The Difference Between a Kayak and a Fishing Kayak: A complete guide

Kristian Ole



If you are relatively new in the kayaking world, you might not be able to distinguish between a regular kayak and a fishing kayak. Indeed you might wonder why a kayaker would consider exploring ocean or white waters on a regular kayak rather than a fishing kayak. Also, you may not tell which kayak would be the most ideal for your water activity.

So, what is the difference between a regular and a fishing kayak?

Regular kayaks are meant for recreation purposes. Most regular kayaks feature a polyethylene material, is between 10 to 12 feet long and 27-30 inches in width on the cockpit area. Fishing kayaks are built shorter and broader to enhance their stability, which most anglers need. They are more spacious and heavier than their recreational counterparts. They are ideal for use in tranquil waters.

This article will take you through different aspects of regular and fishing kayaks to help you gain a clear-cut understanding of the two kayak categories.

Differences Between Fishing Kayaks and Regular Kayaks

Fishing KayakRegular Kayaks
Have mounting tracks on the gunwalesHave no mounting tracks
Have an elevated seat to provide a wider view of the fishing areaHave sit-in seats for efficient paddling
Have rod  holders to enhance the fishing efficiencyThey don’t have rod holders
Are heavy and hard to transportAre lightweight, hence highly portable
Are versatileHave a specific purpose
Offers huge storage spaceOffers limited storage for the essentials
Requires regular inspection and repair to keep the moving parts functionalHave minimal maintenance needs due to lack of numerous features found in fishing kayaks
Are highly-priced due to numerous bells and whistlesHave a standard price due to reduced features
They are ideal for use in calm waters due to their high primary stability and relatively lower secondary stabilityMost of them are ideal for use in turbulent waters like white waters and stormy seas due to high secondary stability ( although each of them has a specific purpose)
Needs lots of storage space due to their large sizeRequires relatively smaller storage space due to their compact size
Best for creating the first experience on water due to their primary stability ( best for first-timers)Best for trailing across the sea waves and strong currents due to their  high secondary stability
Have flat bottomed hulls for more stabilityMost of them have v-shaped hulls

Fishing Kayaks

As the name suggests, the fishing kayaks are made primarily for fishing. Though you can use them for recreation purposes, they have unique features that adapt them for fishing operations. These special features are the reason why fishing kayaks appeal to most anglers.

Examples of these unique features include:

Raised Seat

When fishing, most anglers would wish to sit on a vantage, where they can get a clear view of the water body and the obstacles ahead to avoid them.  That being said, fishing kayaks come with raised seats to provide a broader view of the scene.

Additionally, the elevated seat creates additional space for holding your supplies. For instance, you can use the area beneath the seat to keep your mobile device and other essential supplies in a dry bag so that they become handy whenever you need them.

The raised seat is also there to offer you comfortable seating during the entire fishing exercise. 

Suppose that you engage in full-day fishing in a kayak without a raised seat. In that case, your knees will become weary and feel crunched upon the chest. Your hips, too, may develop inflammation in the tendons and perhaps, cause you to terminate your fishing operations before time.

However, it would be best if you were careful not to choose a kayak whose seat is elevated too much as this may interfere with the kayak’s stability.

Rod Holders

When going fishing, the whole business is about maximizing your catch while minimizing the fatigue from the exercise. For this reason, the fishing kayaks are fitted with rod holders to help you fix multiple rod and reel combinations to increase fishing efficiency.

As such, the rod holders give you humble time to concentrate on fishing since your tackle is well set.

Related article: Rod length for kayak fishing

Mounting Tracks

Other features that make the fishing kayaks the anglers’ favorite are the mounting tracks located at the gunwales on either side of the kayak. The mounting tracks allow you to attach fishing accessories to enhance your fishing efficiency.

For instance, you can fix a fish finder on the track at the right gunwale to help you locate the spots where you can find schools of fish and determine the depth of water in the area you are fishing.

A Tankwell

A fishing kayak also features a large tankwell, which offers anglers a storage space to keep their catch and other fishing accessories. You will also find scupper holes in the tankwell, which help eliminate water that may splash on the gunwales during rains or heavy waves.

Fishing Kayak Pros

Having discussed the distinctive features of fishing kayaks, it would be neglecting to leave without mentioning the various advantages that accrue from such features. The multiple benefits of fishing kayaks include:

Unmatched Stability

One reason you might fall in love with a fishing kayak is its stability. In essence, fishing kayaks feature wide and stable hulls to allow for stability.

The enhanced stability explains why the fishing kayaks can accommodate fishing tackles the catch and still support the anglers as they execute their fishing operations even when standing. 

Huge Storage Capacity

As a general rule, anglers need lots of space to keep their fishing accessories like the extra rods, fishing coolers,   deck bags, tackle boxes, and any other item which may be handy in their fishing operation.

The fishing kayaks meet these storage needs by offering space on the deck, under the raised seat, and the tankwell.  The availability of storage space is one of the primary reasons anglers would go for a fishing kayak rather than a regular kayak.


Another great thing about fishing kayaks is that you can subject them to different uses or customize them to enhance their efficiency on the water. For instance, you can load them up with fishing gears, head to all-day fishing, or paddle to explore different corners of the water body.

When you want to explore the waters and don’t feel like paddling, you can attach a trolling motor at the rear end of your fishing kayak and enjoy trailing tirelessly on water. After all, you will need speed to hit various sea corners before dusk.

Fishing kayaks are also suitable for kayaking training. Unlike recreational kayaks, they can allow you to get onboard without tipping over. They can also give you humble time on the water as you familiarize yourself with various aspects of paddling, like making turns, paddling forward, and stopping the kayak.

Fishing Kayak Cons

Though ideal for numerous applications on water, fishing kayaks have their downfalls too. Below are various reasons why fishing kayaks may not appeal to you:

Massive Weight

Generally, fishing kayaks are the heaviest in the market. The excess weight in fishing kayaks is due to the numerous features and accessories that adapt the kayak to its fishing role. With the extra weight, it becomes challenging to ferry the kayak to the water body not unless you have a vehicle to carry the vessel on it.

Another problem with the heavy fishing kayaks is that they are hard to paddle, hence their slow speed.

Extra Storage Space

Generally, fishing kayaks feature a great length to allow for storage space and a larger width to enhance their stability on the water. While the above features improve the kayak’s efficiency, they leave the kayak with a huge size, calling for massive storage space for storing the kayak when not in use. This can be problematic if you don’t have lots of space in your place or garage.

Highly Priced

As repeatedly mentioned, fishing kayaks have extra bells and whistles that differentiate them from other types of kayaks. However, these bells and whistles do come at a price, and they explain why the fishing kayaks are priced more than their recreational counterparts. 

So, if you want to get out on the water with a fishing kayak, you should be prepared to pay for the extra features and accessories that come attached to the kayak during the purchase.

Not Ideal for Use in Turbulent Waters

While fishing kayaks have excellent primary stability, they have a relatively lower secondary stability, meaning that they are not ideal for use in a stormy sea or white waters where the water conditions are unpredictable. That is one of the reasons why most anglers would attach a fish finder on either of the gunwales to guide them on the ocean conditions.

Note: Primary Stability refers to the ability of a kayak to allow for safe onboarding without tipping over. On the other hand, Secondary Stability refers to the ability of a kayak to withstand the ocean currents and other turbulent water conditions when paddling.

Regular Kayaks

In our case, regular kayaks refer to any other kayak other than fishing kayaks. These may be classified into white water and flat water kayaks.

Flatwater kayaks are the ones meant for pedaling on still waters. That means you can use them in the calm lakes, tranquil rivers, or seashores where the minimal currents are. 

Examples of flatwater kayaks include touring kayaks, pedaling kayaks, touring kayaks, and sitting on top kayaks, excluding fishing ones.

On the other hand, white water kayaks are used in turbulent water bodies like white waters or water bodies with fluctuating weather conditions.

They are meant for use by expert kayakers who are conversant with various kayaking skills like making Eskimo turns and other self-rescue tactics to bail themselves out of danger should the kayak overturn.

Examples of white water kayaks include River Runners, Inflatable kayaks, Creekboats, Playboats, and Oldschool kayaks.

As you can see in the above section, numerous types of kayaks fall under the regular kayak category. To help you understand the real difference between a regular kayak and a fishing kayak, we shall take regular kayaks as any kayak that is not fit for fishing. So, we won’t highlight their specific features but their pros and cons.

Regular Kayak Pros

The various reasons why regular kayaks may appeal to you include:

Easy To Maintain

Regular kayaks are easier to maintain than fishing kayaks. They don’t contain the extra bells and whistles included in the fishing kayaks, hence calling for minimal repair and maintenance.

Easier To Transport

Unlike fishing kayaks, the regular kayaks do not have additional features like raised seats, storage spaces, tracks, etc. They also feature a slim width to give them the streamlined shape for quick trailing over the ocean waves.

Further, most regular kayaks are from lighter but quality materials like Polyethene, PVC, and Hypalon. The above factors account for the lightweight nature of regular kayaks, making them easier to transport than their fishing counterparts.

Regular kayaks may be your go-to option if you usually have to carry your kayak for a relatively long distance before accessing your water body.

Lower Price

Regular kayaks are priced relatively lower than their fishing counterparts since they don’t have the additional features found in fishing kayaks.  However, some manufacturers in the market may charge their kayaks way beyond the price of fishing kayaks.

Cons of Regular Kayaks

Though cheap and portable, anglers won’t consider regular kayaks due to the following weaknesses:

Insufficient Storage Space

Most regular kayaks are compact. They offer little or no storage space, except touring kayaks which have a relatively larger space for carrying the kayaking gear. You may find it challenging to use regular kayaks for fishing, especially if you don’t have any dry bags to keep your fishing accessories.

Poor Stability

When fishing, anglers would spend most of their time standing. They need a vessel with a broader base and excellent primary stability to execute their fishing operations successfully. Regular kayaks, most of which have thin and V-shaped hulls, are not the perfect candidates for fishing, simply due to their poor stability.

Not Adaptable

Regular kayaks are made for specific purposes. You cannot use them to perform multiple tasks on water like fishing kayaks. For instance, you cannot use a white water kayak for fishing since it won’t offer the stability required to pull the reels or for casting.

Which One Is the Best, Regular or Fishing Kayak?

To make the best selection, you need to understand your goals, compare the two types, and choose a kayak that suits you most. The table below summarizes the differences between a fishing kayak and a regular kayak. Perhaps, going through it will influence your choice.


About Kristian Ole

Kristian Ole Rørbye, a marine biologist and seasoned angler, shares his fishing adventures and expertise on FishingKris. Join him as he explores the world's waters, one cast at a time.

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