Paddle or Pedal Drive? – A Fishing Kayak Buying Guide

most popular models or brands of pedal and paddle fishing kayaks

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So, you’re ready to take the plunge into kayak fishing? That’s great! There’s nothing more enjoyable than silently gliding across the water, under your own power, in search of fish. When you first get started down the road of kayak adventure, the first roadblock you’ll encounter is the same as everyone’s – you don’t have a kayak yet. Or maybe you already do but are looking to trade up for one with more features.

Not so long ago, there existed only a handful of kayak options for anglers. Inventive anglers would often retrofit fishing accessories to whatever kayak they could get their hands on. Nowadays, thanks to steadily increasing demand, there are so many options it can make a newcomers head spin! Having options is great but looking at pictures of kayaks online and comparing specs on a spreadsheet can sometimes lead to FOMO (fear of missing out) or even worse, paralysis by analysis.

What’s important to remember is there is no such thing as a bad kayak, just kayaks better fit for specific purposes. Determining what factors are important to you will be the key to finding that perfect fishing kayak. There are a lot of design elements available across different kayak models and manufacturers, such as hull shapes, lengths, storage options, seating position, etc. but the one feature that will affect your decision (and your wallet) more than anything is your choice of propulsion.

A big advantage of paddles is that when the going gets shallow, you can keep going!

Paddle

Ah, tradition. The humble kayak dates back over 4000 years and there are some things that just don’t need improving. If you’re interested in paddling and touring as much as you are in fishing, I can confidently say a paddle kayak is for you.

There are a lot of pros to buying a traditional paddle kayak. First, they tend to be lighter to portage and easy to car-top. Being easy to maneuver is necessary if you are storing it in areas like your backyard or a storage shed, anywhere not close to your vehicle. Also, since there is no propeller hanging underneath, paddle kayaks have a shallow draft and allow for easy access to skinny water and tight areas.

Pedal drives may be hogging the kayak fishing spotlight but today’s paddle fishing kayaks are no slouches when it comes to outstanding features. They often include the same types of rod holders, seats and accessories you find on much more expensive boats for a fraction of the price.

Finally, the simplicity of a paddle kayak makes them a real pleasure to use. For those quick outings after work or on the weekends, it doesn’t get much easier than grabbing your light, easy to carry kayak, a paddle, PFD and fishing rod, throwing it all in the vehicle and heading to the lake.

Of course there are some cons to think about as well. As is often the case with kayaks, speed and stability are usually at odds with each other. A kayak that is fast and efficient on the water is typically long, narrow, and can feel tippy. A kayak that is considered stable is usually shorter and wider and will often be a bear to paddle. You typically can’t have one without giving up the other. If you are brand new to kayaking or want to be able to stand up and cast, a more stable kayak will be a better match. Long and narrow kayaks are a pleasure to paddle and will cover distance with ease, but you may not be able to stand up and sight fish once you reach your destination.

Casting, steering, even eating a sandwich are all within reach while you pedal to your spot!

Pedal

Pedal drive technology has propelled kayak fishing into a new age. As I’ve said, as a paddle kayak widens they become more stable but at the cost of being slower. You typically have to choose between speed and stability. With the invention of pedal drives you can now have your cake and eat it too. The biggest advantage of pedal drive fishing kayaks is that they can be both wide and fast. Meaning you can get to that fishing spot quickly then stand up and cast to your target without fear of falling in. If you are buying a kayak purely to catch fish then a pedal drive kayak is for you.

Another advantage is that moving the kayak forward is handled by your feet, freeing up your hands to do things like tie on lures, adjust settings on the fish finder or just have a snack. Hands-free operation also means you can cast a fishing rod and maintain control of the kayak at the same time. I can’t stress enough how easy boat control is with a pedal drive. It’s very intuitive. Since you have such fine control of your speed, it’s also a breeze to troll lures with. You are able to match your speed with the lure action quite easily, making it a deadly fish catching combination.

Covering water is also not a problem. Since you are using your the larger muscle groups in your legs to power the kayak you can be on the water much longer and go way further without the same level of fatigue. When I would tournament fish on my paddle kayak, I would be on the water for around 8 hours before I would be exhausted. Now that I’m in a pedal drive, I can be on the water the entire 12 hour day and still have energy to spare.

As for cons, well, pedal drives are expensive. A pedal drive fishing kayak will typically be double the cost of a comparable paddle kayak. Also, with the addition of extra plastic to make room for the drive units, pedal drive kayaks are heavy – making car topping and storage more of a challenge. Another thing to be mindful of is once you are back at shore or in shallow, weedy areas, you will have to quickly pull up the drive so you don’t get stuck or fill the prop with weeds. You’ll also find that every once in a while you will have to stop and clean debris and stray fishing line from the prop.

Conclusion

Of course, your decision is a personal one and will come down to the features you want and the price you are willing to pay. But my advice is, if you are a hardcore angler I would seriously suggest investing in the pedal drive. There are many advantages and, speaking from experience, it’s worth the extra expense. If you are a leisurely angler and interested as much in paddling as fishing, you will probably find more enjoyment in a paddle kayak. If my time on the water has taught me anything, its that there really is no best answer – both paddle and pedal drive kayaks have their place. Since I love kayak fishing so much, and see value in both types of kayak, I own one of each!

We are both excited to be out in the kayak!

My Kayaks:

Old Town Bigwater PDL 132 available though Aquabatics

Old Town Next available through MEC

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2 thoughts on “Paddle or Pedal Drive? – A Fishing Kayak Buying Guide”

  1. One of the most important things is the seat, need to be comfortable if you are going to be on the water for an extended period of time. A compromise is find a pedal kayak that you can take out the drive and have a removable plate for the opening, if you just want to paddle or to shallow for the prop. I am on my six kayak. Addicted.

    1. A good seat can definitely extend your time on the water. There are some kayaks that come with a plate to cover the drive hole, such as the Old Town Sportsman and Autopilot series. There are also quite a few kayaks with such a narrow drive opening that you don’t really need a plate, such as my previous Pescador Pilot. Thanks for the comment, Alan!

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