The reasons anglers choose one or the other range from the type of water they frequent all the way to physical limitations. I am a paddler and choose to fish from a Wilderness Systems Ride 135, but I have a lot of friends that use a pedal powered kayak of some kind. Traveling to tournaments around the southern region of the country, I have seen no evidence that one type of kayak dominates the podium on the competitive scene. Both kinds of boats have their pros and cons, this article will take a hard look at both.
Paddle vs. Pedal
I have been a part of many shotgun starts and it is hard to argue that a pedal powered kayak can get the jump out of the gate on some paddle powered vessels and maintain speed over the long haul. But I will go to the top end of this attribute to make a comparison. Kayaks built for speed like the Tarpon 160 from Wilderness Systems can outrun any pedal powered vessel in a race to the honey hole. So if speed is a concern, paddlers can actually get an edge here if they are willing to invest in a boat built with speed in mind.
Wind can be a real issue for the kayak angler. Many times the best fishing spot is in an open water area exposed to some significant wind. Pedal kayaks can point their boat straight into the wind and use their legs to maintain position without ever missing a cast. Holding position on deep structure in open water is much easier in a pedal powered yak. Paddlers can do some things to combat this (anchoring, drift socks, drag chains, etc..) but will still get pushed around.
The sheer weight and width of most pedal kayaks put them behind the paddlers in this category.
This is one of the main reasons I choose to be a paddler. Ask most kayak anglers and they will tell you getting into shallow, tight, hard to reach spots is one of the coolest things about fishing from a kayak. I have taken my Ride 135 into some sketchy spots with no trouble. If fishing rivers and streams, the ability to turn and/or correct position is essential, it is hard to do that in the boats with a pedal drive system. There have been advancements with the rudder set up on some pedal kayaks, but I still think the paddler has an advantage here.
What makes the pedal yaks less maneuverable (weight and width) makes them super stable. I have seen guys jump up and down in anger and excitement in their pedal boat without falling out. Paddle powered vessels like my Ride 135 are no slouch in this category. At 6'3" with long skinny legs I am not built for standing in a kayak, but I can do it with no issue in my boat. Still, the pedalers win this one.
Without going into great detail here, paddlers win. Paddle powered yaks are lighter and can cut through areas with literally only inches of water to float on. The drive systems and weight of pedal boats make this difficult.
Fishability is a made up term I guess. Rigging options, comfort, stability, speed, and storage all play into this attribute. Today's fishing kayaks, both paddle and pedal powered, come out of the box with some great options for kayak fisherman. Rod holders, track systems, electronic mounts, dry storage, all come standard on most manufacturers angler package kayak. The advancement in seating options makes a day on the water so much more comfortable in both types of boats, my new AirPro Max seat literally added hours to my fishing day. Rigging options for both types of boats are almost endless, I see creative ways to add options to a fishing kayak pop up on social media everyday. Being hands free certainly gives pedalers more casts per day, but this is offset by the paddlers ability to get into areas that others can't.
Overall Advantage: Even
Looking at the big picture I think the argument is a wash. Fishing kayaks come in all shapes and sizes, anglers should choose their boat based on personal preference. I am a paddler and prefer that type of boat, but everyone has the right to choose for themselves. The bottom line is no matter what type of kayak you have, it will not put fish in the boat for you. Map study, research, and above all practice on the water is what wins tournaments. Whats your opinion? Answer the poll below and/or leave a comment to weigh in on the "great kayak debate".