Choosing a Fishing Kayak by Jimbo Meador

As I have shared with you before, I have been fishing out of various types of self-propelled watercraft for most of my life. All of my experiences have led me to the conclusion that the kayak is the most versatile of them all. One could potentially go from catching Bluegill or Trout in a pond to fishing offshore for big game fish in the same kayak. In addition to its versatility, two more attractive attributes of the kayak are its low profile and its low center of gravity. The former makes the kayak easier and faster to paddle in windy conditions with the added benefit of stealth, and the latter makes the kayak more stable.

Getting Started:

Longer Lengths Help You Get There Faster

When choosing your fishing kayak, there are many factors to take into consideration. You should identify what fish species you will target and how far you will have to paddle to get to the location where you plan to fish. The waterline length of the kayak could be a determining factor. The waterline length influences the speed of the kayak. Simply stated – with a properly designed hull, the longer the waterline, the faster your kayak should go. With all things being equal, a 16-foot kayak will be faster than a 12-foot kayak. Therefore, if you have to paddle long distances to your fishing locations, you would be better off with a longer kayak. A longer kayak also tends to tract better, which means that it stays on course better.

Short Length Makes for Ease, All the Way Around

If you transport your kayak by vehicle or on a larger boat to the proximity that you plan to fish and will not have to paddle very far, a shorter kayak with more width would better suit your needs. A shorter kayak is not only easier to manage when loading or unloading on your vehicle or your powerboat, but it is also more easily portaged, more maneuverable when fighting a fish, fishing in the mangroves, among obstructions, narrow winding creeks, and stretches of whitewater.

A kayak with more width is just easier to fish out of. A wider kayak of the same length will be more stable. It will have a greater area of wetted surface, which creates more friction on the water and thus more drag, so it will be slower. It gives you a more stable platform to work from when casting or fighting a fish and it gives you better access to your gear and tackle because you can move around easier. Some designs will even allow you to stand up and pole giving you a better vantage point to sight fish in shallow water.

A narrow beam and longer waterline that can make a kayak faster may also reduce initial stability (how wobbly you feel or not, when you’re just sitting in it without moving) and maneuverability, so you have to give up one advantage to achieve another. If you like narrow beam boats, look for one with good secondary stability: this is felt when you lean to the side a bit and the boat feels like someone’s holding it from tipping over. This fine line is why a properly designed kayak is so important.


Color can be an important decision depending on the area that you are fishing and the species. Color can be a safety issue. If you are paddling in an area with high-speed powerboat traffic or areas where you need to be visible you should have a brightly colored kayak (mango or yellow). If you are paddling in backcountry shallow water areas you might prefer to blend into your surroundings with a more earth tone color such as khaki or Green.

Sit In vs. Sit On Top

Another decision that you will have to make is the choice of a (sit on top) kayak or a (sit inside) kayak. The major difference in the two is very simple. In a sit inside you actually do sit inside the cockpit of the kayak with your legs under the deck of the kayak. In a sit on top kayak you would sit on top in a cockpit that is molded into the kayak with your legs and body exposed.

A sit inside kayak designed for fishing is shorter and wider making it more stable and maneuverable than a touring kayak designed for traveling long distance. In a sit inside kayak, your seat is low thus making your center of gravity lower and making you feel very stable. A sit inside kayak can be fitted with a spray skirt to keep the water out and keep you dry and warm. Many models are designed with larger cockpits openings to give you ample room to move, enter or exit. If the hull fills with water, you would have to pump or bail it out. If you are near shore you could turn the kayak over on shore and dump the water out.

A sit on top kayak has a self-bailing cockpit with scupper drain holes designed to drain water, so if you take on water it drains out of the scupper holes. This is a huge attribute if you are launching through the surf or paddling in rough water. Another nice benefit of the self- bailing feature is the fact that rainwater does not accumulate. Sit on top kayaks are very easy to get in and out of and move around in. They allow easy access to your gear or tackle while afloat and you can sit with your legs hanging over the side and in some models even stand up and pole them with a push pole.

When choosing a kayak for fishing, remember that one of the biggest advantages of fishing from a kayak is stealth and being able to blend in with your surroundings. To be accepted by fish, birds and other wildlife as non-obtrusive, it is important to have a kayak that is quiet with no hull slap or anything that looks, feels or sounds unnatural. After a day on the water, try to leave things as you found them - hopefully undisturbed.