By Paul Lebowitz
In the final week of August it was my pleasure to join Hobie fishing product manager Morgan Promnitz and product designer Jim Czarnowski for a day out at La Jolla chasing yellowtail. We were ostensibly out to shoot photos of the Pro Angler 17T, but I had an ulterior motive. I was angling for a test ride on the 2015 Outback.
"Please bring one. I'd like to check out the new Vantage Seat and the Mirage Bluefins, the ones with the new bearings," I asked Morgan, fingers crossed behind my back for luck. Turned out I wouldn’t need it, at least not right away.
"Sure," he said helpfully.
Luther Cifers, the rigging genius behind accessory maker YakAttack, was along too. "To pedal out here, at La Jolla, with this crew on this boat is special," Luther said as we kicked out past the point and into unsheltered water, where the Outback comfortably rode the rolling swells. Luther's personal kayak fishing journey started with the Outback six or seven year ago. He still has his original boat; it’s taken him on quite a voyage.
That feels right. The Outback is a historic boat, Hobie's first pedal-drive designed specifically for fishing. Since 2001 it has been the company's most popular kayak, so well designed Hobie staffers haven't felt much need to modify it. Even today, the hull is virtually unchanged (it was mildly tuned up about halfway through its history to offer lighter users a level ride). The 2015 improvements are all from the deck up, and boy, are they ever impactful.
By now, most Hobie fans know the company famous for its elegant Mirage pedal-drive kayaks added a trick elevated and incredibly adjustable seat to nearly every boat in its fleet for the 2015 model year. Dubbed the Vantage Seating System, it is a slightly more compact version of the incredible seat that debuted with the Mirage Pro Angler 12. I'm not going to detail every one of its functions. Suffice to say it is eminently adjustable and even removes should you crave a shore-side perch.
Within fifteen minutes of seat time in the cushy suspended mesh with its supportive backrest, I was ready to call the Vantage a huge win. My conviction was solidified eight hours later when I pedaled back to the beach feeling comfortable and well rested minus the back and butt twinges and tweaks the old seat always exacted.
"In the low position, the Vantage is at the same height above the water as the prior model. We haven't compromised stability by adding the Vantage Seating System," Jim told me. Now that I've been fortunate enough to test it against the pull of the 20-pound class California yellowtail that latched onto the Rapala I was trolling for 5- to 10-pound bonito, I can say I agree.
It was nuts. I heard the clicker go off on my live bait rod and turned to grab it. That’s when Morgan yelled that my plug rod was bent so hard the tip was in the water. I turned back the other way and snatched that one instead. Line was smoking off the baitcaster, straight down. “Come take the bait rod,” I shouted to Morgan and Jim. They kicked over on the big PA 17T and picked it up.
The new Vantage Seat afforded a rock-steady fighting platform, even when my overmatched bass rod snapped in half (I swear I wasn't high-sticking). The unexpected slack could have made for a nervous moment if I'd been in a slender boat, but the 33-inch wide deck of the Outback handled the weight shift without so much as a wobble. A heartbeat later I was back to battling my 'tail on an inverted stub of a rod.
Hobie has authentic fishing pros on staff. Morgan noticed that the line from the bait rod Jim was working was angling into mine. Tangle! In the style of the best deckhands, Morgan brought our rods together and unwrapped the twist, unleashing me to pedal furiously after my blazing fish.
When it eventually came to color (I could scarcely believe it stayed on the line through all that mess – lucky!), I was able to gaff my fish right from the seat. A few minutes later, I watched Morgan land the second yellowtail with a standing gaff shot (that PA 17T is an incredible fishing tandem). Then Jim and Morgan turned my camera on me, insisting I pose with the second yellowtail too, a thrilling double on the new Outback.
While I took the opportunity to adjust the backrest angle throughout the day, I didn't feel any need to raise the seat to its high position. I don’t believe it would have compromised stability, and would have been helpful if I'd tried to stand, but I'll save that test for flat water. Accommodating the Vantage Seat required Hobie’s staffers to extensively alter the deck design. Retrofitting the new seat onto earlier model Outbacks is unfortunately not possible at this time.
As far as the cool-looking new Bluefin MirageDrive with Glide Technology is concerned, the Turbo model that equipped my Outback rocketed the boat right up to its hull speed in just a few pushes of the pedals. Morgan said the Outback (and all other non-PA / -Island Mirage models) will come equipped with slightly less aggressive Bluefin ST-Turbo fins. I think those will perform well, making for a pleasant cruising speed at reduced effort.
There's more, much more, subtle changes to the deck design that pay off big. "We raised the deck level of the MirageDrive well," Jim confirmed. The water level in my Outback loaded down with 210 pounds of angler, a full bait tank, a quiver of rods and a bunch of tackle was level with the top of the Mirage slot. No more puddle!
The deck itself is a spacious flat surface that runs from the back of the seat almost to the MirageDrive (yes, it's an ideal place to stand if you are so inclined). The area in front of the seat is equipped with the customary 8-inch round Twist and Seal hatch, but there's enough room for the optional large rectangular version. Highly recommended. I think I could have stashed my yellowtail below the deck if I'd had one.
What else? There are new mid-boat soft-grip carrying handles, a handy cup holder, and dual mesh storage pockets (somewhat hook resistant). The molded-in footrests (for those times you prefer to swing a paddle) no longer extend onto the deck surface in the Mirage Drive area, but still provide plenty of purchase (I gave them a quick test in the mushy La Jolla surf).
The bow hatch is the same as it has been for years, a spacious oval. There's a Twist and Seal round hatch aft, and the same large tankwell you'd expect. The Outback comes with the Lowrance Ready System for your fishfinder transducer. There are four molded-in flushmount rod holders, two forward, two aft. Outback fans will be glad to hear the boat's trademark gunwale storage indents are right where they should be. The Twist and Stow Rudder System is the smoothest its ever been.
Conclusion? This is undeniably the Outback anglers love, now with an outstanding seat that adds hours of endurance. "I'm going to have to add one to the fleet," Luther said, clearly impressed. The improvements add up to far more than $300 of value, the rumored price bump year to year; this is excellence vastly improved. Kayak Fish rating: two fish up.
Hobie Mirage Outback: L12' 1"; W33"; 75 lbs / 88 lbs rigged. www.hobiefishing.com