Choosing a Fishing kayak…Wilderness Tarpon 160

Wilderness systems describe the Tarpon 160 as the ultimate ‘destination’ kayak. I’m really not sure what this is supposed to mean, but if it implies that it gets you to where you want to go with more ease and more speed than virtually any other plastic SOT kayak, I would probably agree.

Bass caught trolling lure from TArpon
Bass caught trolling lure from TArpon

This is a beast of a boat and I bought mine three years ago with a view to paddling faster, further and with more clobber. More camping gear rather than fishing stuff. First trip was the quite committing twenty plus miles from St.Ives to Sennen Cove. Big tide currents and big cliffs with lots of bouncy water…absolutely no problem for the Tarpon and I don’t think I’ve ever had a single wobbly moment on it. I would trust this yak to go anywhere although I sometimes wonder if it just too big  and that possibly the American designers had generously- proportioned paddlers who have spent too much time with their face in a Big Mac in mind when they produced this boat.

Critics say that it is difficult to turn. I would say it’s no more difficult to turn than you would expect a sixteen foot boat to be. And why do you need to turn quickly when you are sea kayaking. The hull design with the big grooves means that it goes straight and true which is surely the main priority with a sea-touring or fishing kayak.

20lb conger eel
20lb conger eel

Any longer and I suppose a rudder would be necessary but that it only to counteract weathercocking when the wind is coming from the side (or worse, to the side and the rear). I have never thought a rudder was necessary to  improve performance under normal conditions with sea state showing only occasional white-caps. And its another piece of gear to go wrong or break.

It’s got all the deck features I could ask for of a SOT kayak. Starting from the back,the tankwell is huge, bigger than any other.  A couple of flush mounted rod holders behind the Phase 3 seating system. The permanently fixed seat has a rigid back which gives about as secure a back and backside support as you could want. I still don’t think the cushioning is as comfy as the OK  seats but they are not as thick and spongy  so maybe it’s not a surprise.

There’s a handy little hatch into the hull in front of the seat but I don’t use it for much. I don’t use the side-trax system on the edge of the cockpit either….too complicated and surplus to my requirements. Keep it simple.

Hat-trick of Pollack
Hat-trick of Pollack

The front hatch is medium-sized and dead easy to open with a simple handle-type locking system. And you can shovel in a vast quantity of gear. I would question just how watertight the hatches are as the seal doesn’t seem that tight, but it has to be a big sea to get water sloshing over the hatch and I have yet to tip it over.

This is an excellent boat and it’s greatest appeal is that I would have complete confidence taking it out into any sort of sea. It is very large and very stable. In fact I would sooner head seawards in a Tarpon 160 than any other boat, powered or not.

It has one BIG drawback. It is unbelievably heavy. OK it’s a big boat and consists of a lot of plastic but it surely doesn’t need to weigh THAT much. It is a serious issue when I am solo-kayaking as I can only just get it onto the car roof by myself, and I need a few seconds standing over it to prepare my body physically and mentally for the task in hand before I heave it up. I think it tips the scale at 32kgs which is far too much. Although its robust construction was useful when it dropped six foot onto the tarmac when I once bungled my efforts to get it on the roof.

Its monstrous cumbersomeness means that it stays in the garage unless I am planning a major day trip with fishing in mind.Or maybe a multi-day camping trip when it doesn’t need to be lifted up for a day or two. However for short trolling trips I would select a lighter and more nimble kayak such as my Scupper Pro. The Scupper has got to be a bit faster as it is narrower although there appears to be some debate about this.

I have had some memorable moments in my Tarpon 160:

Biggest fish:

60 lb tope
60 lb tope

Longest sea trip: 30 miles Scilly-Sennen

Longest camping trips:

River Dee rapid
River Dee rapid

3 day descents of Scotland’s Rivers Spey and Dee.

Choice of Fishing Kayak…..OK Scupper Pro

Having clocked up over eight thousand miles in sit-on-top fishing kayaks over the last seven years, I’ve developed a few opinions about which one is best.

I will only be considering a selection of the longer ‘serious’ kayaks that can be used for a good full-day trip as any boat I use must double-up as a decent tourer. And a kayak with long touring ‘legs’ will also be a good trolling platform to put you in with a good chance of hooking a few hefty bass. At heart I suppose I am more of a kayaker than a fisherman so trolling a lure is my fishing method of choice.

OCEAN KAYAK SCUPPER PRO

Scupper Pro
Scupper Pro

This was actually my second single SOT fishing kayak. My first was an OK Prowler 15 (in stealth dark green!) which has now been discontinued. Or at least it has been morphed into many gadget- laden superkayaks. In many ways the Prowler 15 was the perfect SOT touring kayak….wide enough to be super stable, narrow enought to cruise at a sensible speed and long enough to stuff in a load of camping gear.

I bought the Scupper Pro in an effort to go faster. And it certainly did. I’m pretty sure the design pre-dates the Prowlers but it is quite a different kayak with a very unusual hull-shape and at 15 foot long and only 26″ wide it is not surprisingly  a bit nippy. The widest part of the hull is forward of the seat so you might be forgiven for thinking you are facing the wrong direction.

It can afford to be narrow because it has a very low seating position to keep the centre of gravity down. This means you sit in a pool of water, and the tankwell is similarly awash. I don’t find this a problem (especially if I’m in my drysuit) but this is probably what lead to the evolution of the Prowlers and their higher and drier seat, but wider hull to compensate.

Scupper Pro smile
Scupper Pro smile

There are claims that the Scupper Pro is tippy. I would consider it to be totally and utterly stable. I have rarely had the slightest wobbly moment and it is my kayak of choice if I want to tackle a major headland or exposed sea paddle. I have been round Lizard point, Land’s End, Trevose head (on a particularly hostile day) and Hartland Point in this boat. And out to Lundy and back in a day. Oh and around Portland Bill in April this year. If you want to clock up the miles in a fast and stable SOT then this is the yak for you.

Scupper pro gets you to nice places like this....FAST
Scupper pro gets you to nice places like this….FAST

Hard core kayak-fishermen might be disappointed with it’s fishing spec. It hasn’t really got any…in fact this one had none at all until my chum drilled a couple of flush-mounted rod holders into it. But because I am a fishing minimalist that is all I need. I can’t be bothered with the complexity of a fish finder or any other fancy stuff. The more gadgets to worry about the longer it takes to get on (and off ) the water and the less time you spend actually fishing.

The Scupper Pro is an excellent yak for trolling lures although because it has a low rear deck the reels do tend to get splashed by salt water and so are more prone to corrosion than with other more recent designs, and I have noticed that it’s speed definitely has a negative effect on catch rate when trolling…..it is too fast for the average predatory fish!

The front hatch is absolutely fantastic if you want to sling in your day kit and get on the water as fast as possible (and I always do, as you probably gathered). It is vast, much bigger than any other yak.It will take my kayak trolley whole without folding it down or taking the wheels off. Not sure about how watertight it is is you spend much time upside down but I try not to.

Cavernous hatch
Cavernous hatch

The Scupper Pro has, however, one Achilles Heel. I found where it was during a multi-day camping trip down the River Tay in Scotland. Just before we got out to examine a nasty-looking set of rapids from the bank, I scrunched over quite a big rock at quite a speed. It didn’t cross my mind that this would cause any problem as roto-moulded plastic was indestructible during normal river kayaking as far as I was concerned. However when I got back to the shallows after our recce, the kayak had more or less sunk. DISASTER. And depite being in a drybag my sleeping bag was soaked. HUGE DEPRESSION.

The rock had bent up the hull of the kayak as I had past over it but when it got to the centrally-positioned scupper hole in the tank well it met stiff resistance and actually penetrated the plastic beside the scupper resulting in a three inch long laceration. I was hurled into despair and was  all for catching the bus home but we managed a rather pathetic and leaky repair with a bit of duct tape.

A professional plastic repair man fixed it in an extraordinarily rapid and nonchalent way with what look like a few strips of plasticine and it was several months before I entrusted his workmanship to the open sea.

Dodgy looking, but very effective, repair
Dodgy looking, but very effective, repair

If it hadn’t been for the nasty looking gash on the hull which would put off any purchaser, I would have sold this kayak for a more flashy model.

However it has remained in the back of my barn and over recent winters has actually seen more and more action. It is my kayak of choice for winter trips, whether on the open sea or rivers. I don’t use it so much for bottom fishing trips..that is the domain of my Tarpon 160.

But the big advantage of tha Scupper pro over the Tarpon , when advancing years mean you can’t powerlift a hefty kayak over your head to put it on the roofrack without popping a few discs, is its modest weight. A mere 24kg, compared to well over 30kgs for the Tarpon.

So if you want a no-frills SOT kayak that can outstrip virtually anything else in its class for speed, but also be a decent fishing yak and offer all the versatility and freedom that SOT’s provide, then the Scupper Pro is STILL hard to beat.

My Biggest Scupper Pro Fish: 40lb tope caught off Lynmouth:

Tustling a tope
Tustling a tope

My Biggest Scupper Pro daytrip: 40 miles down the length of the Tamar estuary and back.

Hairiest Scupper Pro Moment (apart from sinking on the River Tay): being consumed in a dense fog on the way to Lundy seven miles from land.

coming soon……my views on the Tarpon 160.

Scupper Pro's favourite sort of place
Scupper Pro’s favourite sort of place