I have had fiberglass 17’ Great Lakes kayak. Now I want to buy a kayak for small lakes and rivers. I will need to turn back and forth on the rivers. Is 14’ too long? Is 12’ too long? Is 10’ too short? What material is best for the occasional stump kiss? I am 205# and 6/0".
So many variables…
How small is small? How rough are the rivers? Which will you be doing most? Are you looking for speed? Play? A fishing platform?
Maneuverability isn't always a function of length. I can turn my 16' sea kayak faster than many shorter rec boats because I'm comfortable putting it on edge. And boats of the same length can behave very differently -- a Prijon Athlete and a Pungo 100 are similar in length but little else.
Paddler skill makes a big difference. LiquidLogic has footage of someone paddling their 14' Pisgah down class 3/4 whitewater and making it look easy.
The Dagger Approach, Pyranha Speeder, and Prijon Combi 359 are three very different approaches to the lake/river question.
As for materials, any common kayak material should withstand an occasional rock whack or grounding. Stumps are softer than rocks and shouldn't be a problem.
12-14 foot plastic
for small slow moving rivers is a good length. If you want to do whitewater and only whitewater, get a whitewater boat. I’m not convinced any of the “hybrids” are very good at both. Maybe the Approach with its skeg would give you reasonable speed and tracking on slow moving water and be useful in Class II maybe III. But it has such a large cockpit, and is so big inside, I can’t see it as a good boat for serious whitewater.
What is the width of the small river?
I take a 18 foot kayak on narrow rivers all the time.
I also take a 17 foot one and I also take a 9’-6" one.
If you are talking WW it is one thing if your are talking a twenty foot wide flat water river it is completely different and just about any length is fine.
For all-around inland use short of whitewater I'd be tempted by somthing in the 12-14' range, and light enough that loading was a non-issue. Maybe something like a Hurrican Tampico 135?
There's a Looksha Sport in the classifieds in WI for $450 -- that's a very maneuverable 14' kayak that'd be fine for someone your size.
Since I've got a sea kayak and a whitewater boat, but mostly paddle lakes now, I'm thinking about building a Pygmy Tern 14 to be my "rec boat".
We do a number of small,
twisty rivers with riffles with boats in the 12-14.5 range. Us in the 14 footers may have to do a little more manuevering through the tighter spots. Shorter (rec) boats may end up being more work on the long, slower sections and less stable in busier water. One lady in our group has a short recreational type yak, and it sometimes goes over in riffles that the rest of us get through without swimming.
While I like the maneuverability of my 10 foot Perception on small curving streams, I think my husband’s Pungo 120 is the optimal length for small to medium slow streams & rivers, and also for small to medium lakes. My husband is 6’7" tall, and is very comfortable in the Pungo.