In the "Top Ten Myths" and "Yak Design 101" I address what I have come to call the Magic Compromise in yak design for fishin in Southeast Florida.
My bias is toward an all around design for our Southeast Florida waters. These range from ocean surf, swells, bays and chop, 10-20 knot winds, fast running inlets, narrow mangrove channels and quiet flats. I exclude special purpose yaks, e.g. for fly fishing, standing or motoring.
Due to the wide ranging conditions and waters in South Florida, our fishing yaks require compromise among these many factors. In this section I expand on the Compromise, and finish with reviews of most popular yaks, and my personal picks.
1.   long enough to have reasonable speed
2.   light enough for easy handling out of water
3.   rocker enough to turn well
4.   storage enough, and accessible enough
5.   minimum important features (like tankwell, console, etc.)
6.   deckspace enough to add things
7.   good primary and better secondary stability
8.   complex curvature and rigid design
9.   rugged and solid
10.   minimal hull slap (quiet)
And made by a quality manufacturer with plenty of experience, that will hold it's value and that is widely available both new and used. Buy a bad design and you will pay - over and over. Get lucky with a good one and you'll pay homage to the yakfishing gods.) Let's first discuss my general conclusions:
Factor #1: Long enough
Here in SE Florida most of our fishing opportunities are typically within a mile or so of launch. There are a few places where a couple miles (one way) is in order. And of course you can (and should) fish near your launch area and to and from your target. The point: you don't need a touring yak. My feelings: about 14 ft.
Why? You don't need the speed, distance or wetted surface of a 16+ ft. touring length. At the moderate speeds most all of use employ a shorter yak will accelerate faster, paddle easier and often faster. And let's not forget the boggy, high friction of excessively wide yaks. My feeling: 26-28 inches. Exception: big butt yakkers, but don't buy more butt bay than you need.
Why? Wider yaks are slower, and force you to paddle horizontally and inhibit straight line paddling. You can always sit sideways on your yak. And narrower, snug yaks "fit" you better; you feel at one with the yak, can control it better with lean and body weight. And let's not forget "dryness". My feelings: the "wetter" the better!
Why? See Yak Design 101; even an inch makes a yak signficantly less stable. So-called "dry" yaks are often two inches higher, and making things worse, many yakkers add a padded seat! Capsize city. "Dryness" requires significant design compromises that inhibit overall performance. Go wet, the wetter the better. Wanta stay dry? Buy scupper plugs, they work.
Factor #2: Light enough
The consensus, both online in my personal experience is that yaks much over 55 lbs, particularly in longer lengths are VERY unwieldy, hard to load and transport. My feeling: 50 - 55 lb.
Why? I can't tell you how many comments I've seen and heard that yaks in the 60's and even higher are real bears to deal with. So much so that it's inhibiting, prevents the "I think I'll fit in a quick yak". With "heavy" yaks you gotta really want to go. My Pro is 55, but I've actually grabbed Sue Sea's 45 lb. Scrambler just because it's so easy to deal with.
Factor #3: Rocker enough
This is a tough one. How much is enough? Real high performance surf yaks look like barrel staves. At the other extreme are relatively flat yaks (big mistake). My feeling: 3 - 5 inches, on each end. There's really no such thing as excess rocker on fishin yaks.
Why? Research plus my experience with my own and other popular yaks. Rocker promotes easy turning, good rough water performance and does not excessively inhibit your ability to paddle straight.
Factor #4: Storage enough
This is really personal. Some of you may want to go camping, carry a bunch of stuff with you. But most yakfishers really don't carry much other than their rods, lures and a milkcrate or cooler. My feeling: storage is personal, but unless you go camping you don't need much. Exception: you may want to put double trash can liners in a hatch with ice to preserve your catch. An adequate, easy to open hatch helps.
Why? All yaks have SOME storage; you can always bungee stuff on deck in waterproof bags. But do pay attention to access. Some hatches are really a bit hard to open and close. Try em.
Factor #5: Minimum important features
Most important is a modest tankwell (originally designed for divers); absolutely essential. Don't buy a yak without one. Equally important is a center console, and maybe a cupholder. My feeling: the tankwell and console are essential. The tankwell should be right behind your seat. Don't worry about how wide it is. And don't be impressed by "huge" tankwells; you don't need the space, they add weight and hold a ton of water when flooded. Any console will do, but it's nice if it's a bit recessed on top.
Why? You will install your modified milkcrate and/or cooler right behind you; it needs to be within easy reach. A smaller tankwell is ideal, carries these safely and reduces windage. The console is used to hold lures and/or other equipment like pliers, whatever, very handy. I love my cupholder, gets free lures down out of the way so my leash won't snag them.
Factor #6: Deckspace enough
Look for mounting space near the front of and/or on the console and on the deck area just north of the console (behind the front hatch) and on the deck edges just behind the seat. My feeling: these are very useful, particularly those north of you.
Why? These are the areas you will use to bungee and or mount things such as a Rhyno bar, Scotty or similar rod holders, fishfinders and the like. The rear area is less important as I favor use of a milkcrate or converted cooler with rocket launchers. The crate/launcher can be carried to-and-from with your rods, lure boxes, etc. in one trip - and you avoid holes and loading issues with extensions.
But don't worry too much, you can be creative and can always find a way to mount stuff.
Factor #7: Moderate primary with excellent secondary stability
Extremely important. You are looking for a yak that IS a bit tippy, but that hardens up nicely. Avoid at all costs the flat bottomed, high primary stability designs. My feeling: no exceptions (except for the exceptions, below...lol).
Why? Yaks are supposed to tip. A really seaworthy yak seems very tippy but hardens up well. For yakfishin a moderate intial tip is fine. You'll adapt, just like you did for bicycle lean. This promotes turning, control and seaworthyness, ease of handling.
Factors #8 & 9: Complex curvature and rigid design
Look for complex curvature in the deck and hull and minimize broad flat areas. Try to flex the yak, push in and try to "bend" the surface (if you want to know what rigid is check out a Scupper Pro). My feelings: altho the eskimos liked a skin covered yak that would mold itself to the waves, you don't.
Why? Yaks that flex and twist can leak and deform. They require extra care in storage and transportation. In the very long run continous flexing will lead to cracking when the yak is very old and brittle. This does NOT disqualify a yak in my mind, just be prepared to be careful.
Factor #10: Minimal hull slap
Some yaks have extended sponsons (sides) that extend forward and close to the bow, and often curve in toward the cockpit (think Cobra and Malibu). I believe this is usually done for "style" and to achieve high primary stability (to impress and reassure new yakkers). Unfortunately that "edge" also catches a lot of chop and causes disconcerting and loud "hull slap". My feeling: avoid these designs.
Why? Florida flats fishing requires a great deal of stealth. Bonefish, permit and other flats species are easily spooked. Hull slap is unnecessary since there are enough good designs that are quiet. And know that hull slap is audible evidence that your yak is wasting energy and momentum, breaking up the smooth flow of water.
Those are the basics. Now let's discuss some specific designs. Most of what you read here will be based on my personal experience and that of other yak owners with whom I fish.
A caveat: Many of these yaks are used and liked by yakfishers. My reviews are biased in two ways, first as they may perform strictly for all around yakfishin in South Florida and second, in the hope that both manufacturers and yakfishers will go beyond the current marketing hype and think more seriously about actual performance.
A yak is first and last a yak. The better the yakking performance the better the fishing experience. We must go beyond thinking of the yak as simply fishing platform and carrier of equipment. Let's start with the:
Capn's Note: these reports are plenty old, several years for sure. One of these
days I'm gonna add and redo this page, but it's still pretty good stuff, and will
give you an idea of what the issues can be...
Tarpon 160 (16' x 28.5 x est 70 lb):
The 160 is much favored on the west coast of Florida. "Wilderness Systems" has a successfully marketed name and image. The 160 looks expensive, has style and grace, is actually a bit imposing. The buyers protect and promote this image, apparently like the yak's looks.
This is really a touring yak. At 16 unwieldy feet it's just plain too long. It's very heavy (weighs closer to 70 lb than the claimed 65), tracks to a fault, is very hard to turn. It has many flat surfaces and oilcans, can deform in transport and storage. The 160 perls: the fine bow digs into surf and steeper waves. It does not have a tankwell. It's dry to a fault, and you feel like you're sitting on, not "in" the yak. The built-in factory seat is so bad most owners take it off and buy an aftermarket seat. The footwells are flat and slippery, no heel rests; the sliding footrests dig into bare feet especially and are poorly made. It is fast, and quiet but 16 feet is a lot of wetted surface and requires a lot of force both to start and to cruise, particularly near hull speed.
I consider this an SUV. More about looks and look-at-me than about the yakfishin performance it lacks. Don't get me wrong, a goodly number of yakkers I know use em and love em (and I'll be happy to refer you). But I know more than one regretful owner who've sold their faithful companion for a much more fishable yak. Indeed, three 160 power yakkers I know have all switched to the Prowler.
This yak is not completely without merit. I'd consider it for those whose primary use is camping or touring and for whom yakfishin is but a pleasant interlude, who paddle many miles and who fish inshore in calmer waters. The 160 has a niche market on Florida's west coast for long paddles in relatively open and calmer water.
My opinion: Not an all around yak for South Florida..
Tarpon 140 (14' x 29.5 x 65 lb):
At long last I had the opportuntity to test this long awaited yak. WS, in apparent recognition of the yakfishin shortcomings of the 160 and the length limitations of the 120, decided to go after OK with a yak in the 14 foot category. To be quite honest, I had long ago test paddled the 120 and kinda liked it, but just wanted a longer faster yak. Thus I really anticipated what I hoped would be a true yakfishin competitior to the ProTW.
What a disappointment. Let's start with the design. Unlike the 120 (and more like the 160) the 140 has a fine entry, with a fairly rapid transition to the sponsons. Too rapid as I experienced hull slap even in minor 2-3 inch wavelets. The hull is relatively flat with two longitudal tracking channels, and hard chines. Add to that the fine entry and a skeglike stern and you have a yak that is surprisingly hard to turn. To spin 180 from rest took me 3+ hard sweeps. The built-in tracking is so extreme that turning is a real chore. To spin and sprint quickly is simply not possible. The 140 has the same flat and slippery footwells, no heel rests and sharp-edged cheap sliding footrests. The footrest and brackets are cheap plastic, and owners complain of bending and breaking. Even my test model had a broken footrest. For a 14 footer I consider this yak slow.
The 140 is equipped with a small center hatch, small round rear hatch, bow and cockpit bungees, trick hinged seat (better than the 160's). All the hatches use snap on rubber covers; these are nowhere as secure as rigid, strapped down covers and I don't like em. It lacks a true center console, a real shortcoming. Indeed the floor of the cockpit is almost completely flat, and so low many owners complain of 1 to 2 inches of water sloshing around like you're in a hot tub. No seat scuppers, oddly some useless ones behind the seat on a ledge. Go figure. High seating, but good overall stability. Huge tankwell, even larger than the 120. But WS insists on making it hard to reach by placing a ridiculous and rarely used minihatch between it and the seat! Puulease! Drifts neutral.
My opinion: Slow, very hard to turn, really quite unremarkable. The huge tankwell is really too big, hard to reach, and a liability in heavy seas if you take a breaking wave. Be sure to take your rubber ducky to float on the cockpit pool, er floor. The venerable Scupper Pro yaks circles around the 140, is faster and better in every way. Forget it.
Tarpon 120 (12' x 29.5 x 60 lb):
Reviews indicate: heavy, high seating but wet footwells, bit slow and hard to turn. Much better built-in backrest than 160. Humongous tankwell, center hatch, nice console. Molded in paddle rests with bungee keepers.
I recently tested the 120 again, right after the disappointing 140. A funny thing. I still like this yak, and although there are certainly better choices, the 120 has a lot going for it. Like all the WS look-a-me yaks, it's got the designer, two tone "W" hatch covers, trick seat, cheep sliding footrests, bungee mania, and two mini round hatches (what the one behind the seat is good for is beyond me), side handles. Same lack of foot rests, lack of seat scuppers, lack of true center console. Same oversized tankwell, and same neutral drift.
But at least you can turn the 120. Kinda. For a standing 180 the best I could do was two very hard sweeps. You still have to work at turning, and again this is due to the double channel, skegged hull. The 120 is short enough that you lose the fine bow entry, but this is actually an advantage. Almost no hull slap compared to the 140. It paddles smooth and heavy, is not particularly fast. It is heavy (WS has finally published it's true weight at 60 lb, unlike last year's claim of 55).
My opinion: a modest, hard to turn (but turnable) yak that has all the design flaws of the 140, but is short enough to overcome with some effort. If you like all the gewgaws and just have to have a "W" on your two tone hatch cover, this is the only fishable Tarpon. Otherwise, keep on lookin.
Tarpon 100 (10' x 30 x 45 lb.):
Reputed to perl (nose plow) and flip in the surf. I have not tested the 100 but examined the design closely at the shop. Similar to the 120, subtract two feet and 10 lb. BTW, isn't it interesting that adding two feet to the 100 adds 10 lbs., but adding four feet to the 120 only adds 5 lbs.!? WS has long been known for understating the true weights of the Tarpons, and it's really no surprise why. They're all H-E-A-V-Y. I'm gonna return to the shop with my trusty scale on this, stand by.
One big surprise: the 100 has Ocean Kayak style molded in heel and foot rests. What a shame they failed to use these on the 120-140-160. My guess: marketing price points and knowing that the 140 and 160 especially are so hard to turn they'd be installing lots of rudders (which require sliding footrests) and another VERY expensive add-on.
My opinion: ten feet is simply too short for a fishin yak. Period.
Wilderness Systems Paradise (13' x 32.5 x 60 lb):
A surprise yak. See My Favorites, below.
Cobras: The Explorer, Navigator and Tourer
Man these are expensive. Add some options and you're payin dearly for a yak that isn't all that special. Flat bottomed with radical downsloping sides that make mounting things hard. Other than that they add NOTHING to performance other than to insure flipfloppin primary stability. I guess the designers wanted to achieve a funky look. But these yaks don't perform for all around yakfishin.
Track too well, hard to turn. All the flat bottomed negatives. And hull slap is a real issue. Compare to the Scrambler and XT in this regard. But at least one of our club members has the Tourer and loves it; keep in mind he's a storage freak (I say that with great affection); he also owns a Pro and finds his TW lively and fast in comparison.
Heritage Fisherman (14'2" x 28 x 58 lb.):
Comes only in green and khaki! Whose dull idea was this? Should make a crunchy snack for a speeding Cigarette. This alone disqualifies this yak. BTW, the manufacturer's hype on this yak is not to be believed, and I quote:
"As it's name so boldly sets forth, this kayak is specially outfitted for serious fishing...and combines great stability, high carrying capacity...good speed and maneuverability." They forgot the other usual marketing hype - tracking.
It gets worse. Heritage features the "Fisherman" as the Fly Fish America's "Editor's Choice" and reprints this:
"A little Company in Bristol, Rhode Island-the home of famed yacht designer, Nathaniel G. Herreschoff- has taken the fly-fishing kayak to a new level of performance, functionality and safety. Aptly named the Fisherman, Heritage Kayak's newest boat is purpose-built for fishing."
"Featuring an innovative center console...most stable kayak we've ever tested...tracks as well as a keel boat...but turns as easily as a whitewater kayak..." ad nauseum.
I think I'm gonna puke. OK, now for the truth. This "specially outfitted for fishing...new level of performance...purpose-built for fishing" Heritage is...
The old Sea Dart!!! Nothing more - with 3 holes drilled in it for flushmounts. Yup, that's it. The whole enchilada. For those of you who aren't aware the Sea Dart has a well earned reputation for bein heavy (63 lb.), hard to turn and on the slow side. Two smallish 10 in. hatches, and NO tankwell. Knuckle-busting high curved coamings (sides).
I've seen a couple on the water... pretty yaks, but pretty bad for fishin. Even saw an experienced yakfisher strugglin to reenter it's confining "sit-In-top" cockpit. For Heritage to promote this tired old yak as a new and innovative design is just plain bull...
Honestly, this is kind of marketing hype and misleading buzz that makes meaningful comparisons near impossible for the new buyer.
My opinion: forget the Heritage.
Mainstream Renegade (12 ft. x 26.5 x 51 lb., to be tested):
Can't believe I'm reviewing this, but at $399 out the door, or just $339 for the Twist (10'6" x 30"), these yaks have just got to be considered. I refuse to be a snob, and I absolutely will get a chance to try these. Now before ya turn up yer nose at what I know you've already rejected as a yak that belongs in the toy dept., remember that the Scrambler XT was/is also a minimalist yak that for years was second only to the Pro for serious use by yakfishers.
Yes, I know the colors can make ya cringe, like the red 'n yellow Renegade, weighin in at just 51 lb., 300 lb. capacity. Now the Tango at least comes in Yum, Yum Yeller, a mere 43 lb. and also a 300 lb capacity. No hatches, but neither did the basic XT, and like this venerable yak, the Mainstream yaks have a nice adaptable recesses in the bow and stern.
The Mainstream at 26.5 in. should be fast, but not for the big of butt - consider the 30 in. Twist, which appears to be a slower but more stable yak for the newbie.
The Renegade has a crisscross bungee on the bow, and both have plenty of padeyes to attach things, and properly placed carrying handles. In my opinion both these yaks should be considered. Available at Sam's Club, Sports Authority, Bass Pro, Boat US and Costco.
Islander Yaks (to be tested, stand by):
More toy yaks ya say. Well yes and no. With names like "Hula" and "Lipstik" the market is for the "fun" crowd. But please keep an open mind and look at these yaks the same way ya look at a piece of PVC. To some a cheepo piece of plastic pipe. To a creative yakfisher a yakcart or rodholder. Capish?
Well truth be told, most of the Islander offerings ARE inappropriate. But there's one exception: the "Moku". At just short of 12 ft (11' 7") x 28 in. this is one interesting yak. Comes in at an amazing 42 lb. Lots of smooth complex curves for rigidity, nice tankwell, cool front hatch AND a bow bungee system. Properly placed carrying handles AND side handles. And just $549. Available in two-tone schemes that are doable, a kinda lime green/white (visible) and an orange/white (too faded I think).
Looks like it has some rocker, and a modified sponson design (think XT). This yak has possibilties; on screen it looks pretty darn good, like a Necky Cruiser. Two more models the Reggae (also 11' 7"), with nice overhang, Dolphin lookalike, and the Ventura (14'10"), think Tarpon 160 meets Necky Cruiser.
The Reggae has been discontinued, look for closeouts. Reviews warn that this yak performs better with some weight in the tankwell, may be difficult to hold on course, but great in the surf. Not sure about the Ventura, but reviews seem favorable, Tarpon-like issues. In any case be sure to try before buyin. The used market for the Islanders should be attractive, gonna bet under $300.
The Illusion (14' 3" x 27 x 62 lb) replaces the Prism (14 '2"). The Prism is flat bottomed, reputedly very hard to turn and heavy. The Illusion is a bit wider so don't expect any difference. No tankwell, inappropriate. Maybe used, but no.
The Swing (13'2" x 30 x 59 lb) has a reputation as slow and hard to turn, a beginner's yak quickly outgrown. Has a nice entry, but it's extreme width robs performance. The tankwell is WAY back, hard to access. Wouldn't turn a really cheep (< $250) used one down, but no.
The Malibu Pro Explorer (12'6" x 31 x 52 lb) is a short, wide, hi-sided and hi-seated monstrosity. Look at it from the top and you might be impressed, but a side view provides a brutal reality check. Absolutely flat, NO rocker whatever. Incredibly noisy sponsons that reach nearly to the bow. Steep, high sides that add nothing to performance, add no stability and eliminate flat deck space. Unnecessarily huge and arched front hatch that make mounting stuff hard and further eliminate what little deckspace was left. There is a handy tankwell.
I finally had a chance to test the Pro. Before I hopped aboard I fished beside the Pro for several hours and simply couldn't believe the noise. And I thought the Scrambler was loud! At first I thought it was the hull, and it was to a large degree. But then I noted that what I heard in flat water was PADDLIN' noise! That's right, paddlin' noise. How could that be?
Simple. The nearly full length sponsons are flat - dead flat - underneath. Add the 31 inch width and you have amazingly high wetted surface. This yak is just plain HARD, if not impossible to paddle at any real speed. Yes, you can get it up to speed, kind of, but it takes a tremendous amount of force to keep it there; you simply can't help but overpaddle and displace water. This yak can really go no more than slow. And is very hard to turn. It even has a trolling motor mount, and boy does it need one. Has the usual marketing department ordered "flush mounts" so they can call it the "Ultimate fish and dive yak".
Wait a minute! I thought they said the Malibu Extreme was the "Ultimate fish and dive yak". I'm not even gonna begin to review the poorly designed, heavy (try close to 80 lb) Extreme. Both made by a very small company in California that sells yaks by mailorder only!
Longer (14 ft. plus)
#1 The Scupper Pro (14'9" x 26.5 x 55 lb)
Yup, I'm still gonna give it to the venerable Scupper ProTW. Now I know the Prowler is quieter, but not much. I know the Prowler is faster, but not much. And I know the Prowler has a larger tankwell, but not much. Both have a good center console, and superb front storage. Both have strong, rigid bulletproof construction with sensible textured topsides. Both have good drainage (seat and footwells) and the great OK molded in footrests. Both are light. So why the Pro?
It's just a better performing yak in all seas. And I attribute much of this to the ProTW's rocker, missing on almost every other design. Turns better, shines in heavy seas and messy water. Accelerates well and is quite fast, with less effort. More than ample storage and if the tankwell won't accomodate a milkcrate, it will accomodate a modified Igloo cooler with rocket launchers. And it's close, right behind the seat. It's low snug seating feels like its part of you. It's long enough to be fast, but still turns well. At a specified 55 lb. (and actual 53, mine) it's easy to load and transport. It has moderate to good primary, and excellent secondary stability. It can even be surfed some. And it has the greatest, deepest, most buttshaped seat of any SOT on the market.
It is simply a great yak, always was. Like all great designs, it is lasting. And there is only one real limitation... your size.
#2 Prowler (15' 5" x 28.5 x 58 lb.)
And that's where the Prowler comes in.
I do think it's a tad too long, has less rocker, and is a couple inches wider. It does take more effort, but not much. It's very quiet, and you will love the task specific tankwell and center console. And it's roomy enough to accommodate the larger padder.
What's larger? I'd say over 220 lb. depending on your butt. For me at 160 and a larger runner's type butt, the Pro is fine. And there are plenty of 200-220 pounders that love the Pro as well. But at 220 and over (butt dependent) the Prowler may be your best choice. How to tell?
Drive em both. Now you're gonna find the Pro snug. And you've no doubt been exposed to the marketing hype about "stability" and "roominess". But do ignore this. A fishin yak is a yak first. It's not supposed to be roomy. A snug fit is good, especially when things get rough. With the Pro you feel that you are "in", not on, the yak. And when you move your body and legs (advanced paddling) you can transfer energy more efficiently for better handling, less effort and more speed. Trust me, you will come to love and appreciate this.
But if transferring your ass from your wide and roomy car seat to a snug yak seat continues to freak you out, you're havin nightmares, or there is flesh oozing over the sides, well...it's Prowler time (or maybe even Drifter). And the Prowler is a VERY good choice. It's the bigger guys' Pro, is fast, turns well enough and you'll just drool over the accomodation to yakfishin.
Now for shorter yaks (12 to 14 feet):
#1 The Necky Spike (12'4" x 28 x 50 lb)
I won't kid you. Your first ride in a Necky will blow your mind. Tippy and seemingly sensitive. But the Spike is the only true sea kayak among SOT's. Modified Vee hull, with long bow rake (overhang), great flare, slightly skeglike stern. Low profile. Good quality sliding footrests AND heel rests. Smaller tankwell that still accommodates a modified cooler with launchers.
The Spike has only moderate (or less) primary stability, but fantastic secondary. It's one SOT for which you might actually buy kneestraps, so you can literally carve turns in the surf. Yes, this yak will surf and is built to handle any and all seas. I can do a standing 180 with just a little more than one modest sweep. While other yaks are struggling through 3 or 4 agonizingly hard sweeps, the Spike is around and flying toward the bait bust. I'm not kiddin.
It is deceptively fast, and whisper quiet. You can accelerate to top speed in just a few strokes. Yes, it's top speed is somewhat less than a Pro or Prowler, but it will beat the sponsons off any other yak in it's class. A warning: this may not be the yak for the new fisher, but it just might be. Reviews all indicate that, like riding a bike, you will quickly accomodate and find your balance point and then the Spike will feel both stable and very, very "right".
It's a true thoroughbred, but please don't be intimidated. Those who buy this special yak rarely part with them. And know that the Spike is on Dennis Spike's short list too.
Oh, for those of you who noticed I omitted the Dolphin (at 14' x 28.5 x 58 lb). Truth is the Dolphin's seaworthy and dramatically raked bow is so long that the real waterline difference is little more than a foot longer than the Spike. Accordingly the Spike is nearly as fast. The huge rake also adds unnecessary windage.
#2 OK Mars (13.5 x 29 x 49 lb)
A real sleeper. Like the Pro another accidentally great fishin yak. The hull design is Necky-like with hard chines, smooth entry. Clean, smooth design with bow bungees (no hatch), the great OK molded in foot and heel rests, accessible tank well. Low profile, very quiet, fast and turns very well. And a real lightweight at just 49 lb. One caveat: the flat surfaces of this design require care in storage and transportation.
The more I test this yak the more I like it. If the Spike scares you but you still want some good performance you just have to consider the Mars. It's a great fit for women and medium sized male yakfishers. It's design is clean and it looks like it will perform just as well as it really does. It's closer to what I consider the ideal length for an all around fishin yak in S. Florida, about 13-1/2 ft., which means it's the fastest in this class and super maneuverable. You will find the design simple and sparse, but easily customized to your special needs. At $140 less than the Pro it's a yak to test and consider. Try the Scupper Classic when you do.
#3 The Tarpon 120:
"What!!!" you say... Capn Jimbo is gonna recommend a WS? I am. Yes, I resent the WS hype and SUV marketing approach: loading the yak with ill placed, poorly made gewgaws like the inane minihatch behind the seat, bungee madness, dangerous two-toned rubber "W" hatch cover, unnecessary paddle rest, really cheep footrests and a ridiculous hinged-and-bungeed trick seat designed to antagonize L-4 and L-5. Or the WAY oversized tankwell that you'll never use (when's the last time you reached to the stern for anything) and that is dangerous if ya get pooped by a rogue wake. Etc., etc.
But what else is there in this class for the average butt?. Not much. The 120 succeeds despite it's designed in tracking and other design flaws. But only to a point. But I like it's quiet, solid feel and you can muscle it around. It is NOT the top performer, is no more than decent. Consider it the Pontiac station wagon of the 12 footers.
For the big of heart and bigger of butt:
#1 The Old Wet (12'6" x 34 x 56 lb.) and New Dry Drifter (12'7" x 32.5 x 56 lb)
The old Drifter was truly for the big of butt and was widely praised for it's huge capacity, big front hatch, neutral drift, solid and rigid design, high primary stability, reasonable speed but most for it's ability to comfortably carry the really big boys, 220 lb. to you-name-it. The only issue that was repeatedly raised was that it was a wet yak that could be a tad faster.
Now this is really kinda strange, cause the XT and Pro are just as wet and just as, if not more stable. Yet these yaks are rarely criticised for this. So why the Drifter? My take is that the Drifter, in many cases, is a first yak for the really big fisherpersons. They simply don't understand the stability inherent in low (and accordingly wet) seating. So they're surprised. It's not like their Boston Whaler.
In response, OK has now introduced their new and improved "Dry" Drifter. Raised the seat to make it "dry". Narrowed it by 1-1/2 inches and lengthened it an inch for more waterline, less wetted surface and a "tad" more speed. I won't bore you with the science but in sum:
(a) an increase just an inch results in significant loss of stability
(b) reducing the width has a similar (and additive) effect.
So educated yakkers are rightfully skeptical. These observers do expect that the Drifter was so wide in the first place that it can absorb these reductions in stability and still be "pretty stable". But keep in mind that we are dealing with really big people - 220 to 300 lb - so a change that would be relatively minor for most folks could indeed be critical for the big of butt.
My opinion: the jury is out. I have enough faith in OK to believe that enough stability remains to serve the intended "super big" market. But ya never know. I've assigned a good friend, long time yakker and owner of the old Drifter to check out the dry wonder for me and to report ASAP. Details to follow...
#2 The Caper (11' x 31 x 45 lb)
This is a little jewel. A small fishing machine for the Yak sisters and even large Yak brothers. Wt. capacity about 300 lb. (compared to the old Drifter's 500 and new Drifter's 475 lb.). Not for the XXX-large; a shorter distance yak. But quite capable, easy to turn because of it's shorter length. The usual OK rigid bulletproof design. Nice hatch, decent storage. And a joy to load and transport.
I've driven the Caper once, but not super critically, in a mangrove channel. I liked it immediately, felt solid, stable and smooth. But had no real chance to challenge it or wring it out. It will be slower, but will relatively easier to turn. More anon...
#3 The Scrambler XT (12 x 29 x 53 lb.)
And yet another big butt yak but gettin snugger. Capacity bout 325 lb. It's noisy, it's slow, it's wet. But I'm including it for several reasons: First because it is a true classic, the VW Van of yaks and widely used for fishin long before most of the others came on the scene. It deserves respect. It's very stable, nice low seating and has a big long empty cockpit that runs from bow to stern that just begs to be filled safely with gear and your custom mods. But mostly cause you are highly likely to find one of the many thousands of used XT's at ridiculously low prices.
A great starter yak that will accomodate most yakkers small to large, and that you can own, use, learn and sell and never lose a penny. Or keep for a second bangaround. It's safe in rough seas, can be surfed, turns well and will carry all the gear you want. Used by Ken Doubert, author of "Kayakfishing Revolution" and lots of California big water yakfishers for targeting very large fish.
Let me quote one reviewer: "From what I've seen, the Scrambler XT is possibly the most popular dive kayak in the world for divers in the weight range I mentioned above. Ample storage, very stable with lots of room in the cockpit, a good medium distance paddler, extremely durable, and a lot of fun in the surf once you master the brace and steering, are just some of the reasons why we love our XTs for diving." Ibid for fishing.
#4 (Maybe) Wilderness Systems Pairadise (13' x 32.5 x 60 lb):
I'm including the untested Pairadise for two good reasons. Oh yes, it's wide, but the big butters will fit in nicely and will love it's 500 lb. capacity. The entry is not bad, looks quiet. The real reason I include this yak is that you this is a true solo/duo yak. Has 3 seats (one for solo yakkin and two more if you want to take out your child, wife or dog (not necessarily in that order). Terrific OK style foot rests. And the cockpit runs darn near the entire length, so you can bring a ton of gear down low.
BTW, WS does not even show this yak at their website, and the sites that do disagree on the weight (60-65lb) and capacity (425-500 lb). Go figure.
This is neat. I promise, I'm gonna test this yak, and compare to the OK Malibu. I suspect the Paradise is well named and will prevail. If you're a solo yakfisher who also plans to bring hubby along...
"Honest - it was this big..."