There are numerous kayak options available that may suit your needs, but is a sit on top kayak the right choice for you? Nearly 50 years ago, a surfer from southern California named Tim Niemier developed a surfboard with a carved-out seat, giving birth to the sit on top kayak. In 1988, Niemier began manufacturing kayaks using rotomolded plastic, making them more accessible and affordable for anglers. This innovation sparked a revolution in kayak fishing.
While traditional sit-inside touring kayaks have been used by Inuit fishermen for centuries, Niemier’s sit on top fishing kayak revolutionized modern kayak fishing. As a result, sit on top kayaks have gained immense popularity. To assist you in navigating the overwhelming number of options available online, we have selected our top recommendations for the best sit on top kayaks.
How We Selected the Best Sit On Top Kayaks
A kayak can be a significant investment, and there are several factors to consider. In the case of sit-on-top kayaks, we primarily focused on functionality for their intended purpose. These kayaks are designed for more casual and recreational activities such as fishing, so their durability doesn’t need to match that of a whitewater kayak. When curating this list, we took into account price, ease of use, versatility, and projected longevity (assuming proper care and storage).
While our goal is to have direct experience with the listed products, we consult individuals who have used them if we haven’t. Additionally, we consider other factors such as industry-specific material knowledge, interviews with company representatives, and verified customer reviews. As we continue to test and review more kayaks in detail, we will make necessary updates and additions to our best sit-on-top kayak recommendations.
The Best Sit On Top Kayaks: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120
- Weight: 63 lbs / 29 kg
- Length: 12′ 3″
- Capacity: 350 lbs / 159 kg
- Excellent tracking
- Front hatch for dry storage
- Suitable for dogs
- The seat could be more comfortable and adjustable
At the dawn of modern kayak fishing, choices for sit-on-top kayaks were limited. Wilderness Systems’ Tarpon 130 became a favorite among early enthusiasts. The updated Tarpon features modern enhancements like gear tracks, a dry box, and a mesh-covered tankwell for storing fishing equipment. The AirProMax seat combines the comfort of a frame seat with the performance of a low-profile seat, allowing for better airflow and moisture control. With a weight of 63 pounds, it is easy to transport and carry.
Best with a Pedal System: Hobie Mirage Compass
- Weight: 87 lbs / 39 kg
- Length: 12′ 3″
- Capacity: 400 lbs / 181 kg
- Easy to turn
- Forward and reverse pedaling
- Excellent stability
- Roomy cockpit
- Not suitable for shallow water
The Hobie Mirage Compass offers a top-notch pedal system on a kayak without breaking the bank. Its hull strikes a balance between tracking and maneuverability, enabling you to cover distance and reach tight fishing spots. With a lightweight design, molded-in handles on the bow, stern, and sides, it is easy to transport and maneuver. The comfortable seat ensures anglers can fish all day.
Hobie’s advanced Mirage Drive 180 pedal system features efficient and powerful Kickup fins that rotate 180 degrees for reverse motion. If the drive or rudder encounters an underwater obstacle, such as a rock or log, they automatically lift to clear it.
Best Kayak Boat: Jonny Boats Bass 100
- Weight: 77 lbs / 35 kg
- Length: 10′
- Capacity: 400 lbs / 181 kg
- Designed with fishing in mind
- Option to add a motor
- Exceptional stability
- Shorter length compromises tracking efficiency
Inspired by the iconic Jon boat, the Jonny Boats Bass 100 offers customizable features. This 10-foot rotomolded plastic boat is lightweight and easy to transport. Its wide and stable hull has a 400-pound capacity, providing ample space for a gas or electric motor. The Jonny Boat features rod holders, gear storage, and electronics mounting options within easy reach from the elevated frame seat. It offers enough stability for anglers to stand on the padded deck and fish comfortably all day.
Best Budget: Vibe Yellowfin 120
- Weight: 65 lbs / 29 kg
- Length: 12′
- Capacity: 400 lbs / 181 kg
- Easy to transport
- Also available in a smaller size
- Ideal for fishing
- Performance on the water may not match other options
The Vibe Yellowfin 120 stands out from the cheap kayaks typically found at general sporting goods stores. It features a stable and efficient classic hull design. With two flush-mount rod holders and multiple gear tracks, you have unlimited options for rigging. Despite being a budget kayak, it boasts a high-quality and super comfortable frame seat comparable to more expensive models. The large V-hatch in the bow provides ample space for fishing rods and gear storage below deck.
What to Consider When Choosing a Sit On Top Kayak
Sit on top kayaks now come in an array of sizes, styles, and types. You have options to paddle, pedal, or motorize the kayak. You can choose a kayak designed for speed, mobility, or a balance between the two.
When selecting the best sit on top kayak for fishing, ask yourself three questions:
- Where will I fish?
- How will I fish?
- How will I store and transport the kayak?
For fishing in sheltered waters near the launch area, a lightweight paddle kayak may be the best choice. If you plan to cover longer distances and fish in open water, consider a longer, narrower kayak.
If you prefer making numerous casts in search of a trophy catch, a stand-up kayak is the way to go. For fishing on the go, a pedal kayak is worth exploring.
Are you seeking a versatile option that combines various features? If so, you’ll love the motorized sit on top kayak.
For individuals residing in apartments or driving compact cars, a lightweight sit-on-top kayak is the perfect fit.
Size and Weight
Sit on top fishing kayaks are generally lightweight, adaptable, and easy to maintain and store. Choosing a 12- to 13-foot paddle kayak offers the best balance across these categories for several reasons:
- Paddle kayaks are lighter and easier to transport (and more cost-effective) compared to pedal or motorized kayaks.
- Shorter kayaks provide greater maneuverability, while longer kayaks offer more speed. A 12- to 13-foot sit on top kayak offers a combination of both, with a wide enough hull to ensure stability and a narrow enough beam for efficient paddling.
- Opting for a kayak weighing less than 80 pounds and compact enough to store in a garage or backyard corner provides convenience. Most 12- to 13-foot paddle kayaks satisfy these requirements.
- Rigging the topside with gear tracks and fishing rods allows for easy access to fishing equipment. Anglers who wish to add electronics, storage, and rod holders appreciate open areas and flat spaces to mount accessory bases.
Furthermore, the comfort of a sit-on-top kayak is crucial for a full day of fishing. The seat should offer support to the lower back and buttocks, facilitating powerful paddle strokes and quick water drainage.
For those who enjoy fishing with a partner, tandem kayaks are suitable. These feature two comfortable seats positioned far apart, allowing both individuals to cast and reel in fish. Alternatively, one person can paddle while the other focuses on fishing. Tandem kayaks with ample storage space in the bow and stern are ideal. Some tandem kayaks can also transform into a single-seat kayak for solo fishing trips.
Unique Features and Designs
After the introduction of sit on top fishing kayaks, Hobie made a bold move by incorporating a pedal system for propulsion. This idea gained traction, leading many manufacturers to offer pedal-powered kayaks. Instead of paddling, the driver uses their legs to pump pedals, propelling the kayak with a propeller or flippers. Pedal systems are more efficient and faster than paddling, enabling anglers to fish while in motion. They also allow for a heavier, more stable boat, enabling anglers to carry additional fishing equipment. Pedal kayaks come with elevated frame seats for improved comfort and easier standing, thus facilitating easy entry and exit from the kayak. Anglers seeking a kayak for serious fishing will prefer a pedal-powered sit on top kayak.
Recently, several companies have introduced “kayak boats” or sit on top kayaks designed to accommodate motor systems. These kayaks are small enough to be paddled and transported without a trailer but have sufficient size to support an electric or gas outboard motor. The cockpits of these kayaks are spacious enough to allow anglers to stand up. If you desire a kayak with boat-like characteristics, search for one with a wide, stable hull and a large capacity to support motor or fuel tank weight.
As fishing kayak designs continue to improve, the best features and performance can now be found within budget options. Budget kayaks and used kayaks are also ideal for beginners. By adding your own rod holders, gear tracks, and other features, you can save money while still acquiring a great sit on top kayak.
Budget kayaks often maintain the same hull and cockpit design as more expensive models, albeit with fewer included accessories. While a budget kayak may have a simpler seat, it will still provide adequate comfort. You may need to forgo certain features like a padded deck and bow hatch, but you can still obtain a well-equipped fishing kayak for short day trips with limited tackle and gear.
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Final Thoughts on the Best Sit On Top Kayaks
To recap, our top picks for the best sit on top kayaks are as follows:
- Best Overall: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120
- Best with a Pedal System: Hobie Mirage Compass
- Best Kayak Boat: Jonny Boats Bass 100
- Best Budget: Vibe Yellowfin 120
Sit on top kayaks offer ample storage space for fishing gear, ensuring everything is within easy reach. While this alone makes sit on top fishing kayaks an attractive option, there are other factors to consider before making a purchase. If you couldn’t find the perfect kayak for you on our list, we hope our buying considerations have helped narrow down your options. For beginners or those on a budget, we always suggest exploring used kayak options as well.
Ratingperson is dedicated to providing reliable and honest reviews and recommendations for various products, including sit on top kayaks.