Choosing a kayak paddle for fishing isn’t as complicated as choosing your kayak, but it’s nearly as important. A paddle may seem like an accessory, but it’s a critical tool for the kayak angler and shouldn’t be overlooked. Anglers that don’t give it much thought end up using an ill-fitting, heavy, or inefficient paddle, and they ultimately catch less fish.
So how do you choose the right paddle? I’ll get you started with these essential tips. I’ll also walk you through the best kayak paddles for fishing so you’ll hit the water
Things to Consider Before Buying a Kayak Paddle for Fishing
Why is a paddle so important? At the most basic level, a properly fitting, lightweight paddle can make long days on the water less physically taxing. The weight difference between a cheap recreational paddle and a high-quality carbon fiber paddle can be upwards of two pounds. Further, a high-quality paddle will not only make you less fatigued, but it can also propel you more efficiently. When it comes down to it, your paddle directly impacts the number and size of fish you catch. It really is that important!
Paddle Length Matters Most
Paddle length is crucial to paddling comfort, efficiency, and endurance—more than any other factor. There are two main components that will determine your ideal paddle length. The first is matching the length to the width of your kayak. Many angling-specific kayaks are wide with high seats, so making sure your kayak paddle is long enough is critical. I’ve used extremely wide kayaks with average paddles before, and it’s very uncomfortable, slow, and annoying. Don’t make that mistake!
The second factor is angler size, primarily overall height. Smaller anglers will be more comfortable with a shorter paddle. A shorter paddle will be easier to control, but the tradeoff is less leverage and power (and potentially less speed and efficiency as a result).
Most fishing paddles come in sizes between 200- and 260-centimeters, with some available up to 280. Manufacturers will have recommendations based on boat width and angler height. When in doubt, it often makes sense to err on the side of slightly shorter, since the paddle will be lighter, easier to handle and stow while fishing, and most anglers are not trying to paddle very fast or far. However, if you have a very wide boat with a very tall seating position, it can make sense to get a slightly longer paddle.
Ounces Add Up
Paddle shafts come in four basic materials: aluminum, plastic, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Aluminum and plastic are the heaviest and least expensive, while carbon fiber is the lightest and most expensive, with fiberglass in between. Paddle weight matters a lot if you’re covering long distances or if you’re going to troll with a kayak; ounces make a difference over hours of paddling. Since paddles can last a lifetime, investing in a light-weight paddle is often a good idea. Though a case can be made for budget options; a few ounces may matter a lot less than saving 200-plus-dollars.
A full carbon fiber shaft is usually the best option. It can substantially reduce weight, while also being stiffer for better power transfer. However, I would caution the kayak angler into doing your homework. Many paddles are a carbon composite (not 100% carbon fiber), and some cheap carbon paddles are heavier than high-quality fiberglass paddles. Also, a carbon fiber paddle may be totally unnecessary if you’re never paddling more than a mile. If you’re adding touring or kayak camping to your angling goals, then a high-quality, light-weight paddle is a really good investment.
What About Carbon Fiber Blades?
The blade material can heavily influence overall paddle weight and how heavy a paddle feels on the water. The “elephant in the room” is often whether to get fully carbon fiber blades. Frankly, a blade made of 100-percent carbon fiber is unnecessary for most anglers. Though incredibly light, carbon fiber is a bit fragile for blades. If you want most of the benefits of a carbon fiber blade, with less fragility, I suggest blades reinforced with a combination of nylon or fiberglass. They will still be very light while being much less likely to crack or chip.
The most common and affordable paddles have blades made of either plastic or fiberglass, and are typically adequate for the average angler. Plastic is the cheapest and most rugged, as well as the heaviest and least efficient. Pure fiberglass paddles are a good compromise between plastic and carbon fiber in weight and fragility. Generally, it’s accepted that plastic or fiberglass blades are enough for many kayak anglers. It ultimately comes down to what matches your budget.
Blade Shape and Size
Blades come in just about every size, shape, and curvature. What is best ultimately comes down to the unique combination of the angler, kayak, and conditions they most often encounter. But for fishing, most will want a blade that is on the larger side. This will help you move more quickly over shorter distances; a single stroke will be more powerful. Narrow blades are more beneficial over longer distances, more for a touring or camping setup.
Additionally, most anglers will probably want a high-angle blade. High-angle paddles give you power to haul gear over short distances, but they require more energy. Low-angle paddles save energy, at the expense of power, making them better for touring.
The best kayak paddles for fishing often have some angling-specific features that add to their usefulness. Here are a few things to look for.
- Feathered or Matched Blade Adjustment: Virtually all paddles allow you to adjust between blades that are aligned (matched) or offset from one another (feathered). Feathered blades reduce wind resistance while the paddle is out of the water. Some paddles allow you to adjust the angle in small increments, while others only offer a set number of feathering positions between 15- and 60-degrees. Most kayak anglers won’t find highly adjustable feathering as a make-or-break feature.
- Adjustable Shaft Length: This is a nice feature if you’re switching between anglers or kayaks. It also can help with fatigue, as you can adjust your stroke by adjusting the paddle length on the fly. Many of these adjustable paddles allow infinite feathering as well. However, this can add weight and complication (something else to break).
- Lure Retrieving Notch: A hook that allows you to reach down to a submerged, snagged lure and pull it off a log, rock, or heavy weedy cover. These are surprisingly useful in the shallows. But since they reduce the overall blade area, they can decrease efficiency. I have not noticed on-the-water differences in paddling but have saved more than a few lures with the hook in my current paddle, a nice feature.
- Dock/Shore Grip: Some paddles will have a hook, teeth, or serrated edge that will help you snag the shore or a dock to aid in getting in and out of the kayak. This is a nice feature, but it’s not a requirement by any means. This is not an option with carbon fiber paddles, as they are too fragile.
- Shaft Measuring Tape: Some paddles have a measuring tape painted onto the shaft. This is nice, but unnecessary as it’s easy to add a stick-on tape later.
For more info on selecting kayak paddles, check out our article on things to consider before buying a kayak paddle. If fishing isn’t your primary goal when out on the water, you can review our top picks for the best kayak paddles for touring and other adventures. We also have recommendations for the best kayak accessories and top paddle kayaks. And if you’re in the market for a new vessel be sure to read our kayak reviews, such as the Bonafide SS127, for expert advice and opinions.
Don’t forget to stay safe out there. Review these five safety rules from Paddling.com before you hit the water.
Why It Made the Cut
In the premium paddle market there are several really great options, but the Wilderness Systems Alpha Angler Carbon offers the best combination of light weight, adjustability, and efficiency.
- Shaft and Blade Construction: 100% carbon fiber shaft, carbon fiber composite blades
- Weight: 1.7 pounds
- Lengths: 1 length, 240-280cm adjustable
- Ultra-lightweight shaft and blades have few rivals
- Infinitely adjustable length between 240- and 280-centimeters, and infinite feathering
- Blade design strikes a perfect balance between power, speed, and endurance
- Despite the carbon composite blade, this paddle has a good reputation for being rugged enough for most anglers
- One of the most expensive paddles available across all disciplines
- No hook puller
Wilderness Systems didn’t start making angling paddles until long after other manufactures had established fishing-specific options, but they entered into the game with one of the very best ever made. The Alpha Angler Carbon is one of the lightest paddles available—even amongst touring paddles. At only 27-ounces, you might worry that all this 100% carbon paddle is fragile, but users have found that it holds up well to average angling abuse. Just be careful not to get it wedged and twist it, as this is when full-carbon paddles are most likely to break. The blades are a great compromise between speed and acceleration, and all-day endurance. At 610-square-centimeters they are average in total surface area, but their shape creates the perfect balance.
There are two other really great alternatives that must be discussed at this level of performance: the Bending Branches Angler Pro Plus and the Werner Camano Adjustable Shaft. In my opinion, the Bending Branches Angler Pro Plus paddle is the primary competition. It is a truly legendary full-carbon paddle with very high marks across the board, including durability and efficiency, and weighs the same as the Wilderness Systems Alpha Angler Carbon. However, the main reason I’d choose the Wilderness Systems over the Bending Branches model is the ultimate flexibility in sizing and feathering.
The Werner Camano Adjustable Shaft is 3-ounces heavier than the Wildness System paddle, but it’s also $90 less expensive. This alone may make it a better choice over the Wilderness Systems for a lot of anglers. However, it’s a more endurance-oriented paddle, designed primarily for low-angle paddling. This is either a pro- or con- depending on your style.
Why It Made the Cut
This angling-specific paddle may not be ultra-lightweight, but it’s extremely affordable, has some angling-specific features, and is super durable.
- Shaft and Blade Construction: Aluminum shaft, fiberglass reinforced polypropylene blades
- Weight: 2.6 pounds
- Lengths: 2 lengths, 240cm or 250cm only
- Very low price rivals the cheapest aluminum shaft paddles
- Durable and strong
- Relatively efficient paddle works well for high- or low-angle paddlers
- Has a hook retriever, landing hook, hi-vis measuring tape, and an ergonomic shaft
- Not the stiffest blade by a long shot
If you are new to kayak fishing, not paddling far, on a budget, or are looking to add a paddle to a peddle or powered kayak, then the Pelican Poseidon Angler is an excellent choice. It’s a very simple, budget paddle. However, it packs some features that are often only found on paddles costing three- to five-times more. One of these features is an ergonomic grip. It’s oval in the places that your hands are to be placed, helping you hold the paddle and identify the optimal hand placement. It’s not the lightest paddle out there, but it rivals many others with full fiberglass shafts and blades.
The Poseidon Angler allows feathering of the blades, and it’s available in two lengths: 240 and 250cm. This won’t work for all kayaks or anglers, but it will for most. You’ll probably notice the budget-build the most in the stiffness and efficiency of the blade. However, I’ve found the blade to be ultra-tough. If you’re someone who is prone to dropping paddles, smacking them on rocks, stepping on them, or other mishaps (or intentional abuse like polling with it), this paddle can take a beating.
A good alternative to the Poseidon is the Bending Branches Angler Rise, which is only slightly more expensive, but also slightly lighter and USA made. Pelican also makes the Catch paddle, which is a half-pound lighter than the Poseidon with a full fiberglass shaft. It’s a substantial upgrade, but it’ll cost you double the price of the Poseidon. At that price, the Old Town Magic Angler is a nice alternative with a more efficient blade that’s available in four sizes.
Why It Made the Cut
It’s hard to have it all with any angling or kayaking product, but the Angler Ace paddle is as close as you can get. The lightweight and efficient design, rugged durability, reasonable price, lots of size options, and made in the USA construction makes it just about perfect.
- Shaft and Blade Construction: 100% carbon fiber shaft, nylon carbon-reinforced blades
- Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Lengths: 6 lengths, 230-280cm
- Lightweight and comfortable 100% carbon fiber shaft
- Nylon reinforced blades are light but strong — ready for long paddles and the abuse that comes with fishing hard
- USA made, with a reputation for craftsmanship and durability
- Paddle has hook retriever and shaft measuring tape
- None at this price, but if I’m nit-picking, it only has two feathering angle options
Bending Branches has a reputation for making the very best kayak paddles. The Angler Ace is one of the very best paddles for fishing, and one of the company’s finest offerings. This paddle, while certainly not a budget make, is an incredible bargain when you consider how light and powerful it is. At less than two-pounds, it rivals many full-carbon bladed paddles.
However, this paddle has an infusion of nylon in the blades to prevent them from splitting or cracking when bumped against hard objects, pushing off from shore, or even using it as a push-pole. This is critical for anglers who find themselves in the shallows right in the thick of the logs, stumps, boulders, pilings, and all kinds of other hard objects. It’s the best of both worlds. The design of the blade is flexible for both high- and low-angle paddlers and strikes a balance between quick acceleration and all-day endurance. Add in a hook-puller and a shaft measuring tape, and you have an amazing USA-made paddle at a reasonable price.
That being said, there is one very serious alternative at the exact same price. If you’re looking for infinite feathering (between 0- and 60-degrees) the Aquabound Manta Ray Carbon is the first place you should look. Aquabound is owned by Bending Branch, and the Manta Ray Carbon is strikingly similar to the Angler Ace. The Manta Ray gains fully adjustable feathering but misses the hook puller and shaft-mounted tape measure. Depending on your priorities, the Manta Ray might be the better pick.
If you want to save a few more ounces, are looking for more efficiency, and are willing to spend another $75, the Werner Camano is an extremely light (1.7-pound) paddle with a narrower blade design (designed for long-distance efficiency) at around $300.
How I Made My Picks
My choice in fishing kayak paddles is based on nearly 30-years of angling experience, including 20-years of kayak angling in both fresh and saltwater. I have owned a bunch of kayaks over the years—models costing from 200 to over 3000-dollars—and started fishing out of a kayak before specialty angling kayaks were available for purchase. I’ve owned a variety of paddles, top-tier full carbon touring paddles, all-aluminum bargains, and several fiberglass and carbon composite options in between. As a professional fishing writer and photographer, I also have a lot of contacts in the kayak angling world, and talk with anglers frequently about their fishing experiences, preferences, and top-picks.
When evaluating fishing kayak paddles, I based my choices on:
- Length: Does the paddle come in lengths appropriate for anglers?
- Weight: How light is the paddle?
- Blade Design: Is the blade designed for high- or low-angle paddling, or can it be used for both? How efficient is it over long distances, versus how powerful is it for quick acceleration? How stiff is it overall?
- Adjustability: Is the paddle length adjustable? By how much, and how easy is it to adjust? How adjustable is the feathering?
- Durability: Can the paddle hold up to angling abuse?
- Angling-specific features: Does it offer a hook puller, docking assist, measuring tape, or other features?
- Cost: Does the paddle provide good value?
Q: How much does a fishing kayak paddle cost?
Kayak paddles come in a huge range of prices. You can find budget paddles that work just fine for less than $25, while high-end touring paddles can exceed $600. Like many other things in outdoor sports, the very cheapest options should be avoided, while the very highest are probably unnecessary for most users. Shaft and blade material—and therefore, weight—will be the primary driver of price for most paddles. I think almost all anglers will be happy with a mid-range or budget paddle between 60- and 250-dollars.
Q: Do better kayak paddles make a difference for fishing?
Anglers not paddling far or facing any strong wind, current, or waves can get by with an inexpensive, basic paddle. But anglers that are going to be paddling long distances, spending lots of time on the water, hauling a lot of gear, or having to power against current or wind, a nice paddle can make kayaking a lot more efficient.
There’s also an argument to be made that anything that decreases angler fatigue will allow them to focus more on fishing. So, a paddle could make a difference in the number for fish caught every outing. I think a mid-range, high-quality paddle is worth the extra cost for this reason.
Q: Is a carbon fiber kayak paddle worth it?
The short answer is yes, a carbon fiber paddle is worth it. Carbon fiber paddles have come down dramatically in price, and the lower weight and stiffer shaft are now worth the price for most anglers, even those only covering short distances.
However, I would caution you against using full carbon blades. If you’re going to be in any kind of heavy, hard structure, a carbon blade is easily damaged. In this case, it’s probably best to go with a full-carbon shaft and a fiberglass or fiberglass-reinforced carbon blade.
The kayak paddle may seem like an after-thought for many anglers, but it’s as essential to kayak fishing as the boat or rod, and far more important than any electronics. The best kayak paddles for fishing will make long hours on the water more efficient and enjoyable. Choosing the one that matches best with you and your boat, your angling goals, and your budget will ultimately lead to more fish and more fun this year on the water.