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.


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