Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Magnificient Seven for 2018

We're just a few weeks away from the start of "kayak demo days", those free events hosted by dealers where folks can test paddle various boats, including popular fishing models. Each Spring, we see a lot of new boats that were revealed at ICAST or Outdoor Retailer and just making it off the production line. For 2018, it seems that manufacturers have recognized the need for lighter boats that offer more a bit more speed.  And we're also thrilled that nearly all these new boats have more open cockpit area. It this the demise of those damn "rod pods" and long center hatches?  We can only hope!

Among the 2018 crop, we picked 7 kayaks that we think will be winners.  All offer a good combination of light weight, speed, tracking, stability and at a price point that's easy on the pocket.

Bonafide SS127. Length 12'7", width 33.5", weight 75 lbs, MSRP $1599. It's been many years since one kayak got so much publicity prior to it's release. But Bonafide is a new company started by YakAngler founder Luther Cifers, and like everything Mr. Kayak does, it went through extensive design and testing. The SS127 has great stability without much of a sacrifice to speed or tracking. The HiRise seat system adjusts to high or low. It also has a great layout that allows for easy access to storage while leaving an open standing area.

Hobie Compass. Length 12'0", width 34", weight 68 lbs, MSRP $1949. The Compass is the new entry-level yak to their Mirage Series. It's lighter than most pedal boats and a lot more affordable. It's both fast and manuverable. To cut costs, it comes with the older Mirage drive (no reverse), and there's limited fittings. But it does have a flat deck for standing. This yak has been out since November and it's already selling great.

Jackson Cruise FD. Length 12'3", width 31.5", weight 68 lbs, MSRP $2399.  Jackson's new Flex Drive pedal power has been added to the popular Cruise series. The Cruise FD shares the open cockpit and slightly narrower profile of it's sibling. For anglers whose priority is speed and open water tracking, but with just enough stability to occasionally stand and cast (in calm water), then this boat fills the niche at a good price point for a pedal drive.

Jackson Liska. Length 12'1", width 34", weight 84 lbs, MSRP $1349. The  Liska is an updated version of Jackson's Cuda series. It's a bit wider and more stable, with more angler features. But most noticeable is the replacement of the long center tray with a shorter center hatch that allows a more spacious and open "standing area".  More evidence that those once-popular "rod pods" were the nuisance many of us said they were.

NuCanoe Flint. Length 11'3", width 33", weight 67 lbs, MSRP $999. The Flint got lots of attention at ICAST last July and for good reason. It shares the clean deck and stability of the larger Frontier and Pursuit, but in a lightweight, more nimble package. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly it accelerated, even if top-end speed was only the same as the Pursuit. It's being marketed as a boat for small lakes, backwaters and rivers, but it'll do just great in the marsh.

Kaku Wahoo 105. Length 10'5", width 33", weight 66 lbs, MSRP $899. Another short, lightweight boat with standup stability. Kaku owner and founder Kevin Hawkins has had great success with his Wahoo 125, especially among fly anglers. The clean deck and tri-hull design are copied in the 105, giving it good tracking, speed and stability for a short boat. As we say, there's always a trade-off (laws of physics) and in this case, it's that the tri-hull can create hull slap. Whether it spooks redfish has been debated a thousand times. But there's no debating that multitudes of reds have been caught from tri-hull yaks.

Native Manta Ray XT. Length 12'7", width 33", weight 67 lbs, MSRP $899. This yak has flown completely under the radar since ICAST, but watch out  - it's not only a great beginners yak (check the price point), but also one that experienced freshwater yakkers will appreciate. For it's length, the acceleration, cruising speed and tracking are impressive thanks to it's sharp bow. It also features Native's high/low seating. While it might not be marketed as a standup yak, the MRXT's 33-inch beam and flat standing area mean fly rodders can rise up on calm waters.