Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160
($1,069; $1,289 with rudder in roto-molded plastic, wildernesssystems.com)
L: 16′; W:28″; 72 lbs., 375-lb. capacity
The Tarpon name is a proud one reaching back to the early days of the modern kayak fishing movement—when avid ocean anglers adopted an exceptional sit-on-top touring boat for fishier pursuits. When Wilderness Systems caught on, it kicked off a wave of incremental change that’s kept the 160 consistently on the leading edge of the fishing fleet. The boat retains its original wanderer’s spirit and the speed to sample the far side of the horizon, all while adding volume to increase carrying capacity. If the current hull isn’t quite as fast as the original, most anglers will find it a good deal drier and more forgiving.
The outfitting is exceptional. Take the cushy, first-class Phase 3 Sit-on-Top seat, it’s eminently adjustable for an ergonomic fit that only encourages saddle time. Then the clever SlideTrax accessory rail system makes drill-free rod holder and electronics rigging easily adjustable. While the 160 lacks a large center cockpit hatch, there’s an oval hatch near the bow and a small, round day-hatch an easy reach away, featuring the proprietary Orbix one-handed closure. Below-deck rod storage is a bit of a chore, but otherwise storage is more than adequate.
Circling back to the sweet hull design—a rarity in fishing circles—the boat’s rounded chine provides a superior ride in sloppy seas that intermediate and advanced paddlers will appreciate. The optional rudder is still a welcome asset in a stiff wind as the current 160 is more prone to weathercock than its lower-slung predecessors.