The best kayak fishing life vest will keep essential gear at your fingertips so you can focus on fishing. After all, kayaks get you to fishy water better than any other watercraft, allowing you to paddle within easy casting distance of hungry fish from your seat, standing up, or hopping out and wading. There is nothing like it.
All that moving around creates a need to carry gear on your person instead of in the boat. No more fumbling through tackle bags or running back to the boat to get a lure or fly you left in a gear tray as the fish move out of range.
Carry what you need at all times and never miss your shot.
I researched every vest on the market and narrowed it to two contenders in the battle of the best kayak fishing life vest.
Astral Ronny Fisher vs. Stohlquist Fisherman.
The goal of this article is to evaluate both vests, choose a winner, buy it and test it out for myself (spoiler alert, I bought the bright green one). You can skip down to read my review of the winner by clicking here.
The Four Criteria
- Safety. The vests need to perform when you need them.
- Comfort. Are they wearable in all conditions and for long periods of time?
- Function. Is the layout, storage and accessibility of gear functional and easy?
- Durability. Will the vest hold up year after year?
Both vests are made specifically for fisherman with drop down front pockets, tons of nooks and crannies for storing your essential gear in pockets, on tabs and tie downs. They are both super practical in design and have all of the flotation and safety features a good PFD should have.
But, there can only be one Highlander!
And there can only be one best kayak fishing life vest!
The First Contender..
Astral Ronny Fisher
Launched in January 2014 the Fisher is a relative newcomer that has quickly become a top seller.
The Astral, 'Thin Vent' technology separates this vest from the pack making it both comfortable and breathable in any climate.
Pockets, bungees and tie downs for any gear you might need, where you need it.
Retails for $149.95
Why are your wearing a fishing vest at all? Safety. With 16 pound of buoyancy in it's polyethylene foam the Fisher will keep you bobbing like a cork even if you share my dimensions (5' 11" and 230 pounds). The balanced distribution of foam in front and back also keeps you effortlessly upright in case you do find yourself suddenly overboard.
The vest also comes in a Flash Green which is highly visible and a great choice for offshore fisherman or anyone fishing where there's boat traffic. The Charcoal version is better suited for waters where visibility isn't such an issue. Both vests have reflective accents built in for low light or no light fishing.
One unique feature of the Astral Ronny vest is the rain hood which hides in the collar. It's bright yellow with a reflective strip on the top which is smart as bad weather usually comes with low visibility. This makes it much easier for everyone to see you even in a serious downpour.
The biggest comfort issue with any kayak fishing life vest is the back. Most seats run half way up the back and a bulky, low vest can be incredibly uncomfortable and ride up around the neck making it harder to fish. If you want to be the best kayak fishing life vest you better be comfortable.
The Astral Ronny Fisher solves this problem with the proprietary 'Thin Vent' foam technology. A thin foam back with a center vent and mesh inner keeps the vest in place and comfortable all day even in warm climates. Paddlers in Florida continue to rave about the all day comfort even in 80 and 90 degree temps.
You can see just how thin the back of this vest is. Add in the vent strip down the center and you have a design for all day paddling comfort.
Adding to the comfortable fit are multiple adjustment points in the strap system both in the shoulder and waist. Fisherman of any size and dimension can dial the vest in to their particular needs.
As you can see from the picture the makers of this have thought of almost everything as far as tool and gear storage goes and packed it into the limited space on the front of the vest.
Both flip down pockets hold a small tackle box, fly box, multiple bags of soft plastics etc. The pockets within the pockets and on front of the pockets (did I mention there are lots of pockets) will hold small items you like to have easy access to. The flip down lids also serve as work surfaces for lure and fly changes, etc.
The tool organizer on the left covers with a velcro flap which keep snag and hang ups to a minimum. The beverage holder on the right is an interesting idea but not something I would see myself using.
Overall the vest ranks very high in practicality and overall storage. Fly fisherman like the vertical, narrow pockets which don't interfere with casting (something they did not like in the Stohlquist).
The vest is constructed of 500 denier cordura in the shell and 1050 denier Ballistic fabric in the wear zones. Super tough and holds up to the hooks and other rough and tumble gear that it will get packed with.
I really like the two front fold down pockets that can hold a fly box, leatherman tool, scissors, etc. LOTS of room for all the 'small stuff' that you use frequently while kayak fishing. It's easy to put on and I have no issues with being too hot. I fish in NE Florida with heat indices well over 100 degrees in the summer and do not find this PFD to add to the heat related issues.
Our friends at Austin Canoe and Kayak have video reviews of most of the products they carry and endorse. This one will give you another opinion of the Astral Ronny Fisher as we look for the best kayak fishing PFD.
Our Next Contender in the Battle of the Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest
The Fisherman has been around for a long time (2001) and has been the go to fishing PFD for years.
Well thought out flip down pockets and other gear storage features.
High back floatation keeps the vest up and out of the way which is very comfortable on long outings.
Retails for $129.95
This is a type III PFD with close to 17 pounds of buoyancy which is equally distributed front and back which will keep you upright should you go in the drink. There are several positive reviews from big guys (250 lbs) that have water tested this vest and it passed with flying colors. It also comes in a higher visibility color (Mango, pictured above) with reflective piping which would be a good choice in high traffic waters.
One of the biggest comfort features of the vest is the floatation, which is pushed higher up the back. This is designed to sit above your seatback so it doesn't ride up on your shoulders. If your kayak has a higher seatback it may still interfere so you will want to check before you buy.
With two adjustable side straps, adjustable shoulder straps and adjustable chest straps (which other vests don't have) you can dial in the Fisherman to fit to your measurements making it super comfortable.
The large flip down front pockets which double as handy work surfaces set this vest apart from any other. You can fit alot of gear in each pocket as well as the inner, mesh zip pockets. There's a place to lash down just about anything you need from pliers, to nippers, to tippets and small lure boxes.
There's even a small velcro strap on the upper, just like a real fishing vest, for strapping in a rod when you are re-rigging. (p.s. hardly anyone uses these anymore which is crazy, it's nice that they included it).
The shell is constructed of Rip Stop, 500 denier cordura with and EVA coating that gives it extra stiffness in the pockets to protect your gear. The liner is make of 200 denier oxford which is tough stuff. The Fisherman will last for years.
I had 2 Stohlquist Brik PFDs and have been really impressed with the quality. The gator grip keeps it stuck in place so you don't have it sliding up on you and it's really easy to adjust. This fisherman version is even better. Pockets are really easy to get in and out of. Would highly recommend for kayaking (my use). Gives a really great free range of motion.
Our friends at Austin Canoe and Kayak have video reviews of most of the products they carry and endorse. This one will give you another opinion of the Stohlquist Fisherman as we look for the best kayak fishing PFD.
And The Winner of the Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest Is...
The Astral Ronny Fisher
The Astral Ronny Fisherman wins the award for the best kayak fishing PFD. It was a tough decision... both vests are very high quality, well designed, functional with alot of great features. At the end of the day it comes down to your personal preferences which is how the Astral Ronny Fisher took the title of the best fishing life vest.
The three main factors that won me over:
1. The lower profile of the front pockets was a big factor in my decision. I get irritated with anything that interferes with casting and the Astral has a big advantage over the Stohlquist in this category. They are set narrow and vertical which keeps them out of the way plus they hold a ton of gear! Something the best kayak fishing life vest has to have.
2. The second factor was the comfort of the back of the vest. My kayak (a Perception Pescador 10) has a high seat back and even though the flotation on the Stohlquist is high on the back it isn't high enough. It rode up and pressed into my neck which immediately ruled it out. The 'Thin Vent' back of the Astral Ronny Fisher is so thin that it doesn't get hung up on your seat and you hardly feel it back there.