • Wet and wild – Sit-on-top kayaks don’t have a cockpit, and so there is a significantly higher chance of you getting wet – particularly when lifting your paddles out of the water on a stroke cycle. You’re more exposed in a sit-on-top kayak, so if you’re out in wet weather, you might want to think about the best rain gear for fishing in order to stay protected.
  • Limited performance – Compared to sit-ins, sit-on-top kayaks are slow, and they can take an age to turn. Tracking is also inferior, so traveling any sort of distance can be challenging and will take time – particularly in choppy waters or if there’s any kind of current. If you’re looking for a kayak that can handle those sorts of conditions, check out this review of the best ocean fishing kayaks on the market.
  • More expensive – Dedicated sit-on-top fishing kayaks tend to be much more expensive than sit-in versions, especially if they incorporate premium features, accessory rails, and pedal drive systems.

fisherman preparing for kayak fishing trip

Sit in Kayaks – Advantages

Sit-in kayaks have been around for centuries, and were traditionally the favored craft for fishing, first used by indigenous peoples in the subarctic. Let’s take a look at their plus points.

  • Lightweight – Sit-in kayaks tend to be much more portable than sit-on-top kayaks. They’re lighter and easier to handle. Getting to the water with one of these craft is a breeze by comparison.
  • Cockpit protection – You’re not as exposed to the elements in a sit-in kayak, given that you’re literally in a cockpit with your legs covered. Spray skirts can also be added for additional protection in particularly wet conditions.
  • This can’t be overstated enough – You’re going to be warmer and drier in a sit-in kayak, no question. You can see why they are/were preferred for hunting in the winter. And in the summer, they can offer more protection from the sun – particularly for your legs. Either way, don’t forget to wear a decent fishing hat to keep those UV rays at bay.
  • Better performance – Speed, tracking, maneuverability – sit-in kayaks are unbeatable when it comes to actual performance in the water. This is why they’re preferred for whitewater rafting and touring.
  • Stable in chop – As sit-in kayaks tend to have a more V-shaped hull, they will actually feel more stable in choppier, rougher conditions.
  • More of a challenge – Because of their design, sit-in kayaks will offer anglers more of a challenge when it comes to landing a fish, which some fisher people prefer. To help you, it’s highly recommended you use a good kayak fishing net – no matter the type of craft.

Sit In Kayaks – Disadvantages

Unfortunately, when it comes to fishing, sit-in kayaks offer a number of significant downsides.

  • Not that suitable for beginners – If you’re totally new to kayaking or kayak fishing, then sit-in kayaks can be a little intimidating, especially with the heart-in-mouth tip moment when you’re overzealous with your paddle stroke.
  • Difficult to board – Furthermore, sit-in kayaks can be challenging to actually get in – and they’ve flipped more than a few paddlers into the water before the fishing trip has even begun.
  • Limited storage – Unless you’re rocking a large touring kayak, most sit-in versions aren’t going to offer nearly the same amount of storage room as their sit-on-top counterparts. Which means seriously limited space for one of these awesome kayak fishing tackle boxes.
  • Tough to drain – If you do manage to take on some water, a sit-in kayak can be hard to drain, and you might be stuck sitting in a puddle of water.

Here’s a top-tip – I use a simple water gun if that happens, which has proved just as effective as a bilge pump or sponge for getting rid of on-board water.

It’s also great for giving your loved one a soaking, too – although be prepared to sleep on the couch if they’re not expecting it.

angler sitting on fishing kayak on calm water of river

Final Verdict

Are you one of those people who counts the advantages and disadvantages of a product, and which ever has more of the former and less of the latter is the winner?

More often than not, this technique can work. When it comes to this contest, however, it’s not as clear-cut as that.

While both kayak types might appear evenly balanced with pros and cons, when it comes to the sit-on-top kayak, I would say the advantages lend themselves so much to kayak fishing that they should count double.

Regardless of the kayak you choose, you will still need to be wearing a good-quality fishing PFD when you’re out there on the water – so make sure you’re staying safe.


The battle of the kayaks is over, and when it comes down to what’s important for kayak anglers – it’s barely been a contest.

But at the end of the day, it’s really up to you and your own personal preference. Some people swim with the current, others swim against it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article exploring sit-on-top vs sit-in kayaks for fishing. Let me know your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.

Tight lines, everyone!

Stuart Jameson

Stuart is passionate about travel, kayaking, camping and the great outdoors in general. He's not quite as enthusiastic about angling as his father was, but out of the two of them, he's yet to hook his ear lobe while fly-fishing, which he sees as an absolute win.

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