Blow up boats are kids’ toys right? Well not these days.
There are plenty of inflatable watercraft on the market these days that will get keen anglers into tight or restricted waters and provide a safe and fun day. With this in mind Greg Livingstone and I grabbed hold of two Zambezi inflatable boats (a single and a double) and headed down to a couple of canal waterways with no boat ramp and only park access.
The first advantage of the Zambezi craft is how easy are they to transport and set up. This is where the Zambezi wins over a lot of its competitors. The bag the Zambezi craft is supplied with, whether for the single or double craft, is large enough to easily fit the folded boat inside plus broken down paddles, foot pump and life jackets. When dry the bag weighs about ____kg for the single, which is a pretty easy lift in and out of the boot of most cars. The double is a bit heavier at about ____kg, but the idea with the double is to have two people so it’s still an easy craft to transport around.
Inflation with the foot pump was easy but it was a whole lot easier with a simple blower pump that you use on your air mattress. The foot pump has its advantages though as it is custom fitted to the valve size in the main chamber and also for the floor mat. In contrast the blower pump is quicker but you have to pull out the entire pump valve on the main chamber and you can’t use it on the floor mat. And you’ll still have to top off the main chamber with the foot pump anyway. The only thing I didn’t like with the Zambezi in this regard was that the floor mat did not have a one-way valve, so when you removed the foot pump, you had to be quick to get the stopper in place. The main chamber has a one-way valve fitted and this works a treat.
Once everything is pumped up you can store your gear on the craft and get ready to go fishing.
Storing gear in small craft is always a problem, especially for anglers who are used to fishing from 4.2m+ boats with heaps of storage. It really makes you think about what you need and forces you to be species specific with your choices. We decided early we’d use light threadline tackle and lures to target bream, flathead and, with a heap of luck, a jack or cod. This meant we could only take one rod and a small amount of tackle in one box.
To make things a little easier for anglers, the Zambezi has two sets of Velcro straps on either side of the cockpit. To these you can attach your rod and paddle to keep them within easy reach but out of harm’s way. On the single craft there was also an elastic strap to tie down your tackle box and a handy webbed pouch where you could store things that can get wet like leader spools and a set of pliers. This is not the place for keys or mobile phones as they will get wet here. On the double boat the same Velcro strap set-up is included along with the elastic strap and the webbed pouch. If you are one up in the double though, these are placed right up the front of the craft and you will not be able to reach them.
Both craft also have handy carry or drag handles up the front and back to make sure you can push and pull them into the right position.
Getting into and out of the craft is a little bit more difficult than an ordinary hard kayak. This is because the minute you put all your weight on the sides the air compresses and either makes the craft take water if you haven’t pumped up the chamber enough or makes it almost impossible to put enough force into your arm to lift you up. The harder you push down the more your hand sinks into the sides.
Having said that, it’s not really that difficult to get into and out of the craft, you just need to be a little careful of how you do it and where you do it. I found it easiest with the boat side-on to the bank whether launching or retrieving and stepping into the boat to get in and placing a hand on the hard bank to get out.
Paddling was pretty easy. Make no mistake, these craft are not rockets, but you can get around at an easy pace without over exerting yourself. One up in the double saw it outpace the single, although I’d like to think it’s because I’m a better paddler and much stronger than Greg. On the other side of the coin, the double was wind blown far more than the single. When we did go two-up in the double it pushed us along excellently and I found myself leaning into the back rest and letting Greg paddle us around as he had no clue I wasn’t paddling!
One thing we did notice with the single was that the back end sunk pretty close to the waterline while fishing. Greg weighs just under 90kg so he’s not the world’s smallest man but it didn’t look good. In practice though it made no difference to the way the craft paddled, fished or operated and it didn’t mean more water came in – it just meant the back end looked low in the water.
The fishing wasn’t hot on our test day but we did manage to pull some neat bream on surface poppers and some more on small divers along with a few flathead. Casting isn’t a problem in the single or double as long as you’ve set up your drift properly. Casting side-on or to the front of the boat is the best as you’re not twisting backwards trying to reel in a lure or fish.
When you are lucky enough to hook a fish, even small ones will twist and pull you around so be aware of this. It’s a pity we didn’t hook a jack because I was keen to see how quickly a jack would pull me into the rock walls we were casting to just for a laugh. One thing to be very aware of when you are casting treble armed lures around is that when a fish is beside the boat and kicks, some of the prongs can get caught in the fabric. This is a pretty interesting situation with a fish kicking around, hooks flying all over the place and fingers trying to control it all. The solution is pretty simple. Play the fish out and use long nosed pliers to remove hooks from fish destined for release, or get a small handled landing net.
I actually found fishing from the double comfortable and spent an hour drifting down a sandy bank casting surface poppers to bream without thinking about my back, shoulders or legs being sore or cramped. So I reckon that’s a good test of how easy and comfortable these craft are to fish from for average anglers.
My overall thoughts on the Zambezi inflatable boats is that they are going to open up a lot of water to those who don’t mind a bit of paddling and don’t have the car to transport a full-sized kayak around. They are not the answer to everyone’s fishing requirements but I really like getting in close to the snags and fish and I even enjoy paddling around every now and then. If there are small waterways in your area, these little craft could well be your answer. They’re stable, easy to fish from and if you use the back rests in them, they are as comfortable as anything around at the moment. I found them more comfortable than standing on an electric up the front of a bigger boat by a long way – maybe I’m just getting old and lazy though!
The Zambezi boats are available at BCF stores throughout Queensland and NSW so drop in and check them out. Costing from around $_____ they’re not a bad investment if you want to check out some small, sneaky waterways.