Pedal kayaks have been taking and increasing amount of market share, and I have certainly been seeing more of them on the rivers and lakes that I fish
I want to be clear from the outset, I am not a fan of pedal powdered kayaks. I consider most of them pretty terrible and I much rather paddle a sleek kayak than pedal a barge.
In this article, I will share the 7 reasons why I still favor paddling a kayak over pedaling it. I will also discuss some of main reasons others give for preferring pedal boats.
1) Pedal kayaks are obscenely heavy
When I was younger, I use to paddle a heavy kayak, never again. A heavy boat is simply too limiting and has so many disadvantages compared with a kayak that can be thrown onto the shoulder and carried a reasonable distance.
I like lightweight kayaks, I can launch them almost anywhere, and I can put them on my roof racks with ease. If there is a boulder laden shoreline, I can just carry it across to the water edge. No need for a trailer, trolley, or a second person to help me launch.
Some kayaks have gotten so heavy that the weight is basically limiting them to boat ramps, and when you are forced to launch from a boat ramp, you are fishing the same spot as everyone else. The water within a mile or two of the boat ramps see a lot of fishing pressure, I much rather launch somewhere less accessible.
2) All pedal kayaks have inefficient hulls and designs.
The skinniest pedal kayaks are about as wide as some of the widest paddle boats, the wider a kayak get the less efficient they move through the water. It is just basic physics.
Things get worse, to pedal a kayak you really need to be seatedin an elevated position which allows for a powerful downwards push. This higher sitting position translates to a higher center of gravity, which will make the boat feel even less stable.
A high sitting position also catches a lot more wind. Your body basically becoming like a sail.
Lets, compare it to a well designed paddling kayak, the sitting position is much lower. Maybe even below the water level. This automatically lowers the center of gravity which will mean a narrower hull would feel more stable. It also gets the paddler out of the wind.
Some paddle fishing kayaks can get away with a 23” hull, because the centre of gravity is so much lower. What does this mean for on water performance? Well, I have heard plenty of stories about how pedal drives generate so much more power than paddling, but all that power is wasted pushing an extremely inefficient hull through the water. The end result, with decent technique, a well designed paddle kayak, is actually faster, and easier to paddle for extended periods of time than any pedal powered fishing kayak.
3) Paddling is better in extreme shallows.
This is one I face quite often, I spend a lot of time paddling and trolling around estuaries. At times I have to paddle in extremely shallow water, sometimes only a couple of inches deep. More than once on some trips I have to stand up and pull my boat along to prevent it from running aground.
A pedal drive pocks out the bottom of the boat, which greatly reduces the depth of water it can be used in. Sure, it is possible to start using a paddle, but then it becomes a game of guessing when to drop the propeller back into the water. Simply easier just to stick with the paddle the entire time.
This problem also becomes apparent when paddling down rivers, it is often impossible to know when a shallow gravel bar or rock garden will get in the way.
4) Pedal kayaks are less reliable.
I like kayaking for its simplicity, unless I am using a boat with a rudder there is no moving parts. Moving parts cause problems, moving parts break and can ruin a day on the water.
When I paddle, my motor is a carbon shaft, and carbon blades. Nearly impossible to break.
Pedal kayaks on the other hand, share a lot more in common with bikes. The mechanisms are full of gears, and all sorts of complications that require serving and fairly regular maintenance..
I am also a keen cyclist, so know from first hand experience how many things can go wrong with pedal powered machines. On a bike it is not usually too bad, I just carry it to the side of the track for some makeshift repairs. If a pedal mechanism breaks out in the middle of the lake, it is going to be a long slog back to shore, doubly hard when the weather is bad.
5) Pedal kayaks are very expensive.
For anyone new to the sport, pedal kayaks are rather expensive. The more money spent on the kayak often means less money is available to spend on tackle or fishing trips.
On average, pedal powdered kayaks are more expensive than a paddle kayak + quality paddle. I will give some examples below.
One of my favorite paddle kayaks is the Swell Watercraft Scupper 14. It currently costs $1200, maybe throw in another $300 for a decent paddle and some rod holders, and on the water cost for one of the best paddling fishing kayaks is only $1500.
Now, I will compare it with two of the best pedal kayaks, a Hobi Mirage outback and a Nature Watercraft Slayer Propel 12.5.
The cheapest I could find a new Outback for was $3150, so double the Scupper 14, while the Proper 12.5 is slightly more affordable at $2899. That is a lot of money for an oversized Tupperware container, and for around $3000 it is possible to get a composite fishing kayak like a Stealth.
Now, I do accept there are cheaper pedal powered kayaks out there than the two above, but I wanted to compare the best with the best. But, yeah. If you are not worried about quality, it is possible to get pedal kayaks for $1500, or a cheap paddle kayak for around $500. Their performance is not likely to be great, and their long-term durability and UV resistance is going to be questionable.
6) Paddling offers a whole body workout
This is how I view things, my legs get plenty of exercise carrying me around all day walking, running, hiking, fishing, cycling. They are always doing something. I see kayaking as a good way to give the lazier muscles in my core and shoulders some excercise.
I also found paddling to help my bad back by strengthening my lats and core. Paddling is the only exercise I have discovered that has not managed to injure me in one way or another. (Okay, I have been injured car topping heavy yaks but that does not count, it is more weight lifting than paddling).
7) Pedal mechanisms get in the way when fly fishing
The large, flat decks of many pedal kayaks might seem like an excellent platform to fly fish from, they are stable enough to stand and sight fish from after all.
In my experience, the pedals have been perfectly designed to tangle and trap any loose length of fly line. When I tried to fly fishing from a pedal yak the mechanism resulted in so many tangles.
Sure, I probably could bring along a stripping basket to keep the line under control, but it is a bit of a pain having to put it on and take it off whenever I decide to seat or stand. In general, I simply think, there are better watercraft than kayaks for fly fishing.
My thoughts on the counterarguments – why people love pedal kayaks.
I have heard and read all the arguments in favor of pedal kayaks over the years. Some of them I agree with, others less so. I accept pedal boats are probably the better option for some anglers.
The ability to move and fish at the same time.
One of the biggest advantages of pedal kayaks is the ability to fish and move at the same time. So it becomes possible to fight against the current or wind and fish in the same spot without having to reposition the kayak every few minutes or drop the anchor.
Yeah, I agree in certain situations it is a big plus, but in practice, I rarely find myself in situations where I need to ‘paddle’ and ‘fish’ at the same time. I am normally happy to slowly drift along to cover new ground.
Pedal kayaks are faster – they generate more power
Not in my experience. Yes, pedaling generates a lot more power, and in theory, they should be faster, but because most pedal kayaks are absolute barges most of that power goes to waste pushing an inefficient hull through the water.
Most plastic kayaks seem to cruise along at a similar pace, somewhere between 3-3.5mph. When traveling in a group, most people no matter their boat seems to turn up around the same time.
I am not even talking about narrow, ‘tippy’ fishing kayaks. There are even paddle kayaks that occupy the middle ground, they are not narrow like the Scupper series, but they still have decent on water performance. Some examples are the Feelfree moken, or the Ocean Kayak Prowler.
I know many paddlers who can can cruise alone in a prowler or moken quite comfortably at 3.5mph, reaching 5mph in a sprint. While pedal boats seem to range from 3 to 4mph. Slight advantage in speed but nothing game changing.
The one exception, are the high performance paddling kayaks with narrow long hulls. They can quite easily cruise along at 5mph. Once, when I was super fit I was able to maintain 6mph (for an hour) in my narrow Stealth Fisha 550 paddle kayak. I was exhausted by the end of it.
Narrow kayaks are wet, and the seats are uncomfortable.
Yes, they are wet, but waterproof clothing exists.
I feel seat comfort is very subjective, when I first started kayaking I agree that molded bucket seats were not the most comfortable design, but my body got used to them and I can not seat quite comfortably for hours on end.
I also find ‘large’ elevated armchair style seats to be a bit unstable, especially in rough conditions, there is nothing but air to brace against.
Can not stand in narrow kayaks.
If I want to be pedantic I can stand for fun in all my kayaks, but I accept I can not stand and fish from them.
My views are mixed, standing does allow you to sight fish from a kayak, but I already know where the trout and other fish will be holding. So I know where to cast, little need to sight them first.
I can also cast, strike and fight fish just fine from a sitting position. I really can not think of many situations where I needed to stand while fishing.
So the ability to stand and fish is nice, but not really a deal breaker.
Narrow kayaks are unstable and capsize all the time.
I once went out fishing in a large group, one person capsized three times. He was in the widest boat. Paddlers capsize not kayaks.
I do not agree that narrow kayaks are more likely to capsize. Narrow kayaks are designed for fishing offshore, where there are swells, waves, chops, and unpredictable currents. They handle these rough conditions much better than a barge designed for fishing in a mill pond.
Yes, the primary stability might seem lacking at first, and it does take time to gain confidence but in over twenty years of kayak fishing. I have never come even close to capsizing a narrow fishing kayak. I have capsized a few fat kayaks during surf landings, but that is a different story.