Not your Dad’s fishing kayak!

If you haven’t noticed, fishing kayaks are all the craze! It’s taken a while for kayak fishing to take off in the upper Midwest, but we’re on the map and the sport is growing rapidly. More anglers are understanding and experiencing the benefits and thrills of catching fish from a water craft that is smaller, easier to transport and launch and can access tighter, skinnier, less pressured fishing waters. As the sport has grown, manufacturers have addressed specific needs for kayak anglers of different types, who target various fish and frequent certain types of water. This is great for users who know about the sport, they have more choices than ever, but it can be confusing to those looking to get started.

Moving from one spot to another, kayak propulsion options

For years, the double bladed paddle was the only way to move your kayak from place to place. In many kayak fishing situations today it’s still the best solution. Kayaks continue to get lighter and hull designs more efficient in how they move through water. New kayak paddles are lighter and capable of moving a kayak through the water very efficiently.

Not all kayak paddles are the same

If you’re going to use a paddle as your primary propulsion, you’ll want explore the benefits of higher quality paddles. They’re lighter in weight and you get more effective propulsion from each paddle stroke. Make sure you read how to get the right length paddle for your needs.  Higher priced paddles will be more durable than low cost entry level paddles. And get a paddle leash, in case you drop the paddle or lose it fighting a fish.

Paddle kayak upsides

  • Easy to get in and out of thick weeds and matts
  • Most affordable type of fishing kayak propulsion
  • Works well in shallow streams and rivers
  • The most popular / affordable way to get into the sport

Paddle kayak downsides

  • Long distance paddling can be strenuous, especially in high wind or waves
  • Trolling can be less productive, your hands are used to paddle


Pedal fishing kayaks

In 1997, Hobie Company introduced the Mirage drive pedal kayak (shown in photo above). Instead of using your arms and upper body to paddle, you use your legs to push two pedals back and forth which moves two fins under the kayak. Essentially, it mimics the way penguins swim under water. For kayak anglers this is revolutionary. Your hands are free to cast, reel, troll and fish, not hold and operate a paddle.

Due to this innovation, Hobie kayaks grew in popularity among the kayak fishing crowd and other manufacturers took note. Almost all fishing kayak companies today have a pedal drive option. Some are based on a propeller style propulsion system which you pedal like you would a bicycle and which rotates a propeller under the kayak that moves it forward or backward. Your hands are free to use for fishing.

Pedal kayak upsides

  • Hands free while moving on the water
  • Trolling is more productive
  • Leg muscles are more powerful than your arms
  • Easier to handle high winds and waves

Pedal kayak downsides

  • Does not work well in thick weeds
  • Does not work well in shallow streams or rivers


Most pedal drive fishing kayaks allow you to easily remove the pedal drive mechanism and place a plug in the drive opening. In effect, you turn these models into paddle kayaks. I like to fish lakes and deeper water with my pedal drive kayak, but remove the pedal drive for floating a shallow river or stream where the drive hangs down too far and scrapes or bangs the bottom.

Almost every pedal drive kayaker I know brings a paddle with them. Many use a single blade paddle that takes up less space than a double blade paddle. The paddle is used to push off shore, away from other objects or just in case your pedal drive fails, which is extremely rare.


Everything’s more fun with a motor!

Top-of-the-line fishing kayaks are very stable, have lots of room for gear and can carry a lot of weight, up to 600 pounds for some models. In the last five years we’ve seen more and more people add motors to their fishing kayaks. Since kayaks are lighter than aluminum or fiberglass power boats, smaller trolling motors with low thrust ratings are used by kayak anglers. There are lots of resources on You Tube on how to engineer a trolling motor mount for your kayak.

Batteries are getting smaller, lighter and provide more amp hours which is accelerating the use of motors on kayaks. Additionally, more complete kits have hit the market specifically for adding motors to kayaks. This results in a very clean, finished installation. As options for kayak motors expand, the cost has come down.

Some national kayak fishing tournaments have begun to allow motorized fishing kayaks to participate in their contests. A sign that motors are most likely here to stay.

Motor kayak upsides

  • Move from spot to spot faster, cover more water
  • Less strenuous, stay out on the water longer
  • High winds and waves are less of a concern

Motor kayak downsides

  • Relies on battery power – charging time is down time
  • Does not work well in shallow streams or rivers
  • Does not work well in thick weeds


Which fishing kayak is best for my style of fishing and skill level? 

There’s lots of information online, as well as people online who will share what they like and why they made their choices. Listen to everyone, but I encourage you to test on the water any type of fishing kayak you’re interested in purchasing. Most dealers of quality kayaks have on the water demo days. They have expert kayak fishing consultants and will let you try different models so you can experience first-hand what you do and don’t like. You will not only be making an educated choice, you’ll be making a decision based on experience. This is the best way to avoid buyer’s remorse.

Even buying an entry level fishing kayak is a considered purchase

There are low cost fishing kayaks available for a few hundred dollars. There are premium quality fishing kayaks that cost thousands of dollars. They’re not the same. You get what you pay for. If you only fish a few times a season, a top of the line model probably doesn’t make sense. If you fish almost every day and for hours, your time on the water will be more comfortable, safe, efficent, productive and less frustrating with a fishing kayak that is made for your level of involvement in the sport.