Fishing from a kayak fully involves all the faculties of an angler. Not only does it require knowledge of tackle and fishing methods, but it also calls for hands-on paddling skills. To find success, it's essential to get the best fishing kayak possible.
Whether beginning kayak anglers or experienced ones, there's an ideal kayak to suit your needs. This guide will walk through high-quality, budget-friendly kayaks to suit all kinds of fishing situations for under $500.
Max Weight Capacity
Lifetime Tamarack Angler
Sit on top
Sun Dolphin Excursion
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
Sit inside, inflatable
Driftsun Voyager 2
Sit Inside, inflatable
400 - 450 Lbs.
Sun Dolphin Journey
Sit on top
Types of Fishing Kayaks
Sit-In vs. Sit-on-Top vs. Stand-Up
Kayaks with a wall higher than the seat are called sit-in, and they're best suited for more intense kayaking since they keep spray out and generally perform better. Sit-on kayaks have no guard and are better for beginners since they are more stable.
Kayaks you can stand up on are best for really experienced anglers who want a better vantage point for casting or sight fishing. White water rapids and ocean environments usually call for a sit-in while calmer waters suit sit-on and stand-up kayaks just fine.
Inflatable vs. Hard-shell
It may seem like inflatable kayaks would be novelty pool toys, but they’ve grown in sophistication to the current day models that nearly rival hardshell kayaks for durability. Even under $500, a quality inflatable fishing kayak can handle landing on a rocky shore. Kayakers who traverse rougher waters still prefer hardshell kayaks.
As a general rule, inflatable kayaks don't have narrow, sharp hulls to help them cut through waves and strong currents. For freshwater lakes and slow-moving rivers where anglers like to go, though, they’re great because they’re so portable.
Single vs. Tandem
Like bicycles, tandem kayaks are built for two or more paddlers. Anglers who want more room to stretch out or store their fishing gear sometimes buy tandem kayaks with removable seats and take one seat out.
Taller people might find this is the best way to fit comfortably inside a budget kayak. Tandem kayaks are great for partners who like to go fishing together, but they’re also handy to have around if you want to introduce kayaking to somebody without bringing a second single-person kayak along.
Pedal-Drive vs. Paddles
Paddles are the tried-and-true way to pilot a kayak, and they still offer more control for rougher conditions, but pedal-driven craftwork nicely for flat, calm water. For anglers who like to glide across lakes to a favorite fishing spot and want to keep their hands free for trolling or monitoring their onboard electronics, a pedal-driven kayak is a great solution. It's even possible to bring a paddle along on a pedal-driven kayak, but most just steer with a rudder when they need to.
Important Kayak Buying Considerations
The salt content of the water is less important with kayaks than the water conditions are. Rough water requires a kayak that’s built with great tracking, control, and stability. To cut through rough waves or to move really fast, a sharp-angled front is required.
Some budget kayaks don’t have watertight hatches or storage compartments. In the event the yak tips, gear will get wet and possibly wind up in the water. It’s easy to add or construct little upgrades to tether gear to the yak and add floats so you can retrieve them in case of a flip over.
Kayak Type & Material
Most inflatable kayaks are sit-in or sit-on with slight edges for spray guards. It's rare, for now, to find inflatable stand-on-top kayaks. Hardshell kayaks come in every shape and size. As you look at more and more kayaks, you'll also notice that hardshell kayaks almost always have more storage space and are more likely to have watertight space for gear and personal items.
Kayak Size vs. User Weight
Kayaks vary in the amount of room in the cockpit and how comfortable they are to use. Some things that make yaks comfier for more extended periods are quality seat cushions and adjustable seats that offer more back support.
For taller or heavier anglers and kayakers, it's essential to look at the maximum weight capacity of the kayak and the footrests. Most will have adjustable footrests for taller folks, but the capacity can't be altered, so make sure to look for that figure before you buy.
Mobility & Portability
The yak itself can also be too heavy or too long for one person to carry. Bear in mind that, unless you’re lucky enough to live right on the water, you will have to get your yak onto and off of either a trailer or a car rack. There are some DIY methods of adding wheels to the back of a kayak so one person can quickly get them into the water, but if the kayak is too heavy in the first place, it might not help much to add wheels.
Storage Features & Deck Space
For anglers, having storage space on a kayak is really important. Rods, reels, and additional tackle all need to fit somewhere they can be accessed from the cockpit. They also need to be secured in the event the yak tips. There are plenty of easy modifications you can make to a kayak, such as a fishing crate and adding additional tethers. There are also tons of kayakers who have used such techniques who post helpful how-tos all over the internet.
Some additional things that you may need are an anchor, a paddle, and a keel. An extra aftermarket rudder may give you better tracking and more control over the direction of the craft. An anchor can also help if you want to fish at one particular spot. DIY anchor trolleys are really easily added onto kayaks.
Many kayaks come with paddles, but some come with pretty flimsy ones. A custom paddle can add lots of comfort to your kayaking trips. You may also want to improve the cushioning in your yak’s cockpit, depending on what’s already there.
Price & Warranty
As this guide proves, there are plenty of great kayaks out there for less than $500. That’s still not money you just want to spend willy nilly, though. For peace of mind, most top kayak brands offer warranties.
Almost all of them protect against faults from the manufacturing process, and the really good warranties offer protection against even more. It's most likely to be a one-year warranty, but some will provide warranties with over a longer period, or even for the lifetime of the product, but usually only to the original buyer.
6 Best Fishing Kayaks Under $500 Reviewed
1. Lifetime Tamarack Angler
Our Top Pick
Sit on top
Max Weight Capacity
The Lifetime Tamarack Angler requires little maintenance and can be customized and turned into just about the best sit on top fishing kayak you can find with small DIY modifications. We've also named it the best fishing kayak under $500.
What you get from the factory is impressive enough. It has plenty of storage space in its two dry wells, and both are closed with rubber-sealed, bungee-equipped hatches. They aren't guaranteed to be waterproof, but not much water gets through. Use dry bags, and you'll have all the storage you need.
There are lots of bungees on our top pick kayak to secure a paddle or any other gear. Part of the reason you can add so many features to this kayak if you so desire is because of the front and rear bungee cables. T-handles for the front and rear make it easy to transport this yak on a trailer or a car rack. Water bottle holders allow you to keep hydration close at hand, which is good news because the full-hull storage could let your water bottle to roll to either end of the yak.
The hull of this yak is really solid, which is great for durability but less than ideal for sitting down. To make up for that, a folding seat with a little bit of cushion is included to reduce the worst effects of sitting for long periods. Many anglers find that adding additional cushion helps them stay out on the water longer. There are also several footrest positions for paddlers of all heights to have the room they need.
Will the Lifetime Tamarack Tip Over?
In terms of how it moves through the water, this 10-ft fishing kayak handles great. It tracks well thanks to deep channels in the hull, and the bottom is flat for added control. Chine rails similar to what you might find on a longboard improve this craft’s maneuverability and stability.
The Tamarack won’t tip unless you really lean on it. It rarely ever rolls during ordinary river and lake paddling. That being said, it doesn't seem to be meant for standing for long periods, and it's not advisable to try it unless you're on the lighter side or have high confidence in your own balance.
2. Perception Sound
Most Stable Fishing Kayak Under 500
10 Feet, 5 inches
Max Weight Capacity
Useful in just about any calm freshwater source, this kayak was built with function in mind. While there may not be any recessed storage, there is plenty of room in the rear open storage area and a bungee cord over the top to keep gear from shifting.
Even more convenient is the dashboard in front of this yak that has space for accessories like fish finders, cameras, or drink and rod holders. There are already two-rod holders that are molded into the body of the kayak. Carrying handles at the front and rear are also molded in, making them more comfortable and durable than the t-shaped handles common on competing models.
The body of this kayak is tough and doesn’t show scratches but remains reasonably lightweight, making portages easy enough. Its triple-keel hull, so-designed to give the sturdiness expected of a high-quality yak without using expensive designs or materials, is indeed tough and doesn't betray light scratches or damage even after steady use over a couple of seasons.
They’ve taken care to add leg padding in the roomy cockpit of this yak, a nice addition that’s too frequently left out. The seat and adjustable seatback come with nice padding that keeps the pilot comfortable for long hours out on the water. Rather than having a few levels of footrests, the Perception Sound has adjustable ones that can be molded to the size of the angler. This is one of the best under $500 kayak fishing boat options for big and tall kayakers.
Will the Perception Sound Tip Over?
The triple-keel hull gives this kayak great handling and stability. It’s built for calm, slow or still waters so I wouldn’t take it out on white water rapids necessarily. But for long days of fishing, this yak is really solid.
The one drawback is that if it should happen to tip, anything in that rear storage is going to be exposed to tons of water and will quite probably wind up off the yak completely. A few quick fixes and additional bungees floats, and perhaps a waterproof fishing crate, and you’ll be ready to reign over any calm lake you want.
3. Sun Dolphin Excursion
Best Sit-In Fishing Kayak Under 500
Max Weight Capacity
Pair the rugged toughness of this hull with the comparably more comfortable paddling, stability, and protection from wetness that all sit-ins share, and you have yourself a dependable little yak. It comes with two built-in rod holders and an optional third one to use with the accessory mount in the front.
The storage compartment is great for stowing an anchor and perhaps a dry bag with some other gear inside, but it's not going to fit tent poles or anything else a full-hull storage setup would be able to hold. Then again, for most anglers who just need something to get them out on the water for a few hours, rather than a full or multi-day excursion, this is a good choice.
Despite its claim to being lightweight, this kayak takes some effort to transfer from a car rack. The best feature may not be visible until you’ve put a good few months of use into this kayak. It can take a lot of abuse, thanks to the durability of the polyethylene material used to make the body. That durability extends to the hatch cover and the various bungee cords available for gear and paddle storage.
The cockpit is plenty roomy, considering the max weight of this kayak. There are protective cushions to prevent your legs from smacking directly against the hardshell body and a reasonably comfy rounded adjustable seat to make sure anglers can sit a while while they fish. The foot braces are adjustable to make sure anybody who can fit inside can do so with enough space.
Will the Sun Dolphin Excursion Tip Over?
Unless you’re pushing the weight limit with excess gear, this kayak should be easy to pilot without flipping. It’s great for lakes and even slow-moving water, but the body shape doesn’t lend itself to cutting through waves or fast river currents. It’s certainly not meant for standing up in, but you might be able to for a very short time. While you really shouldn’t overload it with gear, you can still stay dry fishing in this kayak on most lakes.
4. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak Under $500
Sit inside, inflatable
10 Feet, 5 inches
Max Weight Capacity
The great handling and stability of a hardshell kayak and the ease-of-use of an inflatable fishing kayak all meet in this Advanced Elements model. Don’t just take it from this adventure angler, the AdvancedFrame can help not only bring in trophy brown trout, salmon, and rainbow trout, but it can also be a quick option to get out for last-minute trips or shorter excursions.
The setup is a cinch, taking just a few minutes to inflate all of the chambers in the proper order to get this yak fully inflated. It's not going to fit in your pocket, but there's hardly a better watercraft for folks who like to mix in a little overland travel on their fishing trips.
There's a storage space built into this kayak, but there's not as much as you'd find on the best budget fishing kayak. Some rod holders and bungees make up for it, and after all, if you're carrying this kayak around because it's so portable and lightweight, it's not likely you'll have tons of other gear with you. The biggest drawback is that it doesn't come with a pump or a paddle so you'll have to buy them separately.
As long as you make sure to inflate it properly, this kayak stays comfortable for a long time on the water. The seat is adjustable and surprisingly supportive. There's plenty of room in the cockpit, and an attachable spray skirt means you can stay dry while you paddle.
Will the Advanced Elements Tip Over?
Thanks to aluminum poles in the construction and encased air chambers that do the job bulkheads do in hardshell kayaks, the AdvancedFrame is super buoyant and cuts through the water well. It handles, tracks, and stays upright as well as any other 10 ft fishing kayak does.
Three layers of material in the body ensure it withstands the elements and won’t give out for a long time. If you’re trying to gain access to hard to reach fishing spots, this is absolutely the best inflatable fishing kayak under $500.
5. Driftsun Voyager 2
Best Tandem Fishing Kayak Under $500
Sit Inside, inflatable
Max Weight Capacity
400 - 450 Lbs.
Driftsun has included everything you and a friend or partner will need in this inexpensive inflatable kayak for two. Skip the trailer and the car rack. One person can carry this yak and inflate it in a few minutes with the included air pump. If you want, you can also set it up for flying solo or bringing your dog along since both seats are removable.
For anglers, it may take some planning and adjustments to figure out where to keep all the rods and other fishing gear, but it’s not impossible. It’s also a very strong craft. While taking an inflatable out of the water on a rocky shore may make some nervous, the base of this model is all ripstop, so no need to worry.
There are no scupper holes to drain water that gets inside the yak, so it’s best to avoid rough waters with this model. There is a sweet drainage hole that you can unscrew on land to let out water after you're finished, which is way easier than flipping the kayak over again and again.
The adjustable seats make it easy to fit folks of any height inside. The seats also have surprisingly nice padding on them, and if you inflate the kayak to the proper PSI, it's easy to spend hours and hours paddling inside it.
Will the Voyager 2 Flip Over?
It slides across flat water nicely, and the large side air pockets allow it to balance evenly on the water. The nose of it narrows into a V-shape that can handle pretty choppy water, although it isn't built to handle ocean waves or whitewater rapids. There’s a removable fin that attaches to the skeg for additional tracking power. All you need to do to pilot this yak well is make sure you and your partner can row in time.
6. Sun Dolphin Journey
Best Fishing Kayak for Beginners
Sit on top
Max Weight Capacity
Ease of use
This yak is great for beginners not only because it works but because it has some shortfalls that can be corrected with a bit of extra work. In our opinion, it's the best fishing kayak for beginners, because learning is a perfect kayak won’t introduce you to add-ons and customizations, which are a big part of kayaking.
The Journey is supposed to be self-draining thanks to four scupper holes, two in the front of the cockpit, and two right in the seat. Unfortunately, these tend only to drain water up to a certain point, and the user ends up sitting in a puddle of water.
Luckily, the scupper holes are easy to plug up, even with cheap DIY methods. There's plenty of storage onboard for water bottles, paddles, fishing poles, and tackle. The storage in the cockpit is nice but not waterproof. There’s likely to be an inch or two of water inside if water comes into the yak.
There’s also a rear storage bin, which is more watertight than the other bin but may not be 100% sealed in the event this yak tips. It is nice to use as a cooler, live well, or storage for gear in a dry bag. It isn't easy to access while you're out on the water, so don't put all your bait and tackle in there. It might be nicer to forego the storage bin and fashion a fish crate for the rear of this yak.
There’s a cushion on the seat, but only on the backrest. That backrest is adjustable for extra support, but you should be ready to either sit directly on polyethylene or else add a bottom cushion. The cockpit is spacious enough and does have thigh guards. It's suitable for several good hours of kayaking, but if you already have trouble sitting for long periods, you might not make it that long.
Will the Sun Dolphin Journey Tip Over?
Although it can sometimes feel like it’s about to flip, the Sun Dolphin Journey stays right-side-up in normal conditions. It’s not the most stable fishing kayak there is, but it doesn’t flip easily, either. It doesn’t track well at high speeds, but an add-on scupper fin can help, and for beginners, it can spur them to upgrade when they’ve acquired the skills. When you first start out, this is a great budget option for the money.
Fishing Kayak Price Guide
Most of the differences between a budget yak and a pricey one are minor. Kayaks under $500 are more likely to be inflatable or made out of polyethylene.
Above $500, they can be made of composite materials, or they can be built to handle rough water better.
As you get closer to $2,000, you can expect kayaks to have dedicated space for fish finders, watertight storage, and super comfortable cockpits straight from the factory.
Essential Kayak Fishing Accessories
The most important thing you need to have if you go kayaking is a personal flotation device (PFD), which is required by law in many places.
Just about every angler is going to find it handy to have multiple rod-holders on board as well, not only for casting out multiple lines but also for stowing rods while you paddle out to your fishing spot. If you're an experienced angler, you're also going to want a dedicated place to mount a fish finder with cleared space for the transducer.
Safety Precautions when Kayak Fishing
In addition to a PFD, kayakers should know how to transport their kayak safely and avoid exposure problems like sunstroke, dehydration, sunburn, hypothermia, and shock. In addition to general safety procedures, it's important always to bring sun protection, water, and a method of contacting someone in an emergency.
If you're going out alone, make sure to tell someone where you’ll be and for how long. Never try to lift a whole kayak off the ground. If you can’t drag it, ask for help or get a trolley to help you. Always move a kayak one side at a time if you’re moving it alone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are fishing kayaks prone to tipping over?
It depends on how they're built, the size of the user, and the water conditions. Typically they're built specifically against tipping, but it's never absolutely guaranteed that it won't flip over. Once you get the hang of balancing on one, that risk decreases, so the best thing you can do in any situation is practice how to kayak.
How much weight can fishing kayaks hold?
Every kayak has its own weight capacity depending on how it’s built. For larger and taller anglers, that number is obviously important, but all kayak anglers should pay attention. Make sure not to overload the kayak past its capacity with fishing gear. If you find yourself taking on water, get back to shore immediately so you can troubleshoot. Trust me; you really don’t want to sink.
What color kayak is best for fishing?
To blend in and not spook your targets away, either some kind of camo or an earthy tone like green or brown will help you blend in on a lake. If you kayak in the ocean, a more aquamarine color will help you avoid detection. Bear in mind that you should want to stay visible to other craft above the water in a high-traffic area, so bring a bright cap or add reflectors to your PFD.
What size kayak do I need for fishing?
A larger size for larger anglers, but also for gearheads. If you like using electronics and cast tons of different rigs, lures, and baits in a single trip, then you need space for all that gear. In terms of length, shorter yaks tend to turn better. If you want to move really fast on open, flat water, then a longer yak will work fine.
Do these kayaks come with warranties?
All the kayaks in this guide come with a warranty, as do most kayaks from the major manufacturers. But all warranties are not created equal. A limited warranty against manufacturing defects is almost ubiquitous across the market, but you’ll be lucky to find more than that. One of the best warranties is on our top pick, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler.
Can I return my fishing kayak? Are there limitations for returning a fishing kayak?
The best place to get a kayak with a straightforward return policy is Amazon. Every seller is different, but most will accept returns within a specified time period, especially if the kayak is unused or still in like-new condition. Check with the specific seller before you buy.
Kayak fishing is the best option for getting out of the water without having to buy a full-on boat. It’s great for solo anglers and pairs. There’s no better craft to try it on than the Lifetime Tamarack Angler, which is why it’s our top pick. With plenty of space and good handling, fishing for hours is a real pleasure.