Best River Fishing Kayaks in 2023- Buyer’s Guide
River fishing is a great way to go out and get some fresh air while exploring places you wouldn’t otherwise explore. However, there are many kayak models on the market, and each is designed with a particular sport in mind.
Not all kayaks are designed for river navigation. You’ll need one to handle the twists and turns of the river. In this guide, we’ll tell you all about the best fishing kayaks that you can currently find.
List of the Best River Fishing Kayaks:
- Wilderness System Tarpon 100 – Best for Beginners
- Intex Challenger K1 Kayak – Best Budget River Kayak
- FeelFree Lure 11.5 – Best River Kayak for Professional Anglers
- ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Sport – Best Inflatable River Kayak
- Sevylor Coleman Colorado – Best 2-Person River Fishing Kayak
|Kayak||Type||Dimensions||Weight||Material||Maximum Capacity||Personal Capacity|
|Wilderness System Tarpon 100||Hardshell Sit-on-top||120 x 30.5 x 15.25-in.||55 lbs.||Rotomolded polyethylene||325 lbs.||1 person|
|Intex Challenger K1 Kayak||Inflatable Sit-in||108 x 30 x 13-in.||25 lbs.||30-Gauge vinyl||220 Ibs.||1 person|
|FeelFree Lure 11.5||Hardshell Sit-on-top||116 x 34-in.||74 lbs.||Polyethylene||425 lbs.||1 person|
|ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Sport||InflatableSit-on-top||125 x 30 x 10-in.||26 lbs.||PVC-coated polyester with aluminum ribs|| 250 lbs.||1 person|
|Sevylor Coleman Colorado||Inflatable Sit-in||120 x 36 x 19-in.||41 lbs.||18-Gauge PVC with tarpaulin bottom||470 lbs.||2 persons|
The 5 Best River Fishing Kayaks in 2021
1. Wilderness System Tarpon 100 – Best River Kayak for Beginners
Let’s start off with one of the widely used river kayaks that many anglers find convenient.
The first thing that’ll grasp your attention when you see this kayak is the flaming colors, but there’s much more to it.
The Wilderness System Tarpon was designed with your comfort in mind. It features a Phase 3 AirPro sit-on-top seat that’s easy to fiddle with while you’re paddling. Not only does it offer you comfort but also, it’s safe to use in different water surfaces. It’s all thanks to the Keepers XL Foot Brace System.
Speaking of safety, the kayak is self-bailing with scupper holes that’ll get rid of all the unwanted water and allow you to keep your boat dry.
Although it’s not the longest kayak, it offers ample storage space (a maximum capacity of 325 lbs.). With the Orbix dry storage hatches, you can certainly keep your camera and electronics away from the water while staying within your reach.
It’s lightweight, and it’s suitable for rivers, lakes, or bays owing to its high stability and easy maneuverability.
- High-quality construction
- Comfortable and adjustable seat
- Secured paddles
Wilderness System Tarpon 100 is an excellent river fishing kayak. It’s robust, comfortable, and secure. True, its short length makes it a bit slower than other river kayaks, but it also makes it easy to maneuver, especially for newbies.
2. Intex Challenger K1 Kayak – Best Budget River Kayak
Intex is known for its affordable yet durable kayaks, and this model is no different.
Being an inflatable kayak, it’s lightweight, so you wouldn’t have any issues transporting it.
The Intex Challenger K1 is made from 30-gauge vinyl that’s UV-resistant, which makes it one of the toughest inflatable kayaks that you can currently find.
We wouldn’t say that this kayak offers dazzling storage space on the market, but the onboard space is fully deployed. Besides, there’s a cargo net in front of the seat that you can use to keep your fishing gears and other necessities.
The Challenger K1 features I-beam floors that enhance the stability of the kayak in different water surfaces. Any angler can stand while fishing without worrying about taking a dive into the deep water.
The overall design of this kayak is quite impressive. There’re 2 separate air chambers, so in case one was damaged, the other will get you to the shore safely.
What adds even more value to this kayak is that it comes with many accessories. For instance, it comes with its own paddle and the pump used to inflate it. This way, it doesn’t only save you money, but also you won’t have to spend time looking for the equipment needed to get it ready to go into the water.
- Extremely affordable
- Excellent stability
- Comes with all the necessary equipment
- Paddles quality isn’t the best
- Low storage space
Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is a budget-friendly kayak that’s favored by many anglers. Although it only offers a maximum capacity of 220 lbs., it’s enough for a single person to carry their necessary fishing gears.
3. FeelFree Lure 11.5 – Best River Kayak for Professional Anglers
The FeelFree Lure has many features that make it among the best river fishing kayaks.
It’s designed for comfort on long fishing trips with an adjustable seat that offers you a range of seating positions. These positions include sitting flush, which increases the stability during paddling.
The gravity seat is of excellent quality. Yet, it’s removable, so you can always install your preferred seat instead.
There’re multiple storage systems. For starters, you’ll get a spacious tankwell in the stern. Also, there’s a sizeable watertight hatch in the bow and some side pockets as well. Lastly, there’s a front console to store your fishing gears and still keep them within your reach.
The Lure 11.5 features 2 flush-mounted rod holders in addition to a front and a rear uni-track rails that come with a tie-down system. This means that you can fit up to 4 rods in mobile settings to increase your coverage area.
Moreover, the sonar and electric pods are removable. This allows you to easily install a fishfinder or a transducer without having to drill a hole into your kayak.
Another feature that appeals to many anglers is the stand-up leash and the non-slip pods that ensure safety.
- Multiple storage options
- An easy-to-reach console
- Excellent railing systems
- Removable sonar and electric pod
- Standing leash and non-slip pod for safety
- Not the most portable kayak
The FeelFree Lure 11.5 has the full package. Perhaps the only thing that you might struggle with is its weight. However, with the right planning, you can efficiently transport it to the water edge.
If you are a professional Angler and are looking just for the best out there, you should definitely check out my guide to the best all-around Fishing Kayaks here. I’ve tested more kayaks than I can remember over the years, and these are the ones that never compromised or fell short of my expectations for what a professional fishing Kayak should be like.
4. ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Sport – Best Inflatable River Kayak
Inflatable kayaks are user-friendly because they are easy to carry around and control in the water.
The Advanced Element Sport is one of – if not – the lightest of Advanced Element’s models. Some tall anglers may find it a little cramped. However, they’ll end up with many more advantages.
It only has 4 inflation champers rather than 6, which means you can get it into the water within a few minutes.
The additional aluminum rib-frame makes it bulkier than other models of the same weight. This adds up to its stability, Not to mention, it makes it a sturdy inflatable kayak with a rigid hull.
Furthermore, this kayak comes with supportive seats that allow you to put more power into your stroke.
When it comes to performance, the small size drastically enhances maneuverability. It has excellent tracking and turning capabilities, even when compared with some hardshell models.
Being a compact kayak may restrict the amount of gear that you can bring with you. Yet, if you consider that it’s a 1-person recreational kayak, it’ll make perfect sense. In fact, it offers a maximum weight capacity of 250 lbs. which is 30 lbs. more than the Intex Challenger K1 kayak we talked about earlier.
The Advanced Element Sport is listed as a kayak that can perform in “universal water conditions.” Still, many anglers will find it hard to manage in whitewater because it lacks a spray cover.
- Lightweight and portable
- Compact and easily maneuverable
- Excellent supportive seats
- Easy to inflate
- Lacks a spray cover
- Might be too short for some anglers
The Advanced Elements Sport is one of the best inflatable fishing kayaks. It’s great for those looking for a portable kayak to take to nearby rivers without worrying about any logistics.
5. Sevylor Coleman Colorado – Best 2-Person River Fishing Kayak
Sevylor Coleman Colorado is truly one of the best river fishing kayaks that excel in so many ways. It’s made of high-quality materials and features a dense tarpaulin base that can withstand sharp river rocks.
The multiple airtight systems will ensure your safety, and you don’t have to worry about leakage.
All in all, it’s a comfortable and robust kayak that offers excellent performance and great maneuverability.
This kayak uses Berkley Quick Set fishing rod holders to offer you hands-free fishing. Moreover, it has an extended storage capacity with D-rings in the mesh pockets. This allows you to store many fishing gears on your trip.
The extras that come with the kayaks add more value to your money. These accessories include Paddle holders and trolling motor fittings. However, unlike the Intex Challenger K1, there’re no paddles or pumps included in the package. Unfortunately, you’ll need to buy any other necessary attachments or equipment separately.
- Robust construction
- Supports hands-free fishing
- Excellent storage capacity
- Comes with some extra attachments
- Bulkier than most models of the same weight
- No pumps or paddles included
Sevylor Coleman Colorado is an excellent 2-person river fishing kayak. It offers high stability, rigidity, and a maximum capacity of 470 lbs. so you can bring all the fishing gears you need with you.
What to Look For When Buying a River Fishing Kayak
1. Type of Kayak
As you may already know, kayaks are divided into sit-on-tops and sit-in kayaks. Each of these will offer different levels of stability, speed, and maneuverability. Thus, it’s crucial to think about what you expect from your kayak and whether it’ll be capable of delivering it or not.
A sit-on-top kayak is more suitable for fishing because it offers you more stability, and they’re generally more spacious. This allows you to bring as many gears as you may need and makes them more comfortable as well.
A sit-in Kayak offers more speed and maneuverability. It’s excellent for tracking through the water. Because of their small cockpits, they’re easier to climb into and out of, which makes them more secure. The security makes them a better option for whitewater, especially the stubby models.
I have a full Sit-on-Top vs sit-in Kayaks comparison here that has a lot more detail and will definitely help you make your decision.
2. Weight Capacity
Weight capacity is another critical factor to consider when buying any kayak. If you crowd your boat with too much weight, it becomes unstable, which is potentially dangerous. Make sure the weight you put on your kayak doesn’t exceed the recommended weight capacity.
3. Kayak Shape
The design of each kayak should deliver comfort. You’ll be spending hours and hours in this kayak. This is why you need to make sure that it can fit you and that you can assume one or more comfortable sitting positions.
Check for the legroom and whether you feel comfortable when the seat is adjusted to allow paddling or peddling. It’s the best way to validate comfort. Also, if you’re going to be standing while fishing, it’s better to go for kayaks that feature a tunnel or flat-bottom hull. In this case, the width shouldn’t be less than 30 inches (about 70 centimeters).
No one wants to end with a tippy kayak. Stability is one of the essential factors that you’ll need to twist and turn so that you can cast and land your fish. V-shaped hulls aren’t stable, and they tip easily. As mentioned above, it’s better to go for wider bottoms.
Also, keep in mind that shorter boats tend to be sluggish, and they can easily get tossed around by the waves. On the other hand, a long kayak can cut through the water smoothly.
You can check my guide to Kayak speed and stability here to learn how to make your kayak more stable.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Are Sit-on-Tops Good for Rivers?
It all depends on the speed with which the water is running. Rivers are divided into 6 classes. Class 1 is the quietest, and class 6 denotes really rough water.
A sit-on-top kayak can handle up to class-3 rivers with some maneuverability. However, it’s worth mentioning that sit-in kayaks are superior when it comes to long-distance trips.
Is River Kayaking Risky?
Kayaking is a safe outdoor activity. Yet, you should adhere to the safety rules when you’re river kayaking. The number-one rule that you should never break no matter the circumstances is wearing a PFD.
Some rivers have strong currents, and it’s harder for inexperienced anglers to manage or maneuver under such conditions so, you should never extend beyond your skill level. Moreover, to stay on the safe side, try to stick with calmer rivers and find a comfortable kayak with high stability, especially if you’re a beginner.
What’s the Best Length for River Fishing Kayaks?
As mentioned above, it’s more about the water stream. Generally, a river fishing kayak should be shorter and wider than usual to increase stability while casting.
However, if the current is too strong, a short and wide kayak will be hard to maneuver. A long kayak is a better option in this situation.
It’s not an easy job to find the best river fishing kayak. Nevertheless, knowing what specs to look for and what features to take into consideration will help you make an informed decision.
Wilderness System Tarpon 100 is an excellent choice for beginners looking for a stable kayak that’s easy to maneuver.
On the other hand, Intex Challenger K1 Kayak makes an excellent budget-friendly alternative.
Last but not least, Sevylor Coleman Colorado is the perfect option for those looking for the best tandem fishing kayak.
Kayak your way to Freedom
- On a budget? Check out the best fishing kayaks under $500 here and the best Fishing Kayaks under $1,000 here. Or Check the best Cheap Kayaks here.
- Going fishing? Here are the best Ocean fishing kayaks, and here are the best River Fishing Kayaks.
- You can also find the best Fly Fishing Kayaks here and the best Bass Fishing Boats here.
- A bit experienced? Check out the best modular kayaks here and the best tandem fishing kayaks here.
- Looking for something special? Check out my favorite Ducky kayaks here.
- Navigate your way with these awesome and beginner-friendly Kayak compasses.
- Going Hunting? These Duck hunting kayaks will give you an unfair advantage!
- Have a need for speed? These motorized kayaks will get you moving.
- Protect yourself from the sun with these Kayak shades, and make your kayak more comfortable with these Kayak seats.
- Keep your feet dry and warm with these superb Kayaking shoes.
- Going Kayaking in cold water? Stay warm with these Kayaking gloves.
- Paddle Less, Fish More with the Best Kayak Motors
- Looking to get a trolling motor on your kayak? Check out the best kayak trolling motor mounts here.