By John Neporadny Jr.
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: In observance of the Labor Day holiday, a new First Cast feature story will not appear until Tuesday, Sept. 4.)
The growing popularity of kayak bass tournaments has prompted kayak manufacturers to build mini-versions of bass boats.
“Everyone is looking at the way the bass pros are outfitting their bass boats and it's definitely having a spin-off on the kayak,” said David Hadden, brand director of Johnson Outdoors Watercraft, makers of Old Town kayaks. “Now you're seeing kayak guys running larger electronics with side imaging and Power-Poles and guys with multiple rods laid out on the deck of their boats for working multiple lures and water columns.
"You are definitely seeing guys try to fish the kayaks as close to or a similar way as the bass pros and that's driving manufacturers to give them the boat that they can do that with. So guys are trying to make their (Old Town) Predator 12 as close to that Ranger bass boat as possible.”
Old Town, Jackson Kayaks and Hobie Cat Company are three of the top kayak manufacturers producing boats that fit the needs of kayak bass tournament competitors. Today’s kayak bass tournaments are being held on a wide variety of waters, so tournament anglers are looking for a stable boat that offers hands-free operation, lots of storage and the ability to stand while fishing.
The Old Town Predator Series and Topwater Series of kayaks offer competitive anglers the same features as a bass boat on a smaller scale. Old Town models featuring hands-free operation include the Predator MK equipped with an integrated Minn Kota electric motor and the Predator PDL and Topwater PDL kayaks featuring a removable pedal-drive system.
“All of our pedal boats feature our PDL drive in which we use a prop and conventional bicycle-style pedaling,” Hadden said. He also noted the pedal system allows anglers to run the boat in forward or reverse without flipping any switches.
The PDL models feature a rudder control knob for steering and keeping the rudder from slipping out of position when waves or current push against it.
“It really helps you control the boat on windier days or when you're in current,” Hadden said.
Other features on the Predator PDL and Topwater PDL models that tournament anglers favor include a built-in transducer scupper for their electronics, a slip-resistant deck for stand-up fishing, removable plates for mounting accessories, gear storage pockets and an adjustable seating system.
2 Hulls Better Than 1?
Jackson Kayak has designed the 360 Angler, a catamaran-style paddelcraft that won the 2018 ICAST Best Boat Award. Eric Jackson, founder and co-owner of the company and an FLW Tour competitor, believes his newest creation will be an industry-changer.
Competitive anglers can maneuver a Hobie Pro Angler kayak hands-free with the boat’s MirageDrive 180 propulsion system.
“The benefits of that boat are its two narrow hulls, which are a lot faster than one light hull,” he said. Jackson suggested the boat’s overall width of 4 feet makes it the most stable kayak offered by his company.
Another Jackson model geared toward tournament anglers is the Coosa FD kayak with the Flex Drive three-propeller propulsion system that offers forward and reverse pedal operation. An integrated rudder-control system located near the seat allows the kayaker to change directions quickly while pedaling.
The Coosa FD hull features a recessed scupper hole for holding and protecting an electronics transducer. A YakAttack gear track built into the sides, front and rear of the kayak provides accessible locations for mounting accessories and RAM mounts. The boat’s stern also features four molded-in screw points for installing a Power-Pole Micro Anchor system.
“We designed everything to be ready for tournament fishing with the Power-Pole and electronics,” Jackson said. “Our seats are all elevated on those boats and you have plenty of tackle storage right under your seat for the (Plano) 3600 or 3700 boxes.”
The kayak’s Ergo seat offers improved lumbar support and can be adjusted for sitting at various heights. The boat also has a large walking platform that allows tournament anglers to stand and fish.
The Standing Advantage
Hobie’s three most popular kayaks for bass tournaments are the Pro Angler 14, Pro Angler 12 and the Outback, according to Kevin Nakada, Hobie fishing team coordinator. He notes the Pro Angler boats are the longest and widest fishing kayaks Hobie makes and are the best for stand-up applications such as flipping or sight fishing.
“It's an advantage when someone can stand and fish in a kayak and we have the perfect product for that in the Pro Anglers,” Nakada said.
The Old Town Predator Series kayak offers competitive anglers some of the same features as a bass boat on a smaller scale.
Hobie pioneered hands-free fishing with its MirageDrive pedal system available on the Pro Angler kayaks series and the Outback model. The Mirage Drive 180 forward-reverse propulsion system allows the user to pull one of two cables to pivot the kayak’s fins 180 degrees to change the boat’s direction from forward to reverse and back again.
The Hobie models are equipped with an H-rail mounting platform for placing electronics and other accessories at strategic locations on the kayak. Storage areas in the Pro Anglers include a front hatch with removable liner, a twist-and-seal hatch with a tackle management system located in front of the seat, rear cargo area with Bungee tie-downs and an 8-inch rear twist-and-seal hatch. The boat also features internal horizontal rod storage for carrying six rods on the deck.
Hobie’s Vantage ST seat provides the tournament angler comfortable lumbar support and adjustable high and low seating positions. Additional standard features on the Pro Angler models include dual steering that allows the kayaker to steer from either the port or starboard side of the boat and a Lowrance-ready system with a built-in transducer mount and pre-installed through-hull cable plugs.
Accessories kayak anglers can add to their tournament rigs include storage crates such as the Jackson Kayak JKrate, Hobie H-Crate or the YakGear Kayak Angler Crate Kit. The YakGear basic crate kit features a crate, a double rod holder, accessory pouch, 3.3-pound grapnel anchor kit, anchor cleat and mounting hardware.
Another couple of YakGear accessories of interest to competitive anglers are the Fish Stick and Rod Holder II. Both are handy items for the kayak bass tournament practice of catch, photograph, release (CPR).
The Fish Stick is a 36-inch ruler with raised 1/4-inch increments for precise measurements. The ruler folds down to 12 inches for easy stowing and has been approved for use on the Kayak Angler’s Tournament Series (KATS) and Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) tournament trail. The Rod Holder II is a convenient place for competitive anglers to set their rods while they unhook, measure and photograph a bass. It's fully adjustable for 360 degrees around and more than 90 degrees vertically.
As competitive kayak bass fishing continues to grow the tournament rigs of kayakers will continue to look more like the bass boats of the touring pros.