Kayak fishing as a modern sport hasn't been around very long, but that relative youth belies its explosive popularity over the past decade or so. With more and more people combining their passions for angling and kayaking, it's no surprise that the variety of crafts specially designed for the pursuit is expanding.
So what's the best fishing kayak available today? A number of great new boats have recently hit the market or are soon to debut--boats that are boldly advancing the frontier of fishing-kayak technology and thereby greatly diversifying the opportunities for anglers. What follows is a quick review of six of the leading options for fishing from a kayak.
We should note that an excellent source of additional information is the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) website: The 2014 show took place in July and spotlighted these kayaks along with a lot of other boats and gear. The ICAST site includes links to videos from the convention, including interviews with exhibitors showing off their flashy fishing 'yaks in detail.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at some of the finest new angling kayaks around!
Old Town Predator XL
This is a boat many are calling revolutionary. The Old Town Predator XL recently racked up an impressive heap of accolades at ICAST 2014, earning both the "Best New Boat"
and "Best of Show" honors amid stiff competition.
Certainly the Predator XL's most attention-grabbing feature is its trio of swappable cockpit consoles. And among those consoles, the one that's getting anglers particularly excited is the Minn-Kota setup, which arms the boat with a heavy-duty, saltwater-grade electric trolling motor boasting 45-lb. variable thrust. With the Minn-Kota Console, control of the kayak becomes completely hands-free: Benefiting from the motor's forward-reverse capability and the broad range of speeds, you can steer with the foot-controlled rudder while you blissfully cast to your heart's content. It's a snap to pull the motor to an upright position and lock it with a kickstand if you're passing over shallow water or some obstruction.
The Minn-Kota Console includes space for mounting sonar and batteries. So does the Utility Console, designed to accommodate all of your sonar equipment. The third option, meanwhile, is the Exo-Ridge Console, a flat, flush-mounted deck that opens up the cockpit for pared-down casting or landing hefty fish.
The Predator XL shares many other specialized features with its little cousin, the Predator 13. Among them are no fewer than six removable mounting plates for rigging rod holders, fish finders, GPS equipment, and other accessories; a spacious quick-seal bow hatch; and the Element Seating System, which allows you to switch between three different positions. In terms of basic specs, the kayak is just over 13 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weighs 92 lbs. (not counting the consoles); it boasts a 600-lb. capacity.
Old Town Predator 13
A worthy companion to the Predator XL is the Old Town Predator 13, which doesn't have the innovative interchangeable console option but otherwise claims many of the same comprehensive design features. Like the Predator XL, the Predator 13 is crafted from LT9000 polyethylene in the Tri-Hull construction with a textured, anti-slip Exo-Ridge deck. You enjoy the flexibility and comfort of the Element Seating System as well as the convenience of the side-mounted paddle holders, the dual-tip rod holders of the bow, tackle
wells on both sides of the boat, those six removable mounting plates, a capacious tank well, and a large bow hatch that easily snaps watertight-shut.
The Predator 13 also includes a 9th recessed scupper for attaching a Humminbird transducer as well as a versatile center cockpit console ideal for mounting a variety of gear as well as storage.
Like the other kayaks in the Predator family, the Predator 13 can be outfitted with any number of upgrades: You can mount a Minn-Kota trolling motor, for example, or attach the steady-stand bar to better bolster your stability when you're not sitting down in the boat.
The 85-lb. Predator 13 is the same length as the Predator XL (2 inches past 13 feet), but it's narrower (33.5 inches across) and has a 425-lb. capacity.
Wilderness System Ride 115
The new and improved Wilderness System Ride 115 is a squat, highly portable fishing 'yak that's less than 12 feet long. Don't let its unassuming size fool you, though: The boat packs in a lot of storage space and mounting surfaces, and boasts fantastic stability on the water.
Of particular note is a 2013 upgrade to the Wilderness Systems Phase 3 seating system: the AirPro Max Advance configuration, which will undoubtedly intrigue any angler interested in fine-tuned ergonomic comfort and support for long days on the prowl. The foam design makes for a body-conforming cushion with enhanced padding for the spine and legs, courtesy of perforations in the foam that render varying density in different areas of the seat and the seatback. The seat's breathable and fast-drying, too: The foam holes and an outer ventilating layer ward against dampness. But it's not just the advanced cushioning the AirPro Max offers: The seating system is adjustable to an almost unheard-of degree. The straps and levers used to control the leg lift and the seatback height and angle are all clearly marked with self-explanatory icons, and all of them are accessible from your normal sitting position. In other words, you're not contorting yourself to adjust your position; it can all be done ergonomically.
The seat also includes extra features such as bungee cords that secure the seatback for kayak transport and a gear bag that's easy to access from your sitting position.
Wilderness System's intent with the; AirPro Max Advance setup was to set the industry standard for a kayak seat, and the care and thought that went into the design are plainly evident.
The Ride 115 is 33 inches across and weighs 76 lbs. with a 500-lb. maximum capacity.
Wilderness Systems Thresher 140
For anglers who like big water, Wilderness Systems has met the challenge of the offshore environment with the brand-new, exceptionally rugged Thresher series. The Thresher 140 is the shorter, lighter offering (at a little over 14 feet long, 28.75 inches wide, and 75 lbs.); there's also the heftier Thresher 155.
The Thresher 140's center hatch, rectangular in shape and easily popped open from a seated perch, can accommodate rods as long as 8 feet. There's also plenty of stowing volume in the bow storage area and tankwell. The Wilderness Systems SlideTrax rail system makes mounting and retrieving accessories a breeze. The Thresher includes a handy removable sonar console, the Flex Pod OS, which attaches to the hull at the foot of the cockpit and includes the battery, transducer, and sonar display in one easy-to-wield package. Its scupper is capacious enough to accept even big transducers.
Like the Ride 115, the Thresher 140 comes equipped with a seating system so you're as comfortable and snugly secure as can be battling those fierce breaks and relentless swells.
The Thresher recently got a positive appraisal from Ric Burnley in Kayak Angler--worth checking out, given he tested the 'yak in the formidable conditions of the Diamond Shoals off Cape Hatteras. Burnley noted that the Thresher offered impressive handling and maneuverability considering how much of the design is necessarily devoted to stability and load capacity in heavy open water.
Jackson Cuda 12
A fishing kayak that opens up a whole range of waters to the angler--from big rivers to the open ocean--the Cuda 12 serves as a versatile little brother to the well-known Cuda 14. Many of the prime angler-friendly features as well as the big-water tracking prowess of the larger 'yak are also found in the Cuda 12, which, in turn, gives you all the benefits of a smaller, lighter, more agile watercraft.
This 74-lb. kayak includes lots of storage and rigging capabilities, from roomy hatches in the bow, center, and stern to numerous rod stagers and holders (including the RAM 2007 universal holder) and hatch-cover mounting surfaces. There's even a mount for a GoPro camera, special to the newest model.
The Grey Elite hi/lo seat provides a supportive, adjustable perch (and rear rod holders) with twodifferent seating positions. A pull-up strap gives you the leverage you need to quickly and safely get on your feet.
The Cuda 12 is 12 feet 6 inches long and 31 inches across; its maximum capacity is 350 lbs.
Feel Free Lure 13.5
The Lure 13.5 represents an exciting expansion of Feel Free's Lure fleet. Its predecessors, the Lure 10 and 11.5, were renowned for their sturdiness and stability--unparalleled balance in the water for fishing from a standing or elevated sitting position due largely to the generous 36-inch beam. The Lure 13.5 shares that width while adding several extra feet to the length, making for a 'yak capable of taking on bigger waterways and longer treks. It has a capacity of 500 lbs.
Among the unique specifications of the Lure 13.5 is the center console. With its insulated lid and cooler insert, it's a handy place to store cold beverages or bait. The lid also doubles as a cutting board--ideal for cleaning your catch or readying bait.
The Lure kayaks feature stellar reinforced standing platforms--all the bigger in the Lure 13.5--which provide a comfortable and secure foothold from which to take advantage of the boats' stability.
It's easy and straightforward to modify the height of the removable Gravity Seat, from flush with the gunwales (useful for commuting to your fishing grounds) to elevated at a wide variety of settings. You'll love the steadiness that celebrated Lure beam size confers in the high-seat position, as when you're standing. Pulling up on the front strap lowers the seat. There's also a pull-up strap for getting into a standing position or for bracing yourself as you modify the Gravity Seat configuration.
Best of the Best
So, which of these recently debuted models is the best fishing kayak? Well, there's really no clear, head-of-the-pack winner; each and every one of these boats claims its own special virtues. It's hard not to acknowledge the Predator series as representing a new apex in fishing-kayak design and functionality, particularly when you're evaluating the Predator XL. Its electric-motor console is clearly a major innovation, the kind that might transform the art of fishing from a kayak.
Don't forget, though, that Lure 13.5 cutting board/cooler console, or the groundbreaking AirPro seats of the Wilderness Systems kayaks, or the up-for-anything river/lake/sea readiness of the Cuda 12. A host of factors determine the relative value of a given kayak, from your personal needs and preferences for comfort and equipment to the kinds of waters and the species of gamefish that you're typically dealing with. Some people want lean-and-mean; some want decked-out. Some want a boat for the occasional laidback weekend fishing on the local pond; others need a robust, seaworthy kayak durable enough for frequent multiday excursions into nearshore backcountry. What matters is how the 'yak performs on the water--and how it handles with a fish on the line.
What truly becomes apparent when surveying this new generation of fishing kayaks is the careful thought that's gone into the designs. These products come from boatmakers who listen to the input of kayak anglers, and who themselves indulge in this incomparable pastime. This is a sport that's maturing all the time: Fishermen (and women) in love with the kayak's precision, versatility, and elegance are always testing out new freshwater and saltwater settings and tackling new quarry, and the frontier is enlarging accordingly. Designers and manufacturers are paying attention and studiously tinkering in the workshop to turn out kayaks more acutely designed for angling than ever before--which adds up to fantastic news for kayak fisherman and paddlers.
Putting in hours upon hours of trial-and-error work improving the form of a kayak seat or the placement of mounting surfaces is just the kind of nitpickiness an angler applauds and appreciates. A subtle, small-scale upgrade might translate to a big-picture transformation, as when that refinement of the seating system means you can cast from dawn until dark without being put ashore by an aching back or cramping calves.
The best way, of course, to get a real feel for the strengths and weaknesses of a kayak is to give it a spin on the water. Come by Paddlers Cove and try one of these standout boats for yourself!