Monday, June 18, 2018

Fishing from a plastic boat - an anniversary and a prospect

A tease pic of the 2019 Topwater kayak
Thirty years ago this month, I did something that radically changed my life forever. I rented a kayak down in Sanibel. And went fishing in it.  After getting the feel of the plastic boat, I managed to lay a cast along some mangroves. I twitched my topwater lure a few times, pausing after each twitch. Then suddenly, an explosion of water where my lure was. A good-sized fish then took to the air. I had hooked a snook! Just as important, he had hooked me - into puddling (fishing from a canoe or kayak).

When I got home, I started fishing from a friend's canoe. Soon after, I started fishing from another friend's kayak. Shortly after that, I bought a canoe so I could share my paddle fishing adventures with my boys. In 1997, I bought my first kayak. I've had six more since then, as many as 3 at one time. Today, the lone boat in my plastic navy is a Native Ultimate 145. Although I am in the market for a sit-on-top.

No one knows when the first kayak was created. But folklore tells of an Inuit eskimo who carved the first kayak out of ice. His name was Jerry Utkuhikhalikaha (Ut for short). Ut had two problems with his creation - his butt got cold sitting on ice, and his kayak would melt away in summer. Ut had to move south to California where there were trees. Here he was able to carve a kayak out of wood.

As materials evolved, kayaks went from wood to fiberglass to rotomolded plastic. As of 1988, all kayaks were SINKs (Sit INside Kayaks). That year, Tim Niemer founded Ocean Kayak in Ferndale, Washington and launched the first SOT (Sit On Top) kayak. It completely revolutionized the recreational kayak industry and paved the way for kayak angling to become popular.

The last decade has seen an explosion in kayak fishing. Once considered an extremely niche market, fishing kayaks now dominate sales. Companies have risen and fallen. At the time that I bought my Ocean Kayak, it was the most popular kayak brand. Today, it's struggling to keep up with the likes of Hobie, Jackson, Native, Wilderness, NuCanoe, Vibe, and most recently, Bonafide. Not to mention a host of standup paddleboards.

With ICAST coming up in three weeks, I once again expect to see a bunch of new boats. That's been the case the last four years. Ocean Kayak finally made some waves last year after a decade of dormancy with their Malibu Pedal boat. It was a good effort, but it got lost in a wave of other new offerings - especially the introduction of the Bonafide.

OK's sister company, Old Town (both are now owned by Johnson Outdoors) has been leaking bits of information and "mystery video clips" about a new boat called the Topwater.  They describe it as the "compact SUV of kayak fishing".

Many years ago, I sent a design to OK for a new version of their popular Caper - one of my favorite kayaks ever. The design had a framed seat and a flat cockpit area.  It kept the dimensions similiar, but added an inch to the width to accomodate the frame seat. It also retained the tri-hull design that provides great tracking and stability.

From the little I've seen of the Topwater, it's either this "Dream Caper" or a smaller, more streamlined version of their highly popular Predator MX. Nearly everyone who owns a P-MX loves it, but at 82 pounds it's a bit heavy. If the Topwater does happen to be an improved P-MX, I expect it will be a highly popular boat.  Not sure if it would be the 2nd boat in my plastic navy. But as I remind my wife, I'm actually two boats short.