SIT-IN OR SIT-ON-TOP
Hopefully, you are either intrigued by our trips and trash talking, and want to get involved in our outings or maybe you just found this searching for information on how to pick a kayak. Either way, the really short answer is the best kayak for you is the one you can afford and will use!
If you take 4 years to save up for that Hobie Pro Angler 14 you have always wanted, but haven’t bought your first starter kayak in the meantime, that is 4 years you are stuck on the banks and sidelined from some of the best fishing!
Now understand, I fully support saving for your dream purchase and working towards a goal like that. A Pro Angler 14 is the ultimate on my wish list and something I am working towards as well. Especially the 2020 model with the new 360 drive! But that is a topic for another day and in the meantime, I have found some very good kayaks that are perfect for my current needs and get my into the sport so I can learn and gather experience. That way, when I do get my Pro Angler, I will have the knowledge and experience needed to get the most out of my purchase I saved so long to acquire!
Kayak fishing can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make your adventures. A $300 used kayak and a $40 Walmart special fishing rod with get you started for a minimum investment and maximum reward!
HOWEVER BUYER BEWARE!
The sport is incredibly addicting, and there are much higher price points you will start aiming for in short order! Each price point comes with it’s own benefits, and one of the big upsides is you can always TRADE UP. That used kayak you bought as a starter yak is probably still worth $250 or $300 in a year or two when you feel the need to upgrade!
Craigslist, OfferUp or Facebook Market Place are all treasure troves of hidden gems just waiting for the right person to come along at the right time. What was an eyesore to someone else’s wife who wants her back yard cleared can become your new ticket to better fishing and the kayak fishing community!
BUT WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A FISHING KAYAK?
There are a myriad of options for your kayak which depend on your style and price point, but at its most basic level there will be two primary types of kayaks you run into while searching for your new ride: a Sit-In kayak or a Sit-On-Top (SOT). The sit-in type kayaks are the classic touring shape with high sides and a formed cockpit surrounding the paddler.
These kayaks can be very stable because your center of gravity is kept very low . Your seat is either level with or even below the surrounding waterline, and the high sides surrounding the cockpit keep water from splashing you. These are typically used for touring or distance travel and, in my opinion, are not the most suitable fishing kayak.
Because you sit lower in these type of kayaks, the sides of the seating area around you sits higher up on your torso than a SOT kayak. In the picture above, the person paddling appears to be resting but his shoulders seem shrugged up with his arms resting on the kayak. This is fine for paddling and resting for a bit, but once you add a fishing rod into this equation it becomes cumbersome to hold your arms artificially higher than you otherwise would while casting.
These kayaks do a good job of keeping you dry in calm water or gentle swells. The higher sides and solid bottom keep water away from your butt and off of your legs for the most part as long as the weather and waves cooperate with you. However, if you run into a rain shower or rough surf you are essentially siting in a big bathtub without a drain! Any waves that make it over the sides will dump water in your kayak and it will not drain away on its own. That fish you caught brought some water in with it that won’t drain away. The drips coming off your paddle as you move from one location to the next will collect inside the kayak and accumulate over time. A Sit-In kayaker should always have a sponge or water pump to bail out their kayak if it becomes necessary.
We all leave the launch expecting to stay moderately dry for our trip, stay seated in our kayak seat and then return at the end of our trip and exit the kayak on our own terms. Unfortunately, conditions or accidents happen and no matter what kayak you choose I guarantee you it can and will flip if given the opportunity!
A Sit-In kayak requires a bit of finesse to reenter in deeper water. On top of that even a successful self rescue in a sit-in kayak will deposit a large amount of water in your kayak that needs to be bailed out manually.
Sit-in kayaks typically have storage within the hull, but by it’s design all of this storage space requires hatch access and can be cumbersome at best to make use of while on the water. The first accessory most kayak anglers buy after the basic fishing gear is a kayak crate! We all need somewhere to store our extra tackle, pliers, fish grips, scale, measuring tape, food, water, emergency gear and everything else you choose to bring out with you on the water. Some sit-in kayaks may have a flat deck to lash items to, but you’re asking for trouble loading up that much stuff on top of the hull and raising your center of gravity.
If you found this post through a search engine, I am sure you have by now watched any number of kayak fishing videos from all over the world! I started feeding my obsession by watching the same videos from my local waterways as well as around the world. I am willing to bet that with very few exceptions, anyone who has their own YouTube channel you are watching is most likely in a SOT kayak and with good reason.
Above is an example of the cockpit setup for an Ocean Kayak Trident 15 SOT kayak. These kayaks are referred to as “Sit On Top” because you are actually sitting on top of the hull rather than confined within it. There is open space inside the hull underneath the seat that typically runs the entire length of the kayak for storage and buoyancy. The Trident series comes equipped with the pictured “rod pod” that gives access to the entire interior of the kayak even while seated on the water! I have stored a 7’6″ rod within the hull and been able to remove it while on the water without issue. Its intended purpose by design is the ability to store your rods and other valuable fishing gear sealed within the hull to protect it during beach and surf launches. That way if you roll your kayak while launching in rough surf, your gear stays with you rather than floating to the bottom! Once through the surf you can easily remove the hatch cover while on the water and recover your equipment to continue your adventure.
The seats on SOT kayaks are typically removable and, more importantly, up-gradable so you can customize your comfort level as your budget allows! As you can see, the seating area is FAR more open than the sit-in kayak pictured above. The sides of the kayak sit lower to the water which make casting, retrieving and landing a fish much easier than in a sit-in. If you are fishing deeper water and targeting larger species, you only need to pull your 40-50″ striper up a few inches from the water line to get him in your lap for the trophy picture!
A big issue I have with sit-in kayaks is their propensity to retain a large amount of water that accumulates throughout the day. You simply cannot launch a sit-in kayak in rough surf without a skirt or other accessories to keep water out. The SOT kayak, on the other hand, introduces the idea of scuppers.
You can see in this enlarged picture from above, a scupper is most simply described as a hole in your kayak! This may seem like it would be an issue for a vessel designed to travel over water, but the inherent buoyancy of the hollow kayak allows it to float with heavy loads even with these scuppers in the bottom.
The advantage of these scupper holes is it makes a SOT kayak self-bailing! This means that every time a wave comes over the side of the kayak, rather than accumulate in the seat pan and foot wells of your kayak it runs out through the scuppers and back into the body of water you are on without any effort on your part.
Launching from the beach through surf, it doesn’t matter how big the waves are or how much water you take on, it will just drain out the bottom of your kayak and you can continue on without fear of capsizing.
Because of its low sides, open cockpit and self-bailing scuppers a SOT kayak makes self-rescue FAR easier and much quicker to recover from. If you roll over, you fall free of your kayak since you are not encapsulated inside the kayak but sitting on top of it. Once you get the kayak righted, all of the water drains away on its own without the need to pump it out. Also, you only have to pull yourself a few inches above the water line and can lay completely across the seating area before getting back in your seat.
No one wants to go for an unintended swim, especially if it means risking your expensive fishing gear. However, accidents do happen and a SOT makes recovery a far simpler process.
Storage is another area these kayaks shine in the angling world. Most SOT kayaks have an open storage area in the rear called a tankwell. That kayak crate I mentioned earlier? You can load your crate up with as much volume as it will handle and strap it down in your tankwell and be on your way!
My crate in inside a Propel Shoreline Kayak Crate Bag which makes it waterproof and more secure should I roll or drop my crate. It also has two rod holders integrated into the bag so I can comfortably bring 4 rods with me.
The tankwell on my Trident 15 is big enough I can store Gatorade bottles, snacks and bait in front of my crate and my water pump, bump board and some other items behind it. This doesn’t even include the interior storage through the rod pod where I keep my 1 gallon water jug, spare paddle and other assorted necessities. All of these items and NONE of it is within my work space as I sit in the kayak and fish, yet it is all accessible while in my seat.
Again, the best kayak for you is the one that gets you out on the water and fishing! If you get a great deal on a sit-in kayak and that is what you can afford then by all means do it. My tandem kayak I fish from with my son is a sit-in kayak. It is incredibly stable and keeps us dry when fishing Stumpy Lake or Rudee Lake during calm conditions. I have made many great memories with him in that kayak. However, if you are looking for a do-it-all fishing kayak that you can grow into I strongly recommend looking at a SOT kayak because it is just more versatile and marginally safer.
Whether you just bought your first kayak and want to head out with a group to learn from or are a seasoned kayak angler looking for some friendly competition and trash talking, subscribe to our blog and check us out on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to see when our next adventure is and join us!