Over the past ten years I have been in and out of several different fishing kayaks. I started off with a Perception, owned a Native, and now fish out of a Jackson. When I got into the sport, there were only a handful of brands to choose from and the choices were either a paddle kayak or a Hobie. At the time, Hobie was one of the very few brands that offered a kayak with a "peddle power” option.
Within the past few years and the rising popularity of the sport, other kayak companies realized that there was a market for peddle kayaks and started to design them. Now we have a variety of brands from which to choose, each with their own special features.
For nearly my whole kayak career, I have never really had a desire to get into a peddle kayak. One of the main reasons was because 80% of the fishing I do is in the shallows of the marsh. With the water being so shallow, the drive system tends to get stuck in the mud and grass and will not propel you forward. When my buddies who owned peddle kayaks would ask me where I was fishing, I would jokingly tell them I was in a "Hobie-Free Zone." Despite picking on the Hobie brand in that way, I will be the first to say that Hobie makes great kayaks and, just like every boat, they fit certain anglers needs. I guess it was my purist tendency to look at peddle boats from the negative side, and never really considered the benefits they can offer.
For the past year or so, Jackson Kayak has been working to design their own version of a peddle-driven kayak. After an ample amount of time spent in the research and development stages they have finally unveiled a finished product. The Coosa FD is Jackson's design with a drive system that is built into the traditional Coosa body. Their idea behind the drive system, which stands out from other brands, is the "Flex Drive." The concept is based upon the novel idea that when the drive is engaged, and if you were to hit something such as a stump, a reef or run aground, the drive would automatically "flex" or retract into the hull. Once you get clear of the obstruction, the drive will return to its normal position and you can continue to pedal forward.
The new kayak piqued my interest and I figured it would be worthwhile to own and add to my fleet. There are several possibilities and new tactics that I could take advantage of with the FD that would be quite difficult to execute in my Cuda. I would not know for sure, but the only way to find out is to get in one and go.
On my first outing, the initial thing I noticed when I got into the boat was the stability; I never felt unstable and it was easy to maintain center balance. Once I started to peddle and move forward, I then looked at the speed of the boat, which seemed equal to normal paddling.
Next on my list was the steering. On both sides near the gunnels, there was a small handle that when pulled or pushed, would turn the rudder in the direction you wanted to travel. My favorite thing about the steering system is that the connection to the rudder is accomplished by way of fiberglass rods rather than traditional wire cables. No more worries of cables rusting or breaking. The boat steered nicely, albeit after a bit of a learning curve in adjustment and settings. Overall performance is very good and proved very true when turning.
After a little practice to develop a feel for the new outfit, it was time to explore the fishing benefits the FD provided. My favorite part of a peddle drive system is having your hands free while still being able to travel forward. This allowed my rod staying in my hands nearly the whole time while I am on the water; and the more my rod is in my hand, the more fishing I can do. Which, naturally, should lead to catching more fish.
I am a big fan of covering water quickly to maximize my ability to receive reaction strikes from fish I cannot see. Also, since the kayak is driven by your legs, fatigue is not near the issue it is when paddling with your arms. Bottom line - when traveling greater distances, it is possible to cover more water in a shorter amount of time.
One of the other valuable features is discovered when fishing areas with current flow. When the tide starts to move, fishing bayous and channels can become difficult. Some of the factors include the speed of your drift, and the tendency of the current to turn the boat sideways, if you can stay off the bank at all. All of these impact your fishing efficiency very negatively.
On my first voyage, I found that I was able to steer and keep the boat straight when drifting along with the incoming tide. And, since back-peddling is one of the system’s features, I could slow my rate of travel and make more casts to various features along the banks. Very handy indeed when exploring marsh drains.Though I found peddling a bit awkward at first, I mastered it soon enough, and had it down pat by the end of the that first day. I was skeptical originally but now that I have been in one, I definitely see the benefits. Between having my hands free and the back-peddling option to slow my drift in a current, I believe the Coosa FD will make for a great fishing boat. I look forward to refining my technique in the coming months and learning the boat’s full potential.