Tips for choosing a fishing kayak

Posted on: April 4, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Noah Heck came to kayak fishing by accident.

He and his wife rented a vacation home that was advertised as having a boat. He was expecting something with a motor, or at the very least oars.

Instead he found a kayak and a paddleboat.

He was admittedly not amused. They debated whether to call the renter and complain.

He and the friend instead tried the former – it was a tandem model – and, well, the rest is history.

Heck had such a good experience that when he returned home he bought a kayak of his own. Later still, he founded Kayak Anglers of Western PA, a kayak bass tournament group that’s since expanded statewide.

What brought him over to the paddling side?

“The number one appeal for me is that I can get on water that’s less pressured,” Heck said. “Bigger waters like Lake Arthur, your Raystowns, larger sections of the Allegheny River, they all have a lot of traffic.

“I can fish those. But if I want to, I can go out to an area that’s less pressured and I may not see another boat all day. With a kayak, I have an option to do that.”

The boats can be fished just about anywhere, he added. They don’t require fancy launches – it’s often easiest to just carry them over a bank – and, with some experience, can handle everything from small creeks to rivers to lakes of all sizes.

“If you’ve got the right gear and learn how to use it, there aren’t that many limits to what you can do with a kayak,” Heck said.

Not all are created equal, though. They come in all lengths, and all styles, and made of all materials. Which to choose?

Before making that decision, it pays to consider a few things, Heck said.

What water types do you intend to kayak?

Rivers, like the Youghiogheny, are ideal for kayaks in the 10- to 12-foot range, Heck said. They’re pretty nimble and more than capable of handling the small rapids – often almost ripples – that will be encountered.

Both sit-on-top and sit-in models will work fine in such conditions, he added.

On larger lakes, though, like Lake Arthur, a longer sit-on-top model might better handle the wind and waves. It especially pays to look for a boat with scupper holes, which allow water that comes over the deck to drain back out.

How will you transport the kayak?

Anglers with a pickup can likely handle any kayak on the market. Most can fit inside the bed with the tailgate down, he said.

Those driving something else need to think seriously about weight.

“If you’re going to be putting a kayak on top of a roof, you don’t want a 100-pound kayak. One hundred pounds doesn’t sound like a lot of weight. But when you’re trying to put it on a Jeep Cherokee or something, like that, I can tell you it’s a lot of weight,” Heck said.

“It’s maybe so much that it prevents you sometimes from taking your kayak out because it’s a pain.”

How much will you use the kayak?

Price-wise, kayaks run the gamut. Some can be had for less than $200. Other go more than $2,000.
How much to spend?

That depends, Heck said.

“When I started out, I bought the cheapest kayak I could find,” he said.

It didn’t take long to realize just how much he enjoyed the sport, though. Nor did it take long to realize that his kayak wasn’t the most comfortable thing on the water.

He soon sold that boat – for the same amount he paid for it – and upgraded.

“If you think you’re going to use this every weekend, maybe you should really consider comfort and durability and all of that kind of stuff up front,” Heck said.

The best thing to do, he suggested, is rent a couple different kinds of kayaks and test them out, them make a choice based on features as well as budget.

More advice on choosing a fishing kayak can be found here

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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