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Inflatable kayaks have gotten really good over the last few years, especially inflatable fishing kayaks, which need to be extra durable and sea-worthy.
If you’re buying a new kayak made in the last few years, you are getting something that is far superior to the predecessor technology–lighter, more stable, more durable, stainless steel d rings, better tracking etc.
I’ve loved kayak fishing since I was a kid growing up on the West Coast of British Columbia in Canada. Back before the region (thankfully) became a rockfish conservation area, I spent many hours jigging for ling cod and sole just off the local beaches.
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Over the years, I’ve been in some great and some not-so-great inflatable fishing kayaks–both in fresh and salt water.
With that experience in mind, I’ve put together the below list of the best inflatable kayaks that should have something for kayak anglers and kayakers of all stripes.
Comprehensive breakdown of each kayak:
- The Overall Winner of Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak: Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak
- Best Budget Inflatable Fishing Kayak: Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak Blue, 8’7″ x 3′
- Fastest: Sea Eagle 385fta Fasttrack Inflatable Kayak
- Best Tandem Kayak: BOTE Zeppelin Aero
- Best Kayak for Inshore Ocean Fishing: ADVANCED ELEMENTS StraitEdge Angler PRO Inflatable Kayak
The Overall Winner of the Best Inflatable Kayak: Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak
I think the Elkon Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak is the best of the inflatable fishing kayaks out there for a few reasons.
It’s built to withstand rough waters–up to class III rapids–so from that perspective, it’s appropriate for most lake, river and ocean fishing. Most inflatables are only rated for up to class ii whitewater.
It’s also a decent size for two people (whereas many others that advertise “tandem” capacity are not).
Add to that the durability and comfort (a removable hi-rise EVA adjustable seat is great for your back), and you’ve got a really nice piece of portable outdoors gear.
1000D Reinforced Layered PVC, Rigid Dropstitch Floor
12.5ft x 3.25ft
Lightweight Breakdown Paddle, Removable Skeg, Travel Bag with Backpack Straps, Padded High Back Adjustable Seat, Drop-In Adjustable Foot Rest, Dual Action High Volume / High Pressure Hand Pump
It also comes with a lot of nice included accessories that make it ideal for life on the road. A carry bag with backpack straps and a lightweight breakdown paddle lets you transport this gear quite easily.
It weighs 44 lbs, but if you’re a reasonably strong person and the terrain isn’t crazy, you could easily hike in somewhere with this inflatable fishing kayak.
- Paddle a little on the short side for the width. This is an issue with a lot of collapsible paddles, so you might want to consider buying one from a third party.
Other than that, nearly three-quarters of owners love the Steelhead Inflatable Kayak enough to give it 5 stars.
Best Budget Inflatable Fishing Kayak: Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak Blue, 8’7″ x 3′
I think this is one of the best inflatable fishing kayaks for budget-conscious people.
If you’re just getting into the inflatable kayak space or you are just looking for something that is going to let you explore calm water, then the Sevylor Quikpak one-person kayak is a good choice.
Just because it’s quite a bit less expensive than the other options on the list doesn’t mean it’s not worth your consideration if you’re not looking to spend hundreds on a kayak.
It’s incredibly lightweight (only 20.28 lbs), the included carry backpack turns into the kayak’s seat, the Tarpaulin bottom, the back rest is comfortable and it features multiple air chambers so it will still stay afloat even if one is punctured.
Polyester, 21-gauge PVC, Tarpaulin bottom
8’7″ x 3′
Breakdown paddle, pump, carry backpack
- No adjustable mounting bracket. If you do intend to use this inflatable kayak for fishing, you will have to buy third-party mounts or use it without.
- Not intended for serious kayaking. A cheap and fun way to get on the water and do some leisurely fishing, but not intended for anything more extreme.
Still, for its purpose, over 60 percent of owners loved this affordable inflatable fishing kayak 5 stars, and the multiple air chambers is nice piece of mind if you are worried that you’re not getting something that will be as durable as the other options on this list.
Fastest Kayak: Sea Eagle 385fta Fasttrack
The downside of inflatable fishing kayaks, when compared to rigid ones, is that they tend not to be as fast.
The Sea Eagle Fasttrack minimizes the drag that you can get with inflatable kayaks by featuring a rigid external hull with a sharp bow and stern that lets you paddle faster and straighter than other inflatables.
I also really like the non-slip crocodile hide EVA foam sea eagle uses on the floor that reduces slipping, which is always an issue in fishing kayaks because you inevitably need to stand up. It’s also great protection against punctures and lacerations.
Like any good fishing kayak, it’s also got built-in tool, hook, lure and rod holders, as well as plenty of storage space.
2000 denier side walls, 1000 denier seam
12’6″ x 36″ / Interior: 11’7″ x 18″
pump and carry bag
3(but I’d be skeptical)
- Quite narrow. The wider the kayak, the more stable, so it would be nice if this kayak was a bit wider.
All in all, a really nice, very fast kayak made by a reputable name in the fishing kayak industry. Another good option from this manufacturer is the sea eagle fishing explorer, at roughly the same price–a rugged explorer series kayak.
Best Tandem Convertible Kayak: BOTE Zeppelin Aero
BOTE makes a wide range of inflatable gear, from docks to paddle boards to kayaks. Both lightweight and portable, I think this is one of the best tandem inflatable fishing kayaks out there because it has quite a high-profile hull, which gives me more confidence when two people are in a kayak.
BOTE’s kayak is rated for level 1 and 2 rapids (not 3 like the Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak), but that still means it’s a suitable inflatable fishing kayak to take into sheltered inshore areas.
At 12.6’ long, I actually buy that this is a comfortable kayak with ample room for two people.
I also really like the fact that you can convert this into a SUP, which is great if you also like to fly fish and want to be able to stand upright.
- Have to buy second seat. Yes this is convertible into a tandem kayak, but BOTE doesn’t include the second seat, you’ve got to buy it separate.
- Pump and paddle not included. Kind of lame that BOTE makes you buy the paddle separately when you need it to operate the kayak.
All in all, over half of owners loved this kayak enough to give it 5 stars.
Best Kayak for Inshore Ocean Fishing: ADVANCED ELEMENTS StraitEdge Angler PRO Kayak
Advanced Elements is another marquis name in the inflatable fishing kayak industry and the StraigtEdge Angler Pro is a great piece of gear for ocean fishing.
A framed seat for comfortable, powerful paddling, a high pressure drop stitch floor improves handling and makes standing easier, and bow and stern frames that make entry and exit a lot more stable are just a few of the nice features on this inflatable fishing kayak.
I also really how high on the water you sit in the Angler Pro, but the boat has those classic inflatable low gunwales, so you get a leg up on the wind. They also make a Skeg you can purchase for even better tracking.
If you are willing to add the electronic motor to this small but powerful little boat, you get a fishing rig that isn’t hindered by some of the common inflatable shortcomings.
PVC Tarpaulin Hull, polyester, vinyl
10’6″ x 38.5”
|Accessories/fishing gear: |
Drop-stitch Floor2 Accessory FramesAirFrame PRO SeatDuffel Bag w/ Shoulder StrapsOwner’s ManualRepair Kit
- No watertight or waterproof compartments. Obviously, a demerit if you’re spending long periods of time on the water fishing.
That said, a great inflatable fishing kayak that more than half of owners rate as 5-star.
Inflatable Kayak Categories
Based on the materials and construction methods, an inflatable kayak falls into different categories.
Category 1: Light Recreation
The primary features of a category 1 are:
- Made from a single layer of vinyl
- Good for light recreational paddling
- These are the cheapest options out there, ranging from $80-$250
Inflatable fishing kayaks in this category are suitable for people who want something that isn’t going to break the bank while providing a comfortable introduction into the world of inflatables.
They aren’t going to be as durable as the heavier-duty options on the market, especially if you are dragging them across rough terrain.
They are also going to have worse tracking (the ability to maintain a straight trajectory) than more upmarket inflatables and will be much slower.
They are, however, the most lightweight options out there and pack down quite small.
Category 2: Heavy Recreation
The key features of heavy recreation inflatable fishing kayaks are:
- Single layer of vinyl wrapped in fabric
- Designed for heavy recreational use
- Mid-range pricing between $300 and $700
The fabric wrapping provides quite a bit more durability than just the single layer of vinyl, especially when it comes to protection from rocks and UV rays.
The fabric layer, however, also makes drying more complicated. Without adequate drying, mold becomes a factor, which can ruin the kayak quite rapidly.
Category 3: All Adventures
The key features of the best inflatable fishing kayaks in this category are:
- Designed with thick PVC
- Sometimes have an aluminum frame in the hull.
- Are durable enough to handle most conditions
- Upmarket options that can cost $800 and up
These are the best kayaks when it comes to durability and performance and, as such, are the preferred kayaks for serious fishing applications.
Any dedicated inflatable fishing kayak that is purpose-built will very likely fall into this category.
The materials used in these kayaks are similar to the ones used in life-saving boats, so you know you are getting a solid kayak made to withstand heavy wear and tear.
Good quality kayaks in this category often employ drop-stitch flooring that provides added stability for things like standing while fishing and easier (and safer) entry and exit.
Different Styles of Inflatable Kayaks
Whether for fishing or just paddling about, there are a few recurring design styles you will find:
- Tandem. A tandem fishing kayak is made for two paddlers. A couple on the above list are made for two people (as well as a convertible option).
- Sit-on. Sit-on kayaks are hybrid designs that are entirely enclosed and you sit in a chair that rests on top of the vessel.
- Sit-in. This is your standard kayak (whether hardshell or inflatable). These are the best design for multi-day trips and tend to have the most gear storage space.
Self-bailing. Self-bailing kayaks are those with built-in drainage holes made for fast-moving water conditions. The downside of this design is that your seat will probably be wet most of the time.
Main Evaluation Criteria When Buying a Kayak
Before purchasing an inflatable fishing kayak, you should know how to properly evaluate it to make sure you’re getting the best inflatable fishing kayak for your needs.
The main evaluation criteria to keep in mind are:
- Passenger capacity
- Weight capacity
- Kayak weight
- Included accessories
- Does it have fishing attachments (integrated rod holders, paddle holders to keep your paddle secure etc.)?
- Floor style and material type
Most inflatable kayaks will tell you outright how many people they are designed to hold. You can get four-person kayaks, but they are not very common. 1 and 2 are the most common passenger capacities.
With inflatable kayaks, evaluating the passenger capacity specifications can be tricky because, unlike hardshell kayaks, there sometimes aren’t designated seating areas for each paddler. Often there are, however.
With inflatables, unless there are clearly defined seating areas for each person, I tend to subtract one from whatever the manufacturer stipulates. This is a good idea if you’re a bigger person (I’m 6’2, for instance).
In addition to passenger capacity, all kayaks (inflatable or otherwise) have an official max weight capacity as well.
Inflatables can usually carry just as much as a hardshell, although many will have lower capacities.
Weight capacity typically isn’t a major issue unless you are talking about one or more very large people (and/or a ton of gear) being loaded in, in which case you will want to make sure your kayak has a huge max load capacity.
Depending on how you plan on using an inflatable fishing kayak, you will want to know what it weighs. The upside of inflatables is that they are much more portable than a hardshell, which often makes them ideal for trekking, overlanding, a multi-day camping or fishing trip, even air travel, or just keeping in the back of the car.
Most on the above list don’t weigh any more than 50 lbs (with most somewhere between 20-40) and almost always come with a travel bag or backpack.
While that amount of weight certainly isn’t nothing, because they pack up small, and because it’s not prohibitively heavy, you can take them pretty much anywhere.
Included fishing accessories
Typically, included accessories are going to be things like a paddle (usually collapsible), a carrying pack, a foot pump (or perhaps even an electric pump) and maybe some spare parts like a removable fin, some stainless steel D rings, a fish ruler, anchor trolley d rings etc.
With an inflatable fishing kayak, you might also get a removable skeg (for better tracking) as well as a drop-in floor,
The way a high pressure drop stitch floor works is that it gets rid of the typical I-beam floor, you get with a standard inflatable by using open, vertical stripes of solid fabric that drop one or more stitches to create a “ladder” effect that doesn’t create as much give.
It means that you don’t sink into the floor as much when getting in or out of your kayak, and it also makes standing while fishing possible.
A couple of accessories that aren’t usually included with most inflatable fishing kayaks that you might want to consider picking up if you’re going to be fishing in wavy environments are rear spray skirts and aft spray skirts.
Does it have fishing attachments?
Some of the kayaks on the above list (Such as the Elkton Outdoors Steelhead 130) come with fishing attachments.
A fishing specific kayak is likely going to have attachments and fishing features for fixing gear like fishing rod holders, fish finders, and fishing tools like lure holders–the things you need to catch fish.
Some don’t come with these while still being good options for fishing–although avid fishermen might want something that is already set up with fishing-specific features.
There might also be an attachment for an electric motor that a lot of kayak anglers like to use in addition to the paddle. It can be a good way to get from spot to spot if the wind picks up or if you’re just too tired to paddle.
Floor style and material type
Floor style is an important consideration because inflatable fishing kayaks that are specially made for the application tend to have what is called “drop-stitching” on the floors.
Gear storage space
Most kayaks have at least one place to store gear (which may or may not be waterproof), in addition to the typical bungee storage area you get on most kayaks and paddle boards.
Consider your storage space needs (are you planning on doing overnight trips, what kind of gear do you intend to go out with).
Major Performance Differences Between Inflatable and Rigid Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks have come a long way over the last few years to the point that they are now used by avid and even professional anglers to fish in a wide range of environments.
That said, there are some major performance differences you should bear in mind.
- Use Limitations
While some inflatable kayaks have incorporated things like drop-stitch floors and rigidity/hardness into the frame/bow and hull, rigid/hardshell kayaks are still easier to paddle and tend to have better stability and tracking performance.
This is because the boat isn’t bending and flexing as it moves through the water, which is a waste of energy transfer. They are also less dependent on a skeg or fin for tracking (i.e., staying on course).
Higher-end inflatable kayaks try to compensate for this less efficient design by using drop-stitch floors, but even cheaper hardshell kayaks are going to track better than most inflatables.
Hardshell kayaks are also, generally speaking, more manoeuvrable. This is even more the case if the kayak has a fully adjustable foot brace that let you wedge your feet and knees in to turn the kayak into basically an extension of your body.
Inflatables don’t have that same stiff hull, so you can twist and turn as easily. Kayak length is also an important manoeuvrability factor. Shorter kayaks, whether rigid or inflatable, are better in tight spaces than large ones.
Rigid kayaks are not as limited when it comes to the environments they can be used in. There aren’t very many inflatable kayaks that are rated for class 3 and above rapids. The Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak is the only kayak on the list that is.
Here is a guide to rapid ratings:
What’s more, if you plan on standing up in an inflatable kayak while fishing, it’s much more stable with a drop-stitch floor.
If you take care of your kayak, inflatable or hardshell, it should last for years. One thing to note, however, is that long-term exposure to UV rays will damage an inflatable kayak more than a hardshell one.
Additionally, an inflatable kayak is going to be much more susceptible to punctures. While the ones covered on the list are made with durable materials, fibreglass and other hardshell kayak materials are obviously much less fragile than something made to be inflated.
Both should be washed with fresh water after use (especially in the ocean) and left to dry.
How to Repair an Inflatable Fishing Kayak
While good quality inflatable kayaks are made to be durable, you may eventually need to make a repair.
To do this:
- Identify the puncture and mark it with a pencil if need be
- Clean the area well and let dry
- Apply a vinyl patch using either the adhesive back or glue (depending on your repair kit). Some kayaks will include a repair kit with the boat.
- Carefully smooth out the patch and get rid of any air bubbles underneath.
- Let the patch and glue/adhesive dry for at least four hours (preferably overnight)
This video from SeaEagle provides a good walk-through of how to repair an inflatable kayak or paddle board:
Why Investing in Good Quality Inflatable Fishing Kayak Makes Sense
If you are looking for an inflatable kayak to fish out of, then it makes sense to get something durable, rated for as many different water conditions as possible and easy to transport.
I hope the above list has provided a thorough enough breakdown of what’s on the market and how to evaluate your options to get something great.