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Paddle, Pedal or Motor? How to Select a Kayak Best For You

The beautiful part about kayak fishing is you can buy it, rig it and use exactly how you want.

Paddle, Pedal or Motor? How to Select a Kayak Best For You

Kayak fishing, since its inception, has grown and evolved rapidly. Cheaper kayaks, expensive kayaks; small kayaks, big kayaks; pedal kayaks, paddle kayaks and kayaks that are capable of being outfitted with a motor for faster and more efficient mobility. But not all kayaks are created equal. The best way to approach your kayak selection is based on how you fish as an angler and the priorities you have on the bodies of water that you fish.

Paddle Kayaks

When it comes to boat simplicity and hard-to-access waters, the paddle kayak allows anglers to fish as skin-and-bones as one could by fishing from the bank. For anglers that consider minimal gear and weight especially for hard-to-reach fisheries, this option makes a lot of sense.

Only requiring a kayak and paddle, the methods of transportation for this style of kayak fishing is much simpler. Throw it in the back of the truck, on top of the car or even store it in your trunk if you choose an inflatable model.

paddle kayak with Drew Gregory
A paddle kayak is a fantastic way to ply tough-to-access waters that most anglers can’t get to. Photo courtesy of Drew Gregory.

With each style of kayak fishing, there are, of course, negatives. The paddle kayak specializes in backwater, skinny water, and hard-to-reach areas, but on bigger, more vast fisheries it can be very vulnerable to weather and rough water. Windy conditions can make this method of kayak fishing quite frustrating.

Gear required for fishing from a paddle kayak: Kayak, paddle, PFD (personal flotation device) and a rod and reel.

Cost: $200 to $2,000

Pedal Kayaks

For the kayak angler looking to be more mobile and hands-free, the pedal kayak is a great option to be able to cover water quickly and get in a decent workout! Being able to access skinny, hard-to-reach places while also being much more efficient in offshore fishing scenarios—the pedal kayak is the most universal option for anglers that find themselves fishing in a commingle of environments.

Pedal kayaks aren’t just a hull of plastic, they require a little more infrastructure to be able to maneuver correctly therefore requiring you to bring a little bit more gear when going to fish. But allowing anglers to fish in windier conditions hands-free can be such an advantage and much more enjoyable for the fishing experience if that is the style the angler prefers.

hobie mirage drive 360
Pedal-driven systems combine simplicity with the ability to cover water effectively and even get a little exercise.

Downsides to this method can be that pedal kayaks aren’t necessarily ideal in heavy vegetation, extremely shallow water and if they don’t have a kick-up drive, they’re unable to go over timber, rock and other hard submerged cover. If you choose this method, it would be very wise to always have an emergency tool kit in case there is any repairable damage to your pedal drive.

Gear required for fishing from a pedal kayak: Kayak, pedals (drive system), paddle, PFD, rod-and-reel.

Cost: $2,000 to $5,500

Kayaks with Electric Motors

At the top of the kayak hierarchy, there are kayak anglers that are very dedicated to the sport and want to build their rig out to the fullest in efforts to be extremely efficient with their time on the water. The biggest advantage to running a motor on a kayak is maneuverability. With the motor and the right battery, the amount of water that can be covered without exerting physical effort does not compare to that of a pedal and paddle kayak.


There are two main different rigging options for motors on kayaks: bow-mounted and stern-mounted—although Old Town offers a couple models with pre-rigged Minn Kota trolling motors built into the hull. If an angler is looking to fish specific offshore cover—bow-mounted motors are a great option to maximize efficiency with boat positioning, especially if the motor has a spot-lock or anchor mode that allows the kayak to stay fixed on a waypoint at the touch of a remote. For anglers looking to cover water and be able to reach farther distances without exerting physical effort, stern-mounted motors are more ideal.

old town casey reed kayak
A motor-driven kayak is a fun and effective way to cover water looking for willing fish. Photo courtesy of Casey Reed.

The downside to this method of kayak fishing is that there is a lot more rigging involved. A motor means more wires, more electrical components and parts needed for it to work, which also means that it is more expensive and there is more opportunity for parts to break or fail. But if rigged correctly and properly taken care of, this is a great method for anglers to be very efficient with their time on the water.

Gear required for fishing from a motorized kayak: Kayak, paddle, PFD, motor, battery for motor, motor registration (state pending), rod-and-reel.

Cost: $2,000 to $6,500 pending kayak/motor combination.

Kayak fishing can be a lot of fun no matter your skill level—it’s an easy means to get on the water. Even for those who’ve been fishing for years, it can be a great way to get back to the roots of where the fishing passion began. Matching the kayak to your preferred style of fishing will truly increase the experience and make for some amazing days on the water for years to come.

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