Kayak Fishing: Paddle or Pedal | Great Days Outdoors

Kayak anglers have a couple of choices for making their boats go- they both work, but which is better?

With the explosion in popularity of kayaks for fishing, it’s only natural that some serious developments in propulsion systems for kayaks would develop. One of the most commonly heard questions from new and potential kayak anglers is this: “Which kayak is best for me? Paddle or Pedal?”

Kayak anglers use their boats in a variety of fishing locations, with a whole lot of different conditions. What works perfectly well to move a kayak around in a small, protected backwater bayou or pond may not be such a good thing in big open lakes or even the ocean.

So kayak builders have developed some very interesting methods of kayak propulsion, and there’s always the old reliable double-blade paddles.

To best determine the needs of a particular angler, we need to know something about the different systems used in moving kayaks around on the water.

Big water anglers usually choose pedal
fishing kayaks for fishing. Photo by Ed Mashburn.

Paddle-Hard to Argue with what has worked for a Long Time

The traditional means of moving a kayak is with a paddle, and let’s be honest, for many anglers and many boats, this is still the best way to get the kayak from here to there. Paddle kayaks tend to be lighter, and they are absolutely simpler to use.


“A paddle is simple, hard to break, and as long as the strength of the kayaker holds out, a paddle will control and move a kayak. “

A paddle is simple, hard to break, and as long as the strength of the kayaker holds out, a paddle will control and move a kayak. With a properly sized paddle, kayakers of all sizes and body types can move a kayak with speed and safety.

The Problem with Paddling

The biggest drawback to paddle kayaks for anglers is that at any particular time, an angler can paddle a kayak, or he can fish from it. Except for trolling, it’s almost impossible to successfully fish while paddling. This means that if the angler is in a situation where both boat control and fishing need to be going on at the same time, neither one will be happening correctly. For instance, trying to fish from a paddle-propelled kayak in high wind or strong current can be frustrating. The angler has to use both hands on the paddle to keep the boat in position, and that means there’s no hand free to make a cast.

Now, if the kayak can be paddled upstream or upwind from the fishing spot and then allowed to drift across the good water while fishing, a paddle boat works well. This can get tiring for most kayak anglers if the ‘paddle and drift’ has to be repeated often.

But paddle kayaks are the simpler boats to use and transport.

Pedal-Drive: A new idea that works very well

To address this problem of paddling/fishing conflict, the Hobie company some years back developed their Mirage pedal drive system for their kayaks. This fairly complicated but very efficient system allows anglers to sit in the kayak, and by using their legs, which are the largest, strongest muscles in the body, they are able to move the kayak very quickly and under total control. Steering is done with a small flip-type lever that controls a rudder.

Anglers can spend their effort and attention on the fishing while pedaling the kayak to either move or stay in a single position in wind or current.


We’ve used our pedal-drive Hobie in a wide range of conditions from far up shallow bayous for redfish to miles out in the open Gulf in pursuit of red snapper and big king mackerel. As long as the water is deep enough for the flippers to move, the Hobie system works great.

Other kayak builders have come up with pedal drive systems, most of which rely on pivoting propeller drive units which can be raised and lowered to match water depth.

We’ve used most of the major pedal fishing systems for fishing applications, and they all work well. When it comes to ease of fishing, the pedal drives are hands down the better system.

The Hobie Mirage pedal system is a blast to use when fishing. Photo by Ed Mashburn.

The Problems with Pedal Drive

First, they are more complicated. The units must be raised in very shallow water. There’s also the matter of steering a pedal fishing kayak, so pedal drive boats must have a rudder system. This is a much more complicated arrangement.

Also, pedal drive units can snag a fishing line if a big fish makes a strong run directly under the kayak.

Pedal fishing kayaks are considerably more expensive. It’s not unusual to pay $1,000 or more for a good pedal drive kayak.

But, let me be honest, I love my pedal-drive Hobie kayak when I’m fishing in big water with wind and currents. I’ve never felt in danger or uneasy while using my pedal-drive kayak.

So, What Kayak for You?

Like many things in this life, there’s no single perfect boat for kayak anglers.  No one kayak will be the optimum boat for all conditions and all waters.

So, here’s what it all comes down to. If an angler fishes small creeks, bayous, ponds, and bays of larger lakes with only occasional trips out into big water, then a paddle kayak might be the best call. They’re simple, they’re quiet, cost less, and they work well.

If the angler does much long-distance traveling or if they fish in big water with lots of current, wind, and waves, then a pedal fishing kayak might be the best call. They’re harder to launch, and coming into the beach or other shallow water requires pulling the drive unit up, but they are so nice and secure to fish from.

Of course, it’s always possible to have a couple of different kayaks to use in different conditions, and this might be the best solution to the “which kayak is best for me” question. Just have a couple of different kayaks which work best in different conditions.

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