Latest & Greatest for Kayak Fishermen

Latest & Greatest for Kayak Fishermen
Ruben from FTU playing with the new Peekaboo floor.
I just got back on the ground in Houston after nearly a week in Salt Lake City attending the Outdoor Retailer Show. This is the largest outdoor industry show of the year and many of the kayak companies take this opportunity to launch their latest and greatest kayaks and accessories. EJ has been gracious enough to allow me to slide a few days past the usual deadline so that I can share with you folks the upcoming product introductions for 2008.

The first day of the show was dedicated to an on-the-water demo at Pineview Reservoir near Ogden, Utah. It was quite a sight to see over a thousand kayaks stretched out for several hundred yards on the beach of a beautiful mountain lake. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but with some effort I was able to narrow everything down and concentrate on the products of greatest interest to kayak fishermen. It was nice to be able to paddle so many of the models, jumping out of one into another. The kayak fishing community is always preaching to demo before you buy, but this was pretty amazing. Most consumers will never see this variety of models simply because it would be impossible for one retailer to carry them all. I’ve purposely avoided any paddling reviews
in this column because I’ve come to find that two people rarely feel the same about the characteristics of different boats. Instead I’ll let you know what’s new and then encourage you to go out to a local demo day to try the boats out for yourself.

Let me start off by saying that overall I was somewhat disappointed at the number of truly new kayaks aimed at the fishing crowd. Given that kayak fishing is the fastest growing segment of the paddle sports industry I fully expected to see more. That said, there were still enough new and interesting things at the show to keep me and my camera busy. There were some new models, models with added features or tweaks, as well as currently established models that will now be offered in new materials.

By far the most active company was Legacy Paddlesports, owner of the Native, Heritage, and Liquidlogics brands. Legacy has only been around for two years, but they have solidified their line-up by adding some new boats and moving models between brands in an effort to simplify. With the recent purchase of Liquidlogic, Legacy found themselves with fishing kayaks in all three of their brands. They have now moved the Manta Ray kayaks out of Liquidlogic and into the Native line. Liquidlogic is now focused on whitewater. Owner Andy Zimmerman stated that the move was made in order to make things easier and less confusing for retailers as well as consumers. He described the Heritage brand as their “value” line with fewer features and lower prices. The Native is considered their high-end line with many added features as well as integrated accessories designed specifically for the fisherman.

Heritage basically stood pat on their line-up of Redfish kayaks in ten, twelve, and fourteen foot models. For 2008 the Redfish received a new seat and upgraded foot braces. The seat is the same as that used in the Native boats and is referred to as the DVC (drains, vents, and cushions) system.

The Native brand contains three lines aimed at fishermen. The three lines come in various sizes and configurations which are the Ultimate, Manta Ray, and Magic. The Ultimate’s overall design remains basically unchanged; the big news lies in material upgrade. The Ultimate is now available in Tegris, the material that was introduced by Liquidlogic at last year’s show. Tegris is described as a 100% polypropylene thermoplastic composite that features multiple layers of woven fabric within a sheet of plastic that can be thermoformed. The fabric lends greater durability and impact resistance than standard thermoformed plastic. The best way I can describe the look and feel is that of a Kevlar composite kayak. The result is a 12’ kayak fully outfitted with seat and foot braces that weighs less than 35 pounds.

As noted above, the Manta Rays are now flying under the Native banner. There were no structural design changes for the Manta. However, it did get the DVC seating system as well as the larger foot braces that have been standard on the Ultimate boats.

The Magic line got a new 14.5 foot boat in addition to the previous 12 footer. These boats use a unique Plug and Play System giving you the ability to adjust the seat and foot braces to properly trim the boat and balance the load. The system consists of a series of molded grooves along the gunnels and an aluminum locking strip. The new 14.5 can be configured as a solo or tandem by simply moving the single seat forward and inserting a second seat. The system also accommodates a host of specialized fishing accessories such as rod holders and paddle clips that can be plugged in to the same grooves as the seats.

Speaking of accessories, Legacy’s fishing manager, Jimbo Meador, has been quite busy developing solid, functional fishing accessories for all of the lines. There is a complete set of soft-sided coolers designed to fit the open spaces of the Ultimate. The coolers can do double duty as dry storage when needed. Two of the coolers have a middle divider making it possible to store fish separately from cold drinks. Another cool toy Jimbo showed me was a combination push pole, paddle, and stake-out pole. It has multiple sections that can be easily changed. He also noted with a sly grin that there were many more cool toys in the works.

Ocean Kayak premiered a couple of new siton-top models that were pretty interesting. The new Trident has already hit a few of the stores and is drawing good reviews. It is an addition to the established Prowler series and comes in at just over 15.5 feet. Compared to the original Prowler 15, the new boat has more volume in the bow and slightly less rocker resulting in a longer waterline.

The literature claims better speed while maintaining solid stability. There are a couple of new angler-inspired features on the Trident tagged as the Rod Pod and the Sonar Shield. The Rod Pod is a large rectangular hatch in the floor of the cockpit which allows you to store several fully rigged 8 foot rods inside the hull and retrieve them without leaving the seat. This is a mighty handy option to protect expensive gear for those who head out through the surf. The Sonar Shield is a hinged hood covering a recessed area at the foot of the cockpit. The design allows you to protect your sonar or GPS unit while crashing through surf and then acts as a shade to help you view the screen more easily. The Trident also borrows from last year’s Big Game with a transducer compatible front scupper.

West coast kayaker Jim Samons was hovering around the new Trident showing off all the new features as well as the new soft-sided bait tank that was sitting in the tankwell. Most of you know him from the famous photograph circulating on the internet of the kayaker hooked up with a marlin. Jim helped design the new baitwell which is being produced and sold by Shimano. It was good to see two major players like Shimano and Ocean working together to develop new products for kayak fishermen. The baitwell is basically a heavy-duty soft-sided cooler bag outfitted with plumbing, a pump, and a gel cell battery. Shimano also incorporated four rod holders into the design making this a great piece of equipment whether you use it for keeping bait or as a semi-dry storage unit. And should the bag fall overboard, it is designed to float with approximately forty pounds of gear inside. It looks like a well-designed upgrade from the standard milk crate and will fit the tankwell of any fishing style sit-on-top.

The second all new sit-on-top from Ocean is a bit gimmicky for serious fishing, but might be fun in certain situations. The Peekaboo is a 12 foot kayak with a large polycarbonate viewing window in the floor that allows you to see what’s going on under your boat. It also has a rearward facing kid’s jumpseat. The boat is wide, stable, and has a large load capacity making it a good pick for taking the kiddo out on the water.

Ocean has also brought angler packages to two of their previous models. The Caper Lady Angler is the standard Caper rigged with an angler package. And yeah, it comes in pink! One percent of the sales from this kayak will be donated to breast cancer research. The other is the Malibu Two XL, a tandem kayak rigged with four rod holders, a tackle box, and a center hatch. I’ve never been a huge fan of tandem kayaks for two adults going fishing, but if a parent wanted to take a young child this would be a great boat.

Confluence Watersports, owner of Wilderness Systems, Perception, and Mad River lines, had no new hulls for this debut, but they still have a lot going on! Last year’s whirlwind introduction of five new fishing sit-on-tops gave them a solid line-up of fishing boats. This year’s big news is their new Airlite material and the Tarpon 120 Ultralight. The prototype boat unveiled at the show is still getting a few tweaks and probably not an exact representation of what the finished product will look like, but it gave us the basic idea. According to sources within the company they have obtained new equipment that will allow them to include more detailed in their thermoformed boats. Bob McDonough, the company’s head of R&D, stated that the new Tarpon should come in at around 44 pounds. There was no firm date set for the launch of the new boat, but they were talking about getting it to market before the end of the year. Nobody would say whether or not the rest of the Tarpon line would be duplicated in Airlite. Other news out of Confluence is the redesign of the fishing dashboard for the sit-inside kayaks. The new dashboard incorporates a sealed storage compartment and a hanging pocket.

Likewise, Hurricane didn’t offer up any new models, but they did tweak their current boats with some cockpit refinements. All of their Phoenix sit-on-tops now have recessed mounting surfaces for their adjustable foot braces including the P120 which previously had molded foot wells.

Hobie’s new model is an inflatable sit-on-top with their patented Mirage Drive pedal system. I didn’t get to try this one out, but the company representative claims performance similar to their roto-formed boats. They also claim the heavy duty material can withstand the rigors of fishing. Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t get past the fact that that this is an inflatable boat in an environment of hooks, oysters, and fins. I have to admit the material
seemed pretty solid so maybe they can prove me wrong. I can see the usefulness of a kayak that deflates and packs into the size of a large suitcase and weighs 54 pounds. It would come in handy for air travel or perhaps to carry along in an RV. Hobie has also added a molded livewell designed to fit in the tankwell of their fishing kayaks. The livewell holds approximately 8 gallons and includes a 6 volt battery, recirculation pump, and rod holders.

Emotion Kayaks has introduced a serious entry into the fishing market with their new Grand Slam. Dave Hadden, sales and product manager for Emotion, stated that he spoke with a number of kayak fishermen from all across the country to get input on the design. He then took these suggestions and designed a functional fishing craft. The Grand Slam has a sharp entry to keep it quiet and reduce bow spray, while extra volume in the bow allows it to carry more weight and ride over waves more efficiently. There’s a large forward hatch with a hard plastic cover backed up by a neoprene cover underneath to keep water out. The rear tankwell is sectioned off to create two storage areas. The display model had three large tackle boxes in the forward section behind the seat and there was still plenty of room in the rear section to store your standard gear. An additional 11 by 15 inch floor hatch is available on the angler model and allows for stowage of rods inside the hull similar to the Prowler Trident. Overall this looks like a solid fishing kayak.

Feel Free Kayaks is the newest player in our market. They have several models to choose from, but the one that should appeal most to anglers would be the Moken. The Moken is an interesting design with a covered center console for stowing tackle boxes or other gear you want to keep handy and a large removable hatch cover over the bow storage area. This section is not open to the interior of the hull as are most kayaks of this style. Instead it is much like a standard rear tankwell with scupper holes, but you have the option of leaving it open or protecting it with the hatch cover.

Well there you have it. Like I said in the beginning, we really didn’t see all that many new boats, but there does seem a lot coming in the way of upgrades and accessories. There was however a teaser that really stood out. I got permission to talk about it, but I was not allowed any pictures. Legacy’s Andy Zimmerman took me to the private area of their booth to show me a kayak they hope to have out around March of next year. It is their Ultimate model with a pedal drive system. The pedals rotate the same as a bicycle, not back and forth like the Hobie Mirage Drive. The circular motion felt more natural than the Hobie system and will also allow for the kayak to be propelled forward as well as reverse. It looks like a fairly simple device and weighs less than the Hobie system. From the promotional videos it appears it will be faster with less effort. The entire device pivots up into a cavity in the hull when you enter shallow water. I’m looking forward to testing this one on the water.