I've been a kayak fisherman for 15 years now. It's a great way to stay fit, catch more fish, and access areas where most boats can't go.
Some Advantages of Inflatable Kayaks
Often one of the biggest obstacles to owning a fishing kayak is not having enough room to store one. Traditional roto-molded, hard fishing kayaks, especially those with comfortable sit-on-top seats, are often long and wide. This can make it a challenge to store one in a small apartment or to carry in a vehicle. If you don't own a pickup truck, your only carrying option may be to use a roof rack system. These are not only hard to load your kayak onto, but also can produce wind noise and loss of fuel economy.
This is where inflatable fishing kayaks come in. They offer the advantage of being able to be deflated, then rolled up and placed in a back seat or trunk after a day on the water.
In addition to having a small form factor when rolled up, inflatable kayaks are usually much lighter in weight than hard kayaks. The Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler PRO 10.5' model for example, only weighs 38.5 lbs. Similar sized hard kayaks to this model can weight anywhere from 70 to 120 lbs.
Weight and size when stored are the two biggest advantages of inflatable fishing kayaks.
Disadvantages of Inflatable Fishing Kayaks
With every advantage often comes a disadvantage. The most obvious disadvantage to inflatable kayaks is the possibility of having leaks. Most models of inflatable fishing kayaks sold today come with a patch kit, and there's a good reason for this. Unlike many high-end, inflatable whitewater kayaks, which often feature hulls made of durable Hypalon or Pennel Orca materials, most inflatable fishing kayaks today are still made of less durable PVC.
PVC is a soft type of plastic material, and to make it stronger some makers of inflatable kayaks often add a layer or two of fabric, sandwiched on either side, much in the same way that tarps are made. This does result in a more puncture-resistant hull, and this is something that you should look for instead of PVC only construction.
PVC hull material is typically not considered to be as rugged, which is why whitewater rafts, which take quite a lot of abuse among rocks, are typically made with Pennel Orca material. Pennel Orca replaced DuPont's Hypalon in 2010.
NRS, one of the largest makers of whitewater rafts and inflatable kayaks, uses Pennel Orca in most of their high end boats, yet still uses PVC in their Star Pike fishing kayak series.
If you do a lot of fishing in areas with dead trees, or where you may encounter old trot-line hooks, or catch a lot of fish such as saltwater catfish with sharp spines, you may want to give some consideration to the fact that a punctured hull is always a possibility. As always one should wear a life jacket and this is especially true when using any inflatable kayak. Though most inflatable fishing kayaks contain several separate pressurized chambers for safety, they still may become very difficult or even impossible to paddle if any one of them becomes deflated. Keep this in mind when venturing far offshore in an inflatable fishing kayak.
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks Take Longer to Launch
Another disadvantage that I've personally found with inflatable kayaks is the time needed to get them ready for launch. With my own hard-sided Jackson Kraken fishing kayak, I can have it out of my truck and rolled down to the water on a C-Tug cart in about three minutes. Previous inflatables that I've owned have required at least 15 to 20 minutes of inflation time, plus loading with gear such as anchors and dip nets, which I normally leave on my hard kayaks.
Good quality inflatable fishing kayaks may cost even more than roto-milled hard kayaks. There are PVC fishing kayaks however that are cheaper than most hard kayaks. With some very cheap models the hull thickness may not be as great as more expensive boats, so just be aware that lower cost may also mean a less durable boat.
Hull Speed and Flexing
The first thing that many people notice when fishing from inflatable kayaks is how much they're affected by crosswinds when on the water. Because they are light and may also have more surface area to catch air, they tend to get blown around a bit. If you fish in an area that often has heavy winds, keep this in mind. Also you may notice that hull speed may not be as fast as a hard kayak. Even when fully inflated, inflatable kayaks tend to flex, and some of your paddling energy is lost in that flexing motion.
The Bottom Line
If you decide to choose an inflatable fishing kayak over a traditional hard plastic one, just be aware that there will be tradeoffs. Don't expect lightning fast hull speed for one thing, and do expect to have a leak or two eventually occur. Also, plan on a little extra time before and after your fishing trip for inflating or deflating your boat. An electric air pump can cut down on inflation time and this can make one worth the extra cost vs. a hand pump. For easier deflation, look for reversible electric air pumps that can help deflate your kayak even faster.
If you're OK with the trade-offs, use one carefully and conservatively and are careful to avoid punctures, you may find that inflatable kayaks are a good option for you. On the other hand, if you do have a suitable vehicle and a place large enough to store one, a regular hard fishing kayak will almost always be a better choice for day to day fishing.
© 2021 Nolen Hart