Canoe or Kayak for Fishing – How to Choose the Right One for You
It might well be a debate that has raged for centuries.
Which is better for fishing – a canoe or a kayak?
Maybe our ancestors would actually come to blows over it, with the winner having the final say on which craft the village would use to bring home the bacon?
Or, in this case, the fish.
In this article, I’ll aim to outline the pros and cons of each, and hopefully come to some conclusion on if you should choose a canoe or kayak for fishing.
And perhaps put the discussion to bed once and for all.
- Canoe Vs Kayak – What’s the Difference?
- Fishing Kayak vs Canoe – Things to Consider
Canoe Vs Kayak – What’s the Difference?
To start with, we should maybe look at what exactly are the differences between each watercraft.
Then we can maybe analyze which of the two is more suitable for fishing.
For centuries, canoes were hollowed-out trunks of various trees – the species of which depended entirely on which civilization was crafting the canoe in the first place.
They date back to somewhere between 8200 and 7600 BC, used for hunting, exploration and trade in numerous locations around the world – appearing about the same time – but the oldest apparently comes from the Netherlands.
Aesthetically, they’re a narrow vessel, usually tapered to a point at bow and stern. They have an open top with no deck, often containing interspaced slatted seating that runs perpendicular to the keel.
Depending on its size and maximum weight capacity, a canoe can be piloted by as many as five and possibly six people.
And depending on the seating arrangements, canoeists can propel the craft either from a kneeling or seated position.
Single bladed paddles are used, in a sweeping motion into the water, alternating the sides if you’re solo, or each taking one side if you’re in tandem.
They can also be fitted with a trolling motor if required, and some canoes can even incorporate sailing rigging.
You generally sit higher in a canoe, with a good field of vision around you.
Modern canoes are made from durable plastic, fiberglass or kevlar.
Kayaks have been around for thousands of years, used first by hunters in subarctic regions of the world, usually for a variety of different purposes similar to the canoe.
They are usually characterized by being a long, thin craft around 10-20 feet in length with a cockpit built for one pilot. A kayak often has a covered “deck” that can be used for storage either with hatches or bungee cord webbing.
Carrying handles will usually be present at the bow, stern and sides of the craft to make transportation easier and for getting it in and out of the water.
Modern kayaks are made from a variety of materials, including durable polyethylene, PVC, and expensive kevlar for more professional models.
In recent years, sit-on-top kayaks have proved very popular – particularly with anglers. They offer much more stability than their sit-in counterparts, which is ideal if you’re trying to reel in a fat fish.
A kayak will nearly always use a two-bladed paddle. However, they can also incorporate pedal drives and trolling motors to assist with power and movement.
In a sit-in kayak, it is propelled by a combination of paddle strokes working with knee and foot braces for support and improved technique.
Sit-on-top kayaks usually don’t have knee supports, but offer a choice of foot brace positions depending on your height and comfort – similar to your driving position in a car.
Some Advantages of Canoe Fishing
- Plenty of space – both for people and equipment, a canoe has loads of room for extra tackle, extra gear, extra animals and extra people.
- Freedom to move – the nature and design of a canoe means that you have an excellent range of movement, from turning to standing to sitting and kneeling, largely unrestricted.
- Higher seating – be king of the world and master of all you survey from a commanding seating position in a canoe.
- Easy to control – paddling in a canoe doesn’t take that much effort once you have the hang of it.
Some Advantages of Kayak Fishing
- Stability – fishing kayaks have a low center of gravity in the water and offer excellent stability. Sitting closer to the water also provides lower wind resistance.
- Maneuverability – with the right technique you can turn on a dime in a kayak – ideal for keeping up with your quarry or getting out of a jam in a hurry.
- Pedal power – Kayaks can incorporate pedal drive chains for additional power, speed and control – with the ability to creep up to unsuspecting fish silently.
- Versatility – From open water to choppier rivers and lakes, a good fishing kayak will be able to handle them all.
Fishing Kayak vs Canoe – Things to Consider
So, with those points in mind, let’s take a look at the things you need to consider when it comes to angling on the water – and which of the craft I personally feel wins out in each category.
Seating and Comfort
When you’re spending a day out there hunting your prey, it’s a good idea to be as comfortable as possible – especially if you enjoy those sumptuous dawn till dusk experiences.
Cheaper fishing kayaks will have adjustable mesh seating while some will simply have a molded plastic space for your butt.
Canoes have raised seating for one, two, three or more people – depending on the size of the canoe. They offer far more space than a kayak, with the ability to physically turn around, switch seats and stretch out.
Entering into a canoe is also much easier than a kayak as it’s a much more open design, potentially saving you a lot of embarrassment.
Overall Winner: Canoes – purely for the unrestricted movement they provide.
Fishing kayaks will usually offer very good storage options, with watertight hatches that can contain drybags and storage wells covered with shock-cord webbing – ideal for tackle boxes and coolers.
They also might have a center console for keeping valuables and important items that cannot be allowed to get wet.
Sometimes, they might have extra under-seat storage.
Canoes, on the other hand, are much larger internally than kayaks and so you’re more likely to be able to fit more stuff – including children and animals.
The trade-off is that your gear is far more likely to get wet in a canoe than it is in a kayak – especially if it rains. This is easily remedied with the use of dry bags, however, and sit-on-top kayaks have been known to take on a fair bit of water.
Overall Winner: While kayaks do offer excellent storage solutions, you can’t beat the sheer size and space in the bottom of a canoe.
Canoes are simply not as stable as kayaks. Sit-on-top fishing kayaks were developed to address the canoe’s problem here and offer more stability in choppier waters or when trying to land that rogue fish.
When it comes to standing up, a canoe is going to feel like it will tip, but a wider, more angular kayak will perform just fine.
Casting out of a sit-on-top fishing kayak is going to be more stable than in a canoe.
Again, this is particularly true in rougher conditions. That low center of gravity that comes with kayak fishing is a Godsend in this situation.
Overall Winner: Kayaks, hands down.
As mentioned, canoes use single bladed paddles while a kayak uses a double blade.
It’s easier to get the hang of making a canoe go forward – kayaks take a little bit more practice to pick up the rhythm and technique.
But once you have it, they’re built for speed and maneuverability. You can turn on a dime in a kayak if you need to – canoes will take much more effort, time and distance.
Both kayaks and canoes can also be fitted with a trolling motor if you really don’t want to make an effort at all.
Overall Winner: It’s a close one, but kayaks take this round.
There’s strictly no hard and fast rule here – you can get some canoes that weigh more than kayaks and you can get some kayaks that weigh more than canoes.
If we’re splitting hairs though, canoes are generally the heavier of the two across the board.
They’re also more of a challenge to transport, with most kayaks offering carrying handles and toggles which make the job a lot easier.
Aside from this, you can also purchase inflatable fishing kayaks, which significantly improve portability by being able to bag them up and throw them in the back of a car.
You simply can’t do that with a canoe.
Overall Winner: Kayaks edge this one, again.
Are you looking for a canoe or kayak for lake fishing?
Which one would you need for open water such as seas and oceans?
How about rivers or bayous?
Canoes are more suitable in calmer waters, those still conditions that you find in slow moving rivers or breathless, mill-pond lakes. Kayaks can handle the swell and surf far better – but that’s not to say they’re also not excellent in lakes and rivers, too.
Remember, kayaks are far more maneuverable for negotiating any sudden obstacles that might come your way if the weather kicks up.
Overall Winner: Kayaks are much more versatile than canoes, so they take the cake here.
Time on the Water
How long are you going to be out fishing for?
It might make a difference when choosing the best possible craft in the battle between kayak and canoe.
Usually, it comes down to two factors I’ve mentioned already – comfort and storage.
For longer trips, you’re going to need to pack the right amount of gear and provisions. And you’ll need to be comfortable while doing so.
However, for those quick fishing trips or half days you don’t need to worry too much about that. It also takes less planning, less preparation and is of a challenge when it comes to portability.
So, if you want long trips out there spending maybe a day or two or more – a canoe would win.
For shorter, spur-of-the-moment excursions while your partner’s back is turned – it’s a kayak.
Overall Winner: Tie
You can get some really great tandem fishing kayaks these days for a fun-filled day with a family member or a friend out on the water.
But even with the best will in the world, space is still somewhat limited. Canoes, on the other hand, can pack in your entire brood, Fido, and the kitchen sink to boot.
This wasn’t even a contest here.
Overall Winner: The canoe is the choice for the whole family.
Final Scores and Thoughts
If my math has not failed me, I believe the final score is as follows:
Canoe 4 – 5 Kayak
Kayaks win it by a nose.
That being said, it really does come down to personal preference. One angler’s dream is another’s nightmare after all. You’ll find some fishing websites and experts that back canoes, and you’ll find some fishing websites and experts that back kayaks.
My advice is to weigh up what you want to get out of the activity, what’s important to you and your family and what your needs are.
If you’re still undecided – test them out! Take a kayak and a canoe into a fishing scenario and see which you prefer.
I hope that with a little help from this guide you’ll now be able to choose between a canoe or a kayak for fishing.
Please let me know in the comments section which you think would be better and why.
In the meantime – happy fishing and happy kayaking/canoeing!