“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Fly fishing is a graceful sport full of beauty. The long arcing sweeps of line slicing through the air is entrancing as a flick of the wrist transcends into the perfect cast. Delicate flies with minute hooks and exotic materials entice all manner of fish to seemingly jump out of the water. The serenity and joy experienced by fly fisherman is a large part of the allure; it’s a simpler and more natural method. We all wish we could wade into a nearby babbling brook after short jaunt through the forest. The truth, however, is that most of us end up having to do some paddling on our fishing journey to reach those perfect spots. And that’s where a proper fly fishing kayak will help you commune with nature.
One of the tenets of fly fishing is simplicity. Anglers forego spinners and baitcasters for a simpler fly reel and rod to catch their prey. Rather than lugging out a rack of gear most fly fishermen elect a small cache of flies and supplies. We’ve curated the list below with an eye towards boats that also embrace simplicity and grace. As such you’re not going to find any pedal kayaks or motorized boats. The yaks on this list were selected for their clean lines, easy function, and suitability for fly fishing.
Fly Fishing Kayaks
Click on a kayak below to learn more about it.
Most Expensive Fly Fishing Kayak
The Mayfly has been described as the Ultimate Fly Fishing Kayak. And we’re inclined to agree. The Mayfly was designed from the ground up to provide a thoughtful kayaking experience for fly anglers. Every little nuisance that pesters fly fisherman on other kayaks has been thought of and addressed.
Upon first glance the most noticeable feature is the large open deck. Mounted in the middle is an innovative and removable footrest. The footrest features rounded corners and smoothed surfaces to help avoid snags. Two pieces of gear track on each side provide a mounting spot for a fishfinder – through hull transducer recesses underneath and a hollow base for battery storage make mounting your fish finder a breeze. Fold out pockets on each side of the front deck easily store fly boxes for quick access. Two molded in fly reel holders to the rear of the seat make storing 9 ft fly rods, front facing or rear facing, a breeze.
Not Just for Flying
Aside from fly specific features the Jackson Mayfly has numerous aspects that make it a great kayak for all types of fishing. The sharp entry bow accompanied by pronounced twin chines on each side of the hull provide excellent tracking for paddling and stability for standing. The raised lawn chair style seat is height adjustable and trimable for optimal configuration. A spacious rear tankwell is bordered with t-track for additional storage and accessories. Finally a bow and stern hatch provide ample room for camping gear and your hardcopy edition of Leaves of Grass.
The Jackson Mayfly measures 12’7″ long and weighs just 89 lbs without the seat, which is pretty light for a kayak in this class. The Mayfly lists for $2,000 but can often be found for around $1,800 at local retailers. It’s near the upper end for a 12′ paddle yak but it’s probably the best fly-fishing kayak out there. If you’re a dedicated fly fisherman and have no interest in spinning or baitcasting than the Mayfly is the fly fishing kayak for you. If, however, you’re a more versatile angler than you may want to consider looking at something less focused.
Most Affordable Fly Fishing Kayak
We’ve highlighted the Crescent Ultalite before because it’s an amazing boat. The Ultralite is 10’2″ long and weighs only 49 lbs. It’s one of the lightest rotomolded fishing kayaks available on the market. At $699 the Ultralite delivers on the core competencies of a great kayak and eschews frivolous features in exchange for an affordable and streamlined paddling experience.
The Ultralite makes for a great fly fishing kayak because of its simplicity and light weight. Most anglers will have no problem car-topping it or hauling it through the woods to a river launch point. The open deck provides plenty of space for fly line to fall without getting tangled up. The low sitting seat is perfect for paddling upstream. Jumping back in after some wading should prove a breeze. An adequately sized tankwell and bow hatch provide plenty of space for an afternoon outing.
While the Crescent Ultralite may not be the fanciest kayak out there it is one of the best. We say that because Crescent focused on maximizing this craft’s quality rather than it’s utility. So although it can’t do everything, what it can do it does masterfully. Definitely consider the Crescent Ultralite, regardless of your affinity for fly fishing. Also check out its older brother, the Lite Tackle, which adds an extra 2′ of length for only $200 more.
Our Pick for the Best Value Fly Fishing Kayak
Native Slayer XC
Native’s Slayer line has a diverse range of pedal and paddle kayaks targeted towards the intermediate to advanced kayak fisherman. The Slayer XC is specifically aimed at fisherman who target riparian ecosystems and is a great boat for navigating all sorts of rivers. The XC wins our choice for the best value for a lot of reasons. Most of all though we think it strikes the perfect balance between fly fishing specialization and working as an excellent all purpose yak.
The Slayer XC features a highly configurable deck space. For times when you’re hitting deeper water the electronics pod can drop in to fit your fishfinder and other gadgets. If you’re headed down a shallow river the pod quickly swaps out to provide an open and snag-free deck space. Sight fishing and roll casting are no problem while you’re standing, because this yak was designed for stability. The 36.5″ wide flat bottomed hull provides superior stability while also allowing for quicker turning than deep chined hull types. You should have no problem facing the banks and casting while you float down river.
Designed for Drag
A dedicated drag chain channel in the stern is an awesome feature for slowing down your cruise. The line ties off on a cleat near the seat for quick and easy chain deployment and retrieval. The spring loaded skeg provides superior tracking for down river drifts. And it can be easily retracted with a turn of the handle for when you need a little more maneuverability. The XC is also outfitted with the normal comliment of high-end features such as vertical and horizontal rod holders, a high quality hi-lo seat, and plenty of storage.
We’re not sure what the perfect river kayak is, but we think the Slayer XC is pretty darn close. The XC is priced at $1,499 which represents a truly great value from one of the leading kayak brands. If you’re a river rat who lives for brookies, smallies, and muskies then the XC might just be the perfect fly fishing kayak for you.
What to Look for in A Fly Fishing Kayak
Fly fishing in a sitting position can be cramped and awkward. Standing provides a more natural casting position that allows you to better use your full body in executing a single fluid movement. It also allows you to take advantage of the wide open space in the middle of the water; a luxury ill afforded on banks snag happy branches and brush all around.
The ability to stand on a kayak is largely determined by its hull design. Trimaran, cathedral, or extra wide hulls with deep chines will provide extra lateral resistance to deliver a stable and steady fishing platform. Stability often comes at the expense of speed, but it’s a tradeoff that we think is well worth the price.
Fishermen are well aware of the joy that comes from fishing. Few things are more satisfying than choosing the right lure and spot and being rewarded with a hungry bite. At the same time there are few things more frustrating for any angler than a snagged line. It seems that tree’s and brush were designed to foil every fishermen’s best efforts. Errant branches won’t plague you on a kayak, but that doesn’t make it risk free.
Open, spacious, kayak decks present fly fishermen the least frustration in casting their line out. Electronic pods and pedal drives might be great for fish finders and boot scooting around the lake. However they’re terrible for keeping free of line. An open deck will provide you plenty of room for your fly line to land unhindered and will prove a boon in managing your gear.
Fly Fishing is well known as a more graceful and pure method of fishing. Its followers are oftentimes fanatical in their abhorrence of complicated gizmos (geared reels namely). For the neo-luddite fly fishermen extra technology represents another hurdle in the way of perfecting art. We respect the pursuit of perfection and so highly recommend that you too focus on finding a kayak that compliments your fishing, rather than the other way around.
In practical terms this means choosing a kayak that won’t dominate your focus and attention. A well made fishing kayak should blend into the background as you zone in on your fishing and technique. Pedal systems, motors, fishfinders, and other high tech accessories are great for conventional fishing and have their place in a modern setup. For fly fisherman though we think you’re better off leaving these at the store.
Overview on Fly Fishing Kayaks
We thought we’d wrap this one up with a quote from one of our favorite books: A River Runs Through It.
“Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.”
If you find yourself drifting away from your favorite spot of time then it might be time to anchor down and be still.