What’s the Difference Between a Fishing Kayak and a Regular Kayak?

Updated on December 29, 2021 by

Kayak manufacturers have made significant strides in recent years when it comes to producing kayaks that are designed for specific purposes. When we compare the difference between a fishing kayak and a regular kayak, we see multiple design elements that make one more suitable than the other when it comes to things like standing up and casting a fishing rod or reeling in a large fish. 

If you have a regular, or traditional kayak, or looking to purchase one, but you’re wondering if you’d be better served by fishing out of an actual fishing kayak, I’ve compiled this article to help point out some of the main contrasts in both kinds of kayaks. 

Regular vs Fishing Kayaks: The Differences 

There are a vast amount of similarities between regular kayaks and fishing kayaks, but quite a few differences as well. Regular kayaks are usually made to perform in a way that allows them to be fast and have great tracking while fishing kayaks are usually made with greater width and a more compact body. 

The gear you’ll need to have on a fishing kayak is also different from what you might expect to take on a regular kayak. Anglers will usually need to have access to things like tackle boxes, tools, different rods and other items that are essential for fishing. 

The following areas are the most important differences between regular kayaks and fishing kayaks. 

Length 

Most regular kayaks are made to give the user the ability to glide through the water with ease. This usually means that regular kayaks will have a long, narrow design that will facilitate its movement through the water and help with tracking. 

Tracking is a term that’s used to refer to the kayak’s ability to remain on a ‘straight’ course. Regular kayaks are mostly used by people who want to traverse their way across the water, so tracking is a key capability. When it comes to fishing kayaks, the main purpose is to provide a stable platform for fishing—not necessarily to expedite the kayak’s movement through the water. 

This means that fishing kayaks are typically built with a shorter overall length, but will often have greater width. With stability being the principal characteristic with fishing kayaks, you can expect them to almost always be shorter and wider than regular kayaks. 

Stability 

As we’ve already noted, stability is a crucial characteristic in fishing kayaks that helps provide the angler with a solid platform to stand on while they cast, reel in and land their fish. Most fishing kayak manufacturers will design these boats with the main focus being on stability. 

Kayak’s are designed to have either primary or secondary stability. Primary stability refers to how steady the kayak feels initially while secondary stability relates to the kayak’s ability to remain upright when more weight is placed on either side. 

Fishing kayaks are mostly designed with better primary stability because they are used in calm, flat water. If the kayak is meant to be used in coastal waters or fast-moving rivers, it might have more secondary stability to handle such environments. 

Since you’re usually not going to be standing up in a regular kayak, you should expect them to be made with more of a focus on tracking and performance instead of stability. 

Storage 

Most regular kayak users are not going to take a lot of gear with them on the water, but fishing is completely different in this regard. As any fisherman or woman knows, fishing usually requires a hefty amount of gear like a tackle box, rods and reels, plus a number of other gadgets like fish finders, etc. 

Fishing kayaks are usually made with a much greater overall storage capacity to help accommodate the large amount of gear you’ll need. Brands will employ a combination of dry and open storage on fishing kayaks where anglers can stash their gear and equipment, or secure it and ensure that nothing will be lost if the kayak tips over. 

When it comes to regular kayaks, there is not as much of a premium placed on dry storage and capacity for a large amount of gear. 

Weight 

The weight of a regular kayak vs a fishing kayak is another item you should consider. With most regular kayaks, you can launch into the water wherever is most convenient, but fishing usually requires you to use a creative approach and launch the kayak in a spot that might be harder to get to. 

Anglers sometimes find the need to carry their fishing kayak across different types of terrain to launch it in an area where they’ll have a better chance of success catching the type of fish they’re after. This might mean toting the kayak down a steep bank, or over rocky shorelines and other areas. 

Having a more compact, lightweight kayak is essential if you’re an angler that plans to launch your kayak out of areas that are harder to get to. For anyone using a regular kayak, you can typically launch out of a boat ramp or docking area. 

Capacity 

As we’ve already mentioned, fishing often involves the use of a large amount of gear, which means you’ll need a kayak that can accommodate all of your equipment. Avid fishermen usually bring along a cooler, tackle box, and other items like a fish finder that operates using a heavy battery. When you factor in all of these gear and equipment items, it’s understandable that a fishing kayak is usually built to handle more than 400 pounds of capacity. 

A recreational kayak usually has lower overall capacity since most users aren’t going to pack it down with a heavy load of gear and equipment. If you’re planning to go on a multi-day journey that will require camping gear, food and other such things, a fishing kayak is probably going to be more suitable since they are made to carry much more weight. 

Design 

Modern kayaks are made in two distinct designs that include a sit-on-top and a sit-inside version. Fishing kayaks are made according to the sit-on-top style in order to allow the angler to stand up while fishing. Sit-inside kayaks will not allow the user to stand, making them unsuitable for fishing. 

For those who are more concerned with a kayak’s tracking ability or speed, a sit-inside style kayak will be much better in these areas than a sit-on-top model. Sit-inside kayaks are often used by those that want to kayak down intense whitewater rapids as they offer a lower center of gravity, which makes it easier to get through tumultuous water. 

The most important thing to remember in terms of overall design is that you’ll likely need a sit-on-top kayak if you plan on being able to successfully fish out of the vessel. 

Conclusion 

There are a number of different kinds of sit-inside or sit-on-top kayaks available in the industry that are made to suit any type of outdoor activity. In some cases, you can utilize a regular kayak on a fishing trip, but it’s often much easier to purchase a fishing kayak that’s specially-designed to handle the gear you’ll need, as well as the likelihood that you’ll have to stand up while fishing. 

Fishing kayaks might not have all of the features and characteristics you find in a faster, more agile regular kayak, but they will be much more suitable for casting, setting the hook on fish and other things that are involved with fishing. 


Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.

Why Trust Me?

Expert Fisherman Icon

7
Internal Fishing Experts

With over 108 years of combined angling experience.

Products Tried and Tested Icon

576
Products Assessed & Reviewed

From this we picked only the best performing, most durable products to recommend.

Top Product Recommendation Icon

52
Top Products Recommended

Everything from rods, reels, tools, and tackle to help you catch more fish.