Some of the best anglers have a secret weapon… a boat. Fishing from a boat makes covering water easier and allows anglers to target fish over a large geographical area. Depending on the species, boats can help anglers catch more fish and have a more productive day on the water.

There are multitudes of viable boat options for the avid angler. Perhaps the two most popular, however, are the canoe and kayak. Canoes and kayaks are optimal for lake or river fishing and allow the angler to quietly move through the water. Although not as versatile as a boat with a motor, canoes and kayaks are perfect for navigating shallow coves or low-water rivers.

If you spend a lot of time fishing lakes, rivers, or even the ocean, a canoe or kayak can greatly enhance your experience in the outdoors. So whats the difference between canoe vs kayak fishing? There are pros and cons to both the canoe and kayak. As fishing boats, which one is better and why? 

In general, CANOES are the better choice for fishing in the following situations:

  • Lots of storage is needed
  • Multi-person adventures
  • Fly Fishing

and KAYAKS are generally better for:

  • Turbulent rivers or oceans
  • Covering large areas in a short amount of time
  • Shallow water or narrow channels

This article will detail the nuances of both the canoe and kayak, which works best in specific situations, and how to make the right decision when deciding which watercraft best suits your fishing style.


canoe vs kayak fishing

Canoes, originally built from birch bark by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, have been utilized for transportation for centuries. Canoes are still used for transportation in the contemporary boating world, although they’re more commonly associated with leisure. Propelled by paddles and one, two, or three people, canoes make an evening on any lake scenic and enjoyable.

Canoes also work well as a fishing vehicle. Fishing in a canoe allows the angler to cover more water and catch more fish. Canoes are generally well balanced and lend themselves to anglers who prefer to fish from the seated position. A canoe, especially flat bottom models, have ample room for fishing rods, tackle boxes, and any gear needed for a day on the water.


canoe vs kayak fishing

Similar to canoes, kayaks were originally built with wooden frames as vehicles of transportation. The design of the original kayak was different than the canoe. Instead of an open cutout boat concept, kayaks were made with a single hole and designed for one person. Many Native Americans used kayaks for hunting and fishing.

Today, kayaks share the same general design that originated with the Native Americans. Materials are different and two-person and even three-person kayaks are available but the design concept remains mostly the same. Kayaks are great for angling excursions on lakes, rivers, and even on the ocean.


One of the largest differences in boat design when comparing a canoe and kayak is the available storage space. If you’re an angler that tends to carry a lot of tackle or you’re planning on packing a tent and taking a multi-day fishing trip, storage space is important.

A canoe’s open top design means it’s easy to store rods and gear even with multiple people in the boat. Canoes also come in flat bottom designs which helps your tackle box stand upright and helps store other gear efficiently. Many canoes also have wooden seats and a wooden frame ideal for strapping down gear. Canoes are the ultimate multi-day fishing boat when considering storage space.

Kayak storage is a bit tougher. Because of the closed top design, kayaks generally don’t offer as much storage space as canoes. Many kayaks have a section behind the boat opening for tying in fishing rods or a tackle box, but it’s hard to put any fishing gear inside of the boat. Strapping gear to the top side of a kayak is also risky especially if you’re fishing in the ocean with large waves. Your gear may get wet!


The canoe is definitely a better option for the angler that carries a lot of gear. What about the angler that wants to target fish over a large area in a short period of time? If you like to quickly fish certain spots and cover a lot of water, a faster boat will work to your advantage.

The kayak is almost certainly the faster, more efficient watercraft in this situation. The slim design of the kayak means it cuts through the water well. A double-ended paddle also means paddling and steering are easy and efficient. A kayak is a great tool for the angler who likes to cover a lot of water in a lake or a large river.

Canoes are a little slower than kayaks and a bit harder to steer. The canoes bulky build is great for storage and a roomy boat experience, but its large design means it’s less efficient in the water than a kayak. Single-handed paddles also must be taken out of the water and switched from side to side to steer a canoe. If you’re fishing alone or with a friend, a one or two-person kayak is definitely the faster more efficient option.


canoe vs kayak fishingOne of the features that make canoes and kayaks such great fishing boats is their transportability. Larger motor boats require a trailer and necessitate multi-person launching and transportation efforts. Canoes and kayaks can be thrown on a car roof, strapped down, and easily transported from one watershed to another. If you’re an angler considering either a kayak or a canoe, transportability should be a consideration.

A canoe, in general, is both wider and longer than a kayak. Hoisting a canoe up to a car roof and strapping it down can be a tedious process. Canoes are awkward to handle because of their width and usually take two people to transport safely. Their large size also means they’re transported more easily with a larger vehicle like a truck or suburban.

Kayaks are a bit smaller which makes transporting them a little easier, especially when dealing with one person kayaks. Two-person kayaks can certainly get a little bulky and don’t fit as well on a smaller car. If you have a car rack or somewhere to strap a kayak to the roof of your vehicle, kayaks can fit on almost any car. A kayak is the way to go if you know you’re going to be fishing multiple pieces of water and transporting your boat on a regular basis.


Another obvious difference between canoes and kayaks is the way these boats are propelled forward. A motor with a propeller provides forward movement to a motorboat. With canoes and kayaks, however, manpower moves the boat through the water.

Canoes feature single-bladed paddles that push water backward on both sides of the boat. One advantage of single-bladed paddles is that they make steering a canoe easier than steering a kayak. Paddling on one side of a canoe pushes the canoe either left or right which also means that paddlers have to switch sides to keep the boat moving in a straight line. Canoe paddles are easy to store when an angler is ready to pick up his/her fishing rod.

Kayaks feature dual-bladed paddles that are used on both sides of the boat simultaneously. This makes straight line navigation easier in a kayak. If you’re fishing, however, a longer kayak paddle is harder to store when you’re ready to pick up your fishing rod.


Many anglers prioritize a stealthy approach when targeting spooky fish. Canoes and kayaks are great for sneaking up on fish because they don’t have a motor. If you’re fishing for a Redfish in the marsh or a Bass that’s laid up in the lily pads, a stealthy approach is important. Is a canoe or kayak better for sneaking up on fish?

Canoe vs kayak fishing is a tough comparison because both boats are phenomenal tools for sneaking up on fish. A canoe certainly has a wider design so generally, there’s more surface area in the water which is more likely to spook fish. That being said, when navigating in a canoe, an angler only has one paddle in the water at a time which is less likely to spook fish than a kayaker’s oscillating dual-finned paddle.

Intuitively, the more people in the boat, the more likely anglers are to spook fish. Boaters are making more noise and disturbing more water when two people are paddling instead of one.

Rivers vs. Lakes

Considering the character of the water you’re most likely to fish is important when deciding between canoe vs kayak fishing. Trout fishing on a turbulent river means the angler has to navigate around rocks, be conscious of rapids and choppy water, and transport a boat easily. An angler doesn’t have to be as conscious of rough water and quick boat redirection when fishing a calm lake without obstructions.

When navigating a river, it’s important to note that both boats are a viable option. Plenty of people fish out of a canoe while floating down rivers and an equal number of people utilize the design of a kayak. In terms of quick navigational changes and maneuverability, a kayak is easier to control in a river setting than a canoe. Kayaks also don’t take on water easily thanks to their closed-top design. When you get to the bottom of your float, kayaks are also easier to throw on the top of your car and transport.

Canoes are generally a better overall lake boat. A calm lake setting means the angler doesn’t have to quickly change direction to avoid rocks or worry about turbulent water splashing over the sides of the boat. Calm navigation makes canoeing on a lake peaceful, efficient, and a great way to catch fish.

Canoe vs Kayak Ocean Fishing

The ocean holds some large fish that are incredibly fun to catch either on a fly rod or a conventional rod. Many saltwater species will eat a lure or fly and jump out of the water or tear line off the reel. Most angler utilize a motor boat when fishing in the ocean because of the efficient power a motor supplies when moving from spot to spot in the surf. That being said, some anglers fish out of canoes and kayaks on the ocean, too.

Canoes and kayaks are best in ocean marshes or lagoons, places generally out of the wind and sheltered from weather and waves. It can be dangerous to find yourself in the open ocean in these small watercraft.

So what’s the comparison between canoe vs kayak fishing on on the ocean? Because of the wave danger, canoes can be dangerous in the ocean. An open-top design means that anglers run the risk of crashing waves filling the canoe with water. If you’re angling on the ocean in a canoe, stay close to shore or in calm water.

Anglers in kayaks have a bit more freedom to roam in the ocean because of the boat’s closed-top design. Waves don’t fill the boat with water as easily as they do in a canoe. Many kayaks also come with ‘skirts’ or waterproof covers for the hole in the kayak that the angler sits in. Skirts also help keep water out and anglers dry and safe on the ocean.

Conventional Fishing vs. Fly Fishing

Canoes and kayaks are great tools for conventional fishing but many anglers also use them to fly fish. Fly fishing requires more backcasting room and a boat that’s well-balanced to accommodate a shifting angler. Elevation above the water also allows fly anglers to better present fly lines and flies.

Canoes are generally better than kayaks for fly fishing. Canoes are more stable overall and provide a fly angler with ample room for backcasting, shifting positions, and fly line management. When stripping in a fly, fly anglers accumulate a pile of line before recasting. The bottom of a canoe is a great place to store this line in between casts.

Kayaks are a great option for conventional fishing. Without an open-top design, it’s usually hard to store line and adjust to make a cast with a fly rod in a kayak. That being said, it’s easy to throw casts with a conventional rod from the seated position in a kayak without a lot of space for lines and storage.

Group Outings

We’ve already talked about storage. The canoe is definitely a better watercraft for storing gear. But which is better between canoe vs kayak fishing with multiple people? Many people like to spend time on a lake or river with company including friends, dogs, and kids. If you want to take your family fishing (more than 3-4 people), it may be worth considering a boat upgrade. That being said, canoes and kayaks can fit a few friends on the water.

Fishing is almost always better when shared with good company. People usually enhance the fishing experience. Because canoes have more room, it’s relatively easy to include a dog or a group of kids. Most canoes have seats for up to three people which encourage the inclusion of friends in any outing. Even with three people, there is still room for a dog and some gear.

Kayaks also come in multi-person models. Two-person kayaks are most common and allow two anglers to comfortably navigate any lake, river, or ocean cove. Again, because of its closed-top design, a kayak isn’t the best option for bringing a furry friend on your fishing trip.

Both boats have ample space for multiple anglers. It’s worth noting, however, that things can get a little hectic when more than one person is fishing at the same time in these small watercraft. Be conscious of your backcasts and forward casts when fishing with other people in the boat.

Refreshed Designs

The design of these two boats has been tweaked and reworked over their long history. Today, fishing-specific canoes and kayaks exist with new designs and sleek features for the avid canoe/kayak angler. These new models are worth considering if you’re looking for a fishing-only watercraft.

Kayaks come in a variety of designs. From inflatable kayaks to open-top models, new designs have reimagined old kayak design to cater to anglers. Inflatable kayaks are a great option for short outings on calm water. The major benefit provided by inflatable kayaks is transportability. Easy to inflate and deflate, these kayaks pack down and can be stored in the trunk of any car.

New canoe designs utilize lightweight, durable materials to create a canoe with decreased weight for improved performance on the water. These new designs work well if you’re planning to portage a canoe from one piece of water to another. Improved durability makes fishing rocky rivers easier and more accessible without the worry of putting a hole in the boat.


When considering canoe vs kayak fishing, another thing to think about is trolling. Many anglers utilize a technique called trolling when lake or river fishing. Trolling is when an angler puts his/her line out behind the boat then uses the forward motion of the boat to give the lure life in the water. This works well on motor boats with ‘trolling’ motors and is most often performed using conventional tackle.

Trolling allows anglers to cast out line, secure the rod somewhere on the boat, and continue to paddle or power the boat until the rod starts to bend signaling a fish. This can be a great way to cover water and find fish in canoes and kayaks, too.

A kayak is great for trolling, especially if the particular kayak model has a place to put a fishing rod in the back half of the boat. A slow, easy dual-bladed stroke propels the kayak forward and gives life to the lure. The rod won’t interfere with propulsion if the rod is directly behind the angler. The ability to speed the kayak up and slow it down also lends itself to solid trolling performance.

An angler can also troll in a canoe, although it’s not as conducive as a kayak for putting your rod down and paddling with your line in the water. Most canoes don’t have a spot that will securely hold your rod while you paddle. Again, anglers may hit the fishing rod with the paddle if the rod is not directly behind the angler in a canoe. Some anglers simply attach rod holders to the sides of the canoe toward the back of the boat which makes securing the rod easier.

The Case for Both

If you can’t decide which boat fits your fishing needs the best, it may be worth considering the purchase of both a canoe and kayak. The two boats have enough differences that an angler could get use out of both. You could use a kayak as your river boat and a canoe as a lake boat if you live in an area with a lot of rivers and lakes.

Another benefit to having both boats is that you don’t have to transport one boat as often. If you live on a lake or a river, keep one boat on your home water and transport one when you decide to fish a different piece of water. Many anglers like to travel and having two boats affords anyone the ability to transport a boat and always have a boat in the water. Storage may be difficult during the off season but if you have enough room for storage, a canoe and kayak setup would help any angler take his/her fishing game to the next level.

Canoe vs Kayak Fishing Conclusion

Both kayaks and canoes are stellar fishing vehicles. Both boats allow anglers to access water that would otherwise be inaccessible in a motor boat or from the shore. Canoes and kayaks also provide the angler with the ability to explore, enjoy lakes/rivers/oceans recreationally, and get closer to the fish.

A kayak’s closed-top design provides anglers with the ability to navigate turbulent rivers or a wavy ocean without worrying about filling the boat with water. A canoe’s open-top design, on the other hand, provides ample room for storage and is more conducive to multi-day fishing trips.

Kayaks are generally more sleek and user-friendly – easier to paddle and great for cover lots of water in a short amount of time. Canoes are a little slower but more well-balanced and efficient for multi-person adventures. A kayak’s sleek design also helps the angler navigate shallow water and small water situations.

All-in-all, both boats are great for casting either a fly rod or a conventional rod. While canoes are a better choice in some situations and kayaks are a better choice in others, both boats allow anglers to access new water and make the most out of any fishy outing.

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