Kayaks vs Canoes – Which is Best for Fishing?

Recently, more and more people have joined the kayak fishing bandwagon. As it grows in popularity, one must ask themselves what about good old canoe fishing. Is it dead and gone? Replaced by new and luxurious kayaks?

Both styles of fishing have their benefits and drawbacks, and in the end, only you can decide which style is best for you. With that said, here are some factors you should take into consideration before you make your decision.

Cold Water vs. Warm Water:

Most (but not all) of the new fishing kayaks are of the “sit on top” variety. This means that the chances of getting wet from splashing, waves, boat wakes, and flopping fish are very real. Not a big deal if you always fish in 70-degree water, but a potential concern if you fish right after ice-out in the Adirondacks as I do! If fishing out of a kayak, many northern kayak fishermen opt for sit-inside kayaks, or they wear clothing that will keep them dry when fishing from their sit on top.

Windage:

Canoes are notorious for being hard to control on windy days. This is due to the amount of freeboard (how much canoe sits above the waterline). If there is a lot of boat above the waterline, it is very easy for the wind to catch hold and take control. Kayaks ordinarily have much less material above the waterline and are therefore not as susceptible to the wind.

Paddle Ease:

“Kayaks are easier to paddle than canoes!” This is a very common statement heard nowadays. Yes, it’s probably true that it’s easier for most folks to hop in a kayak and steer it in a relatively straight line with little practice. However, a well-designed solo canoe will do the same with a little practice or instruction, and it can even be paddled with a two-bladed kayak paddle.

Carrying Capacities:

To state the obvious: a canoe holds more gear than a kayak, and with a canoe, you can just toss your gear inside (which doesn’t work for a kayak). With a sit-inside kayak, gear gets stored inside the boat, and in some boats, it has to fit through the hatch opening. Sit on top kayaks for fishing have specified holders for your gear, which means you can’t just throw it on top. But then, you may ask, what if I just want to carry enough gear for a day of fishing? You also have to look at the ease of getting your gear. In a canoe, I can reach just about anywhere in the boat and grab what I need. In a sit on the top kayak I can rig it so that most of what I’ll need is within reach. But with a sit-inside kayak, you’re going to have limited or no access to access to your gear, especially if it’s closed off under your hatches.

Carrying Ease:

If you’re carrying the boat from your car to the water, this is often not that big an issue. However, if you’re carrying your craft for any distance, it is. You can purchase wheels for both canoes and kayaks that strap to the boat, so you can roll it along a trail or road. But if the trail you use to get to your favorite spot is full of rocks, bumps, and holes, wheels won’t work, and you will have to carry your boat in. Canoes have been portaged for hundreds of years in wilderness areas with the aid of a neck thwart. You just put the canoe over your head and rest the thwart on your shoulders and away you go. Removable neck thwarts can also be purchased for sit-inside kayaks, but remember that the kayak deck and possible narrow-ness of the kayak may make it more difficult to carry and balance. Sit on top kayaks are ordinarily designed to be carried by two people (one at each end), and they can not be carried over your head for any distance.

Weight:

I’m constantly hearing that kayaks are lighter than canoes. When I ask folks what kind of canoe they have paddled in the past, most of them say some kind of old heavy aluminum canoe. Nowadays, there are many new materials (plastic, Royalex, Kevlar, etc.) on the market for both canoes and kayaks, and many canoes have become lighter than kayaks. The material will greatly affect weight, durability, and price.

Stability:

As a general rule, neither canoes nor kayaks are implicitly more stable. A lot of folks say kayaks are more stable because sitting on the floor gives you a low center of gravity. But who says that you can’t sit or kneel on the floor of a canoe, as it was done for centuries before? Generally speaking, for any craft, longer and skinnier means faster and less stable, while shorter and wider means slower but more stable.


Solo canoes, tandem canoes, touring kayaks, recreational kayaks, sit inside kayaks, sit on top kayaks, plastic, fiberglass, Royalex, Kevlar – there are so many options available now that just weren’t around ten years ago. This means deciding which boat you’re going to purchase can become tricky and confusing. Here are some pointers that might make the process a little less confusing.


1. You will need to figure out what your individual needs are based on your primary use for the boat. If you want a boat primarily for expedition trips (paddling camping trips) that you might occasionally use for fishing, your needs are going to be much different from someone who wants a boat just for fishing. Different uses will translate into different boats or boat types.

2. Next, give yourself enough time to research all of the different boats and materials that are now available and get an idea about their prices. There are various ways you can do this: several paddling magazines publish buyers’ guides every year, and a lot of information can also be found on the internet (online forums and online reviews are two of the best ways to get information from folks who have the same interests as you).

3. Once you have an idea of what you want and a price range, get out and test paddle as many boats as possible. If you’re not an experienced paddler, it will be difficult for you to tell what boat “paddles better.” But you will be able to tell what boats are comfortable to sit in, easier for you to get in and out of, and what boats you can lift by yourself. When testing paddling, ask for feedback from the salesperson and ask them what they fish out of and why.
Gather as much information as you can before making your purchase. Do your homework! There are a lot of used boats for sale because someone didn’t do theirs.

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