The Best River Fishing Kayak for Newbies and Seasoned Anglers

Last Updated on June 23, 2022

We independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here.

River kayak fishing is one of the best ways to catch a wide variety of fish. On one half-day float trip, I caught multiples of five different species.

I can thank my kayak in part for giving me the opportunity because, without it, fishing would have been much more difficult that day.

I think it’s wise to have the best river fishing kayak to get to the prime fishing locations.

We created this article to help you understand why the Jackson Kayak Liska is the best river kayak for fishing overall.

However, the Old Town Loon 106 Angler made a run for that top position and settled in as the best sit-inside yak.

Don’t worry if those are both out of your price range; there are over eight others for you to check out, and one is sure to suit your needs.

Comparison Table – Best River Kayaks

ImageFeaturesRatingDetails
Best Overall
Jackson Kayak Liska
Jackson Kayak Liska
  • Length: 12' 1"
  • Width: 34"
  • Weight: 82lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs
9
Backcountry
Budget-Friendly
Perception Pescador Pro 10
Perception Pescador Pro 10
  • Length: 10' 6"
  • Width: 32"
  • Weight: 57lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs
8
REI
Best Hybrid
Ascend H10 Sit-In Hybrid Kayak
Ascend H10 Sit-In Hybrid Kayak
  • Length: 10'
  • Width: 31"
  • Weight: 55lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs
8
Bass ProCabela's
Best Pedal
Old Town Sportsman PDL 106
Old Town Sportsman PDL 106
  • Length: 10' 6"
  • Width: 36"
  • Weight: 76lbs
  • Max Capacity: 450lbs
9
Bass ProCabela's
Best USA MADE
Wilderness Systems Targa
Wilderness Systems Targa
  • Length: 10'
  • Width: 32"
  • Weight: 57lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs
7
REI
Best Inflatable
Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro
Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro
  • Length: 10' 6"
  • Width: 38.5"
  • Weight: 45lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs
7
REI
Best for Lakes and Rivers
Jackson Kayak Bite Angler
Jackson Kayak Bite Angler
  • Length: 11' 6"
  • Width: 36"
  • Weight: 74lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs
8
Backcountry
Best Sit-In
Old Town Loon 106 Angler
Old Town Loon 106 Angler
  • Length: 10' 6"
  • Width: 31"
  • Weight: 54lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs
8
Backcountry
Easiest to Transport
Oru Kayak
Oru Kayak
  • Length: 9' 6"
  • Width: 30"
  • Weight: 20lbs
  • Max Capacity: 300lbs
6
Amazon
Honorable Mention
Vibe Kayaks Yellow Fin 100
Vibe Kayaks Yellow Fin 100
  • Length: 10'
  • Width: 32"
  • Weight: 57lbs
  • Max Capacity: 375lbs
7
Amazon
Honorable Mention
Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5
Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5
  • Length: 10' 6"
  • Width: 34"
  • Weight: 75lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs
8
Hobie

Reviews of the Best Kayaks for Rivers

Jackson Kayak Liska

Jackson Kayak Liska

BEST RIVER FISHING KAYAK OVERALL

Specs

  • Length: 12′ 1″
  • Width: 34″
  • Weight: 82lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs

Pros

  • Dry storage hatch and bungee storage space
  • Stable
  • Comfortable seat
  • Adjustable seat
  • A good amount of handles

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • A little big for small rivers and creeks

Why We Chose It

Jackson Kayak produces high-end kayaks for anglers and recreational paddlers.

You can rest assured knowing that when you buy a Jackson Kayak product, you purchased a high-quality kayak from a company willing to stand behind it.

The Liska has a good amount of dry storage, so you won’t have to worry about water damaging your valuables when you encounter rapids.

The bungee storage is perfect for gear that you need quick access to but can also get wet.

The bungee will help keep things secured if you were to tip, which is rare because of how stable this platform is; you shouldn’t have a problem standing and fishing on calm waters.

If you’d prefer to sit, the seat is adjustable so you can stay comfortable all day.

There are two side handles and one front handle when you have to pull your kayak over a log jam or shallow ripples; they also help you get back in the kayak if you go for a swim.

The Jackson Kayak Liska is a little heavy and oversized for small rivers and creeks, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it if you plan to fish a river with whitewater rapids because it’s a sit-on-top kayak.

If you’re looking for another high-end kayak that’s a little smaller, the Bonafide SS107 is an excellent option.

It’s still incredibly stable but lighter and shorter, making it easier to maneuver in skinny water.

Perception Pescador Pro 10

Perception Pescador Pro 10

BEST RIVER FISHING KAYAK FOR THE MONEY

Specs

  • Length: 10′ 6″
  • Width: 32″
  • Weight: 57lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs

Pros

  • Handles on all sides
  • Good drainage (scupper holes)
  • Adjustable seat
  • Bungee storage compartments
  • Customizable with gear tracks

Cons

  • Limited dry storage
  • Low seat height

Why We Chose It

Perception offers mid-range priced kayaks to the everyday kayak angler.

If you’re not looking to spend a lot of money on a fishing kayak, then Perception kayaks are a great place to begin your search.

The Pescador Pro 10 is a short ten-foot six-inch-long kayak, making paddling easier in currents and tight spaces like rivers and creeks.

It’s also easy to get over log jams and ripples because it only weighs 57 pounds. The ergonomic handles also help when portaging.

There are drainage holes for your feet and the tank well, so your gear won’t be sitting in water when you get water inside the kayak.

That does bring up the problem of minimal dry storage. There’s enough room for a small battery for a fish finder, but that’s it, so you will need to bring a dry bag with you to keep everything else from getting wet.

Ascend H10 Sit-In Hybrid Kayak

Ascend H10 Sit-In Hybrid Kayaks

BEST HYBRID RIVER FISHING KAYAK

Specs

  • Length: 10′
  • Width: 31″
  • Weight: 55lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs

Pros

  • High maximum capacity for a short kayak
  • Plenty of storage
  • Built-in rod holders and gear tracks
  • Open deck design

Cons

  • No dry storage areas
  • No drainage holes
  • Low seat height

Why We Chose It

Ascend is a Bass Pro and Cabelas brand. Professional anglers trust their kayaks, yet they’re priced for the weekend warrior.

The H10 is a hybrid kayak, meaning it’s a mix between a sit-on and a sit-in kayak because of its open cockpit design.

I’m very impressed with the maximum weight this kayak can handle. Some 12′ kayaks don’t have as high of a weight capacity.

You won’t have any weight capacity or storage problems if you decide to take a kayak camping trip down the river.

The built-in fishing rod holders and gear tracks help keep your fishing gear situated just as you like.

I especially like the open deck design because it makes it easier to fish without tangling up in your kayak.

There’s no dry storage, so only bring what can get wet or purchase dry bags.

There are also no scupper holes, so you’ll need a way to get the water out of the kayak while you’re on the river.

I suggest a squeegee or small hand pump.

Some paddlers might find the low seat height uncomfortable, but overall the Ascend H10 is an incredible value.

If you’re willing to spend a little more for a more comfortable seat, the Nucanoe Flint has the most comfortable kayak seat on the market.

It’s a little longer but just as customizable with gear tracks and built-in rod holders. I love the Nucanoe I own.

Old Town Sportsman PDL 106

Old Town Sportsman PDL 106

BEST PEDAL RIVER FISHING KAYAK

Specs

  • Length: 10′ 6″
  • Width: 36″
  • Weight: 76lbs
  • Max Capacity: 450lbs

Pros

  • Pedal or paddle
  • Comfortable seat
  • Dry storage area
  • Drainage (scupper) holes
  • Easily removable pedals

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy

Why We Chose It

Old Town is a trusted name in the kayaking space. After decades of manufacturing fishing kayaks, they lead the industry in many ways.

The Old Tow Sportsman PDL 106 is perfect for fishing because you can instantly propel yourself forward or backward using the pedal drive.

The hand-operated rudder means you don’t have to put your rod down to control your kayak.

The one problem with the pedal system is that it’s not shallow water friendly. The water depth must be two feet or deeper for it to work. However, the PDL is easy to remove, making it very versatile.

Even during long fishing trips, you’ll stay comfortable in the seat, and the scupper holes will keep you from getting swamped because they quickly drain the water that gets into the Sportsman PDL 106.

The dry hatch at the bow will help keep your most valuable possessions safe and dry. At the same time, the bungee storage area secures gear that can get wet.

The 36-inch width makes the Old Town Sportsman PDL 106 extremely stable, yet it’s nimble enough to handle river fishing. My parents love both of their Sportsman PDLs.

If you need it, the Pelican Getaway 110 HDII has a shallow water pedal system.

It’s less expensive and lighter than the Sportsman PDL 106. However, it’s not designed for anglers, so many preferred features are missing.

Wilderness Systems Targa

Wilderness Systems Targa

BEST USA MADE RIVER KAYAK

Specs

  • Length: 10′
  • Width: 32″
  • Weight: 57lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs

Pros

  • Dry storage
  • Cooler space
  • Scupper holes at your feet
  • Lightweight
  • Nimble

Cons

  • Not designed for kayak fishing
  • Subpar bungee storage area

Why We Chose It

Wilderness Systems is another quality mid-range kayak company. Their rotomolded kayaks will last you a lifetime of enjoyment when taken care of properly.

The Targa is perfect for floating down the river and catching a few fish. The removable cooler behind the seat carries enough beverages and a light lunch for the day.

Even though it wasn’t designed for fishing, there’s plenty of room for a small tackle box and pole.

The dry storage compartment is large enough to keep a towel and a few other valuables that can’t get wet while the scupper holes keep the water drained out of your kayak.

The bungee storage area won’t hold much, and I wouldn’t trust it with anything you can’t afford to lose.

Even though the mesh seat is adjustable, you’ll see the need for the adjustable footrests; they help keep you in the chair if you encounter rough water, and they’re nice to use to stretch.

The Wilderness Systems Targa was not made for fishing, but it will make an excellent river kayak that can be fished from because it’s lightweight, has good handles, and has enough storage for some fishing gear.

The Brooklyn Kayak Company FK180 9′ is designed for fishing, has a better bungee storage area, and is slightly less expensive.

However, this BKC kayak has built-in footrests, a less comfortable seat, and rope handles that make it harder to carry.

Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro

Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro

BEST INFLATABLE RIVER FISHING KAYAK

Specs

  • Length: 10′ 6″
  • Width: 38.5″
  • Weight: 45lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to transport
  • High-density-drop-stitch floor
  • Stable

Cons

  • Expensive
  • It doesn’t handle as well as a hardshell kayak
  • Sharp rocks and sticks can pop a hole in it

Why We Chose It

Advanced Elements is known for making well-thought-out inflatable fishing kayaks. They use high-quality, durable materials that last the average angler for years.

The StraitEdge Angler Pro is not the average inflatable kayak. It’s designed to track better, making paddling easier, but the wind will still blow it around more than lower-profile kayaks.

The drop-stitch floor is rigid enough to stand and fish from, and the design of the air chambers makes them incredibly stable.

The mesh seat will help prevent you from constantly sweating, and there are a couple of bungee storage compartments. Bring a dry bag for anything that cannot get wet because there is no dry storage.

The best thing about inflatable kayaks is how easy they can transport and store. They don’t take up near the amount of room that a traditional kayak does.

They’re also lightweight but have a high weight capacity.

I don’t prefer inflatable kayaks because they can pop when you run into sharp rocks or sticks.

However, I know quality inflatable kayaks are made from PVC and other durable materials that make them less likely to leave you stranded.

Another inflatable kayak worth checking out is the Elkton Outdoors Steelhead. This blow-up kayak comes with nearly everything you need to get on the water.

It has a few built-in places for rod holders or a fish finder and a sturdy drop-stitch floor. The Steelhead is also cheaper than the Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler Pro; however, the seat is not as comfortable.

Jackson Kayak Bite Angler

Jackson Kayak Bite Angler

BEST KAYAK FOR RIVERS AND LAKES

Specs

  • Length: 11′ 6″
  • Width: 36″
  • Weight: 74lbs
  • Max Capacity: 400lbs

Pros

  • Stable
  • Comfortable padded seat
  • Designed for fishing
  • Adjustable footrests
  • Well draining kayak

Cons

  • No dry storage
  • Large and heavy

Why We Chose It

It’s no surprise that Jackson Kayak made our list of best river fishing kayaks multiple times with the quality products they produce.

The Bite Angler is designed for kayak fishing, so it has gear tracks and built-in rod holders and is stable enough to stand and fish.

It also has a comfortable seat which you can adjust to fit you better.

The Bite tracks nicely, which is kayaker talk for paddling a straight line. This means you won’t be zig-zagging to your destination, and it will handle well on the river.

The multiple scupper holes will keep your kayak draining even when encountering rough water, which it needs to with no dry storage, so don’t bring anything that can’t get wet with you!

The built-in handles on the bow and stern (front and rear) are needed because the Bite Angler is heavy, so you’ll be thankful for those handles if you’re forced to portage.

The Jackson Kayak Bite Angler is perfect for lakes and rivers because it’s large enough to hand anything the lake can send its way, but it’s nimble enough also to handle the river.

The Old Town Sportsman 106 is a smaller kayak capable of handling both locations. At ten foot six inches, it’s a for shorter than the Bite. However, the Sportsman 106 has dry storage and is slightly cheaper.

Old Town Loon 106 Angler

Old Town Loon 106 Angler

BEST SIT-IN RIVER FISHING KAYAK

Specs

  • Length: 10′ 6″
  • Width: 31″
  • Weight: 54lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Sealable hatch
  • Flush-mount rod holders
  • Thigh pads and foot braces help with stability
  • Comfortable adjustable seat

Cons

  • No drain holes
  • Expensive for a sit-in-kayak

Why We Chose It

Old Town is another kayak brand that, not surprisingly, made the list multiple times despite having expensive kayaks. This is because their quality more than makes up for the price.

At 54 pounds, the Old Town Loon 106 Angler is lightweight compared to sit-on-top kayaks. Which also makes it easier to paddle and load.

With two dry storage areas, you shouldn’t have a problem keeping your valuables protected from the water. There’s even a USB charge port to keep your phone charged and ready for that next big fish.

The built-in fishing rod holders mean you won’t have to purchase and mount them separately so that you can get to fishing right away.

Even though Old Town used a comfortable seat, sit-in-kayaks are not as comfortable as sit-on-top-kayaks.

Nor are they as stable; however, the Loon 106 Angler is as stable as a sit-in kayak can get so that I wouldn’t be concerned with tipping.

When you get water in a sit-in kayak, there are no drain holes for the water to run out of, so you’re sitting in it all day, which is fine during hot summer days but not so much on cooler days.

Despite the minor flaws of sit-inside kayaks, the Old Town Loon 106 Angler is excellent for a river fishing kayak.

If it’s a little out of your price range, check out the Perception Flash 9.5. It’s about as basic as a fishing kayak can get, but it still has dry storage and good carry handles.

The Flash 9.5 is nine feet six inches long and less than half the price of the Loon 106 Angler.

Oru Kayak

Oru Kayak

EASIEST RIVER FISHING KAYAK TO TRANSPORT

Specs

  • Length: 9′ 6″
  • Width: 30″
  • Weight: 20lbs
  • Max Capacity: 300lbs

Pros

  • Easy to transport and store
  • Lightweight
  • Organized storage compartments
  • Adjustable foot braces
  • Adjustable backrest

Cons

  • Just as expensive as a polyethylene kayak
  • Not as stable
  • Not as comfortable

Why We Chose It

The Oru Kayak is unique in how easy it is to transport. It’s a folding kayak instead of an inflatable kayak.

This is perfect for hiking upriver and kayaking back down to your car. It’s also great for kayakers who don’t want to car top a polyethylene kayak or don’t have room to store one.

Even though it’s not designed for fishing, you can still bring along a fishing pole and tackle box. Be mindful that it’s not as stable or comfortable as a fishing kayak.

The Oru kayak has a thinly padded seat, which you can adjust the backrest, but I don’t imagine you’d want to sit in it for an all-day float.

There are storage compartments on this kayak to bring some gear, but the idea is to stay light.

The kayak’s hull design lends itself to better handling, but I expect it to handle like an inflatable kayak.

Oru claims it can be folded in five minutes, but most reviews said it took them 10-15 after multiple times practicing, which isn’t bad considering it takes about that long to air up an inflatable kayak.

You’re not going to save much money going with the Oru Kayak, but it is one of the easiest kayaks to transport and store.

Another easy-to-transport kayak with a similar design is the TuckTec Advanced Foldable Kayak.

This kayak is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Oru kayak, but its seat is a foam pad, and it rolls up instead of folding into a bag.

Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 100

Vibe Kayaks Yellow Fin 100

HONORABLE MENTION

Specs

  • Length: 10′
  • Width: 32″
  • Weight: 57lbs
  • Max Capacity: 375lbs

Pros

  • Stable
  • Quick
  • Comfortable seating
  • Designed for fishing
  • Weatherproof cargo hatches

Cons

  • Low seat height
  • Small dry storage areas

Why We Chose It

Vibe Kayaks offer a quality fishing kayak at an affordable price.

The Yellowfin 100 is ideal for river fishing because of its compact size and fishing design.

This sit-on-top kayak has gear tracks where you can mount a fish finder or spare rod holder, which you shouldn’t need since it comes with four flush mount rod holders.

The eight self-bailing scupper holes help to keep as little water in the yak as possible. So you can spend more time fishing and less time worrying about how much water is in your boat.

A padded adjustable seat is an excellent addition; however, the seat height is slightly low, making standing difficult.

If you can make it to your feet, the 32-inch width should be plenty stable to stand and fish.

There are two small dry storage hatches for things that can’t get wet, and there’s one large bungee storage area in the tank well (back).

The adjustable foot braces are great for people of all sizes. So if you’re short like me, you can bring them closer, or if you’re a tall person, you can move them further away.

The Yellowfin’s compact size also means it’s lightweight, so it’s easy to car-top, unlike other large fishing kayaks.

The small size also aids in the handling and ease of paddling. There’s less kayak to propel, so each stroke is more efficient.

The Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 100 is an excellent choice for river fishing, and it’s priced reasonably!

Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5

Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5

HONORABLE MENTION

Specs

  • Length: 10′ 6″
  • Width: 34″
  • Weight: 75lbs
  • Max Capacity: 325lbs

Pros

  • Trusted Hobie name
  • Kick-up fins
  • Hands-free pedaling
  • Comfortable seat
  • Waterproof storage

Cons

  • Expensive

Why We Chose It

Hobie is the most renowned name in kayaks. They offer high-end kayaks at high-end prices.

They’ve made a name for themselves for primarily focusing on pedal kayaks.

Hobie isn’t higher on the list because they’re expensive and difficult to find.

Most beginners shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on a kayak only to decide they don’t enjoy kayak fishing as much as they thought.

As for the Mirage Passport, the pedal drive is great for rivers because the fins kick up instead of breaking if you hit anything.

It’s also a short kayak with excellent handling, so you can handle the turns of the river with ease, even if there’s a slight current despite it being a wide yak.

They could have offered better handles and storage for the price, but there are bungee storage areas at the front and back, plus a dry storage hatch under your feet.

The built-in rod holders and gear tracks make the Mirage Passport customizable and fishing ready.

I feel like the bungee paddle holder could get snagged and break easily. At least that would be my luck.

Hobie’s are known for comfortable seating, and the Mirage Passport 10.5 is no different.

Buying Guide: Best Kayaks for Rivers

When purchasing a kayak for river fishing, you’ll need to keep in mind a few special considerations.

A river kayak needs to be lighter and smaller for better handling and to make it easier to carry if needed.

The following are several of the most important factors; however, you might have another that is important to you, so don’t think this is an all-encompassing list.

Stability

Best Fishing Kayaks for Rivers

The stability of a kayak is important no matter what body of water you’re on because it’s a safety factor.

The more stable a kayak is, the less likely you’ll end up in the water while fishing or paddling.

Wide kayaks are more stable than narrow ones, but a wide yak doesn’t handle as well as a narrow yak.

So we must find a good balance between the two.

Typically this balance is found between 31 to 34 inches.

The hull design also plays a role in stability. A flat bottom kayak will be more stable than a round bottom kayak.

Handling

Handling or tracking is affected by the kayak’s hull design, width, and length.

The hull design will determine the tracking or how well the kayak tracks a straight line.

The width and length will determine how well it turns.

When you’re in moving water like in a river, you need to turn quickly and be able to paddle in a straight line to avoid obstacles.

Length

The length determines handling and if there’s ample storage, but it also contributes to the max capacity.

So once again, we’re forced to find the middle ground, which is usually around ten feet long.

A ten-foot kayak will have ample storage for fishing, good handling, and a decent maximum weight capacity.

Storage Options

While on the river, you’ll get water in your kayak, so having multiple storage options, especially dry storage, is preferred.

Bungee storage is good for when you hit a rock or log because it will hold everything in place, but if you have gear that can’t get wet and don’t have dry storage on your kayak, you need to buy a dry bag.

There are all kinds of kayak rigging ideas that will help increase the gear and rod storage on any yak.

You’ll Also Need

Once you’ve purchased a kayak, a few other pieces of equipment are vital for river fishing.

Kayak PFD

Always wear a lifejacket when kayak fishing. The lifevest won’t do you any good if it’s sitting in your kayak.

I’ve heard too many stories of people drowning because they weren’t wearing it when they needed it most.

Rivers can be dangerous, especially while fishing.

If you need a cool PFD, check out the best kayak fishing PFD.

Water Pump

As I mentioned earlier, you will get water in your kayak, and if you don’t have good scupper holes, you’ll be sitting in it the entire trip.

That’s where a hand pump comes in handy. You can quickly pump the water out of your kayak, so it’s not slowing you down.

A super absorbent squeegee also works!

Air Pump (Inflatables Only)

Believe it or not, some inflatable kayaks don’t come with an air pump, so you’ll need to buy one.

I suggest buying both an electric pump and a hand pump.

Paddle

Kayak Fishing on the river

Another shocker for most beginner kayakers is that most kayaks don’t come with a paddle.

Lucky for you, we narrowed down the best fishing kayak paddles so you don’t have to waste your time searching.

Kayak Fishing Rod

Honestly, any fishing pole will work for kayak fishing.

I still use the same fishing rods that I use for bank fishing.

However, owning a couple of rods specifically designed for kayak fishing makes it a little more hassle-free.

Last Cast

There is nothing like river fishing from a kayak. It’s my favorite way to fish because it’s so much fun.

That’s partly due to the yak I use while fishing in the river.

The best river fishing kayak is Jackson Kayak Liska because of its ample storage space, comfortable seat, and stability.

However, if you need a smaller yak, the Perception Pescador Pro 10 is not only smaller but much more budget-friendly.

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