Best River Fishing Kayak
Fishing from a kayak has taken off in popularity over the last number of years. Kayaks are versatile, manoeuvrable and add a sense of adventure into your fishing trips.
River Fishing Kayaks: Top Picks
(these links take you to the kayaks on Amazon)
River fishing kayaks help to get you into places that waders or normal boats just can’t go. This is especially the case when you consider rivers that are a little more than a gentle flow. That’s why we're going to delve into the wonderful world of river fishing kayaks and look at what's available.
What Is A River Fishing Kayak?
Now, please don’t for a minute think that you can’t paddle a kayak suited for the river on flat water, or vice-versa. You can, although kayaks designed for the flat water are going to start struggling when the current or rapids start approaching anything moderate (good luck turning!).
In other words, anything other than a ‘gentle’ river will likely equal a struggle. So bear this in mind.
Of course, there are also kayaks that have characteristics suited for both river and flat water conditions. But these kayaks often don’t do either the flats or the rivers as good as any dedicated ‘yak. So really, it’s going to be down to you to try out as many kayaks as you can to find one that feels right for you and your intended purpose.
In essence though, for a river, it is better to look for a kayak that manoeuvres well. You don’t really care about speed or tracking when paddling, it’s all about being able to move around with ease.
The general characteristics of a river kayak are:
A Shorter Kayak (less length)
Let’s be clear….shorter is better. Well, for manoeuvreability at least. You don’t need an 18ft kayak here. Leave the long ‘yaks in the flat water, where they belong. You don’t need speed here (acceleration is useful though!). No more than 13ft is generally good.
When you’re on a river, you want to be able to turn very well, and very fast. It’s so much easy to turn in a shorter kayak, in order to get into the position you need.
This is very important. You want to be looking at a wider boat. The width is referred to as the ‘beam’ of a kayak.
A wider beam will increase stability considerably. This is important for two reasons:
1) You will be paddling on a river, which can throw you around unexpectedly. So stability is important.
2) If you are in a flatter, calmer spot (or fishing on flat water), you want to feel comfortable that you aren’t going to tip over when you cast or are reeling in a big catch (especially if standing)!
So we’re talking over 30 inches, for width. Certainly a lot more than the 24 inches you would find on a flat water/recreational kayak!
A Rounded Keel (as opposed to a flatter keel which is suited to flat waters)
Also known as the 'rocker'. Why does this make a difference? Well, if you need to move laterally (sideways) there will be less resistance because there is less of the kayak hull dragging through the water as you move sideways.
Why? Well, as the ‘arch’ of the keel (and pretend we are looking sideways at the kayak) is more pronounced, then more of the kayak is up in the air. This means less of the kayak is in the water, which severely dampens down the ability to move sideways.
Now it has to be said, if you’re river fishing, you probably aren’t on super white-water rapids. So this particular characteristic of a fishing kayak is less important than the length and width above, but it should be noted and considered nonetheless.
River Fishing Kayak Features And Considerations
Weight: How much gear do you intend taking?
This is important. When picking a fishing kayak for the river, you should consider the weight capacity of the kayak. Kayaks become unstable and potentially dangerous if they are over-burdened with too much weight.
Remember to consider your own bodyweight combined with the weight of the equipment you plan on bringing with you. Make sure that combined weight is less than the recommended maximum advised by the manufacturer.
Tie down storage
You’re going to be no doubt bringing some fishing gear with you. Tackle storage, bait, supplies, rods, and of course paddles, and more.
Make sure the fishing kayak (and if it is a fishing kayak you would expect this) has Bungee cord or a similar tense cord/rope to keep your essentials on board. You also want to have cord or fastenings for your rod(s) and paddles.
You’re going to be kayaking on potentially strong currents and you may get thrown round a little. Best to make sure your gear is tied down in case a rogue wave sweeps over the deck, or you tip over!
Make sure you have a PFD!
A PFD (Personal Flotation Device) or life vest/jacket, should be worn at all times. Safety is paramount. It doesn’t matter how good a paddler you are, how shallow or slow the water it is, always err on the side of caution.
A PFD will help you stay safe should the worst happen and you get into trouble.
Make sure you spend the money and get a good one.
Tell Friends Or Family If Going Alone
- Another safety recommendation, especially if going out alone. In fact, even if you’re going out with a group, this is still solid advice.
- Informing friends of when and where you are fishing is a good idea should you run into trouble. It’s all too easy to rely on technology. Cell phones and GPS are awesome for contact and navigation. Oftentimes however, you won’t get a signal and can end up in trouble.
- If people know of your whereabouts they can help raise the alarm in an emergency, even if you can’t. Be sure to always confirm a time for an expected return.
Top 3 Best River Fishing Kayaks
Good river fishing kayaks don’t come cheap, so there isn’t really a budget offer. The Tarpon 100 from Wilderness Systems is the cheapest of the bunch, but is really only advisable for milder rivers.
As always, if it’s possible, it’s best to try to demo some kayaks before making the final plunge.
1: Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 Fish and Dive Package Sit on Top Kayak
- Length: 12ft 4 inches
- Width: 33 inches
- Depth: 12 inches
- Weight: 60 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 450 pounds
Our first offering comes from Malibu Kayaks. With two rod holders at the front and a further two at the rear, straight away you know this fishing kayak means business.
Up at the bow end, there’s a generous storage area to keep stuff safe from the water. The area has a removable plastic cover that straps into place with a belt and a cord to really tie it down fast and secure. There is a molded area on this section that would be ok for a small child to sit on – facing the paddler.
There’s also a live bait tank slap bang in the middle. Again, there is a cover (which has grip for standing), and there’s a scupper plug, so you have choices as to how you want to use this space. There’s a third large storage area at the rear (stern) end. It is uncovered but has Bungee cord which can be used to lash your gear down. You can optionally cut a hole in this area and create another storage area right at the back.
This kayak is stable. You should confidently be able to fish standing up. In fact, either side of the live bait tank is a further two small covered storage areas. They are designed to be stood an, and comprise of the same non-slip material that covers the live bait tank.
Just in front of the cockpit/seated area is the adjustable foot track system, which as the name suggests is fully adjustable to adapt to the leg length of the on-board paddler. You can optionally fit a rudder and attach it to the pedals, giving you more control.
There are carrying handles on each side of the kayak and a further handle at the bow end and the stern end.
Sadly, although there is a molded seating area, the Stealth 12 does not come with a padded seat. You would have to purchase one separately.
Comes in a range of different colors: red, white, line and mango.
2: FeelFree Moken 12.5 Fishing Kayak
- Length: 12.6 ft
- Width: 32 inches
- Weight: 66 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 480 pounds
The FeelFree Moken 12.5 has a dry storage hatch on the front. There’s another generously sized covered hatch in the cockpit. Around 6 inches deep and wide, it runs lengthways around 2ft. Great for storing the gear that you need to get your hands on quickly and conveniently from your seat.
There’s a huge open storage area at the rear (behind the seat). Like the Malibu above, it has Bungee cord. There’s a removable cap inside this area. This is ideal for keeping your rods dry while you paddle around.
You can attach a rod holder etc on the Uni Track system, which slides into the position of your choosing.
There are sliding adjustable pedals for resting those legs. They can be used to control the rudder if you choose (rudder control does not come as standard – sold separately).
Right in front of the seat is an area for standing and casting. This area provides plenty of grip to help you keep upright, and avoid the worst happening.
The Moken 12.5 comes with an adjustable Kingfisher seat. It has generous padding and lumbar support.
There are 4 rod holders and a carrying handle at the bow end, with a further 2 on the sides.
3: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak
- Length: 10ft
- Width: 30.5 inches
- Depth: 15.25 inches
- Weight: 55 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 325 pounds
This 10ft fishing kayak is the cheapest on offer here. But don’t worry, there are plenty of features to keep you happy.
There are rails running down either side (2 sets front & rear of the seat). On these rails you can attach rods (holders) or other equipment such as fish finders etc.
There are 3 main storage areas. 2 are covered (one at the bow end, the other right in front of the seat). The third storage area is open, but again, has Bungee cord over the top.
Comes with a foldaway padded seat and plenty of fixings and cord around the kayak for storage of small items.
One thing to note is that the Tarpon 100 isn’t so good for fishing while standing up. It’s not impossible, it’s just not as stable as the other two (the beam is also a little less). It also takes up to 325 pounds of weight, so won’t carry quite as much either. If this isn’t a problem for you, then the Tarpon 100 should definitely be on your comparison list.
Ok, over to you. Do you have one of these kayaks, or can you recommend others? Let us know about it down below.
Remember to check out our best river kayak article if you're not fussed about fishing.