From the popular lineage of roto-molded recreation kayaks the fishing kayak was born. What exactly is a fishing kayak, you ask? Put simply, a fishing kayak is one designed specifically for fishing. Of course, fishing is not a neatly pigeonholed activity, like tennis or golf. Seven-eighths of the earth’s surface is water, most of it home to fish. From tiny creeks to postage-stamp ponds to old mother ocean herself, conditions are widely disparate. And as for the people who fish, some require a boat that is little more than a floating armchair, while others demand nothing less than a water taxi. Having said that, I consider the kayak, whether designed expressly for fishing or not, the most versatile self-powered fishing craft afloat.

Designed with anglers in mind, fishing kayaks typically have a stable hull design. Casting about, playing and landing fish, and rummaging through tackle boxes and coolers all require balance. These boats are generally comfortable; what’s the point, otherwise? They have rod holders or provisions for mounting them, devices to hold your paddle when you're not using it, recessed wells for bait, tackle boxes, or coolers, and convenient console hatches to stash electronics and valuables.

Fishing kayaks do not flout the laws of commerce; boats are designed and marketed with demographics in mind. Fishing kayaks target the needs of typical fishermen. That is to say: short, wide, comfortable boats for day or possibly weekend use in easy to moderate water conditions. As for atypical wild-haired anglers dreaming of weeks-long adventures along uninhabited coastline where fishing is primordial-they have not been forgotten. For these extreme conditions, however, fishing amenities pale when compared to safety, performance, seaworthiness, speed, capacity, and durability. There is no magic design, no ultimate fishing boat for all situations. Every one comes with caveats and compromises. Only the kayak is right at home on the ocean’s edge, riding monster swell, threading narrow lanes through a forest of kelp, and riding a curling breaker ashore. In its smaller guise, it is equally at home on lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. Scale is the key to choosing a fishing kayak. Buy to suit your most challenging endeavor-better to be too big a fish in a small pond than too small a fish in a big one.

The boats reviewed below are all sit-on-tops, or open kayaks, as I prefer to call them. The enclosed cockpit characteristic of a conventional-style kayak is absent. Instead of sitting inside the boat, or cockpit, you sit on top of it. I liken it to a glorified surfboard. A seat and foot well are molded on top of a hollow, watertight fuselage. In nearly all instances, self-bailing holes penetrate the deck, allowing for rapid draining of water that may accumulate on top. The open kayak is insurance. In the unlikely event that you spill, simply flip the boat upright and flop like a seal back aboard. In an instant, the water drains out and you’re good to go!

Both superlinear and standard linear plastics are excellent media for kayak construction. Regular poly is cheaper, and nearly as good. Linear is the Kevlar of plastics, a little lighter and a little stronger in strength-to-weight ratio. Plastics are durable, inexpensive, and easy to repair, and their only drawbacks are slightly slower hull speeds and a tendency to deform in heat. I would be remiss not to mention this about the open kayak: it cannot be carried on the shoulder like a canoe or a conventional kayak. There is no gunwale or coaming to hang on the shoulder. Instead, two people carry the kayak by its toggles, one at the bow, another at the stern. Solo carrying is best accomplished with a kayak cart, or simply by dragging.

Embodying all of the desirable attributes of a good recreational kayak along with the core qualities of a sea kayak, the better fishing kayaks will be comfortable, easy to enter and exit, maneuverable, tricked out for angling needs, and light enough to avoid a hernia. They also have sufficient performance characteristics and scoot to deal with old man Neptune when he throws a fit.