With every successive year the fishing kayak fleet gets better. Nowhere is this truer than with the battle cruisers. These stretched-out ‘yaks are designed to take the punishment dished out by the open ocean.
By stretched-out I mean fishing kayaks in the 14 to 16-foot range, with the kind of long stride that steps right over sloppy short-interval chop. These boats stick tried and true to a designated course rather than stagger drunkenly when the seas grow large, and have the heft to support full-day trips and carry back a bonus catch.
Flagship fishing kayaks are at home off La Jolla or Albion’s more rugged northerly waters. They’re also right in the sweet spot in confused froth and ripping current of the Coronado Isles, site of this year’s annual WON latest-and-greatest fishing kayak test run.
Full disclosure: Our catchy test crew didn’t paddle out to South Island or the Middle Grounds. We cheated, hopping a ride on a power cat sporting 600 horses. Once we got there, it was a different story. Then it was seat time. Here’s what we discovered about four of 2011’s premier ocean-going ‘yaks:
First things first, this isn’t your older brother’s Marauder. This is a meaner machine, reborn, reworked and renewed. The hull remains 14 feet long and 31 inches wide, but the cramped foot wells are long gone, replaced with a copious cockpit with an all-new sealed center hatch system. Add plumbing and just like that you’ve got a live well.
There are goodies galore, including a scupper transducer mount, upgraded foot pegs, Cobra’s trademark Xtra Fishy molded-in measuring tape, and all kinds of deck real estate for easy rigging.
The Marauder is a fine ride, with shapely upturned ends that give the boat plenty of wave-riding lift and aid maneuverability. As a trade-off, glide is decreased meaning a few more paddle strokes per mile. When dashing out of danger among the boiler rocks, we appreciated the ability to quickly carve through turns. $899; www.cobrakayaks.com
Hobie Mirage Revolution
Tried and tested, Hobie’s pedal-powered Revolution is practically perfect. Its name might as well be ‘no revision,’ as the company got it right from the very beginning. At just under 13.5 feet in length by 28 inches wide, the affectionately nicknamed Revo is the shortest in this test fleet. Don’t get the wrong idea. This boat doesn’t lack open water stature.
Why? Hobie’s unique hands-free pedal-powered Mirage Drive system easily eats up the miles, affording Hobie’s designers the maneuverability edge that comes with a slightly shorter length. The ride is dry and stable. Thanks to a redesigned rudder system, control is the next thing to effortless.
Aftermarket rigging is a little bit more challenging than with traditional paddle-powered ‘yaks - there’s less deck space to accommodate the pedal drive. Hobie makes up for the minor shortcoming with a veritable avalanche of accessories including a top-notch bait tank and the eVolve, a high-tech but pricey electric motor add-on that’s so much fun it should be illegal. Quality is top-notch across the line. $1,799; www.hobiefishing.com
Ocean Kayak Trident Ultra 4.7
Built and bred for the ocean, OK’s New Zealand import really stands out. The Trident Ultra 4.7 feels a lot like the company’s proven Trident 15, only swifter and supremely well equipped. Taping out at 15-feet, 5-inches long by 29 wide, the boat somehow sports both heft and grace.
History-making rigging features include the Multifunctional Reversible Center Hatch Cover, a mouthful synonymous with awesome. The top of this uniquely jointed center hatch cover flips over for safe storage of sensitive electronics during splashy surf transits. There’s the expected transducer compatibility, only this time it doesn’t clog a scupper.
Aftermarket add-ons are legion, including a hand-pump bait tank, an internal rod tube and the Ice Box, a serious tank well storage unit. The Ultra comes in only one flavor, ready to fish (with rudder). That brings the base price to $1,600, a premium but fair cost given the fishing-forward features and superb quality. Even minor fittings are molded-in. www.oceankayak.com
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160
The proud Tarpon name goes back to the early days of modern kayak fishing. This fully 16-foot long cruiser is a seasoned veteran, but one that’s evolved so much with the times it is still cutting edge. Nothing marketed for fishing is sweeter to paddle, although it isn’t quite the racehorse of the past. A few years back Wilderness Systems added volume to increase the boat’s carrying capacity, in the process turning out a drier, more forgiving ride. Most anglers will find it better suited to fishing.
The latest Tarpon 160 edition comes standard with the Phase 3 Seat, the best in the business for endurance and comfort. The Orbix hatches are excellent, with easy to operate one-handed hinges. Outfitting includes the SlideTrax accessory rail system, making for drill-free rigging that’s easily adjustable outing by outing.
Although the boat lacks a large center hatch, the oval bow hatch is mounted close enough to the cockpit for on-the-water access. There’s also plenty of room to spare in the enormous tank well. All in all, it’s a supremely slick package, but one that benefits from a rudder when the wind begins to roar. $1,069; www.wildernesssystems.comContact Paul Lebowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org• FINE 2011 FISHING RIDES CRUISE THE CORONADOS – WON took four of today’s most capable ocean-going fishing kayaks for a test spin, and found plenty to love. Here are two reasons to go long when you go for fish, the Cobra Marauder (left) and the Ocean Kayak Trident Ultra 4.7 (right).
• SEASONED VETERAN SHAKES DOWN ON SAN DIEGO BAY – The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 has been around since the early days of modern kayak fishing. It’s a classic, but one that’s evolved with the times. Here Okuma’s John Pawlak digs in to test the boat’s sweet stride.