Sit In vs. Sit-On-Top Kayak for Fishing: The Great Debate
There is one great question that looms over us day in and day out. No it’s not the “meaning of life” or “are we alone?”. It’s a much more important question to the great anglers of the world: Should I choose a Sit In or a Sit-On-Top Kayak for my lake, river and ocean fishing needs? And just like any great philosophical question, this can be answered with the one clear truth…”It depends”.
Although, after reading a bit further you will surely see that there is a definite front runner in this debate.
Several factors include how experienced you are at paddling, what type of fishing that you’ll do, weather conditions and the amount of gear that you will pack. But first let’s just analyze exactly how Sit Ins and Sit on Tops are similar and different.
What is the difference between Sit In vs Sit On?
Besides the obvious that can be determined just from the name of each style, these two types of kayaks have basic differences in design that contribute to speed, exposure and storage.
- Sit inside of a cockpit
- Use a splash skirt (optional)
- Warm and dry
- Often longer and more narrow
- Better Tracking and Handling
Sit On Top
- Sit on a molded cockpit
- Exposed to water splash
- Typically wider
- Usually extra storage space
- More stable
Despite the Differences…they are both still boats.
They may look quite different but both of them have:
Cockpit – The place where you sit.
Bow – Front of the yak
Stern – Back of the yak
Hull – the bottom
Deck – the top
Also both will probably have some sort of storage both on the deck in the form of straps and inside the hull, accessible through front or back hatches.
Both kayaks are made of either a hard durable plastic or a lighter weight fiberglass or Kevlar. Some sit on tops also come as inflatable…but that’s a whole other article!
There is not much of a difference between the prices of basic sit in and sit on kayaks, although higher end sit ons can start to rise quickly into the thousands.
Ok So Let’s Talk Fishing
After all, that’s what you really care about so let’s cast right into the mess of choosing the right kayak for the trip.
There are some important questions to ask yourself before you choose a fishing kayak. And either the Sit In or the Sit On Top will be the answer to the questions.
How experienced are you with paddling? (Kayak or canoe)
This question determines whether or not you are comfortable on the water. Are you used to balancing in a small boat? Have you ever experienced a tip over?
These are important to ask because a sit on top kayak is much better for beginners. Because of its broad shape, a sit on top is very hard to tip over. And if it does for some reason, then it’s very easy to just turn it right back over and climb back in.
A sit in, on the other hand, is a little more technical in it’s balance and if it tips, you will have to bail out and then bail the water out of the boat in order to continue your paddling.
FeelFree Lure 10 Kayak
Where are you fishing?
Yes, this is a deadly question to ask an angler where his/her prized, secret spot is. But you can just narrow it down to: River, Lake or Ocean.
While both a sit in and a sit on top can perform great in all three environments, there are still a few factors to consider.
Whether it is a steady stream of water or a full-on, rock filled rapid party, a river presents many opportunities as well as perils to a fisherman.
While the water can carry you along, eliminating the need for the speed of a slender sit in, you may need the tracking and steering of the sit in to navigate trickier pit falls between good fishin’ holes.
Another thing to consider is that a sit in kayak lies deeper in the water compared to a sit on which means that in shallower water where rocks might be a problem, sometimes the ability of a sit on top to smoothly slide over the occasional exposed stones can be a real advantage.
You will need to study the river you plan to fish and make this call.
Calm, still water that looks like a single piece of glass stretching until the horizon sounds beautiful, but it can also mean slow paddling compared to the steady flow (or rush) of a river.
This can mean that having the slower, more cumbersome sit on top might be a bit of a pain if you need to travel long distances.
The great blue yonder! Some of you might be thinking, “Why on earth would I take this tiny boat out in shark territory?” while others are surely dreaming, “I want to catch a shark!!”.
The ocean is a beautiful monster when trying to paddle and fish. Whether you are in barrier islands, shallow bays or deep, open water, there are challenges to overcome.
A sit in kayak’s ability to track a straight line and move quickly might be a saving grace when fighting the pull of tides in narrow channels between islands, but dealing with waves and rough water is definitely the forte of a sturdy sit on top boat.
Pro Tip: Whether on a lake or an ocean, open water often comes with winds and currents. Sit on top kayaks are more susceptible to wind and top currents because they sit higher on the water compared to the deeper keel of a sit in.
What is the weather like?
Basically this comes down to one simple question: Is it cold or warm?
You will stay dry inside of a sit in kayak (as long as you wear the skirt). Also your body heat will be trapped inside and your legs are protected from chilly winds.
With a sit on kayak, you are exposed to splash and wind. And all sit ons have scupper holes which allows the boat to naturally drain itself but also constantly allows for a slight flow of water in and out around your body.
There is the option to purchase scupper plugs to block the holes and prevent this.
Perception Striker 11.5 Angler Kayak
What are you fishing for?
Shore side pan fish or striped bass? Or maybe even bigger. Remember that the sit on top kayak is much more stable. This isn’t just good for beginners but also to keep stable when reeling in a large catch that might swim deep or even under the boat.
Or maybe you like to stand up while casting or reeling? Yes, many sit on tops are perfectly buoyant enough to comfortably stand up as if it were a paddle board. You can even throw a casting net or take a quick break to relieve yourself in the reeds.
The gear that you need…and the gear that you want.
This is a HUGE factor in choosing a fishing kayak. Plain and simple, a sit on top kayak holds more gear and is more customizable.
If you want to be able to carry a proper tackle box, lunch, three poles, some gadgets and a beer, then look no further than a sit on top.
Storage to consider on your kayak:
- Plenty of straps on the deck to hold tackle, life preserver, jacket, etc
- Possibly even a large open well on the deck to hold a tackle box, cooler or dry bag. Like the Pelican Strike 100X Angler Kayak
- Dry storage inside the hull with a large hatch door. Like the Wilderness Systems Ride 115X Kayak
- Rod Holders. Don’t consider a fishing kayak if there isn’t at least one rod holder already built in. Many have multiple holders built in with the option to add more if needed
- At-hand storage is equally important. Wouldn’t you like to keep all your tools and beverages right there at your disposal. A small tray is ideal for your interchangeable parts or maybe a few flies, some pliers and snips. You might also be interested in a cup holder or a place to mount your phone in case you are using any fishing apps (yes, that’s a thing)
Some sit in kayaks have attachable trays to solve this problem but nearly all sit on top kayaks have some between-leg storage.
While storage is fun, what you really want is the ability to customise.
You can add accessories like:
- Scotty Mount: with attachments like spinning rod holder, camera mount, compass/GPS mount this is a surefire accessory
- Anchor system: this can be a game change while waiting in that one perfect spot in the cove waiting for the perfect snipe
- Rudder: A range of rudder kits can be purchased to help with your steering and tracking capabilities
- Elevated seat. This accessory, only available for sit on top, is a game changer. Not only does it allow you to stand up much easier, but it allows for more comfort while casting or sitting for long periods
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100
And the Answer Is…
Great fishing can happen in a sit in kayak or a sit on top. There are clearly some advantages to both, so in a perfect world, you would have one of each.
You’d be set whether you’re fly fishing down your local stream or traversing great glacier lakes in Patagonia.
But this isn’t a perfect world, so one choice must be made and, in the great debate of sit on vs sit in kayaks, it seems clear that the beans tip the scale in the direction of.
With a broader body that allows for more comfort and movement, plenty of storage for knick knacks and “real gear”, more usability when it comes to larger fish or longer trips and the fact that you can stand up and pee, makes this a no brainer in the mind of this life long angler.