The past decade has seen an explosion in saltwater kayak fishing, and for good reason. Modern kayaks are durable, stealthy, and seaworthy and there are currently hundreds of models out there to choose from. So which boats are best for fly fishing? That of course depends on who you ask. Everyone has their favorites. Let’s take a quick look at 4 different boats that I believe have proven over time to be very good kayaks for fly fishing.
If stability, roominess, and a huge payload are what you’re looking for, check out the Wilderness Systems Ride. The Ride is a muscled boat, measuring a little over 13’ long with a 32” beam and an empty weight around 65 lbs. The Ride boasts a modified pontoon design that is extremely stable and allows a reasonably coordinated person to stand up without an imminent fear of falling out. But what sets the Ride apart from other wide boats, is that it doesn’t feel like a bulky barge when you paddle it. It handles nicely, paddles smoothly, and tracks as though it was a much narrower and sleeker craft.
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 is one of the friendliest boats you’ll ever paddle. At 12’ long and 30” wide the Tarpon 120 is a relatively small craft but it feels balanced and smooth, tracks well without a rudder, and has plenty of storage space. Another great thing about the Tarpon 120 is that it is easy to load and transport in the bed of a pickup. Its short length also makes the Tarpon 120 a perfect choice if you plan to fish a few local creeks and rivers or portage to a distant location using a skiff or bay boat as a mother ship. Overall, the Tarpon 120 gets my vote as one of the most versatile and most-likely-to-please kayak on the market.
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 has established itself over the years as the king of the open water boats. At 16’ long and 28” wide, the Tarpon 160 glides across windswept expanses like an arrow. If you are looking for a slick fast boat that eats choppy water, this boat ought to be at the top of your list.
The Tarpon 160 has undergone several re-makes over the years, mostly in the cockpit design and layout. But the boat is still a greyhound at heart and its lines are smoother than ever. Anglers who are considering purchasing the Tarpon 160 boat should keep in mind that although it is a wonderful boat for long touring runs, the Tarpon’s 16-foot length makes it tough to maneuver in tight quarters and a real bear to handle and transport on dry land. The Tarpon 160 is not the best choice for all anglers, but it is the perfect choice for some.
Native Watercraft’s Ultimate line of “hybrid” kayaks is becoming more and more popular with fly anglers. The Ultimate, available in solo and tandem layouts in lengths from 10 to 16 feet, is as much like a canoe or pirogue as a kayak. The advantage of this design over a standard sit-on-top kayak is that the interior of the boat is roomy and open and the hull is wide and stable, allowing anglers to easily stand and cast or stand and paddle/pole.
The Ultimate also has an adjustable seat mounted above the floor of the boat. This means fewer cramps for paddlers and a dry butt at the end of the day. The Ultimate is a perfect boat for exploring protected water, tidal creeks, and marshes. It is not the best choice if you plan to paddle across wide open windswept areas, or cross heavy chop and strong currents.
The bottom line with kayaks is that your own physical fitness, where/how you intend to fish, and how you plan to transport your boat will help determine which model is the right choice for you. Be sure to paddle a variety of boats, do your homework, and be honest with yourself before you make a purchase.