Are Fishing Kayaks good for non-fishing?

I am brand new to the world of kayaking and am looking to buy my first kayak. My only concern is that I want to be able to do multiple things with my kayak. I love fishing and want to fish from my kayak, but that isn’t going to be all that I do. I live on the coast with access to tidal rivers, marsh and wetlands, multiple large and small rivers, the ocean, and several freshwater rivers and lakes. I want access to most if not all of these different environments with the boat I purchase. Should I buy a fishing kayak and use it for both fishing and recreation, or should I buy a recreational kayak and rig it for fishing too? I have a budget of about $400, and Dick’s is currently having a sale on kayaks, so any advice or recommendations would e greatly appreciated!

First thing
Dick’s kayaks go on sale every 6 weeks so relax a bit.

A fishing kayak can be paddled without fishing but they tend to be based on being stable, which means wide, which means slower than skinnier kayaks. You can explore by yourself but if you were trying to keep up with a group in non- fishing kayaks you would fall well behind.

Save up some more money while watching
the classified ads for a good used kayak. For fishing, you want stability so when you make sudden moves, you DON’T tip over, besides the space to put gear. But to get stability, you have to have width when you are using a short kayak, and these $400 “rec” boats will be not so fun to go any distance in.

Technically, mine is a “fishing” kayak but I’ve done a lot of the stuff you have listed. By going with the longest, lightest thing I could find that I could fit with my hips and legs being the way they are, that I could also fit into the truck bed by myself with acceptable overhang, plus fit into the garage, I can go as fast as I need to most of the time. So much less effort to paddle a longer kayak, compared to a shorter one. My other kayak is only about 1- 1/2 feet shorter, and 20 lbs heavier, but it is the same thing in function - once you go to 12’ or longer, it’s so much easier you’ll never go back to short kayaks (unless you are running whitewater). With a lighter kayak, I try to carefully balance any weight I put in the front hatch with some stuff I put in the back, this makes a difference in how it handles. (this also provokes a great deal of amusement sometimes from observers watching me set up, but they haven’t paddled my kayak on a windy day). You also want to allow for the weight of whatever stuff you’ll be taking with you, aka, your short cheaper $400 kayak might not actually be designed to carry that much, ride too low, and you’ll end up with water coming over the sides and then… it tips over.

I’ve seen big people get into small sit-in kayaks (8 to 10 ft) and I have sort of shuddered sometimes when seeing how low they were in the water just moving off the dock and how tippy the whole rig was. I don’t think they were thinking about how their whole situation balanced. I’m not implying you are big, but that these short kayaks really, really sometimes just don’t have very much load capacity -less than they appear to. If they do go over, and you don’t have bulkheads built in, they don’t do what my sit on top does, it just floats upside down and then self drains when flipped back over. Instead, they require much more of a ritual to get them emptied out to float upright again, and then they are almost impossible to get back into from the water.

I’ve also seen people doing almost anything with a short, stable sit on top, which had a lot of weight bearing ability, except go very fast, and they didn’t care because it was fun. They could wear a bathing suit, jump in on a hot day, then get back on. It’s not a crisis if the cooler doesn’t have a counter weight or if you lean over because your hat blew off after the water skiers blew by.

The other thing is that you have to consider the type of conditions you are paddling in. I have to deal a lot with power boat wake sometimes on summer weekends, not to mention jet skis, so I want something that is really good at handling waves coming at you from more than one direction at the same time you’re on a current and there’s a cross wind, without my feeling like I might suddenly tip over.