When every single log in the shallows makes your heart stop momentarily, and every dried fallen tree trunk looks like a sunning croc, a kayak is the last watercraft you’d consider boarding. Recent migrant from the Top End, Jo Starling, conquers her fears and launches into a new adventure—learning to ‘yak fish.
Until four years ago, the term ‘yak’ had only two meanings in my world… a Himalayan smelly creature and something I liked to do around a campfire, over a chilled beverage, with some well-chosen mates. I come from the Top End… a land where man can only claim dominance IF he doesn’t enter the water.
Kayaks don’t form part of a Top Ender’s psyche.
Four years ago, however, I started fishing south of ‘the crocodile line’ and the charm of the ‘quiet yak’ became apparent. Once I’d allayed my instinctive suspicion that a scaly man-eater lurked beneath every watery surface, I was able to see the benefits of the humble kayak as a fishing vessel. It’s virtually silent, stealthy, peaceful and can hop waterholes like a salmon! Thus a third definition has been introduced to my personal dictionary.
Let me be blunt – I have no interest in kayaking for kayaking’s sake. Apologies to any folk who are avid paddlers, but I’m an avid fisher. It’s to the avid fisher in me that a kayak appeals, and it’s from this perspective that I fashioned my list of wants, needs and expectations.
Having never fished from a kayak before, I had only my imagination and fear of crocs to guide me. My expectations were relatively simple: Stability, so that I could stand and cast (fly casting optional, but preferred); clearance, opening up shallow water options that would be closed to me in the boat; manoeuvrability, so I could get myself into likely spots and out of trouble; discretion, because I liked to hunt and I knew my quarry had many advantages from their unseen hidey-holes; accessible storage so that I had what I needed at my fingertips (or close too it) without limiting my already limited standing room; oh yeah… standing room! And, last but not least, I wanted my kayak to be “easy to mount”. That was so my pride would remain intact.
And so it was that I set about researching kayaks that might tick all my boxes. To my delight, I discovered the wonders of the Hobie! My imagination went wild with the potential to troll whilst en route… let alone get to my fishing spot quicker! I quickly decided that a leg-propelled kayak was the better option for me.
Some time later that I stumbled upon a magazine ad promoting Native Watercraft kayaks. They didn’t have the profile of the Hobie, but they had something else that piqued my curiosity… they had a propeller, not flippers.
“So?” I hear you say.
So, they can go backwards! I don’t know about you, but as a fisho who likes to mix it with as big a specimen as I can find, having the capacity to pull a hooked monster away from heartbreaking structure seemed like a pretty good asset.
So it was that my investigations turned to Native Watercraft.
After a short time of weighing up options and specifications, I committed to a Native Watercraft Mariner 12.5 Propel. They also have the option of a Mariner 12.5 Propel Angler, which comes factory rigged with two Scotty flush rod mounts, one Scotty side rod mount, a groove mount outfitting plate, anchor trolley system and anchor kit. At the time I was looking, there wasn’t an Angler handy, so I installed the extra bits myself (except the anchor trolley, which is a project for near future) to my new Mariner 12.5 Propel.
My new rig is a beaut! There are plenty of options for custom fit-outs, so you can feel free to couple your wish list with your imagination. In fact, now that hubby Steve and I have started setting the Mariner up, I would have to name innovation as one of the greatest assets of a ‘yak newbie. You really can create a very efficient fishing craft in a small space, when you put your mind to it.
With fit-out all but complete (there is still that anchor trolley assembly to do yet), the day came in late October for my virgin kayak launch. To my delight, the Mariner didn’t buck me off! In fact, it was so stable that I quickly returned to shore to pick up my ultra-eager 9-year-old daughter. I was confident that I could take her for a ride without tipping her into the drink, even though she was sitting atop my strapped-in esky/’live well’!
I hadn’t pedalled far before I heard the inevitable, “Can I ‘vago?”. I objected at first, but then thought it would be an interesting test of the kayak’s ability to tick off my first requirement. So we made a plan to swap places… and we did so without fuss! Stability? Tick.
Pedalling the craft made me aware of one thing I hadn’t considered… comfort! You sit ‘on’, not ‘in’, so you have great visibility from the comfortable webbed seat. The back support is adjustable, which is perfect as I suffer from a chronic bad back and wouldn’t be able to go far otherwise. The seat slides forwards and backwards, locking into place with adjustable strapping. This makes it easy for those of us who are vertically challenged to share with the lanky. The long and the short of it is, the kayak proved to have the comfort box ticked as well.
The direct drive propulsion is an ingenious bit of kit that is fully removable (in fact, it transports separately from the kayak and is installed before launching) and therefore fully optional. It’s driven by the pedals which work just like a bicycle’s, unlike the Hobie’s stepping/pumping action. If you visualise one of those low-riding pushbikes with the pedals out in front, you’ll get the idea.
It’s an easy action that generates a good amount of speed. At a relaxed pedal you can maintain trolling speed, but you really do need to focus on keeping a slow rhythm. The Native Watercraft Mariner Propel was clocking 3.1 knots at my natural pace… and I’m unfit!
As for manoeuvrability, the Native has it in spades. I could not believe the over-delivery on promise. The rudder sits at my left hand and is an easy tweak, even when standing. In a gentle wind, it easily manages nose direction. Pedalling backwards for reverse works like a charm, although steering is less direct, as you’d expect. The big surprise, however, is the ability to virtually stop on the spot! This is handy in so many situations, stopping when snagged on the troll being one that I discovered very early in the piece! Holding off from action that appeared in my path was another.
The elephant in the room is the clearance. Unlike the Hobie, the Native Watercraft Mariner’s pedals cannot fold flat under the hull. They can, however, be raised up through the hull to rest on the bow whilst paddling or drifting through shallow water. This is not as immediate as the Hobie paddles folding up, but isn’t difficult to do. If anything, it’s just a bit fiddly.
When the propeller is deployed, my Native Watercraft 12.5 Mariner is able to get me through water 30cm or deeper. When it’s up, I save around 15cm in draft. For those occasions, I’ve taken to using an H2O Fish paddle. I have to admit that I’m useless at paddling! The pedal option suits my coordination (or lack-thereof) far better... but when the pedals are up, there is no option but for me to grip the paddle, splash around and invariably cuss!
There are several reasons why I’ve opted for the H2O Fish paddle. First of all, it breaks down to 2 pieces for transport, is discretely coloured for stealth and, most importantly, it has a fish measurer along the handle – not just for small fish either, but for big fish! This just proves that I’m not alone in my belief that I can catch a monster from my ‘yak! My tip: clip it into the paddle mount with the zero mark forward… I nearly gave myself a cramp when I first tried to measure up with the zero back behind my seat!
I’ve yet to become an experienced ‘yakker, but I am happy to give a solid 2 thumbs up to the Native Watercraft 1.25 Mariner Propel. It’s answered all my needs and although it doesn’t quite have the clearance of the Hobie Pro Angler, it has all the capabilities plus more and weighs a lot less. Overall, I am very happy with my choice. If you are interested in seeing me putting the Native Watercraft through its paces during my first weekend on the water, there’s a review on the Offroad Adventure Show channel on YouTube. Go to www.youtube.com/user/OffroadAdventureShow and search Native Watercraft.
I’m looking forward to reporting and reflecting more as I now embark on this new adventure… Learning to yak! I hope you’ll join me over coming issues.
|Bow Hatch Length||0.46m|
|Bow Hatch Width||0.30m|
RRP: $2760 (plus custom options)