Looking for the best river fishing kayaks this year?
If you’re an angler who loves paddling or a kayaker who loves fishing, then you’re probably in the market for the best river fishing kayak. River fishing is unique, and it’s grown in popularity over the past few years.
There are a few key features that distinguish the best river fishing kayaks from the ordinary, and you’ll want to know all about them before deciding on which one to invest in.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to take on some choppy waters while you cast out, or a beginner just getting their bearings, the river fishing kayaks in this article will aid you in your quest to hook some fatties while you paddle.
Continue reading to learn all about the best river fishing kayaks and the features that put them at the front of the pack.
Quick Answer: Best River Fishing Kayaks
|Perception Pescador Pro 12||85 lbs||12' 5"||33.75"||475 lbs||$$$$||View on Amazon|
|BKC PK12||70 lbs||12'||32.75"||460 lbs||$$$$||View on Amazon|
|Lifetime 10 Foot||73 lbs||10'||36"||500 lbs||$||View on Amazon|
|Sevylor Coleman Colorado||33 lbs||10' 7"||36.5"||470 lbs||$$||View on Amazon|
|Riot Kayaks Escape 12||72 lbs||12'||30"||300 lbs||$$$||View on Amazon
View on REI
|Aquaglide Chinook 100||23 lbs||10'||36"||400 lbs||$$||View on Amazon
View on REI
|Perception Outlaw 11.5||77 lbs||11' 6"||35"||425 lbs||$$$$||View on Amazon|
|Pelican Sentinel 100X||44 lbs||9' 6"||30"||275 lbs||$||View on Amazon|
|Elkton Outdoors Tandem Fishing Kayak||72 lbs||12' 3"||36"||650 lbs||$$$$||View on Amazon|
|Sun Dolphin Journey 10||44 lbs||10'||30"||250 lbs||$$||View on Amazon|
10 Best River Fishing Kayaks
Nobody likes too many options, so we’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up the 10 best river fishing kayaks for 2023.
Weight: 85 lbs | Length: 12′ 5″ | Width: 33.75″ | Max Capacity: 475 lbs
Features: Pilot drive pedal system | Adjustable lawn chair style mesh seat | Large front & rear open storage | Gear tracks, fish finder consoles, & 4 rod holders
Whether you’re new to river fishing or an experienced angler, the Pescador Pro 12 has everything you’ll need to reel in some keepers. It’s equipped with all the bells and whistles and is ready to fish from the moment it hits the water.
This top fishing kayak is a very stable vessel and even allows you to safely cast out from a standing position. You’ll be spoiled with two rod holders and a fish finder console should you wish to further deck this bad boy out.
Anglers will also appreciate the abundance of storage room available on this sit-on-top fishing kayak. There is spacious front and rear open storage for coolers, tackle boxes, or any camp gear you might be hauling.
The mesh seat will keep you cool while you paddle and is adjustable with a high and a low setting. Another bonus is that it’s detachable and can be doubled as a camp chair when you head back to solid ground.
For your paddling purposes, this kayak does best on slow-moving rivers and other calm waters.
Weight: 70 lbs | Length: 12′ | Width: 32.75″ | Max Capacity: 460 lbs
Features: Pedal-driven propeller system | Front watertight hatch & rear cargo area | Extremely stable | Flush-mounted rod holders
Fully loaded and ready for the water, this sit-on-top vessel from Brooklyn Kayak Company is one of the best river fishing kayaks around.
Top-notch features like the pedal drive system and the hand-operated rutter make this model a no-brainer for our list, but specialties like this won’t come cheap. Those looking for a budget river fishing kayak should keep reading before they get too attached.
Other features that make this a top contender for the best river fishing kayak include its wide, stable frame, three flush mount rod holders, and extensive storage space. You’ll have plenty of room for all of your gear with two dry storage compartments and a rear bungee cargo hold for bulkier items.
This top fishing kayak can handle some chop, but does best on calm rivers and lakes.
Weight: 73 lbs | Length: 10′ | Width: 36″ | Max Capacity: 500 lbs
Features: 3 fishing pole holders | Multiple footrest positions | Rear storage hatch | 2 paddles included | Padded backrests
This 10-foot sit-on-top ‘yak from Lifetime is a top fishing kayak for two. It checks all the boxes for river fishing, with a sturdy shape, plenty of storage space for all your fishing gear, and an area to mount a motor if you want to speed things up a bit.
The flat bottom hull allows for enhanced balance, so much so that you can stand up without fear of tipping over. When you do choose to sit down, there are two comfy, padded seats with extra storage space in the back pockets, and multiple footrests so that even taller paddlers can really stretch out.
Other features that make this boat one of the best river fishing kayaks are the three molded rod holders, paddle holders, and a dry storage compartment at the rear. There are even a couple of drink holders for when you choose to toast to your successful day out on the water.
Weight: 33 lbs | Length: 10′ 7″ | Width: 36.5″ | Max Capacity: 470 lbs
Features: 18-gauge PVC construction | Multiple air chambers | Interior mesh storage pockets | Berkley Quick Set rod holders | Sevylor trolling motor fittings
Another top pick for tandem fishing kayaks is this inflatable ‘yak from Coleman. This is a great budget option that has many of the same features as some of the more expensive river fishing kayaks. It’s also one of the most portable options on our list as it is super lightweight and can fit in your trunk once deflated. This makes it one of the best river fishing kayaks for those who are tight on space.
Anglers will find that this top fishing kayak has all the necessities for a great day out on the water. It features adjustable hands-free rod holders, paddle holders, and lots of mesh pockets on the sides of the boat and on the back of the seats, in addition to plenty of D rings should you need to attach any other equipment. This will come in handy as there’s no dry storage available on this kayak.
The boat is made from a combination of nylon and tarpaulin, giving it a rugged build for slow-moving rivers and lakes.
Weight: 72 lbs | Length: 12′ | Width: 30″ | Max Capacity: 300 lbs
Features: Easy access storage hatches | Pilot rudder system | Integrated console w/ cup holders | 5 rod holders
There’s a reason this 12 footer from Riot Kayaks is on our list of the best river fishing kayaks. It pulls out all the stops with top-notch features like a pilot rudder system and an anchor trolly system.
Other highlights that put this ‘yak towards the top of our list are its five-rod holders, the adjustable sliding foot braces, and the molded cup holder and console for your refreshments.
Storage space on this top fishing kayak is superior, with a roomy rear deck for coolers and other gear, as well as a dry storage hatch at the front.
Although it is one of the longer river fishing kayaks on our list, anglers will still find that it has impeccable balance and stability on calm waters even when you’re standing up. Just don’t try to take it down any rapids.
Weight: 23 lbs | Length: 10′ | Width: 36″ | Max Capacity: 400 lbs
Features: HexShell 600-denier ripstop polyester | Thick cushioned seat | Quick release fin | Front & rear deck bungees | Duffle carry bag
The Chinook 100 from Aquaglide is another great inflatable option for river fishing. At 23 pounds, it’s extremely lightweight and the ripstop polyester material ensures durability and UV protection.
You can paddle solo or with a buddy, and there’s plenty of storage space for your gear in the front and the rear. Kayakers should note that there is no dry storage hatch on this vessel, but you’ll find its roomy enough to accommodate whatever you need to bring along in dry bags.
Anglers can cast out in comfort from the squishy foam seats, each of which is equipped with two rod holders. Standing is not recommended, though could be done on calm waters or slow-moving rivers, which is where this vessel performs best.
Other noteworthy features of this top fishing kayak include a removable floor for added stability and a quick-release fin for easy tracking.
This is one of the best river fishing kayaks for those who are just starting out and don’t need all the latest technologies. It’s also a great pick for those looking for a lightweight option or those looking to save on space.
Weight: 77 lbs | Length: 11′ 6″ | Width: 35″ | Max Capacity: 425 lbs
Features: 2 double barrel rod holders | 3 solo mount recesses | Molded-in trays & cup holders | Elevated seating console | Large rear & front tank wells
If you’re someone who prefers to stand up while they reel in the fishies, then this is by far the best river fishing kayak for you. Although the price tag is on the high end, you won’t find features like these in some of the less expensive options.
The roomy decking is superior by far, and you can easily stow away the mesh seat for even more space. The deck also features silent traction pads that make it rock-solid in terms of stability.
Anglers will love the double barrel rod holders, the self-draining scupper holes, and the dual cup holders for when four o’clock rolls around (or whenever the urge strikes you, we’re not judging).
Although not known for its speed or maneuverability, this top fishing kayak does track well and you can always add a trolling motor to the back.
You’ll have plenty of room for storage in the large stern tank well, along with two trays up front where you can attach saddlebags if you’ve got them.
This kayak is best for river fishing on calm waters, though some anglers boast taking it down class II rapids while standing!
Weight: 44 lbs | Length: 9′ 6″ | Width: 30″ | Max Capacity: 275 lbs
Features: EXOPAK removable storage compartment | Vertical rod holders | Adjustable footrests | 2 paddle holders | Smartphone holder
Anglers looking for an affordable top fishing kayak will love the Sentinal 100X from Pelican.
Measuring in at just under ten feet in length, it’s one of the shortest kayaks on our list. This makes it a great choice in terms of portability and maneuverability.
That being said, this is a more narrow model, but luckily, the flat bottom hull helps keep it stable. Just keep in mind that you likely won’t be able to stand up or move around much once you’re out on the water.
Other features that put this fishing kayak in the top ten are the rod tie-downs and flush mount pole holders, a comfy seat, and a compartment for drinks and your smartphone.
In terms of storage, you’ll have plenty of space for all of your gear in the good-sized tank well, complete with a removable ExoPak to make loading and unloading a breeze.
Weight: 72 lbs | Length: 12′ 3″ | Width: 36″ | Max Capacity: 650 lbs
Features: Built-in dry storage | 4 inset rod holders | 2 adjustable EVA padded high-back seats | 2 double sided paddles | Front & rear bungee storage
Fishing with a friend is made easy on this tandem river fishing kayak from Elkton Outdoors. At just over 12 feet, you’ll have plenty of room to stretch out while you caste out.
Although this is one of the longer kayaks on our list, it’s still wide enough to offer solid stability and balance on slow-moving rivers.
There’s a dry storage hatch, two additional storage areas in the front and rear, and a center platform that’s perfect for coolers or other bulky gear.
Other features that make this river fishing kayak popular with paddlers include two adjustable rod holders, built-in cup holders, and padded high-back seats for supreme comfort and support.
Weight: 44 lbs | Length: 10′ | Width: 30″ | Max Capacity: 250 lbs
Features: Portable accessory carrier | 2 flush mont & 1 swivel rod holder | Adjustable padded seat | Adjustable footbrakes | Multiple storage compartments
This compact sit-on-top design from Sun Dolphin is one of the best river fishing kayaks around. It’s simple and lightweight, yet extremely durable and stable.
This top river fishing kayak is marketed as a SOT, but you will be much lower and closer to the water than most of the other models on this list. This makes it easy to maneuver, and the molded thigh pads will also help you stay balanced. This makes it the perfect ‘yak for getting into small inlets or sailing on slow-moving rivers. It’s not the fastest model on the market, but it does track easily.
Additional features that make this one of the best river fishing kayaks are the three rod mounts (one swivel and two flush mounts), the adjustable foot braces, and the large cockpit that makes entering and exiting a breeze.
You’ll find plenty of storage space onboard, with two self-bailing storage compartments and a small anterior deck rigged with bungees.
Top River Fishing Kayak Features
River fishing kayaks are built differently than your run-of-the-mill models. Of course, everyone’s preferences will vary and this list is not exhaustive, but the best river fishing kayaks will likely possess some (or all) of these features:
SOT models are more common in the river fishing world because they are generally wider, making them more stable and easier to stand on. Additionally, they usually offer more space for things like cup holders, rod holders, and all of your other fishing gear.
That being said, if you’re looking to take on some serious white water, you might do best looking for a SIK.
The deck of a kayak refers to the flat, sturdy area where you can stand up to fish. This is becoming a more popular feature on top river fishing kayaks, and many decks boast traction pads for added stability.
Although this may seem like a luxury, you’ve got to have somewhere to put your poles while you paddle. Many fishing kayaks have either swivel or flush mount rod holders for hands-free fishing.
If your ‘yak doesn’t have any pole holders, make sure it at least has somewhere to store your rod while you paddle or accessory eyelets so you can attach your own.
The keel of a kayak (also known as the rocker) refers to how much of the hull sits above the water. If you have a bigger arch – a more rounded keel – turning will be easier. A flatter keel equates to more speed and easier tracking.
When it comes to river fishing, this isn’t an end-all-be all feature to get hung up on, but most anglers prefer maneuverability to speed.
A peddle drive will up your river fishing game and allow you to move while you reel in some dinner. This is not a necessary feature, especially if you are meandering down fast-moving streams, but if you’re on calm, slow waters this can be a real game-changer.
Anchor Trolly System
On the other hand, if you want to stay put on the water, you’ll want to find a river fishing kayak that has an anchor system. This won’t lock you in place on white water rapids, but if you’re coasting down a calm stream an anchor will keep you still while you pursue your catch.
Key Considerations for Buying a River Fishing Kayak
Fishing kayaks have seen a surge in popularity over the last few years and there are now plenty of solid options on the market. Some are more geared towards anglers while others are built for paddlers.
There are a few things you should consider to make sure you get the best of both worlds when you’re searching for the best river fishing kayak.
When it comes to river fishing you’re going to want a ‘yak that can take on all the twists and turns of the stream. That means that the best river fishing kayaks are going to shorter models.
While long kayaks usually offer more in the way of tracking and speed, a short kayak will be much easier to maneuver. Just be sure that the one you choose is long enough to accommodate your person!
Stability is key when you’re looking for the best river fishing kayak. You’re going to want something that allows you to stand up and move around without worrying about tipping over.
To accomplish this, look for a kayak with a wide beam and a flattened hull. What you lose in terms of speed you’ll make up for in stability and maneuverability – two must-haves for river fishing.
Before you purchase a river fishing kayak you’re going to want to make sure you can haul it. Will it fit on top of your car, or will you need to purchase a trailer? You’ll also want to think about weight and whether or not you can lift it and get it into the water by yourself.
River fishing kayaks are usually shorter, but that doesn’t always mean they are lighter. Be sure to check the specs before you commit.
Storage space is extremely important for river fishing kayaks. You’ll need a ‘yak that can hold all your coolers, tackle, poles, and any other essential gear.
The best fishing kayaks will usually have spacious bungee rigged decking along with dry storage hatches. Keep in mind the boat’s weight capacity as well, as you don’t want to overload your vessel.
You should especially keep storage space in mind if you plan on taking your river fishing kayak on overnight trips as you’ll need enough space tot accommodate your camping gear.
If you’re a professional angler or just fancy yourself as someone with all the latest fishing technology, you’re going to want to make sure that your river fishing kayak has enough space for you to attach all of your extra gear.
Many of the best river fishing kayaks have the space to mount fish finder consoles, GPS systems, and trolling motors, but this is not a standard feature.
River Fishing Kayak FAQs
If you still have some questions about river fishing kayaks, check out these FAQs for more information.
What are the best kayaks for fishing small inland waters?
What’s the best river fishing kayak for beginners?
If you’re new to river fishing, you should look for a more basic model that has good stability and lots of storage space. If we had to choose one, we’d recommend the Aquaglide Chinook 100. It has plenty of space for all your gear and is short enough to easily maneuver through calm waters. This top river fishing kayak is inflatable, making it a nice lightweight option as well.
Which river fishing kayak is the most stable?
Stability is a key feature in most river fishing kayaks. You’ll want something short and wide with a flattened hull. Coming in at number one on our list for stability is the Perception Outlaw 11.5. You’ll balance with ease thanks to the wide decking and silent traction pads.
What are the best kayaks to use for camping along a river?
If you’re camping along a river after a day of fishing, you’re going to want something nice and stable that can hold all of your gear. Check out the Sevylor Coleman Colorado or the Perception Pescador Pro 12. Both of these do well in slow-moving rivers and are light enough to pull onshore once you’re ready to call it a night.
Are sit-on-top kayaks safer?
Although sit-on-top kayaks generally make it easier to jump ship, they are not necessarily safer than their sit-in counterparts. They are, however, usually preferred for river fishing because they are more stable and allow you to stand up while you cast out and reel in the fishies.
For the safest experience possible, don’t forget to wear your PFD!
Now that you know what constitutes the best river fishing kayaks and some of the top models on the market in 2023, all that’s left to do is decide which one is best for you. Once you do that, you’ll be out on the water, reeling in keepers in no time. Good luck and tight lines!
Looking for more kayak advice? Check out these guides:
- Best River Fishing Kayak: 10 Picks & How to Choose the Perfect One
- The Best Fishing Kayak Buying Guide: Top 10 Picks for All Budgets
- Best Beginner Fishing Kayak: Top 10 Picks for 2023