River kayaking is a mixture of adventures, family outings, and hunting trips. That’s why, nowadays, it has increased in popularity, and companies have been paying extra attention to this particular type of kayak.
Drifting down streams and rivers to catch smallmouth trout and bass differ from ocean fishing. You’ll need a friendly and comfortable kayak for rivers that’s short in length to provide more maneuverability.You’ll also need one equipped with enough storage space for your tackle.
Similar to purchasing a vehicle, picking a kayak requires you to mull over a long list of specifications and features to narrow down your choices. We’ve done this job for you and gathered the best river fishing kayaks among which you’ll most definitely find your match.
The 5 Best River Fishing Kayaks
1. Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 90 - Best Overall
Vibe is known for its innovative angling kayaks that have taken over the market for years, and this specific model is proof that they don’t miss a detail.
At a length of 9 feet and 32 inches width, Skipjack 90 allows you to guide it easily along rivers’ fast streams and tight turns. It has a hard-chined hull, meaning that the hull is edgy rather than rounded, which improves its tracking and speed. It may not be the fastest, yet it has a moderate speed sufficient for navigating rivers.
It’s a sit-on-top kayak with an elevated rocker that gives you a better view of the water and easy access to every inch of the deck. The seat is provided with an ergonomic backrest and a cushion so that you can sit and fish all day without any back pain.
The whole body is made of polyurethane to be leak-proof, durable, and naturally buoyant. It’s outfitted with six scupper holes to drain water out of the kayak and keep your lower body dry.
The yak is designed with fishing in mind. It’s equipped with four flush-mount rod holders and universal mounting points for fishermen’s gadgets like fish finders and cameras. To avoid losing your paddle while landing a catch, the outer hull is rigged with bungee leashes to secure it and keep it out of the way till you want to paddle again.
What’s more, it offers several storage options, including a central waterproof well for the stuff you want to keep dry like your phone, wallet, and spare clothes. There are also sealed hatches in the bow and a large tank well at the rear end of the yak for your tackle box and gear.
The 300-pound load capacity is suitable for one angler with heavy gear on board. You can take the yak on long hunting trips and keep stashing your cooler with fish without worrying about the weight limit.
Weighing 46 pounds, many anglers would be able to carry it to and from a transporting vehicle. As a bonus, it comes with four rubberized carry handles to facilitate getting it to the water edge.
- Load capacity is more than enough for one person
- Great customer service
- Carry handles for ease of carrying
- Many storage options with waterproof hatches
- Four rod holders
- Lightweight and mobile
- Sturdy build
- Paddle leashes
- Complaints about the seat’s buckles being lousy
- Low top speed
We can’t find anything to complain about in Skipjack 90. It’s by far the best river fishing kayak thanks to its brilliant maneuverability, ease of portage, ample storage space, high load capacity, and sturdy construction.
2. Perception Pescador Pro - Runner-Up
Pescador Pro is an excellent fishing platform that outperforms other models in stability and comfort. It’s a two-person vessel with a load capacity of 375 pounds, which is enough for two fishermen and their gear.
The highlight of this model is its lawn chairs that you can sit on all day and be as comfortable at the end of the day as the beginning.
The two removable seats have two-level adjustments to allow you to raise them for optimum casting or lower them for relaxed paddling. Furthermore, they’re made of breathable mesh that will keep you cool even on hot and sunny days.
With a length of 12 feet and a 32.5 inches width, the yak is the right size for fishing in slow-moving rivers and streams. Its length allows for superior maneuverability, and the broad width provides it with perfect stability that enables anglers to stand up and cast without losing balance or tipping over.
For easy set-up, it has many hardware mounting options and gear tracks for rod holders, GPS, cameras, and fish finders. To store your tackles, it provides lots of room for storage in the stern and bow tank wells. Moreover, the paddle holder allows you to rest your paddle and grab your rod without losing it in the water.
As for the build, this big guy is constructed with polyethylene to provide exceptional resistance to UV and abrasion. Put your mind at ease when dragging your yak to the water because even if it's scratched or damaged, the skid plate is replaceable.
Although Pescador Pro is the most expensive on our list, it’s money well spent. The only thing to be aware of is that the kayak is cumbersome to move, given that it weighs 64 pounds. Also, the rod holders aren’t good for holding rods you’re actively fishing with, but they are okay for holding them while you’re paddling around.
- Adjustable and comfortable seats
- Great stability
- Two-man vessel
- Strong and leak-proof construction
- Ample storage space
- Several mounting options
- More on the hefty side
- Rod holder could be of better quality
Pescador Pro deserves to compete with Vibe on the top spot on our list. It’s a feature-loaded two-person yak that’s stable, comfortable and has plenty of storage room.
3. Sun Dolphin Excursion - Best Entry-level Kayak
This entry-level model from Sun Dolphin comes at a retail price that’s less than $430, making it the right option for anglers who want to go easy on their pockets. However, don’t let the low price fool you because it’s packed with features that make fishing in it a breeze.
Measuring 10 feet long and 29 inches wide, it’s designed as a small and stable floater for calm waters. It also tracks well for a short boat and is capable of holding a straight line when navigating narrow streams, making it your best choice for river fishing.
It’s a common problem for newcomers to prepare a storage place and transportation for their vessels. Nevertheless, with a weight of 40 pounds, this model is extremely lightweight compared to other one-man kayaks.
Thus, you can attach it easily to the roof of your car and haul it to the water without hassle. Moreover, its small size renders it easy to store in your home without the need for renting a garage.
Being a sit-inside kayak, it protects you from the elements and keeps you dry, though it lacks the stability of Sit-on-top kayaks. Yet, this is compensated by the open cockpit design that improves its steadiness and gives you plenty of room to stretch your legs and feel comfortable on deck.
The yak is rugged with UV stabilized polyethylene for maximum strength and longevity. As for the set-up, it’s fully rigged for novice fishermen with a padded seat, paddle holder, two flush-mount rod holders, a swivel-mounted rod holder, and finally a cup holder to keep their water bottles close at hand.
Due to its low load capacity, which is only 250 pounds, you won’t be able to wrestle game fish in this kayak, nor would you be able to store them on deck. However, that won't be a problem for beginners who do light fishing.
Furthermore, it has only one storage hatch behind the seat, which isn’t satisfactory for an avid angler, but quite ample for a newcomer’s limited gear.
- Entry-level kayak
- Lightweight and portable
- Robust design
- Amazing tracking and stability
- Two-year warranty
- Not for professional paddlers
- Low speed
- Low weight capacity
- Limited storage space
All in all, Sun Dolphin Excursion is a solid choice for anglers starting their kayak fishing journey. It’s sturdy, maneuverable, and fully-equipped, which will allow you to make the most of your trips. And it comes at a price that opens a space for future upgrades.
4. Lifetime Tandem - Highest Weight Capacity
With a weight capacity of 500 pounds, Lifetime Tandem is the best river fishing kayak for plus-sized kayakers and anglers who like to go fishing in groups.
The model is outfitted with two paddler seats as well as a passenger one in the middle, making it suitable for two adult anglers and a kid or a four-legged companion. Yet, the wonders don't stop here.
Because the most critical aspect of a river kayak is its stability, the yak is 10 feet long and 36 inches wide. This vast width renders it capable of handling fast water twisting watercourses. It also makes turning and twisting in narrow streams a dream.
To further increase the stability, it’s a sit-on-top yak with a tunnel hull design, which allows you to fish sideways, extend your legs into the water or cast while standing up and never trip over or lose balance. On top of that, the seatings are elevated to keep you dry and allow for accurate casting.
As for the fishing-friendly features, it’s equipped with four pole holders, which are more than enough for any number of riders. It has a 6-inch storage hatch at the rear and plenty of storage space at the bow area for your fishing equipment and catches. You can also use the shock cord straps to secure loose items in place.
The vessel is made of high-density polyethylene for superior strength and durability. It holds up well to abuse, and its painting resists fading and peeling. Moreover, it has scupper holes that drain the cockpit area.
The only drawback is that it weighs 65 pounds, which makes carrying it or dragging it from the parking lot to the river bank irksome. Nevertheless, it comes with front and rear handles that allow you to portage it with your fishing mates’ help.
- 500-pound load capacity
- Great bang for the buck
- Tons of storage space
- Suitable for many fishing techniques
- Superior stability
- Self-bailing system
- Five-year warranty
- Heavy for one person to handle and carry
- Seats lack cushioning
- Short paddles for a kayak that wide
This is a robust and comfortable kayak designed for anglers who want to step up their game and go on solo, tandem, or family fishing trips down river streams.
5. Sevylor Coleman Colorado - Most Portable
Apart from being the cheapest kayak on our list, Sevylor Colorado is the most portable kayak for river fishing. The fact that it’s inflatable makes transporting it a breeze and setting it up even easier.
Weighing no more than 40 pounds, it can be packed in a trunk and launched anywhere with ease. The carrying handles on the sides further facilitate the carrying process, and the Boston valve makes it fast and easy to deflate and inflate.
This yak is going to get you out of your house and on the water more. It’s outfitted with adjustable pole holders for enhanced hand-free fishing, and the paddle holder is there to secure it out of the way while fighting with a fish.
It offers plenty of storage hatches in the bow and the stern for your tackle box and cooler. The seat’s mesh pockets are great for keeping your snacks and drinks handy, and the D-rings allow you to clip your pump, whistle, and knot tying tools.
When inflated, it measures 10 feet 9 inches long and 35.5 inches wide. These dimensions will make it your refuge when sailing in fast water or fishing in narrow river courses. Furthermore, its flawless stability allows you to easily cast your rod or net when standing up.
Jumping to the build and design, it’s a sit-inside kayak with adjustable seats and high sides to keep you nice and dry. With a capacity of 470 pounds, it can fit two grown anglers with their fishing equipment comfortably.
The bottom is crafted from 1000D tarpaulin, and the whole body is covered with 840D nylon for extra protection and waterproofness. Since navigating rivers isn’t free from stumbling on obscured rocks and broken branches, it has multiple air chambers so that if one chamber is punctured, the other stays inflated.
- Super portable
- Roomy 2-person kayak
- Tough construction
- Many storage options
- Boston valve for easy inflation and deflation
- Amazing customer service
- Storage hatches aren't waterproof
- Rod holders’ position can get in the way
Anglers whose major concern is portability, this inflatable kayak guarantees you an unmatched and care-free fishing experience. Constructed from high-quality materials, it resists tearing and holds up well to harsh river currents.
Factors to Consider When Looking for a River Fishing Kayak
After we’ve thrown some light upon the best river fishing kayaks on the market, we’re going to discuss the most important features you should have in mind when deciding on your next vessel.
Paddling down a river doesn’t require a long or a customized vessel. Although you’ll sacrifice speed, the best river fishing kayak should be between 8 and 12 feet in length.
For one thing, this length provides you with better control and maneuverability over the kayak in harsh currents. For another, it gives you better access to narrow spots in calm rivers and backwaters that a long kayak can’t reach.
Since kayak fishing includes lots of standing and sight-casting, look for the broadest vessel available. Kayaks with widths of 30 inches or more stand stable on the water and provide more space for company and storage.
Moreover, consider the shape of the hull. Flat bottom or U-shaped hulls are more stable and less prone to flipping when compared to edgy and V-shaped ones.
Every kayak has a weight capacity that limits what you can take with you. Consider the weight of your paddles, tackles, catch, and extra accessories. See if the kayak can take the total of their weight in addition to yours.
Also, remember that having a vessel with more than one seat opens the opportunity for a fishing mate or two to tag along on your fishing trips. However, if you fish alone, look for a one-person kayak that can accommodate you and your gear.
Type of Cockpit
You'll find that kayaks have two distinct types: sit-on-top (SOT) and sit-inside (SIK).
Sit-on-top kayaks are the most preferred type for river fishing, as their elevated seats give you a better view of the river's flat water. They are more comfortable to stand on while reeling in a big fish and offer you better access to the cargo.
Since kayaking isn't free from accidents, they can be flipped back easily in the event of capsizing. They also have a self-bailing system that saves you the trouble of emptying them from water manually.
On the other hand, sit-inside kayaks help you stay warm and dry, thanks to their enclosed cockpits. However, they are difficult to roll over without filling with water. Despite being primarily designed for kayaking in moving waters and ocean fishing, they're still preferred by anglers who go on long fishing trips in rivers.
Most kayaks are propelled by the power of paddles. Yet, pedals have become popular in the world of fishing kayaks now, since they use your leg power to move the vessel and free up your hands for dealing with fish.
If the standard image of paddle kayaks is what's in your mind, make sure to equip your vessel with rod holders to ease the burden of fishing and paddling at the same time.
Although they're nothing compared to fishing boats, kayaks are heavy, especially the SOT type, which can weigh 70 pounds or more. Hence, think about how you're going to transport them to the launch site.
Generally, opt for the lightest model available because even if you're going to transport it on your cartop, you still have to carry it from and to the vehicle.
Using a kayak for fishing means you'll have much gear to carry in your vessel like live-baits, knot-tying tools, coolers, and spare clothes. Always check the storage space of the kayak before making the purchase.
SOT kayaks provide ample internal hatches that can fit many items and are easy to access. On the other hand, SIK kayaks are usually outfitted with bow hatches and rear tank wells that provide dry storage.
Finally, to make the best of your fishing time, ensure that your kayak is equipped with mounting tracks for easy installation of essential accessories like rod holders and fish finders.
This brings us to the end of our article. We hope that you’ve already picked a product and started planning for your next fishing trip. However, if you’re still contemplating your choices, here is a quick recap that may help.
From what we’ve seen on the market, Skipjack 90 is the best river fishing kayak, thanks to its short length and wide deck that allow you to reach your favorite fishing destination with ease. Moreover, it comes with everything you need from rod holders and mounting options for your fishing gadgets.
Next, we recommend Pescador Pro for anglers looking for a stable platform that allows them to throw their lines from any possible position.