2023 Kayak Buying Guide

by Chris McCotter

    The rise of the person-powered kayak has been nothing short of spectacular. Long the exclusive realm of Hobie and Native, now a number of other kayak manufacturers have entered this category offering “powered” kayak models as well as motor drives and even a jet pump motor.

   Our region is blessed with plenty of rivers, big and small that lend themselves to good kayaking. On most weekends you’ll find a colorful armada of kayaks plying the riffles and eddies. Entry-level boats (we’re not talking about big box kiddie pool kayaks here) are relatively inexpensive, durable; require no bank payment or fuel and very little maintenance. They permit anglers to fish areas not always accessible by larger, more conventional fishing boats. 

  An entry level fishing kayak will run you $799-$999. The next level up runs from $999 to $1,600. Top-of-the-line pedal-powered and tricked out kayaks push $2,800 and beyond.

  Plenty of design elements make each of the following lines stand apart but you will note some features that are standard across manufacturers’ models. When you are ready to purchase your fishing kayak, do check with the local dealers first. You can often test paddle and get accessories rigged by pros when you buy from a dealer. You won’t get any of that from Tractor Mart.

1. 3 Waters

  This division of Feel Free Kayaks specializes in affordable fishing kayaks. 

   The Big Fish 105 V2 offers all the same features, stability, comfort and performance as its older brother, the Big Fish 120 but in a smaller (10’5” long and 33.5” wide, weighs 89 lbs., 380-lb. capacity) and more manageable 10 foot version. It’s a good choice for anglers with limited transportation and storage options that still want the capacity of much larger kayaks. The new V2 version now features the EZ Rider seat, offering more back and bottom coverage. The cathedral tri-hull features two outer pontoons along with a central pontoon with deep channels in between offering incredible primary and secondary stability. 

All that comfort and stability aside, the Big Fish is made for fishing featuring the UNI-Track accessory attachment rail system, two built in flush mounted rod holders, horizontal rod storage with rod tip protection, a sturdy reinforced standing platform, storage space along the gunwales and wide open bow and stern storage areas for easy gear access. Another key feature is the removable Sonar Pod, designed to help you install electronics such as fish finders with ease.

  The Big Fish line up also includes the Big Fish 120 V2 (non pedal drive), Big Fish 103 and 108 (pedal drive) models. You can see the 2023 3 Waters kayaks at Lake Anna Outfitters 540.894.3540 at Lake Anna,  Journey Outdoors in Lexington 540-461-8816.

2. Bonafide

  The new Bonafide RVR119 (11’9” long, 35” wide, weighs 85 lbs. with a 425-lb. capacity) offers a blend of maneuverability with fishing stability, confidence and tracking, using the unique Bonafide river hull with a drop skeg system – when the skeg is deployed, the RVR can track straight across flat water and with the skeg retracted the RVR is the definitive river fishing kayak. The skeg also offers the added benefit of giving you the ability to better control your drift in current or wind. In moving water conditions, paddlers will immediately notice how responsive and maneuverable the RVR can be going up and down river. The RVR has a distinct kick rocker shape in the bow for quiet and efficient up river attainments. At the bow, there are three grab points: The Fat Grip handle, Bow Strap and right at the nose of the boat hull there are molded in undercling grip areas. In addition, a drag strap can be attached to the Fat Grip handle. At the midship, there are three more grab points: one handle on each side of the RVR plus a handle directly behind the seat. The handle behind the seat is really nice for sliding the kayak into the back of a pickup, on a trailer or up a riverside embankment. At the stern there is an additional Fat Grip handle built in flush with the shape of the RVR. There are dual replaceable skid plates on the hull to allow the kayak to be more balanced in dragging (i.e. keeps your gear from falling out of the kayak AND makes it more efficient). These skid plates protect the hull and can be replaced overtime as they wear down. The RVR was built to accept the Bonafide Sidekick Wheel system. Bonafide also has the SS120, SS127, RS117, EX123 and P127 kayaks. Appomattox River Co. 1.800.442.4837. 

3. Feel Free

   The Moken 10 Pedal kayak is new this season. This is a 10’4” long, 35”  wide boat that weighs just 72 pounds (without pedal drive) with a 425-lb. capacity. This boat comes with the Rapid Pedal Drive System, the Beaver Tail Rudder the, Rapid Steering System, the EZ Rider Seat and is available in desert camo, ocean camo, green flash and winter camo. It also has the UNI-Track accessroy attachment system and the famous Feel Free wheel-in-the-keel  should make this a sought after pedal drive for under $1,500.

   Feel Free also has the Moken 10 Lite kayak new this sesson This is a 10’2” long, 30.4” wide kayak that weighs just 59.6 pounds and comes with the EZ Rider seat. See the 2023 Feel Free kayaks at Lake Anna Outfitters 540.894.3540, Journey Outdoors 540-461-8816 and Oak Tree Outfitters 804.815.4669.

 4. Hobie

 The newest member of the Passport line of kayaks, is the Mirage Passport 10.5 R (10’5”, 34” wide, weighs 65 lbs. with 325-lb. capacity). Equipped with an all-new rotomolded hull construction and tons of features, it offers extreme stability and impressive performance on the water plus a new look. The easy-to-use steering system and twist-and-stow rudder make navigating through tight waterways or maneuvering around obstacles above the water as simple as ever. The powerful and patented MirageDrive with Glide Technology and Kick-Up Fins allows for smooth sailing in all conditions. Rocks, stumps, or suddenly shallow water? No problem. The Passports’ revolutionary Kick-Up Fins collapse on impact and redeploy when the obstacle is clear, ensuring those underwater nuisances don’t slow you down or interrupt your ride. There’s also a 12’ Mirage Passport model. The Hobie Mirage Pro Angler boats with the 360 and 180 Mirage drives remain one of the most popular kayak options among serious kayak anglers. There are 12’ and 14’ models.  Backyard Boats  Woodbridge. 703.491.3188

5. Hoodoo Kayaks

  The new Hoodoo Tempest 120P has all the great features of the preceding years, but with upgraded features that make it even better. Pack even more gear with the new weight capacity of 450lbs. No longer will you need to purchase an upgraded rudder because every Tempest 120P comes with the Blade Rudder. The front hatch storage is now even larger than before, and more easily accessible. The side handles are now molded into the kayak for greater transporting ease and security. The pedal drive system and the paddle are included. And best of all, for a limited time, This boat is 12’ long, 33” wide and weighs 85 lbs. Oak Tree Outfitters, 804.815.4669. www.oaktreeoutfitters.net

6. Jackson Kayaks

  Jackson has a popular line of fishing kayaks available including the Big Rig FD, Big Rig HD, Bite FD, Coosa FD, Big Tuna, Bite Angler, Coosa, Coosa HD, Kilroy HD, Liska, Mayfly and YuPik.

   The Knarr FD (13’9” long and 37” wide) is a kayak 100% dialed in on the challenges presented by oceans and large lakes. 

  The Flex Drive Mark IV is the product of four years of constant evolution. The latest version of Jackson’s pedal drive is faster, quieter and more durable than ever before.         

  Tall gunnels provide protected gear storage for rods and gear. The new ‘yard sale proof’ rod management system is capable of securing six rods inside the kayak’s gunnels, keeping them safe through launching, landing or when not in use.

  Jackson’s TriTrak is factory installed around the entirety of the boat, providing almost unlimited gearing solutions. Using the channels in the TriTrack, installing electronics and hiding the cables out of the way is a breeze.

  The bow and stern is designed with trolling and electric motor installation in mind. This is due to an adaptable four bolt pattern on the stern and a flattened, mountable area on the bow along with geometry to add foot controlled steering.

  Jackson’s EZ Hi-lo seating system takes comfort to new levels and allows you to raise and lower your seat with one hand. 

7. Native

  The new Native Slayer Propel Max 10 is said to be the most compact, full featured boat on the market. The boat measures 10’ long, 34.15” wide, weighs 75 pounds and holds 400 pounds (small enough to fit in a truck bed but with the features of a bigger boat).

  Standard features include an adjustable and elevated seat, under seat sliding drawer, BMX grips, electronics-ready, and extended rudder for great tracking and turning, horizontal rod storage, rockered bow design to cut chop, recessed transducer plus stern anchoring and motor-ready. All of this for under  $2,799 with the Propel 701 Series pedal drive made from marine grade anodized aluminum with a five-year warranty. Native also offers the Titan Propel line and the Falcon line of fishing kayaks. New is the Ultimate FX hybrid line.

  The Ultimate FX12 hybrid fishing kayak offers the best of a canoe and a kayak with sturdy standing ability and easy loading. These unique features gives the Ultimate FX Series a cult-like following. Fore- and- aft multi-adjustable seating provide for proper trim, plus high and low seating positions allow you to paddle out of the wind in the low position and simply lift and relocate for a high fishing/sight-casting positions. The patented, redesigned Tunnel Hull allows more foot comfort when standing and unmatched stability. Backyard Boats  Woodbridge. 703.491.3188

8. Nu Canoe

  The Nu Canoe Frontier is the ultimate hybrid kayak, designed from the hull up for serious anglers and hunters. Whether you are fly fishing in saltwater, bass fishing in a river, or hunting in the marshes, Frontier 12 will maximize your experience. There are five models available: the F10, the Flint, The Frontier 12, the Unlimited and the Pursuit. Most now feature top load aluminun tracks.

 Green Top Sporting Goods. 804.550.2188 www.greentophuntfish.com. 

9. Old Town

  The long-time kayak manufacturer has many models available with power, pedal or paddle propulsion, the most popular in the region being the Topwater line and the Sportsman line. The Topwater line up consists of paddle-powered 106 and 120 models and the pedal-powered 106 PDL and 120 PDL. The Sportsman line is nine models strong; the AutoPilot136, the AutoPilot120, the BigWater PDL132, the 106 power by Minn Kota, the PDL 120, the PDL 106, the Salty PDL 120, the BigWater 132, the 120 and 106.

  The New Sportsman 106 is powered by a 45-lb. thrust Minn Kota with Spot Lock! It features the Old Town XL rudder, powerboat style throttle, thru the hull wiring and a lifetime hull warranty.  

 The Limited Edition Gray Ghost Sportsman 106 was created to commemorate Old Town’s 125th anniversary. The boat is 10’6” long and 37” wide, weighs 121 lbs. with all accessories and has a capacity of 525  lbs.

  With the Old Town Minn Kota power kayaks, anglers can motor to a fishing spot faster, then hold position over the hole commanding the kayak with a touch of the thumb using the Bluetooth connected i-Pilot remote. Additionally, the trolling motor combines with foot brace steering for truly hands-free fishing and exceptional maneuverability. A two-position, removable premium seat constructed from dual-layer Textilene is durable, UV resistant and easy to clean. There are four 18” accessory tracks, two forward-facing and two rear-facing flush mount rod holders, non-slip EVA foam deck pads, shallow water anchor mounting inserts, tournament-ready channels secure a fish measuring board with in-hull storage when not in use, extra large rudder that provides excellent boat control in forward and reverse, lift assist helps deploy and stow motor quickly in shallow water or when launching and landing and the 24 lbs. motor console can be removed for transport. 

10. Seastream

  The Seastream Angler 120 PD has been one of this company’s most popular kayaks since it’s release a couple years back. At $1,299 for a pedal drive 12-footer, it is a price point kayak with a good range of features.

  The Angler 120 PD was designed for the dedicated kayak angler who’s not only looking for the most in angler ready features, comfort, convenience and stability but also the option to put down their paddle for a true hands-free experience. This kayak was specially designed to accommodate the Rapid Pedal Drive, featuring the smooth steer system, combined with the oversized Beaver Tail rudder for the ultimate propulsion experience.

  Angler-ready features include the UNI-Track accessory system, flush mounted rod holders, rod tip protection for horizontal rod storage, oversized tank well area and the ability to stand with confidence when casting or reeling one in and the EZ Rider multi-position seat wide seat. This boat measures 12’3” long, 35” wide, weighs 97 pounds and holds up to 400 pounds. Lake Anna Outfitters 540.894.3540.

11. Vanhunks

   Like its bigger brother, the Zambezi 10ft kayak, designed to be perfect for both the fisherman and reactional paddler, at 10’ long, 32” wide. Vanhooks are manufactured from very tough single rotomolded 5mm Polyethylene, the Zambezi is is fitted with a rudder system that can be operated by either the foot pedal system or the handheld control positioned on the side.   

 At the stern of the Zambezi, there is a large tank well for storing gear, and this has a cross-braced bungee cord to ensure that your equipment stays safely in place. There is an additional toolbox in front of the raised aluminum seating that can mount your fish finder and easily store your battery pack in the hatch. A scupper port with a 4mm protective cover at the exit point underneath the kayak protects your transducer when mounted on the brass inserts. Once the transducer is mounted, you can run a short line up to the toolbox above, and this will keep the deck neat and free of long cables allowing you more space to fish and paddle.

  Should you wish to free up your hands while paddling, there is the option to remove the toolbox and replace it with a Fin or Prop drive. With the Fin or Prop drive installed, your hands can get busy casting out a lure or simply snapping a great picture on your phone or camera.Oak Tree Outfitters, 804.815.4669. www.oaktreeoutfitters.net

12. Vibe

  New this year for Vibe is the Makana 100 (10’ long and 33” wide) complimenting the Shearwater 125, the Vibe Cubera 120 Hybrid, the Vibe Sea Ghost (130 and 110), the Yellowfin (130T, 120 and 100).

  The Makana 100 is notable because it features the X-Drive and Vibe rudder, Hero 2.0 seat, 5 mm deck padding, x tackle tray slots, paddle port and protected transducer port. Oak Tree Outfitters, 804.815.4669. www.oaktreeoutfitters.net

12. Wilderness Systems

 New from Wilderness this year is the Radar series a 115 and a 135 boat, both Wilderness Systems’ first tri-powered kayak with paddle, power and pedal capabilities. The Radar features S.M.A.R.T. Hull Technology that combines Stability, Maneuverability, Acceleration, Responsiveness and Tracking throughout the entire design for ultimate performance in multiple water environments. In addition to a flat platform for standing and freedom of movement, the Radar boasts state-of-the-art outfitting including expansive SlideTrax™ rails, a multitude of storage opportunities, and scupper options to deploy the Helix MD™ Motor Drive, the Helix PD™ Pedal Drive and even multiple electronics options including down-imaging, side-scanning or both. When utilizing the Helix PD™, a built-in steering control system affords easy navigation and hands-free fishing.

  The Rader 115 is 11’8” long, 34.5” wide, weighs 85 lbs. and hold up to 450 lbs. New features for the Radar 115 include: a center hatch storage bin, silent traction kit for Radar.

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