Canoe vs Kayak Fishing, Which is Better?

canoe vs kayak fishing

History and Origins

Throughout the history of mankind, boats in different forms were used to navigate impassable waterways. It was a way to reach food that was otherwise inaccessible and to haul the takings back home.

What Are Canoes and Where Did They Originate?

Canoes are open vessels made from a whole range of materials depending on the location that they originated from.

indonesian canoe

Indonesian Tree Trunk Canoe

Canoes are found all around the world and were traditionally a mode of transport for people, goods and for fishing. Being that they are easy for tribesman to carve out of tree trunks, they had a surprisingly similar design around the planet. Their elongated shape made it easy to move swiftly through the water while still being able to carry a substantial amount of weight.


Fishing Canoe, India

What Are Kayaks and Where Were They First Made?

Kayaks originated in the arctic and were developed by the Inuit tribes as a hunting and fishing vessel operated by one person. They were a mainly closed vessel, usually sealed with dried animal hide to keep the operator dry and warm from on the icy arctic waters.

Traditional Inuit

Traditional Inuit

Modern Canoes and Kayaks


As all things evolve, so did the use of canoes and kayaks. Nowadays canoeing and kayaking is no longer just a mode of transport, it has become a great recreational activity and there is even canoe and kayak racing on an Olympic level.

Naturally technological advancements have made a lot of changes to the original vessels, although they both still keep those inherent qualities of their historical counterparts.

One of the recreational activities which has really taken off in the last decade is Kayak fishing. It has become decidedly more popular than Canoe fishing over the last decade…

man on boat

…but why are kayaks more popular?

What’s The Main Difference?

The primary difference is versatility. A canoe can only really be used on lakes and ponds whereas as kayak can be used on white water rivers and rougher seas.  Rough water could sink a canoe but a kayak, with it’s cavities sealed, is near impossible to sink.

main difference

A kayak also has less drag and moves through the water faster and more smoothly.

Deciding between the two is a matter of taste. If you prefer a tranquil, more traditional experience, the canoe is the better choice whereas if you prefer mobility and functionality, a kayak is a must.

Modern versions both have ample space for fishing gear and tackle as well as other supplies you’ll need on your trip.

Canoe Fishing

fishing canoe

Basic Principles

Canoes come in many different shapes and sizes, from solo- to family sized vessels. They are motored by man power using a single paddle oar, however new ideas have included small trolling motors to the rear of the boat for propulsion.

Most modern fishing canoes still have that classic Native American curved look, but with the additional modifications for fishing purposes. Canoes are more suitable for lakes or slow moving rivers. Being open vessels, they are definitely not suited to going out into the ocean and passing over waves or high winds, where they will succumb and easily sink.

Equipping the Canoe

Any basic canoe can be equipped quite easily for fishing. Mae sure you have the correct weight fly rod for what you’re catching.

You can paddle a canoe from a kneeling position for more stability but it may help to find a canoe with a low seat installed in the hull. This will give your knees a bit of a break while still giving you good stability and balance. A dedicated seat will also mean less moving around and changing positions while casting and reeling in.

A small battery operated trolling motor can be rigged to the back of a canoe very easily and a basic rack to hold your fishing rods in place is also a great idea. The nice thing about an old-fashioned, wood canoe, is that you can literally just toss a cooler box and tackle backpack into the hull without having to tie them down in any way.

Some specialized, commercially available fishing canoes come equipped with everything you need, sometimes even including two pontoons on either side, which make it super stable and almost impossible to tip over.


canoe fishing glacier national park

Canoe Fishing Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in Montana has some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers for canoe fishing. The park is the perfect place to enjoy a classic fishing trip in the most spectacular surroundings.

Kayak Fishing

Basics Principles

Kayaks are rugged and can withstand quite a beating from the elements. The hull is slightly shallower and more streamlined than the deeper and wider canoe.

The Basics

The majority of fishing kayaks are closed vessels with a cockpit where the fisherman sits which is sealed by a membrane that fits over the fisherman’s waist and seals around a rim on the deck of the kayak.

This affords the angler the freedom to paddle through waves and rapids of big rivers without the chance of sinking the kayak, something not possible with a canoe. The kayak is paddled with a double bladed oar and is much easier to manoeuvre because of its streamlined shape and design.

Equipping the Kayak


Kayak fishing is a huge sport around the world today and the advancements made in the equipment is awesome. If you want to get into kayak fishing as a pastime, it’s good advice to set yourself up with a kayak that has adequate space and connection points to attach rods, gear and other supplies. You can even attach a fishfinder GPS combo. (We’ve reviewed the best Fishfinder GPS Combo options here.)

Different Types of Kayaks for Fishing

Freshwater Kayaks

There are two types.

“Sit On Top” – Stillwater kayaks are usually designed that the fisherman sits on top of the kayak in a depression on the deck. It’s a fairly basic vessel that will have a place to hold your rods and will have a waterproof dry-well to store equipment.

“Sit In” – Moving water kayaks usually have sealed cockpits for the angler to sit in. On most rivers you will get swamped with water or have to pass through rapids at some point, so the sealed cockpit, waterproof dry-wells and rod fixtures are essential on a river fishing kayak.

Saltwater Kayaks

Saltwater kayaks are really built to handle the elements. They are made according to the highest safety standards and are equipped to handle big fish in adverse conditions. Anglers today are catching world record fish like Sailfish and Marlin from their fishing kayaks.

These kayaks are equipped with dry-wells to keep equipment dry and rod fixtures to keep rods in place while paddling. They also have fixtures for fish-finders and depth sonars which are essential devices for deeper water and offshore fishing. Some options have a foot-paddling system built in which propels the kayak with foot pedals.

If you going out into the ocean you should also have a coast guard approved emergency signal with you. This could be a flare or an approved emergency whistle. Safety is obviously a top priority for all kayak fishermen.

Easy Travel, Inflatable Options

Inflatable kayaks are easy to travel with and can be inflated and deflated with the help of an electric air-pump.

Some Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards can also be used for fishing and can easily roll up into the trunk of a car. Special models even have removable seats so you can essentially “kayak” on top of the SUP.

Kayak Fishing Destinations

Shelter Cove in North California is an awesome Saltwater kayak fishing destination offering a few great edible fish species. Chesapeake Bay, Virginia is a premium redfish and striped bass fishery which will provide you with hours of tight line sport fishing!

kayak fishing chesapeake bay

Kayak Fishing Chesapeake Bay


MarcelAbout the Author

Marcel Terblanche is a keen fly fisherman and fly fishing guide with unmistakable passion for nature and the outdoors. He’s incredible wealth of experience in fishing stretches along the Southern African coast right into the cool rivers found around the Cape Winelands and beyond.


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