Ratings defined

Speed: more stars indicate increasing speed.

Maneuverability: measures ease of turning. Higher scores denote quick-carving kayaks; few stars indicate boats that easily hold their heading.

Stability: measures the subjective feeling of 'tippiness.' Higher scoring boats feel rock-steady. Lower scoring boats have more wobble in them but may actually be less prone to turtle in experienced hands.

evaluates cockpit cushiness. Wetter boats score lower.

Fishability: this catch-all category considers the ease or difficulty of hatch access and the ability to move around on the kayak. The subcategory rigging considers mounting options for custom rigging of fishfinders, rod holders, and other accessories.

The truck sways drunkenly from side to side as we bounce down a deeply rutted track that clings, improbably, to a steep cliff studded with cactus. Directly below us lies one of the most remote, beautiful and fishy spots on northern Baja's Pacific coast, but I don't dare to look. With every bump the rig seems to lurch closer to the precipitous drop, so I just grip the wheel tighter and keep my eyes on the old Subaru leading the way. The two factory-fresh kayaks on the roof are probably worth more than the car.

Our little crew of expert paddle fishermen and C&K staffers has come here to thoroughly test six new fishing kayaks. It's the perfect proving ground. Though barely big enough to have a name (a secret that we're honor-bound to keep), there's nothing small about the landscape. Massive stone outcroppings are everywhere—stacked into spray-tossing boulder gardens and looming high overhead in cave-riven cliffs. It's a watery playground full of extreme obstacles, and that suits us just fine—you can't test new 'yaks in a mill pond.

We unload quickly and manage to get into some calico bass before the light leaves us completely. Soon after it does, we hear revving motors and clattering wheels. Two vehicles hurtle down the steep road we'd traversed so carefully—with their lights off. Hours later a truckload of soldiers rousts us from a dead sleep. I catch three words: Narcotraficantes. Marijuana. Cannabis! We swear, in bleary-eyed broken Spanish, that we're just here to go fishing. No problem, the captain answers. Relax.

In the morning we traipse gingerly past heavily armed soldiers guarding the captured drug-runner's van, not ten paces from our multi-colored collection of plastic sit-on-top kayaks. Each is a new design, and each is designed specifically for fishing, with oval bow hatches, large stern storage spaces known as tankwells, and rod holders or places to mount them. We climb aboard and paddle off among the boiler rocks, cliffs and caves to test our craft.

Neat and Nimble


($891*, www.liquidlogickayaks.com)

L: 12 ft., 2 in. W: 31 in., 58 lbs.

capacity: 350 lbs.

*price listed is for angler package when available, includes rudder when tested with one

Adrenaline fiends love this souped-up package from whitewater innovator Liquidlogic. One daredevil pinballed the Manta Ray from rock to rock; he could turn and burn right out of trouble, yet the boat wasn't prone to wander off course in open water. The stable, rockered hull rides up and over chop, though the high volume makes for a bumpy—and sometimes noisy—ride. The Manta Ray has one of the nicest stock seats—plushly padded with an adjustable backrest for lumbar support. The seat is scooped out to lower the center of gravity and enhance stability and boat control, but doesn't prevent sitting sidesaddle—just scoot up to the center of the boat. This set up makes for a moister ride; the footwells were sometimes awash.

The test model came with a Scotty rod holder up front and a pair of full-sized flushmounted rod holders behind the seat, and plenty of room to rig more accessories. Perhaps most innovative is the drain plug situated amidships, meaning you don't have to stand the monster on end to empty it.

Kudos: highly maneuverable, easy to rig
Gripes: bungees over front hatch are a hassle to remove and replace

Speed: ***

Maneuverability: ****

Stability: ****

Comfort: ****

Fishability: **** (rigging ****)

Hands-Free Engineering


($1,749, www.hobiecat.com)

L: 13 ft., 5 in., W: 28.5 in., 64.6 lbs.

capacity: 350 lbs.

The Revolution Fish is the only kayak in the test fleet to render a paddle optional. Hobie's foot-powered propulsion system, the Mirage Drive, makes zipping around literally as easy as pedaling a bicycle—but doesn't come cheap. An incredibly dry and stable ride for its slim waist, maneuvering the Revolution can be tricky until it builds a head of steam—then the standard fingertip-controlled rudder spins the boat quickly. The Mirage Drive doesn't go in reverse—or through kelp beds—so keep a paddle handy.

With mostly hands-free operation and robust, easy-access hatches, the Revolution's overall fishability is very good—one tester darted into the churning froth of the boiler rocks, made a few casts and pedaled quickly back out of the hazard zone with a trophy-sized calico bass on the line. It poses a challenge to some custom riggers—the only large mounting surface is the top of the bow hatch, though clever users can MacGyver a workaround. A pair of shallow rod holders is molded into the tankwell, the deck lacks space for any more. A RAM tube or two can be squeezed onto the gunwale up front, but in back, better add some to a fishing crate or bait tank.

Kudos: dry, stable, and fast hands-free travel

Gripes: seat pegs sometime slip out of place

Speed: *****

Maneuverability: ***

Stability: ****

Comfort: ***

Fishability: **** (rigging **)

Reviewer bios

Avery Ellisman

Background: Surf addict

Kayak fish crazy since: 2000

Current ride: Ocean Kayak Prowler 15

The perfect fish kayak is: Relatively stable, with sleek, well-shaped lines for good glide.

Fish Tale: Wrestled another kayaker's fat yellowtail from the grasp of an angry sea dog.

Jeff Gardner

Background: Fishing since knee high to a pollywog

Kayak fish crazy since: 2002

Current ride: Ocean Kayak Prowler 15

The perfect fish kayak is: Fast, smooth, stable, with a large deck area and bait tank.

Fish Tale: Braved the crashing midnight waves at a secret beach for one lonely lobster.

Leonard W. Tobey

Background: World traveler and adventure seeker

Kayak fish crazy since: 2001

Current ride: Cobra Marauder

The perfect fish kayak is: A fishing platform I can work with, not too heavy
Fish Tale: Tail-roped a thrashing 125-pound thresher shark and then released it.

Paul Lebowitz

Background: The outdoor type

Kayak fish crazy since: 2000

Current ride: Can't settle on just one kayak

The perfect fish kayak is: A boat that likes to go long and shrugs off rocks and surf crashes.

Fish Tale: Catching Catalina's bruiser bass by the light