In July at ICAST 2014, the Old Town Predator XL kayak won best in show for new products. Last month, the Old Town Predator XL was on display at the Bassmaster Classic Expo in Greenville for all to see, including the now famous, or infamous, insert that parent company Johnson Outdoors has provided that includes a custom-fitted electric trolling motor.
That begs the question: What defines a kayak? For years, kayaks were characterized by the same few traits: they were long and angular, typifying the boats first used by native Indians; they were tippy, and the means of propulsion was a paddle.
Kayaks diverted from the norm when somebody decided these things might be a good platform for catching fish, because the rest of the kayaking community — touring paddlers and the whitewater crowd — has pretty much stuck with the norm.
Look at the sit-on-top design of most modern fishing kayaks, which made almost as big a stir in the mid-1980s when Ocean Kayak started making rotomolded plastic boats to transport a California scuba diver and his gear from the beach to the offshore diving grounds.
Early on, people laughed at the sit-on-top design because it didn’t look anything like a traditional kayak. Unlike traditional kayaks, a sit-on-top kayak features an open cockpit that is easy to get in and out of and didn’t require the paddler to learn how to do an “Eskimo roll.” The sit-on-top design was more open, non-confining and more welcoming to people who wanted to try kayaking but were nervous about being trapped in a sit-inside.
Through the years, gearing sit-on-top kayaks more toward fishing has meant a balance of width, both so the boats lost their tippiness, and so anglers could actually stand up to make longer casts or visually see and sight-cast to fish.
Following the longer and wider designs came more comfortable seating and layouts to allow for rod and gear storage as well as the mounting of electronics and live wells. This all led the fishing kayak more and more away from a traditional paddle boat to a more conventional fishing boat.
Along the way, and despite all of the innovations, manufacturers have been able to keep that “something” about kayak fishing that sets it apart from a traditional fishing boat like a john boat or even larger powerboat. Is it the human-powered aspect? Is it the one man-one boat concept, especially when you take car-topping into consideration and ease of entry into remote locations?
Weren’t we all doing this with john boats years ago before we knew what a kayak was? Is adding a motor to a kayak just bringing that whole “fish where others can’t” spectrum full circle?
Kayak anglers who just want to fish don’t have an objection to seeing a motor on a kayak; they see it as a means to an end. In fact, if you can balance the burden of toting around a heavy motor and battery to power it to the burden of pedaling or paddling a kayak all day, it might be the break-even point.
The biggest objection that traditional paddlers when they see a motor attached to a kayak is they can’t be used in a kayak-fishing tournament.
Randy Vining, an Old Town pro-staffer who worked the company’s exhibit at the Bassmaster Classic Expo, said he gets that response all the time.
“For this boat, that’s not a problem; you can’t use the motor in the tournament,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t spend the practice days before the tournament prefishing with the motor and saving your guns for tournament day. That’s when you pop the motor insert out and slide the storage compartment insert in and go fish with a paddle.”
Motorized kayaks are not new on the kayak fishing scene. According to Morgan Promnitz, fishing product manager for Hobie Fishing, his company partnered with Torqueedo, a German-based manufacturer of electric outboard motors, to create a removable insert that would fit in the Mirage Drive well of Hobie products.
“We sold a lot of electric motor inserts for our Hobies,” Promnitz said. “Ocean Kayak also had a similar product, the Torque — I think it was also designed by Minn Kota — to fit in as an insert in some of their boats.”
Promnitz described a similar concern to the human-vs.-mechanized kayak propulsion when his company made foot-pedal drives popular with the kayak angling community.
“When Hobie came out with the Mirage Drive system, a lot of the true paddlers questioned that development,” he said. “As far as tournaments go, the Hobie products still meet the criteria of human-powered propulsion, so we were allowed to compete with anglers who used paddles as a method of propulsion.”
While Promnitz said he did not think there will be a day when mechanically-powered kayaks are allowed to compete against human-powered kayaks in tournaments, he would not have a problem with separate divisions.
“If that segment of the market grows, then I would welcome a kayak fishing division featuring mechanically powered boats,” he said. “In the end, it’s all about getting out there and fishing any way, no matter what craft you’re in.”