This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive commissions for purchases made through those links, at no cost to you. Please read our disclosure for more info here.

How to Choose a Beginner Fishing Kayak (An Inside Look)

Kayak fishing is a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to enjoy a day on the water. In this article, we will share insight on how to choose a beginner fishing kayak.  If you are thinking about your first fishing kayak, please stay tuned.

A fishing kayak can help you reach fish in areas that are not accessible by larger boats, so you can sneak up on your next big catch.  You can quietly paddle from spot to spot with a fishing kayak without disturbing the peace and quiet.

If you are just starting out, choosing a beginner fishing kayak can be overwhelming. There are a lot of things to think about, some you might not be aware of.  We have put this guide together to help walk you through what you should look for in a beginner fishing kayak.

Type of kayak

There are different types of kayaks to choose from, including sit-on-top, sit-inside, and even inflatable kayaks. You can read our detailed article about the different types of kayaks, but we will give you a quick summary next.

Sit inside fishing kayak

A sit-inside kayak has a cockpit you sit in while you paddle. This is a more traditional, recreational kayak. Your lower legs are covered, which can be helpful in colder conditions. 

The paddler sits low in the water, which can limit your sight when it comes to spotting fish. Sit inside kayaks are not self-bailing, meaning as you take on water, you need a bilge pump or sponge to manually extract water. 

A sit-inside kayak is efficient to paddle but does limit your range of motion for casting. There are covered storage compartments, but accessing your gear is not easy when you are on the water.

Sit inside kayaks are not as popular for fishing as sit-on-top kayaks, but they can keep you protected from water and weather and are more efficient to paddle.

Sit-on-top fishing kayak

A sit-on-top (SOT) kayak has an open deck, and the paddler sits on top of the deck.  Since you sit up higher than on a sit-inside kayak, you have a better view, which can help with sight fishing.

Sit-on-top kayaks are entirely open, and you are more exposed to the weather and more prone to getting wet.  This might not be ideal in cold weather unless you are dressed accordingly.

SOT kayaks are generally self-bailing, meaning they have scupper holes, which allow water to drain out, so you don’t have to manually pump water out of your kayak.

From a stability standpoint, many SOT kayaks are designed so you can stand up and cast.  When you are fishing from a kayak, the ability to stand up and cast gives you an advantage.

Storage is easily accessible with a SOT kayak, and you have more range of motion when you reach for your fishing gear.

Inflatable fishing kayak

Some people choose an inflatable kayak for fishing, and there are good reasons.  First of all, you don’t need much storage space for an inflatable. You can store the kayak in a closet at home when you are not using it.  A hardshell kayak requires more thought and space to store.

Another great thing about an inflatable fishing kayak is you don’t need an expensive roof rack to transport it. You can toss an inflatable kayak in the trunk or backseat of a car.

Inflatable kayaks are very durable and can stand up to things like dog claws and fishing hooks.  Of course, you still want to watch out for sharp objects and other obstacles.

Another bonus with inflatable kayaks is that some are pretty inexpensive, and they come with a pump, paddle, etc., to get you started.

One downside to inflatable kayaks is they may not paddle as efficiently as a hard kayak. Click here for more information about inflatable vs. hardshell kayaks.

Features to look for

Now that we have discussed the different types of fishing kayaks let’s review some of the features to look for.

Accessory mounts/tracks

There isn’t a whole lot of space on a kayak, so it’s nice to have a specific spot for your fishing gear.  Many fishing kayaks come with tracks for accessories like GPS, fishfinder, anchor trolley, etc.  With a track, you can mount these accessories where you see fit. 

If you are looking for an entry-level fishing kayak, and it doesn’t come with a built-in track, you can install one with a few DIY skills.

Rod holders

If you are fishing from a kayak, you are going to need rod holders. Paddling while you are holding a fishing rod is not an easy thing to do.

Some kayaks come with flush mount rod holders behind the seat. This is nice because the fishing rods are out of your way when you paddle. Rod holders behind the seat are a little cumbersome in that you have to twist your upper body and reach around to grab your fishing pole. 

It’s essential to know how many rod holders you want.  You might carry more than one fishing pole, set up with different equipment.  Some people use a crate on the rear of the kayak that carries multiple rods. 

You can also use the tracks we just discussed to add a rod holder where it’s convenient for you. Some kayaks will have a fishing rod holder built-in between the paddlers’ legs.

Paddle holder

Holding a kayak paddle while you are fishing is not easy.  A paddle holder is an excellent way to keep your paddle accessible but out of the way while fishing.

Some kayaks come with a paddle holder, but if not, you can add it after the fact.  Once again, accessory tracks come in handy as you can add a paddle holder that way too.

Seat

When you spend a lot of time on a fishing kayak, the seat can make a huge difference.  Look for a seat with good support for your upper and lower back. If the kayak doesn’t have a suitable seat, it’s usually pretty easy to swap it out for a different model.

You can read more about kayak seat options here. A good kayak seat should support your back and have a comfortable cushion to sit on.  Some kayak seats have adjustable heights, and some can recline.

Storage

If you are just getting started kayak fishing, you might be surprised how little space there is on a kayak. It’s important to make sure you have enough storage for fishing gear. There is a lot more usable storage with a SOT kayak vs. a sit-inside kayak when you are fishing. 

Keep an eye out for storage hatches to keep your gear dry.  Bungee cord tie-downs on the rear are also excellent to have. Rear bungee storage is excellent for a fishing crate, cooler, and fishing gear.

Stability/standing deck

A beginner fishing kayak should provide the paddler with good stability. You want to feel like you are in control of the kayak, not the other way around. Many fishing kayaks are very stable. Some are even stable enough to stand up and cast from.

Generally speaking, a wider boat will give you more stability. If you want to stand up and cast, a wider boat will serve you well.

Range of motion

When you choose a beginner fishing kayak, it’s important to have enough range of motion to cast your line.  A sit-inside kayak doesn’t give you as much range of motion as a sit-on-top kayak because you are sitting in the cockpit.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still fish effectively from a sit-inside kayak. But you don’t have as much room to move your body for casting.

With a sit-on-top kayak, the paddler sits up higher, and in some cases, can stand up to sight fish.  A SOT kayak is less restrictive, so you can move your body easier to cast your fishing line because you are not sitting in a cockpit, lower in the water.

Fishability

This term wraps up everything we have discussed in this article. Fishability refers to how well YOU can fish from the kayak. It’s up to YOU what kayak best suits your needs since you are the one who will be fishing from it.

It’s great to get input from other people, their likes and dislikes about how their kayak is set up for fishing.  This can help you determine what features you would like to have.

For example, if the rod holders aren’t within reach, then the kayak might not be suitable for you.  It’s hard to reel in a fish when you are fumbling for your fishing pole. 

Fishability comes down to having the right kayak and the right features so you can effectively fish from the kayak.

Where will you be fishing?

Another factor when choosing a beginner fishing kayak is the type of water you will be fishing.  For instance, if you fish streams and rivers, you might want a shorter kayak that is easy to maneuver. 

Larger bodies of water like big lakes, or inlets, you might consider a longer, narrower sit inside kayak that tracks well and can cover long distances quickly.

For small lakes or ponds where the water is calm, a stable, sit-on-top kayak is a good option. Typically on smaller bodies of water, speed isn’t a concern since you don’t have long distances to cover quickly.

Other factors to consider

There are other factors to consider when buying a fishing kayak, or any kayak for that matter, things like budget, transporting the kayak, storing the vessel, etc.

Budget

Depending on how many bells and whistles you want, you can spend a lot of money on a fishing kayak. It’s important to set a budget and stick to it. As a beginner, it might be challenging to know exactly what you need on a fishing kayak.

It’s a good idea to speak to someone at a local paddle shop who can answer your questions and help you.

There are a couple of schools of thought. You can buy an inexpensive, entry-level fishing kayak, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money upfront. The problem here is you might outgrow the kayak quickly and realize it doesn’t have all the features you really want. Then you are stuck with that boat, or you have to buy another kayak soon after.

You can also spend more money up front so you can grow into the boat. But that requires more out of pocket when you are getting started.  When setting your budget, make sure you have money left for a quality life jacket and paddle.

Carrying your kayak

Fishing kayaks are heavy and awkward to carry. If you buy a fishing kayak, you may want to invest in a kayak cart to carry the load.  Kayak carts do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. This is one of our favorite models. You can read about more kayak carts here.

Kayak carts can help get your kayak from your vehicle to the water and are suitable for different terrain. You can roll your kayak over sand, gravel, grass, pavement, etc.

Weight limit

Each kayak has a weight limit, and it’s important to pay attention to this number. The actual loaded weight limit is about 65% of the manufacturer’s stated weight limit. If you put too much weight in a kaya, you risk tipping over, and it is more difficult to paddle.

You can read more about kayak weight limits here.

By the time you consider your body weight and all the gear you take fishing, it’s incredible how fast it all adds up.  That said, make sure you pay attention to the weight limit on the fishing kayak you purchase.

Transportation

Transporting a kayak is often overlooked.  If you don’t own a pickup, a roof rack works really well.  Buying a roof rack is an added expense. You can spend upwards of $1,000 on a quality roof rack for your fishing kayak.

There are other ways to get your kayak from your house to the water. Transportation is something to think about before you buy a fishing kayak. 

One reason people purchase an inflatable kayak is that they are easy to transport. You can quickly put an inflatable fishing kayak in your trunk or backseat.

Storing a fishing kayak

Storing a kayak is another challenge that many people don’t consider before they buy.  If you have space in a garage or shed, that is a great option. You can also store your kayak outdoors if you take some precautions.

You might consider using a wall mount or other storage option. Depending on your space, this is one of our favorite kayak wall mounts.

Wrapping up

Beginner Fishing Kayak - Kayak on a pebble beachPin

There is a lot to think about when you are looking for a beginner fishing kayak.  It’s essential to choose a kayak that will serve you well in the short and long term.  Choosing a kayak that has room for accessories is crucial.

Shop around, decided what features are most important to you, and set a budget based on your needs. If you have the option to rent a kayak in your area, that can be a great place to start.

Let us know if you have any questions. We are happy to help.

Steve Morrow Founder of Paddle About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.

Leave a Comment