Photos and Review By Paul Lebowitz
It’s a good time to be a paddle (or pedal!)-powered angler. Long gone are the old days when a cutting edge fishing machine sported a milk crate. That tacky-looking box ‘borrowed’ from Mega Grocery Mart was ideal for holding a foursome of cut-down PVC pipe sections (aka rod holders) and an old 5-gallon bucket. Not sexy, but effective.
Jury-rig no more. Now no less than a dozen major labels are cranking out purpose-built fishing sleds, or at least keep fishing in mind when laying out their slickest ‘Rec’ boats. Contemporary sit-on-top ‘yaks are chock-full of fishing-friendly features like rod holders, storage capacity, easy to rig decks, and comfortable cockpits contoured for cocking a leg over the side or even, for the daring, standing up to cast.
And it’s no longer a one size fits all world. You can’t throw a dead fish without hitting a wide, stable kayak – perfect rides for the big dudes and the balance-challenged. They ain’t fast but can they ever carry a load. Performance oriented paddle fishers are getting their due too, with a slew of boats hitting the blue water sweet spot. That’s 26 to 28 inches across the beam, wide enough to put down the paddle without fearing a swim, and 14 to 16 feet of boat for a sea-eating stride. Here’s a closer look at this year’s boats.
The Mini-X by Malibu Kayaks
This Mini Cooper of kayaks thinks it’s a truck. It measures a mere nine feet long and 38 pounds (sans hatches), yet boasts an impressive 325 pound weight capacity. In plain English, that means even full tackle boxes and bigger-bodied anglers won’t sink it. The cockpit is plenty long too, easily accommodating a 6’ 4” frame.
Like any short, stubby kayak the Mini-X wants to wander a bit and won’t win any races, but that's hardly a criticism. It isn’t meant to make tracks. This is a boat best suited to small waters or short distances.
Within its limits, the Mini-X is a very competent fishing platform and a solid, stable ride. The deck features an easy-to-rig layout with plenty of room to mount electronics and multiple rod holders. Malibu even found space for its trademark rectangular cockpit hatch, a handy option that few buyers should skip. But think twice about sinking an eight-inch hatch in the tankwell. Under heavy loads it might be underwater.
Some of the earliest lay-ups had an overly flexible seat pan. Malibu stiffened them by inserting a foam block in the hull. More recent boats don’t require that fix.
The Mini-X is a viable choice for fishermen who want something lightweight and easy to tote and store. It’s a great complement to a full-sized main ride, either as a buddy boat or for after work ‘quickies.’
Malibu packed big performance into an improbably small package.
Length: 9 ft.
Max. Width: 31 in.
Capacity: 325 lbs.
Weight: 38 lbs.
Mirage Revolution by Hobie Kayaks
Hobie Mirage kayaks are unique. They're built around Hobie’s pedal-powered drive mechanism, and come complete with a slick rudder system. As long as you don’t need to go backwards on one of these steeds, a paddle is optional. Hands free kayaking anyone? Motor, cast, and sip a beer at the same time. Of course fancy gadgets come with a premium price tag.
Hobie started the Mirage line with a series of wider, shorter boats. Then rolled out something for those with a need for speed last year. The Adventure sizzles, but at 16 feet, it’s too much of a good thing in tight spaces. Enter the new Revolution. At 28.5 inches wide and a bit over 13 feet long, the ‘Revo’ is a fine compromise of speed and stability, equally suited to for fresh or salt water.
Standard fishing-friendly features include two molded rod holders, a big tankwell behind the seat, a cushy backrest, two eight inch hatches, a pair of mesh storage pockets, a paddle keeper on each side of the ‘yak, and a larger bow hatch. Good stuff, although some will find the rod holders too shallow. Solution? Buy rod leashes. Weight capacity is a solid 350 pounds.
The Revolution gets lower than average marks for its deck plan, which is woefully short on space for mounting electronics or rod holders up front. It can still be done, but it will test your ingenuity. On the other hand, the bow hatch couldn’t be any closer to the cockpit, making for easy access.
Here’s a plus: With more volume in the bow and stern and a higher seating position, the Revolution offers a drier ride than its longer predecessor, the Adventure.
Hands-free kayaking. The rest is small stuff. Don’t sweat it.
Length: 13 ft, 5 in.
Max. Width: 28.5 in.
Capacity: 350 lbs.
Weight: 58 lbs.
Mirage Drive Weight: 6.6 lbs.
Prowler Big Game by Ocean Kayak
The name Big Game says it all. Ocean Kayak’s newest addition to the capable Prowler line is a 12’ 9” beast designed specifically for fishing. With a capacity of 550-600 lbs., it easily floats an NFL lineman. His uniform will stay dry too, because the Big Game’s seat is perched high above the water. Normally such an elevated seating position would compromise stability. Not on this 34-inch wide aircraft carrier.
But this is more than a ‘big man’ boat. The Big Game’s incredible stability appeals to people who find narrower kayaks too tippy, and offers the user a new perspective – the lofty view that comes from standing upright. This baby is great for spotting fish on the flats, and it’s easy because Ocean Kayak provided flat footwells and deck space for that purpose.
It comes ready to fish, with a couple of flush-mounted rod holders and all the usual stuff like a tankwell and bow hatch and acres of deck space for mounting accessories. There are some real surprises here too, like a front scupper that doubles as a mounting point for fish-finder transducers. About time! A unique below-deck shelf is hiding under the bow hatch that acts as a battery tray. The center console provides additional, easy to reach storage beneath a removable lid. And in a first for Ocean Kayak, there’s room for an optional rectangular hatch just in front of the seat.
What are the drawbacks? As expected, this massive machine takes considerable effort to get going. Once moving it’s no speed demon either. There’s some hull slap – more commonly known as noise as the boat splashes through the water – but its quiet enough.
A big boat for big fish. Game on.
Length: 12 ft, 9 in.
Max. Width: 34 in.
Capacity: 550-600 lbs.
Weight: 69 lbs.
Tandem + 1 by Cobra Kayaks
The Tandem + 1 has room for a pair and then some. Cobra’s newest boat takes the company’s popular Tandem and stretches it out to 14.5 feet. The extra length makes a tremendous difference, turning a claustrophobic ride for a pair of full-sized fishers into a floating limo with room to kick back and cast in comfort.
Lacking showy refinements such as molded rod holders and storage trays, this boat exudes an old school aesthetic. The massive flat deck – the entire length of the boat is one long well – is the pinnacle of utilitarian versatility. Above-deck storage is everywhere and anywhere; even the rails that nearly circle the cockpit are flattened to accept aftermarket mounts and accessories.
This is a good family boat, beamy and stable at 36” wide. For cruising, a child or small adult can sit comfortably in the center seating position. Enjoy the occasional solo voyage? The Tandem + 1 can be paddled single-handed from either the rear or center positions. Of course, at a sturdy 80 pounds, going it alone is a workout. If you want to go solo all the time, buy a single.
The Tandem + 1 comes outfitted with a large rectangular hatch in the center position, and 8 inch round hatches front and rear. There’s storage enough to pack the kitchen sink, and with an oversized 750-pound capacity, plenty of lift to haul you and a full load of fishing gear.
Taking your best buddy kayak fishing without fear of a new lip or ear piercing? Priceless!
Length: 14 ft, 6 in.
Max. Width: 36 in.
Capacity: 750 lbs.
Weight: 80 lbs.
Hot Out of the Rotomold: Perception’s New Search 13 and 15
Two hot-looking new fishing kayaks, the Search 13 and 15, popped out of the rotomolds around holiday time. Perception touts the new pair as stable, weather friendly ‘yaks designed for superior performance in the surf.
The deck and cockpit layouts look strikingly similar to those of the fish-worthy Tarpon line, not surprising since Wilderness Systems is a sister label to Perception. There are several intriguing refinements, including a pair of handy-looking mesh storage pockets in the cockpit and an enlarged center console that features a flat top for mounting electronics or rod holders.
Both models sport a shallow V hull, large stern tankwell with integrated tackle flat storage, a big hatch up on the nose and a small one in the cockpit, a pair of molded-in rod holders, a padded seat pan and back rest and more.
Length: 13 ft. / 15 ft.
Max. Width: 30 in. / 29 in.
Capacity: 300 lbs. / 350 lbs.
Weight: 60 lbs. / 64 lbs.