Sit-on-top fishing kayak buying guide
With a sit-on-top kayak, as the name suggests, the paddler sits on top of the deck instead of inside a cockpit. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally more comfortable and user friendly. The open deck and elevated cockpit also offer more options for rigging with fishing gear and accessories.
The first thing to consider is size. The general rule is long and narrow kayaks go faster and straighter while short and wide kayaks are more stable and easier to maneuver.
Weight is another important consideration. Not only is a heavy kayak harder to paddle or pedal, but a big boat is more difficult to transport and store. However, a heavier kayak is usually more stable with a larger capacity to carry more gear than a smaller kayak.
Our advice is to use a 10- to 12-foot kayak with a 35- to 40-inch width for short trips in mostly sheltered water. The short waterline lets the kayak sneak into tight places and the wide beam is stable for standup fishing. To fish open water and paddle long distances, a 12- to 15-foot-long, 28- to 35-inch wide boat passes through the water with less resistance and is easier to paddle in a straight line.
Once the sit-on-top kayak’s length and width are matched to the intended use, it’s time to consider cockpit layout and features. A bow hatch is great for dry storage below deck, but a molded-in bow well is better to hold tackle boxes and gear you’ll need to access all day.
Sit-on-top kayaks come with two seat choices: elevated or low-profile. A low-profile seat offers a more ergonomic paddling position lower to the water with solid back support for paddling long distances. Low profile seats are also popular with anglers who cross the surf line or bounce down rocky rivers. If you fall out of the kayak, the low profile seat makes it easier to recover and re-enter the boat.
Elevated frame seats are popular for comfort and versatility. A frame seat sits higher off the deck with a wide bottom and back. Picture a lawn chair clamped onto the kayak. Some frame seats have two height positions. They are lowered for paddling and lifted to a higher position for fishing. An elevated seat makes standup fishing easier, too. Think of it like this: standing from a frame seat is like standing from a lawn chair. Getting up from a low-profile seat is like standing up from the floor.
A boat with gear tracks, bungees and mounting plates offers more options for rigging. Or, you can save some money by rigging the kayak yourself. Gear tracks are metal or plastic bars with a groove down the middle. To attach a rod holder, electronics base or other gadget, drop the T-bar on the compatible accessory base into the groove and tighten to hold the accessory to the boat. Bungees in the tankwell and bow-well secure gear and tackle boxes. Some boats have mounting plates to install an accessory base. The plate is stronger than the kayak’s plastic and replaceable so you’re not drilling holes directly into the kayak.
The best sit-on-top fishing kayaks are designed to accommodate electronics, lights and even motors or anchor systems. These boats have reinforced plastic in the stern and bow with inserts to hold the accessory. Some fishing kayaks have through-hull openings and routing below deck for cables and wires. To hold a fish finder transducer and cable, the best boats use a special scupper leading to a cavity in the bottom of the kayak.
The last consideration when choosing a kayak should be price. Savvy shoppers can find a high-quality, high-performance kayak for the right price. Of course, the $500 price tag on a basic kayak is tempting, but we recommend you don’t buy a cheap kayak that most likely won’t live up to your expectations. Focus your search on high-quality boats from reputable manufacturers with well-designed hulls and high-quality construction. Many premium manufacturers offer base models that share components and features with their higher-priced models. To weed out the worst kayaks, research reviews and comments from multiple sources to make a list of boats that meet your needs and your budget.