Best River Fishing Kayak – The ULTIMATE Guide

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As the weather starts to warm up, kayakers and anglers everywhere are getting ready to hit the river.

If you're looking for the best river fishing kayak to take your fishing game to the next level, we've got you covered.

We'll give you an overview of our top picks, including our number one choice, the Old Town Topwater 106 thanks to its compact, easy-to-maneuver size and outstanding stability on moving water.

So grab your rods and paddle – it's time to get outdoors and start reeling in those fish!

Quick Picks:

Top 17 Best River Fishing Kayaks Reviewed

1: Old Town Topwater 106 (best overall)

  • Length: 10 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 34.5 inches
  • Weight: 73 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 440 pounds

The Old Town Topwater 106 is a compact fishing kayak that’s designed to offer incredible stability for fishing on all types of waters, including rivers. Its high level of stability comes from its Double-U pontoon-style hull. This means you can stand easily and comfortably whether you’re fly fishing or targeting big bass.

The pontoon hull is why this river fishing kayak stands out from the rest. Combine that with its excellent standability and compact size for small water, this is a top kayak for fishing in most rivers. This can make it better for smaller rivers than our runner-up pick, the ATAK 120, because of its shorter length.

This can be a great boat for all sizes of rivers, with a short hull that’s easy to maneuver in narrow rivers. It’s also a convenient size for transporting on your car roof or in the back of your pickup.

It has a spacious deck, despite its compact size, with a standing platform for non-slip standing and casting. It has plenty of room for gear, with three rod holders, an oversized tank well in the stern for a crate, plus an onboard rod and tackle management system so you can stay organized on the water.

It has a high capacity for its size, meaning you can bring along all the gear you’ll need for your day trip. There’s a storage hatch at the bow with bungees to keep the lid secure, and you’ll find cup holders next to the seat.

There are also gear tracks so that you can easily install your accessories and fish finder (not included). It even has a universal transducer mount.  

The framed seat features high/low adjustment for comfortable paddling and fishing positions.

Pros

  • Extremely stable
  • Roomy deck
  • Padded standing platform
  • Rod and tackle management

Cons

  • No rudder attached

2: Wilderness Systems ATAK 120 (best runner-up)

  • Length: 12 foot 3 inches
  • Width: 35 inches
  • Depth: 16 inches
  • Weight: 86 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 400 pounds

The Wilderness Systems ATAK 120 is a feature-packed fishing kayak that can be a great choice for rivers and moving water. While it’s a little longer than some of the other kayaks on our list, it’s a shorter version of the award-winning ATAK 140. So it’s built to be easier to maneuver and more convenient for smaller bodies of water.

This can be an excellent river fishing kayak for all-day trips. It’s designed to be comfortable, with an AirPro Max seating system that features high, low and recline positions for a tailored ride, improving your visibility and stability.

The hull is crafted to be stable in a range of waters, with added rocker to handle moving water. The stand-assist strap can help you get to your feet for standing and casting.  

There is a ton of space on this boat, with a huge rear cargo deck and removable console. Gear tracks can let you install your accessories easily and the secondary transducer scupper is designed for side-scan sonars.

The ATAK 120 is also compatible with the Helix Motor Drive (sold separately).

Pros

  • Performs well on moving water
  • Excellent accessory mounting options
  • Secondary transducer scupper
  • Comfortable seat

Cons

  • No deck padding

3: Perception Pescador Pro 10 (best value)

  • Length: 10 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 32 inches
  • Weight: 57 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

The Perception Pescador Pro 10 offers excellent value, packing a lot of features into its compact, lightweight hull. This durable kayak is made in the USA and is designed to be easy to maneuver, making it ideal for small rivers. And because it’s easy to control, it can also be great for beginners. However, it’s not built for standing.

This has dual molded rod holders, a mesh-covered bow storage area, and a spacious rear tank well with bungees for securing your crate or cooler. You’ll find a cup holder for your beverage and a paddle park to keep your paddle safe while you’re fishing.

The tackle storage console can be set up for a fish finder (not included) and the 5-inch deck hatch in the stern gives you access to the inside of the hull. There’s also gear tracks for additional accessories.

The seat is designed to be comfortable for all-day fishing, with its breathable mesh-covered frame and elevated position for improved visibility. The adjustable foot braces can also be useful in helping you to stabilize yourself and sit in the correct position for paddling.

Pros

  • Lightweight hull
  • Easy to maneuver in narrow rivers
  • Accessory tracks
  • Tackle storage console

Cons

  • No standing deck

4: Sea Eagle 350FX Fishing Explorer (best inflatable)

  • Length: 11 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 39 inches
  • Weight: 51 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 575 pounds

The Sea Eagle 350FX is one of the best inflatable fishing kayaks out there and one of the best river fishing kayaks. It has a durable drop-stitch floor and 1100 Decitex hull with 2200 Decitex reinforced sections. It can be easily deflated to fit in the trunk of a small car and stored in a closet at home - ideal if you live in an apartment or condo with limited storage space.

As well as being extremely durable (and great for bringing your dog along), this is very stable on moving water, with excellent secondary stability. It’s rated to handle up to Class IV rapids and it can be great on flatwater too.

One of the greatest features of the 350FX is its load capacity. This can hold 575 pounds, so you can bring all the gear you need for a successful fishing trip. It can also be ideal for larger paddlers.

Some of the features of this boat include a 40-inch fish ruler, accessory belts for your tools, and six built-in rod holders.

The bow and stern spray skirts give you some covered space to store your gear, helping to keep splashes off.

Pros

  • Portable size
  • Inflatable fishing kayak
  • Rated for up to Class IV rapids
  • High maximum capacity

Cons

  • Heavy for an inflatable

5: BKC TK181 Tandem (best 2-person river kayak)

  • Length: 12 foot 8 inches
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 68 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 595 pounds

This BKC TK181 is a tandem fishing kayak that’s designed to be lightweight for two people to carry and easy to maneuver on the water. It has a high level of stability and can perform well in rivers, as well as oceans and lakes.

There are seven fishing rod holders in total, with three swivel rod holders and four flush mounted rod holders. So there’s plenty of space for you and your fishing partner to store your own rods within easy reach. This can also be paddled solo.

There are two padded seats, each with adjustable backrests for support. However, the seats may not be comfortable or offer enough support for long journeys. This two-person kayak also comes with two paddles included, making it ideal if this is your first kayak.

There is a storage hatch for each paddler, with inserts so you can keep small items safe, dry, and easy to reach.

You’ll also find a rear cargo well with bungees for a small cooler or crate.  

Pros

  • Ample fishing rod storage
  • Two hatches with inserts
  • Can be paddled solo
  • Good for rivers and lakes

Cons

  • Seats aren’t great

6: BKC FK184 Solo Fishing Kayak (best for beginners)

  • Length: 9 foot
  • Width: 32 inches
  • Weight: 44 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 330 pounds

The BKC FK184 can be the ideal fishing kayak for beginners, as it comes with all the features you should need on a river fishing trip, and includes a paddle so you can get out on the water as soon as it arrives. It’s also less expensive than some - perfect for a starter kayak.

The short 9-foot hull is designed to be easy to turn and control in smaller bodies of water, making it great for rivers and streams. But don’t let its short size fool you, this stable kayak has a 330-pound capacity. You’ll also find a rear tank well with bungees for security, a watertight bow hatch, a watertight center hatch, and five fishing rod holders.

It has a padded seat with adjustable backrest, although this is pretty basic so you may want to invest in a better seat for longer trips. The molded footrests are durable and can help you stabilize yourself for improved paddling posture.

The hull is designed to handle currents and it has a good level of stability. It’s designed to be stable enough to stand for fishing, but if you’re a beginner you may find standing isn’t as easy as you’d like.

Pros

  • Great maneuverability
  • Handles currents well
  • Plenty of fishing features
  • Ample dry storage

Cons

  • Not the best for standing

7: Pelican Basscreek Angler 100 XP (best budget)

  • Length: 10 foot
  • Width: 30.5 inches
  • Depth: 16 inches
  • Weight: 50 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

This Pelican Basscreek Angler 100 XP can be an excellent river fishing kayak if you want to stick to a low budget. It features multi-layer RAM-X material for impact and abrasion resistance. It also benefits from having a UV-resistant layer for improved durability and longevity.

Despite its low price tag, this basic, affordable kayak has plenty to offer when it comes to river fishing features. Firstly, it has a multi-chine hull, which can help with stability on moving water. However, it’s not designed for standing.

Secondly, there’s space for three fishing rods, with two flush-mount rod holders plus a swivel rod holder.

You’ll also find a 4-inch dry hatch and a quick-lock bow hatch to keep your equipment safe. Sliding foot braces and a bungee-rigged cargo deck at the rear adds to this boat’s features.

This is a pretty lightweight kayak that’s designed to be easy to carry and transport. It also has carry handles at the bow and stern to make lifting the kayak to water even easier.

The Ergofit G2 seat features padding and a backrest but it’s not the most comfortable seat for long fishing trips, and the seat pad is flat against the deck rather than elevated. 

Pros

  • Affordable fishing kayak
  • Multi-chine hull
  • Fishing rod holders
  • Dual storage hatches

Cons

  • Basic seat

8: Perception Showdown 11.5

  • Length: 11 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Weight: 85 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 450 pounds

The Perception Showdown 11.5 can be the ultimate fishing kayak in a compact size under 12 feet, that’s ideal for river fishing. It’s a pedal kayak that can help you get to your fishing hole hands free.

The pedal drive can also help you navigate currents and moving water more easily than with a paddle alone, especially if you’re new to kayaking.

Another feature that can be useful for paddling in currents is the built-in rudder. The hull is designed to handle a range of waters and it can be ideal for rivers as well as oceans and lakes.

This is a super stable vessel that’s engineered for stand-up fishing. It has a very wide flat deck that benefits from having silent traction pads to provide grip and minimize noise.

It has excellent storage, including a rear cargo well, a bow hatch, tackle tray storage, and gear tracks for mounting accessories. There is also vertical and horizontal rod storage. 

The elevated seat can give you a better vantage point for sight fishing, and it’s designed to provide comfort and support for long days on the water.

Pros

  • Pedal drive system
  • Vertical and horizontal rod storage options
  • Pre-installed rudder
  • Excellent standing deck

Cons

  • Heavy

9: Aquaglide Blackfoot Angler 130

  • Length: 13 foot
  • Width: 38 inches
  • Depth: 13.5 inches
  • Weight: 41 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 650 pounds

The Aquaglide Blackfoot Angler 130 can be a fantastic kayak for river fishing if you plan to take a lot of gear. This is a durable inflatable kayak that can be perfect for weekend fishing trips on rivers.

Its 650-pound capacity and spacious deck means there’s room for fishing gear and overnight camping equipment.

This inflatable fishing kayak can handle a range of waters, including mild whitewater, giving you the versatility to fish a variety of different rivers.

It’s lightweight, with a rigid high-pressure drop-stitch floor for improved performance and standability. The removable skeg can also help with tracking when you’re fishing in flatter conditions.

The Blackfoot Angler features an elevated framed seat for visibility and paddling comfort. You’ll also find plenty of points to secure your gear to the deck, including MOLLE plates on the sides for accessories.

This even comes with a cooler that features rod and tackle storage for added convenience.

This lightweight kayak can be carried in the included backpack so you can hike it into quieter areas for more remote fishing.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to transport and store
  • Generous capacity
  • Rod and tackle storage

Cons

  • Pump not included

10: Old Town Loon 106 Angler

  • Length: 10 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 31 inches
  • Depth: 17.5 inches
  • Weight: 55 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

The Old Town Loon 106 Angler is a sit-inside fishing kayak that can be ideal for fishing in rivers in all weathers and conditions.

At 10 foot, 6 inches long, this is a boat that’s easy to maneuver and lightweight.

One of the best features of the Loon is the ACS2 seat. This seating system features premium padding and multiple points of adjustability so you can find the best position tailored to your comfort and paddling style. You’ll also find premium thigh pads in the cockpit and an adjustable foot brace system.

Another great feature is the removable work deck, which has a USB port to keep your phone or other gadgets charged. The battery is not included.

The Loon benefits from having ample storage for fishing gear, with a large stern hatch plus bungee rigging at the bow and stern for additional items.

This kayak also features a built-in anchor trolley system that can be really useful for river fishing, helping you to hold your position in mild currents or wind so you can target fish more accurately.

Additionally, there are flush mounted rod holders behind the cockpit.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Sit-inside fishing kayak
  • Anchor trolley pre-installed
  • Fully adjustable seating system

Cons

  • Not built for standing

11: Bonafide Kayaks SS107

  • Length: 10 foot 7 inches
  • Width: 34.5 inches
  • Depth: 15.5 inches
  • Weight: 84 pounds (with seat)
  • Weight Capacity: 425 pounds

The Bonafide SS107 is built to be extremely stable, with a catamaran hull design that offers maximum stability in a range of waters. This can also help you to stand easily to cast comfortably.

The padded flat deck means there’s plenty of space for your feet. If the deck’s not enough for you, there are additional standing pads on the gunwales.

This is a pretty low-profile kayak which can make it a good choice for fly fishing, with less chance of your line getting snagged.

12: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105

  • Length: 10 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 32 inches
  • Weight: 55 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 is a versatile kayak that’s built with maneuverability and stability in mind. The large rear tank well can be great for storing your fishing crate or cooler. And there’s a removable dry box that’s ideal for keeping smaller items safe and dry.

There are gear tracks to add rod holders and accessories easily. The Phase3 AirPro seat is fully adjustable, with leg lifters for added comfort and CoolTouch technology to keep you cool and comfortable in warm weather.

13: Jackson Bite Angler

  • Length: 11 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 35 inches
  • Weight: 74 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 400 pounds

The Jackson Bite Angler is an extremely stable kayak that’s built for standing and casting. The compact hull means it’s easy to maneuver in streams and narrow rivers.

The wide, spacious deck is flat for walkability and gear storage. There’s a stern tank well for your fishing crate, an elevated ergonomic seat for all-day comfort, and built-in rod holders. There’s also a spacious cargo well at the bow.

Gear tracks let you attach extra rod holders and mount gadgets with no drilling.

14: FeelFree Lure 11.5 V2

  • Length: 11 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 87 pounds (without seat)
  • Weight Capacity: 425 pounds

The FeelFree Lure 11.5 is packed full of fishing features for a successful day on the water. It’s compatible with the Overdrive pedal system and the Motordrive motor (both sold separately), so you can upgrade your power if you choose.

This has tackle storage, a huge tank well, gear tracks, plus it has a spacious padded standing platform for easy casting and reeling.

It also has a height-adjustable seating system with lumbar support and a Wheel in the Keel to help you get it to the water with ease.

15: Jackson Coosa HD

  • Length: 12 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 83 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 425 pounds

The Jackson Coosa HD is a river-friendly fishing kayak built for optimum stability. It can be a versatile craft for fishing in all types of water. One of its best features is its spacious standing deck, which is padded for noise reduction.

There’s lots of room to store your gear with space-saving storage solutions for your rods and tackle. There are also accessory rails and space for a cooler.

The elevated seat gives you added height, providing a better vantage point for sight fishing.

16: Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro

  • Length: 10 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 38.5 inches
  • Weight: 45 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 400 pounds

The Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro is an inflatable fishing kayak that’s crafted for stability, durability and convenience, with the ability to handle mild to moderate whitewater. It can be loaded into your car and stored easily at home.

It has a framed seat for comfort and support while you paddle to your honey hole. It also benefits from having bow and stern bungee rigging for tying your gear down. The stainless steel D-rings can be useful for installing stringers or an anchor system. 

17: Vibe Sea Ghost 110

  • Length: 11 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 33 inches
  • Weight: 84 pounds (fully rigged)
  • Weight Capacity: 425 pounds

The Vibe Sea Ghost 110 can be the ultimate fishing kayak for navigating through rivers and other moving water. It benefits from having a built-in rudder system to help you control your direction and the short hull means it’s easy to paddle in small spaces.

It has excellent storage options, along with gear tracks to customize the kayak with your own accessories.


Kayaks For River Fishing: Important Features

Size

Size will likely be an important consideration on any kayak but for a river fishing kayak, it can be even more important. This is because rivers can be more difficult to navigate compared to lakes or larger bodies of water where there’s plenty of space to maneuver.

This means a kayak with a shorter hull can be more useful, as short kayaks tend to be quicker to turn and easier to control in tight spaces compared to longer, narrower boats.

Longer kayaks can be fine for wide, slow-moving rivers if you’re on a multi-day touring expedition. But for fishing on smaller rivers, a kayak that’s around 10 to 12 feet in length can be more suitable. 

Secondary Stability

Secondary stability is what keeps a boat stable in rough waters. Primary stability is the initial stability when you first get into your kayak and paddle on flatwater.

Many river fishing kayaks will be designed with a combination of both. This is so that they can handle both flatwater rivers and mild rivers with a moderate current or riffles.

River kayaks may tend to have more rounded hulls or have multi-chine hulls to handle waves. Recreational kayaks will tend to have flat bottoms for maximum stability on flatwater. 

You may also find that river fishing kayaks will have added rocker to allow you to move over riffles and waves easily.  

Some river fishing kayaks might have pontoon-style hulls, which can provide excellent stability on both flat and rough waters.

Gear Storage

Having enough space to store your essential fishing equipment will likely be an important factor when it comes to choosing the best river fishing kayak.

Dry storage can be useful for holding smaller items and keeping valuables (such as your phone and keys) safe and dry.

If you plan to fish for a long period, you’ll need to make sure the kayak has enough room and capacity to store everything you plan to take.

Gear tracks can be a great feature on a river fishing kayak and can be found on most fishing kayaks. This can let you install additional accessories, such as a fish finder, rod holders, or camera mount, without having to drill into the hull of the boat.

Adding extra accessories can give you the feel of a customized kayak, allowing you to add everything you need.

Standability

Many fishing kayaks are designed with standing platforms so that you can stand up easily for longer and more accurate casting. Standing platforms can be particularly helpful for fly fishing, as you may find it easier to cast standing up than while seated.

Padded, flat decks can be safer to stand on. And the padding can offer traction as well as noise reduction, so it can let you have a quieter approach, especially if you drop something. 

However, whether you want to stand or not will probably depend on the type of river you plan to fish on. Swift-moving water is probably not the best type of water to try standing on your kayak.

In faster-moving water, you may want to stay as close to the deck as possible. This could mean lowering your seat to its lowest position.

Video: Kayak Fishing On Flowing Rivers

If the river current is slow, an anchor trolley system can be useful to help you hold your position in the river, which may make it easier to stand. It’s generally not safe to anchor your kayak in fast-moving water, as strong currents could pull your boat under the water.

Rudder Or Skeg

A rudder or a skeg can come in handy when fishing in rivers, as it can allow you more control over your direction and performance. A rudder can help you counter the effects of current, helping you to maintain your position or stay on a straight course.

A skeg can have a similar effect but because you can’t move it from side to side, you may not be able to counter any negative effects from the current. But it could help you track straight. Skegs are generally found on inflatable fishing kayaks whereas rudders tend to be found on some hardshell fishing kayaks.


River Fishing Kayak FAQs

Can River Kayaking Be Dangerous?
It can be, so you should scope out the river before you launch and always wear your PFD. It’s useful to know the safe river flow levels for your particular river so that you know when the conditions could be too dangerous to paddle.  

What Should You Do Around Rocks?
Try to edge your boat downstream to prevent being caught in the current. You might need to use your hands to push off of the rock if you feel your boat becoming stuck.

How Do You Anchor A Kayak In A River?
You can drop an anchor using an anchor trolley system with a traditional anchor attached. Or you can use an anchor pole, also called a stake-out pole. Your anchor should be dropped upstream of where you want to be positioned.

Video: How To Anchor Your Kayak Using A Trolley System

Can A River Kayak Be Paddled On Lakes?
Most fishing kayaks can be paddled on a range of water types and can excel on both moving water and flatwater. Sometimes, speed is sacrificed for stability, so you may not move as fast on flatwater as you’d like.


Our Final Thoughts

There are some great river fishing kayaks out there but our top pick is the Old Town Topwater 106 because it has an exceptionally stable pontoon hull that’s great for standing. It also has excellent storage and accessory mounting options, plus a comfy seat and a compact hull that’s easy to maneuver in tight river conditions.

Our favorite runner-up is the Wilderness Systems ATAK 120. This boat is ideal if you have a lot of gear and want to do some serious fishing. It has added rocker to handle moving water, making it a stable, efficient choice for river fishing.

The best kayak for river fishing will likely depend on the type of river you plan to fish in and the level of current there is. Remember you’ll need more rocker and secondary stability (or an inflatable boat) if you want to fish in swift rivers and streams.

Think about what you want from your river kayak before you choose as some of these kayaks may not be suitable for your planned fishing conditions.

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 6 comments
Adam

Very surprised the native slayer XC isn’t in the list. It’s built specifically for river fishing

Reply
    Kayak Guru

    Hi Adam,

    We’ll take a look and update

    Reply
Kevin

What’s the best Tandem Fishing Pedal Drive Kayak for fishing and less tipping?

Reply
Daniel

Hold up, this is the only kayaks you suggest!? Ya’ll are missing many great fishing kayaks better than these! I’m passing on this “guru” site

Reply
Marcus

This is just a clickbait blog to generate income for the blogger. These kayaks are crap.

Reply
Kayak Guru

Yes indeed. This is an old article now and needs updated. We’ll get around to it soon. Stay posted, folks 🙂

Reply

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