After such a difficult year working on improving Cody Bell's health and adjusting to the fact he is diabetic, we have begun fishing again. We still have doctors visits and tests and medical bruhaha to work around, but fishing is playing a prominent role in our recreational lives again. With that said, there are many places we want to fish regularly, that we don't, because I don't have an appropriate vessel. I still have and love my 17 foot Mohawk canoe that I received when I was in the third grade, but if it's not loaded properly, any kind of wind blows me off kilter. I have a sit-in, touring kayak which is a worthless fishing vessel. Oktoberfisch trips find me using Cody's Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120
and Cody using his pontoon boat. Unless someone else is rowing the pontoon boat, I do not like that rowing motion nor the slower rate of speed--asking for Kevin Hutchison's forgiveness. I grew up in canoes and kayaks, and that is the river mode of transportation for me when I'm the captain.
I'm short, really, really short for the angling world. I have necessities that others would not give a care about, so I set out with criteria that a sit-on-top kayak must have for me. Then, I narrowed my search, and so, after reading, watching others in their kayaks, visiting on-line forums, and perusing kayaks every time I was in an outdoor store, it was time to begin field testing. I can not say enough how important the field test is.
Cody bought his kayak from Mariner Sales
in Dallas; they bring kayaks to Fly Fish Texas; they have spoken at the Dallas Fly Fishers' meetings, so it was time to give them a try. After talking with Mike, we went into the store for a "visual" visit. Mike listened to my laundry list and showed us kayaks fitting my needs. Then, we arranged for a field test at White Rock Lake on Thursday evening, and yes, I brought my boat bag and 2# fly rod, which is only 7'3".
Originally, I was considering Bass Pro Shops Ascend FS128t, but after looking at YouTube videos, reading reviews, and getting feedback on the Texas Fishing Forum, I axed it from my repertoire. I finally decided on a Nucanoe Frontier, Native Slayer, and Wilderness Ride 135. I did not have much respect for the Frontier, but I trusted Mike's knowledge to give it a try. Hands down, I thought the Native Slayer would be the kayak I loved, and the Ride 135 would be a close second. Field tests are important; accurate field tests ensure money is spent well, and as long as I keep my vessels, I don't want to regret my purchase.
|Wilderness Systems Ride 135|
On a scale of 1 (being the best) to 4 (being the worst), this is how the kayaks rated for me:
Stability--Frontier 1, Native 2, Ride 3, Ascend 4 due to inferior polymer plastics being used and the deck buckling when anglers stand on the deck, which is what ended Ascend's further testing for me. I rocked, turned, walked around in the Frontier, and it is not turning over. The Native was stable, but not as stable as the Frontier, but I don't think there is anything as stable as the Frontier. I changed the Native's seat setting from the lowest to the highest. My fly became entangled in two abandoned bait lures on a tree stump. From the squatting position, I unhooked all three. With the Ride, it's rocky, tipsy especially upon standing. It was a little windy, and so I was back casting, and the kayak transmitted and amplified every bit of my body motion to the water. I paddled all three from both the standing and sitting position. Each paddled nicely from the SUP, but, interestingly enough, NONE of the three had a stand assist strap, but the Ascend did.
Paddle and rod stowage--Frontier 1, Native 2, Ride 3-
The Frontier's ability to stow the paddle and pick up the rod and vice-versa was effortless. The Native required some juggling on my part as to figure out what would work best as to paddle placement, but it did have a nice groove for my rod tip to fit in safely when I'm shooting some rapids and want to safely stow the rod; the Ride was terrible. I Aggie engineered sticking the paddle in between the seat back strap and boat body, while the other end just trailed in the water. Using their rod holder, in no way, shape, or form was my rod tip protected, and I did break my 8# rod tip on the South Llano River while in the Tarpon 120, so yes, it is an issue, even with TFO's wonderful, no-fault guarantee.
Tracking and maneuverability--Ride 1+, Native 2-, Frontier 3-
The Ride is a kayak first and fishing vessel second. It moves in the water as a kayak should. Not quite the feel of a touring model, but not far from it. The Native maneuvered more like a canoe than a kayak, and with the winds blowing, turning into the wind and beginning to paddle head-long was stiff and cumbersome at first, with it never moving into that gliding feel. With the Frontier's superiority in stability, sacrifices are made in maneuvering, and the 14 foot version needs a longer paddle than the regular kayak paddle. The Frontier is a tub to paddle.
Seat comfort--Frontier 1+, Ride 1, Native 1
All three kayaks had a comfortable, elevated seat. All three had easily adjustable seats, and I adjusted all three while standing up in the boat on the water. The Frontier's seat is a condensed version of a bass boat's trolling seat and it can be a tandem kayak as well. The Ride does have a seat choice, and the fancier one is what was in the boat. The seat bottom can be adjusted to different heights providing support and relief to the thighs. The Native's seat is a nice version of a stadium seat.
Deck cleanliness/clutter-free area--Frontier 1, Native 2, Ride 3---
With the Frontier's width, there is a lot of room to cast and little for the fly line to entangle. The Native had a nice deck area, provided the kayaker does not put a lot of stuff there--the molded drink holder is in the deck area and so is an option for mounting a depth finder or gps. Someone dropped the ball at Wilderness in this department. The deck area is poor--poor footing, poor stability, poor comfort. The problem is that the best casting area is covered by the seat. Yes, the seat can slide all the way back, but then, I am a good 7 inches away from the pedals, which are on a short runner, but there is more room for a longer runner. If the seat is not back all the way, the molded deck makes for uncomfortable footing, and the seat greatly rubs against the backs of the calves, which really annoyed me and rubbed a spot on one leg.
|Wildnerness Systems's Ride 135|
Dry storage capacity--Wilderness 1, Native 2, Frontier-3
Wilderness has easily accessible dry hatches at the bow and at the seat with a convenient latch system that is a great improvement from the canister twist lid. Native has a front cowl hood additional purchase accessory that will keep gear somewhat dry, but tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes must be in waterproof bags before being stowed in the front. Frontier has a small bow storage area, but I don't see my one-man tent fitting in there, much less my sleeping bag. Dry storage bags are a must.
Other idiosyncrasies: Of the Native kayaks, the Slayer is one of the few Native models that does not have an anchoring system. The included wheel at the rudder does not quite make sense to me. I can only see its positioning working if one person is loading the kayak on top of the carrier, and the kayak is at the 45 degree angle. With that said, when the one person has the kayak in that position, the wheel makes it easier for the kayak to roll back, while the person walks around to pull the kayak up onto the carrier rack from the front. It comes from the factory with the wheel on; it can be removed, but once out, will never securely fit again. The Ride's rod holder is pretty much useless if the seat is all the way back, which is where it needs to be to access the best deck surface. The Frontier's stability is a trade-off for a lot of other options. Without the tandem seating, there are no foot pedals, and their molded deck grooves did not really work well to serve the purpose as a molded foot pedal.
The field test has led me to want to try a Jackson and Diablo Chupacabra, and, possibly, a Freedom kayak, but I'm not so sure about those fold out stabilizers. No one kayak is going to have everything, and the field testing has led me to understand I will be making sacrifices. I just have to decide what I can't live without and what I can sacrifice comfortably.