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Choosing a Kayak for River Fishing
By Drew Haerer
I grew up knee deep in the creek that flowed next to my house in central PA. By my teens, I was spending nearly every weeknight on Penns Creek and weekend on the Susquehanna River. The appeal of moving water is still something I find hard to resist, and I spend as much time as possible exploring the streams, creeks, and rivers of New England and beyond. When it comes to paddling, some of these flows can be tricky, and certain kayaks excel more than others. This article focuses on three kayaks that excel in river fishing and are favorites of the Wilderness System pro staff.
The Ride 115 has long been a favorite of river anglers. Designed to combine stability and maneuverability, it performs best in moving water. Texan John Henry Boatright spends a lot of seat time in his Ride 115 for this very reason. “Stagility”, as he calls it, a combination of stability and agility, is what stands out about the boat. It can handle complex rapids littered with rocks and allow the angler to stand and pick apart cover during drifts of slow sections of river. Another great feature of the Ride 115 is the ability to start with the Air Pro Freedom Elite seat, which is easier on the wallet, and later upgrade to the Air Pro Max seat, which is more comfortable, has multiple positions and makes it easier for the paddler to repeatedly sit and stand. With plenty of in-hull storage and a 500 lb weight capacity, the Ride is also ideal for multi-day camping trips.
Over the past couple of years, the ATAK 120 has become my go-to kayak for river fishing. At 35” wide, it is incredibly stable, and the 12’ length allows for easy maneuvering around obstacles in flowing water. Additionally, the low-profile hull and deck allow it to shed side winds better than almost any kayak on the market. Because of this design feature, it is much easier to maintain a drift direction without the need of a rudder, which can be a hassle and get beat up when river fishing. The ATAK also provides a clean deck space that can be fully customized or kept basic. This open deck is particularly appealing to me as an avid fly angler who is constantly stripping and shooting line.
Another awesome river kayak is the Commander 120. Although recently discontinued, the Commander series can still be found at many retailers. As a hybrid kayak, it is the perfect option for many anglers, like me, who grew up fishing in canoes. Tim Perkins, of Alabama, values the simplicity of the Commander above all else. Notably, the kayak provides above average maneuverability, tracking, and stability in a lightweight frame with a high weight capacity and plenty of features designed for anglers. Specifically, the captain’s perch provides the opportunity to fish from an elevated perspective and makes standing easier.
Although the kayaks listed here come highly recommended, it is always best to test paddle a kayak before purchasing. Many retailers and outfitters host demo days in the spring, and these events provide opportunities to learn about and try numerous kayaks. Hopefully you find the one you love and get out there on the river!