Canoe Vs Kayak For Fishing – Which Is Better?

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Fishing is a great recreational activity for a sunny afternoon. But it’s also an epic skill to provide a healthy source of local protein for your family. 

Whether you’re sport fishing or you’ve obtained a permit to bring a few fish home, a human-powered watercraft can help you reach fishing holes that simply aren’t accessible from shore. 

While a motorized boat can be a big initial investment, a canoe or kayak can be a great alternative. These vessels are great options to get into fishing from a watercraft and the technical skills it requires.

In this article, we’ll start by highlighting the advantages of getting a canoe or kayak for fishing. Then, we’ll define some common fishing jargon, explain the features of each vessel that relate to fishing, and provide a side-by-side comparison of those features. 

Why Fish From A Canoe Or Kayak?

The biggest advantage of fishing from a canoe or kayak is increased access. There are simply locations that you can’t always reach from the shore and many of the best lakes and rivers for fishing don’t allow motorized vessels. 

Another advantage of paddling your way to a fishing spot is the extra exercise. You’ll benefit from the regular upper body workout you get as you maneuver your canoe or kayak from spot to spot. 

Fishing from a canoe or kayak also provides opportunities for peace and quiet that you don’t get in your regular schedule. Even if you don’t come home with a record fish, getting out on the water can provide much-needed time for reflection and introspection. 

Another great benefit of fishing from a canoe or kayak is the ability to bring along multiple rod and reel combinations. This allows you to change your fishing strategy and alternate between bait types without wasting a bunch of time restringing your pole. 

Finally, a kayak or canoe can be a very economical option for exploring new fishing locations near you. Buying a human-powered fishing watercraft is a great way to incentivize yourself to get out and fish more!

Jargon Buster

If you’re new to fishing from a canoe or kayak, you need to familiarize yourself with some of the terms that are common to this recreational sport. In this section, we’ll provide brief definitions for several terms you’ll run into later in this article.

Bow and Stern

These are the ‘cardinal directions’ of your kayak. The bow is the front of your kayak and the stern is the back. 

Gunwales

This is the other cardinal direction of your kayak. Gunwales are the fancy kayaking term for the “sides” of your kayak. 

Trolling

Trolling is a common fishing technique for those that often fish from a kayak, canoe, or motorized vessel. The technique essentially requires dragging a baited line in the water behind your vessel as you move through the water. 

Hull

The hull is the bottom of your canoe or kayak. The design of the hull plays a major role in the watercraft’s performance, including speed, tracking, stability, and maneuverability. 

Scupper Holes

Scupper holes are holes in the hull of your kayak and they are unique to kayaks. But don’t worry, they’re there by design! 

This feature allows a kayak to naturally drain water out of the cockpit. Water can enter the cockpit by splashing up and over the gunwales or if you happen to accidentally capsize. 

Features Explained

In this section, we’ll explain several of the most important features of canoes and kayaks that apply to fishing. Some features may be specific to canoes while others pertain to kayaks. There may also be several features that can apply to both types of watercraft. 

Flush-Mounted Rod Holders

Flush-mounted rod holders give you a stationary place to hold extra rod and reel combinations on your kayak or canoe. They typically hold your poles vertically, which makes them great for a trolling setup if they’re located towards the stern of your vessel.

The exact number of flush-mounted rod holders on a canoe or kayak can vary greatly. But these rod holders are an essential feature for any canoe or kayak that’s meant specifically for fishing. 

Articulating Rod Holders

Articulating rod holders are another feature that will help you keep extra rod and reel combinations secure as you maneuver your kayak. However, there is one main difference between flush-mounted and articulating rod holders. 

Articulating rod holders can rotate and pivot in multiple directions. They come with different designs, but their purpose is to allow you to change the position and angle of your pole once your line is in the water. 

It is rare to find multiple articulating rod holders on a canoe or kayak. This is mainly because they require a little bit more attention and regular adjustment than their flush-mounted counterparts. 

Waterproof Storage Compartments

Waterproof storage compartments give you a dry place to store extra tackle boxes, cooler, or other preferred gear. They also give you an enclosed space for keeping gear secure while you’re on the water. 

This is a great feature for gear storage, especially if you envision any multi-day fishing expeditions in your future. When you get more comfortable and start planning longer fishing trips, your need for dry gear storage will only increase. 

Waterproof storage hatches come in all shapes and sizes. But the most important consideration is how the compartment is secured to remain watertight. 

Many kayaks claim to boast waterproof storage compartments that actually aren’t 100% watertight. It’s always good to double-down and put your gear in a small dry bag before placing it in your kayak’s storage compartment. 

Stable Design

The width of a canoe or kayak is most important to its stability. In general, a wider design is going to provide more stability. 

The stability of a canoe or kayak is really important when its primary purpose is fishing. Consider what will happen to your watercraft when you have a fish on the line. 

While you’re fighting that record catch, you’ll be thankful that your canoe or kayak is stable. If it’s not, you could find yourself swimming with the fish rather than pulling it into your watercraft. 

Additionally, many advanced anglers like to stand up in their watercraft. This gives you an elevated vantage point and allows you to engage your core more fully when casting. 

If you can imagine standing in a canoe or kayak with both of your hands occupied by your fishing rod, then you can start to understand why stability is so important. In general, it is good to look for a watercraft that is more than 12 feet long and greater than 34 inches wide. 

But the shape of the watercraft’s hull also comes into play when you’re talking about stability. When your purpose is fishing, look for a watercraft with a dual-V or double-U shape design. 

Our final note on stability has to do with the watercraft’s weight capacity. In general, make sure the canoe or kayak you choose can hold at least 100 pounds more than your body weight. 

This extra weight capacity is essential for fishing. It will give you the ability to carry extra poles, tackle, gear, and snacks/beverages without adversely impacting the performance of your watercraft. 

Comfortable Seat

Our hope is that you begin to spend more and more time on the water as you get accustomed to fishing from a watercraft. When this happens, you’ll be really thankful that you chose a craft with a comfortable seat. 

Canoes and kayaks come with many different seat designs. Overall, it can be a good idea to look for a seat that has some versatility to adjust to paddlers of varying body types. 

This adjustability is key to finding a comfortable position for YOU. All of our bodies are slightly different (and change over time!), so it’s really important to choose a watercraft with an adjustable seating system. 

Pedal Drive

Pedal drive is a feature that isn’t present in all kayaks or canoes. When it is present, you’ll find it almost exclusively on kayaks. 

A pedal drive propulsion system will allow you to power and steer your kayak with your feet, rather than your hands. This keeps your hands free to fish more actively. 

In general, our leg muscles are stronger than our arms. Because of this, a pedal drive propulsion system can allow you to stay out and fish longer because you won’t get so tired going back and forth from paddling to casting!

Scupper Holes

When a kayak with scupper holes capsizes, the holes don’t allow the cockpit of the kayak to create a seal with the water’s surface. This is a common phenomenon with canoes. 

Scupper holes are an essential feature of a watercraft made for fishing because you simply never know when you might end up swimming. A watercraft with scupper holes is much easier to right and re-enter than a watercraft without scupper holes. 

Side-by-Side Features Comparison

In this section, we’re going to re-approach each of the features explained above from a different lens. We’ll provide a side-by-side comparison of which features are better on a canoe or a kayak. 

Flush-Mounted Rod Holders

Many of the best canoes for fishing boast one or two flush-mounted rod holders in the center part of the canoe. It is rare to find flush-mounted rod holders located in the bow or stern of a canoe. 

Amongst fishing kayaks, flush-mounted rod holders are almost a rule rather than an exception. There are some fishing kayaks that boast four different flush-mounted rod holders situated in different areas on the deck. 

Because the seat of a kayak is more central than the seats in most canoes, rod holders can then be placed in the bow and stern of the kayak. This gives you added ability to troll a line behind your kayak, which can be more difficult in a canoe. 

Articulating Rod Holders

To date, we haven’t seen a canoe that boasts a built-in articulating fishing rod holder. This is a feature that is much more common to canoes than kayaks. 

Many of the best fishing kayaks offer at least one articulating rod holder within the paddler’s reach. Some even offer multiple holders so that you can keep multiple lines in the water at once. 

That being said, there are options for articulating rod holders that can be installed on certain select points of a canoe. This is an important point for experienced canoe anglers because it gives you a greater ability to customize your setup as you begin to learn what works best for your fishing flow!

Waterproof Storage Compartments

Canoes and kayaks that are designed for fishing both typically feature some form of waterproof storage compartment. Their size and location, however, can vary greatly. 

In canoes, the most common location for storage compartments is under the seats. This gives you quick and easy access to gear while you’re paddling or taking a quick break on the water. 

In fishing kayaks, there are often storage compartments located in the bow and stern. In some cases, there might be a small waterproof storage compartment just in front of the kayak’s seat for easier access. 

The setup that works best for you will ultimately depend on the type of fishing adventures you plan on. If you want quicker access to these compartments though, a canoe or a kayak with a central compartment will be the best option. 

In terms of storage, it’s also worth mentioning here that canoes offer much more open internal storage space than kayaks. This might be preferable if you’re planning a longer fishing trip, but you’ll certainly need to secure most of your gear in dry bags if you want to keep it from getting wet. 

Stable Design

In general, canoes tend to be both wider and longer than most kayaks. At first glance, that might make you think that canoes are always more stable than fishing kayaks. 

However, the design of the hull (as we mentioned above) also plays a large role. Many canoes have a flatter hull that can make them more susceptible to rolling or capsizing. 

Fishing kayaks, on the other hand, tend to have a dual-V or double-U shape design. This design style serves to add much-needed stability to a watercraft that might not be as long or wide as a canoe. 

In terms of stability, it’s worth mentioning here too that most fishing canoes are built for two paddlers. While this can be an advantage for certain anglers, two paddlers almost always make a watercraft less stable than just a single paddler. 

Canoes also have much higher gunwales than kayaks, on average. This makes them more susceptible to high winds and can adversely impact your ability to control a canoe if you do encounter those conditions. 

In addition, canoes aren’t the best choice for those that plan on fishing in moving water. Their inability to maneuver quickly can make them quite the hazard if you encounter any rapids during your fishing journey. 

Fishing kayaks are much better equipped to handle small rapids. That being said, you should seek out calmer, flatter waters for fishing because it will help you keep your watercraft stable and allow you to focus on finding your next catch!

Comfortable Seat

It should be obvious that both canoes and kayaks have seats. In canoes, many seats are either made of molded plastic or mesh netting and, in some cases, they even feature a design that’s meant to be molded to the shape of your bottom. 

In many fishing kayaks, foam padding is commonly used for the bottom of the seat. The seatback is often made of some sort of padding or mesh material that allows it to breathe more effectively. 

This is a key point of differentiation between canoes and kayaks. Most canoe seats do not offer a back that will allow you to recline if you want to take a break from fishing or paddling. 

Alternatively, almost all fishing kayaks do come with a seatback. This allows you to relax and soak in the sun while you’re trolling or simply resting. 

Pedal Drive

Pedal drive propulsion systems are pretty exclusive to kayaks. It’s rare (and potentially non-existent!) to find a canoe that can be powered by your feet rather than a traditional canoe paddle.

Kayaks with pedal drive propulsion systems can be more expensive than models that are powered with dual-blade paddles. It’s also a more complex system with a higher chance of a small part breaking, which can render the entire system ineffective. 

Fortunately, kayaks that are equipped with a pedal drive propulsion system often come with a standard kayak paddle. They also commonly have a place where you can store that paddle on board in case of an emergency. 

The idea of keeping your hands free to fish more effectively while maneuvering your kayak with your feet is certainly enticing. And this is only possible with a kayak that has a pedal drive system

Scupper Holes

Canoes don’t have scupper holes! It really is as simple as that, but the effect that can have on your experience shouldn’t be underestimated. 

If you don’t have much experience with techniques for righting a capsized canoe, it can be very difficult. This is especially true in deeper water and if you don’t have another watercraft nearby to lend assistance. 

Because scupper holes prevent a kayak from “sealing” with the water’s surface, it becomes much easier to turn a kayak over and climb back in. If you do happen to capsize (whether it’s in a canoe or kayak), your first priority should be your safety before you start worrying about your gear floating away. 

While we hope you stay dry so you can be comfortable on your fishing adventures, it’s really important to prepare for the unexpected. For beginner anglers, it’s much easier to correct mistakes made in a kayak than a canoe!

Our Verdict – Which Is Better?

For our money, we’re going to pick a kayak over a canoe for fishing 10 times out of 10. There are a few reasons why we think kayaks are a better solution for fishing than canoes. 

For starters, kayaks are much easier to maneuver than canoes. You won’t have to work as hard to reposition a kayak and making micro-adjustments in a canoe can be a bigger struggle than most realize.

Canoes are almost impossible to maneuver by yourself. Most will require two paddlers who know how to share the responsibility of propelling and maneuvering a canoe. 

This brings up an important point about the canoe versus kayak debate. If you’re planning to mostly fish with a partner, a canoe can be a great option and also a challenge to build better team chemistry. 

There are however, a selection of tandem kayaks out there for two paddlers. Many of these tandem kayaks are also available with a selection of the fishing-specific features we’ve mentioned above.  

Secondly, kayaks are generally more compact than canoes. This allows you to maneuver in tighter locations and access fishing holes that you won’t be able to navigate in a canoe. 

Additionally, there are simply more options for fishing kayaks out there. There aren’t many canoes that are specifically designed with all of the features you’d like for a full day of fishing. 

Another point applies to transportation. Because kayaks are generally more compact than canoes, they’re also (in general!) much lighter. 

This makes kayaks easier to transport to and from the water’s edge. Kayaks are also easier to lift onto a trailer or the top of your car so that you can travel safely from your home to the marina or launch location. 

Finally, we prefer kayaks over canoes for fishing because most fishing kayaks have the ability to drain water naturally through their scupper holes. This is essential if you do happen to capsize because it makes it much easier to right and re-enter your watercraft!

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