River fishing on a kayak brings together the thrill of outdoor adventure and fishing all-in-one. However, it’s not as easy as it looks. Experienced anglers will know how to paddle against rough currents and rapids and where best to cast their line, but what about beginners and intermediate anglers?
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as picking up a random kayak at a store and hoping for the best. River fishing kayaks are specifically designed for stability and maneuverability in rivers compared to flat water. Using an ordinary flatwater kayak will only result in a lack of balance, lack of fish, and potential capsizing.
If you’re looking for a high-quality river fishing kayak that ticks all the boxes, you’ve come to the right place. We have found the best river fishing kayaks on the market that are appropriate in length, width, storage space, and safety for dealing with rapids, tight corners, rocks, and currents.
OUR TOP PICK
The Pelican Sentinel 100X Kayak is most ideal for those looking for an all-rounder river fishing kayak.
It ticks all of the boxes - from the length, weight, width, and storage space. Made of a durable polyethylene, it is ideal for river terrains as it resists the impact from sharp rocks.
At 9’6”, this is a fairly short kayak. However, this is ideal for river fishing as the length is easier to control.
Whilst it may be slower compared to long flatwater kayaks, speed isn’t a priority in river fishing as the currents and fast-running water tends to push the kayaks anyway.
Despite this, this particular kayak has a flat-bottom hull that provides both stability and more speed than hulls with rounded keels.
As transportability and storing a kayak can be a two-person job, this kayak is fortunately lightweight for portability, weighing only 44lb. It has a maximum weight capacity of 275lb - just be sure to consider how much equipment you intend to bring on the kayak as well.
Speaking of equipment, this product offers a removable storage compartment that fits into the tank well, as well as another storage compartment with bungee cords. This is all intended to keep your equipment safe and secure.
This yak also comes with an adjustable padded seat with a backrest to assure for maximum comfort - unless you want to stand on the kayak instead, which you can do!
- Stable design - Short length, wide width, and flat-bottom hull ensures for maximum stability and maneuverability in fast rivers
- Good storage space - Multiple storage compartments to securely hold equipment
- Lightweight and good weight capacity - Can be easily transported and can hold up to 275lb in body weight and equipment
- Doesn’t come with handles - Handles and cleats need to be added by the buyer for ropes
BEST TANDEM RIVER FISHING KAYAK
Fishing in a river can be just as fun with a fishing companion, so why not consider a tandem kayak?
The Elkton Outdoors Tandem Kayak is 12’ long and features two seats with three seating positions, so one person can adjust the seat to the middle position if you want to fish solo.
This is one of the most durable kayaks on our list. Made of 1000 denier PVC and tarpaulin, this yak has been injected with rotomold to create a solid, impact-resistant body.
No chance of fishing hooks from damaging the material - though it is recommended to avoid sharp rocks. There are other kayaks specifically made for rapids on the market!
With its 12’ length and 3’ width, this kayak is large enough to hold two people as well as their gear and equipment.
As for storage, it offers two storage compartments at the front and rear, an airtight compartment, and a platform for ice chests. It also comes with two adjustable rod holders as well as two double-sided oars.
- Ideal for two people or solo fishing - Two adjustable seats and three seating positions can fit one or two people comfortably
- Great storage - Multiple storage compartments to fit two people or extra equipment
- Durable material - Body is made of heavy-duty materials to prevent cracks and dents upon impact
- Heavy - Due to heavy-duty materials, this is a heavy kayak to carry and transport
BEST RIVER FISHING KAYAK FOR BEGINNERS
Sometimes, kayaks that experienced anglers use for river fishing can be complicated for beginners to use at first.
River fishing on a kayak is a complicated and tactical activity that requires a lot of experience and proper training, so it’s best to find a good starter kayak for novices.
That’s where the Sun Dolphin Journey Kayak comes in. At 10’ long, it is a suitable kayak for fishing in rivers, streams, and lakes.
It is made of a durable UV-stabilized polyethylene that is resistant to damage from impact, so you don’t have to worry about accidental hook-in-kayak issues. We’ve all done it!
Whilst the backrest is padded, the seat itself will need some DIY adjustments with blankets or a cushion for comfort.
As for storage, this kayak comes with a portable accessory carrier and storage compartments. It also comes with two flush-mount rod holders and a swivel rod holder for multiple fishing at once.
- Ideal for beginners - Length and width make this an ideal kayak for novices and intermediate anglers
- Good storage - Storage compartments and portable accessory carrier included, as well as three rod holders
- High-quality materials - Made of durable materials that are resistant to damage upon impact
- Uncomfortable seat - Backrest is padded but the seat needs padding for comfortability
BEST FOR FAMILY FISHING
Say you’re a father or mother with a thrill for fishing and you want to bring your son or daughter with you. A one-person kayak sometimes isn’t big enough, but that’s where this tandem kayak comes in.
The seats sit higher than other kayak models for easy paddling, and the included paddles are small enough for kids to learn the ropes.
The top priority when fishing with a child or family member is safety. A kayak should be wide enough to hold both humans, and also to hold the storage and provide enough stability for standing fishers.
This kayak offers this, as it has a maximum weight capacity of 500lbs and can seat up to 3 people.
Despite its weight capacity, this kayak is surprisingly light to carry and load at 60lbs. This means it is also ideal for river fishing due to its quick maneuverability.
Of course, you don’t have to always have two or three people on the kayak, as the seats can be adjusted for solo fishers who want to make sure of extra storage.
There is one storage compartment as well as a deck area with bungee cords to hold equipment.
- Ideal for families - Fitting up to 3 people, this is a stable and safe kayak for taking kids fishing
- Good width - Width allows for balance, stability, and for standing fishing
- Good materials - Made of UV-protected polyethylene that resists cracking, peeling, and fading
- Not suitable for experts - Experienced fishers and paddlers may find this kayak too simple
THE MOST ADVANCED KAYAK
This yak is most ideal for advanced and experienced anglers and paddlers. Available in three attractive colors, this is the most professional-looking kayak on our list.
At 11’6” long, this kayak has an impressive maximum capacity of 425lbs - ideal for carrying lots of equipment.
As for storage, this product offers a large stern tankwell with a bungee cord rigging to store gear. The comfortable mesh seat is also elevated, adjustable, and foldable to stand on top of.
As most experienced anglers prefer multiple fishing rod holders, this kayak offers 4 holders for rods.
Not only this, but it is equipped with two storage trays with drink holders for holding coffee or extra pieces of fishing equipment such as bait. If the equipped accessories aren’t enough, there is a large deck surface for customizable options.
This kayak is most ideal for experienced and intermediate paddlers and anglers.
- Great performance - Great balance, stability, and maneuverability for experienced anglers
- Good storage - Lots of storage options available for equipment
- Customizable - Large deck space for customizable options
- Heavy - May need another person to carry and load on to a vehicle
Best River Fishing Kayaks Buying Guide
River Fishing Kayak Characteristics
River fishing kayaks are, in short, a mixture between flat water and white water rapid kayaks. Flatwater kayaking includes lakes, ponds, harbors, and slow-moving rivers due to the design of the kayak.
White water rapid kayaks are all about working with the speed of rapids and fast-moving water and are designed to resist impact from sharp rocks.
River fishing kayaks, on the other hand, are designed to handle mid to fast-moving water in rivers that may have currents and small rapids. These kayaks aren’t made for speed - instead, they are all about providing stability and maneuverability to allow anglers to fish in rivers.
River fishing kayaks are characteristically short compared to other kayaks. Shorter kayaks are better suited for handling twists and turns in streams and rivers.
Longer kayaks are slightly harder to control in situations like these, though they do provide better speed and tracking. However, as a current in a river will provide speed for the kayak anyway, river fishing kayaks don’t require a streamlined design.
When looking to get a river fishing kayak, the best models should be between 9-13 feet long. However, make sure to consider the length of the user’s legs - the comfort of the angler is most important, after all!
River fishing kayaks need to provide enough width to carry the individual(s) and their equipment. This width is also vital to support the balance and stability of the yak.
We recommend looking for kayaks that are at least 24” wide - the more width, the more stability you will have. This is also great for standing on the kayak to fish!
Regardless of what type of kayak you’re interested in, you must consider the product’s weight capacity. The maximum weight capacity will indicate how much the kayak can hold in both human body weight and equipment capacity.
Remember, the more equipment and gear you bring, the more weight will be on the kayak.
Speaking of weight capacity, the amount of storage compartments a kayak has is important to consider. Most river fishing kayaks will offer at least one storage compartment with protective bungee cords at either the front or rear of the kayak.
Some will also provide other storage compartments inside the kayak, which is great for protecting personal items such as keys and cell phones.
After all, river fishing in a kayak isn’t going to be smooth sailing. You want the storage compartments to be as protective and reliable as possible for those nasty currents and winding streams.
As we have mentioned before, shorter river fishing kayaks are better suited for maneuverability.
Some kayaks will offer a rounded keel on a flat-bottom hull, which makes turning at sharp corners much easier. However, this isn’t an essential characteristic to look for in river fishing kayaks.
Due to the nature of river fishing, the stability of a kayak is paramount. Flat-bottom hulls (the bottom of the kayak) are ideal for providing balance on moving water.
If this hull features a rounded keel, this will be best for turning tight corners quickly - however, this won’t affect the stability of the kayak and isn’t a priority.
We recommend avoiding narrow kayaks, as these are best designed for cutting through flatwater smoothly than balancing on moving water.
Sit-on-top kayaks are most recommended for river fishing for safety reasons. These kayaks can empty water quickly due to the open-top design - whereas sit-in kayaks will need to be emptied onshore if water enters.
Sit-on-top kayaks also offer more width and storage space such as rod holders.
Providing an anchor system is vital for river fishing kayaks. Anglers like to stand on their kayaks, so an anchor will provide more stability to prevent the yak from moving from beneath your feet in the moving water.
Most kayaks won’t offer this system with the purchase of the product, so you will have to do some DIY.
Our Top Tips
- Always protect yourself against the sun’s rays. This includes wearing sunglasses, sunscreen, protective clothing, and a hat. Whilst it might not feel like the sun is burning your skin, the rays will bounce off the water and could cause damage to your skin.
- Mosquito repellent will be your new best friend - always bring it with you!
- Invest in a waterproof mounted camera to capture the catches you intend to release.
- Always check the weather reports before you go fishing and never push yourself into a situation that you feel inexperienced or unsafe in.
- Pack lots of water and food for long fishing trips, especially as dehydration can be a huge issue for anglers.
- Local fishing reports will provide a good indication of what is biting and in which locations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, sit in or sit on kayaks?
Both kayak designs have their strengths and weaknesses. Sit-in kayaks offer the best protection against the elements, but may take in too much water and will need emptying on land. If you flip your kayak, you will struggle to get back in the kayak with the water inside of it.
Sit-on kayaks, on the other hand, can empty water easily without having to move to shore due to the open-top design and drainage holes. Sit-on kayaks are also generally wider which offers more stability and better storage space.
Generally speaking, sit-in kayaks are best for flat-water situations such as lakes or ponds, and sit-on kayaks are best for fast-moving water including rivers, rapids, and the ocean.
Is an 8ft kayak too small?
Shorter kayaks are best for providing more control and maneuverability. 8ft kayaks are great for beginners and children who want to learn the ropes of kayaking.
This length is good for river fishing and paddling in fast-moving water, though you will get better speed from longer kayaks.
Why are fishing kayaks so expensive?
This is mostly down to the cost of manufacturing. Fishing kayaks require a lot of heavy-duty materials to provide the ultimate safety and stability in fast-moving water situations - especially for rivers, rapids, and the ocean.
Generally speaking, the more expensive the kayak, the longer it will last and the cheaper it will be in the long run as it won’t require regular replacements and fixings.
What size kayak do I need for my weight?
The general rule of thumb is to go for a kayak that has a maximum weight capacity of 125 pounds more than your body weight. This is to ensure that the kayak is strong enough to hold both yourself and your equipment and gear.
The maximum weight capacity figure indicates how much weight the kayak can hold with absolutely everything on/in it - remember, the heavier the contents in the kayak, the slower it will be.