By Paul Lebowitz
This week, Jim Sammons will unveil his signature edition Jackson Kayak Kraken fishing kayak at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. It's a boat built for big, angry water, to cover miles with a heavy haul of fish, tackle and angler.
For Jim, the launch of this cutting edge big water platform was a long time coming. He first paddled out to chase tail way back in 1987, on an early model Scupper – so early it predated the tankwell.
Jim was one of the first professional kayak fishing guides, a business he continues to this day despite the demands on the time of a TV personality. The Kayak Fishing Show with Jim Sammons is filming its sixth globe-spanning, trophy-tackling season for the World Fishing Network.
Kayak Fish caught up with Jim to discuss his ever-rising high tide. -KF
KF: You've come a long way. Do you ever pinch yourself and ask if this is real?
Jim: Who would have thought when I was driving trucks for Pepsi and guiding as a sideline that I'd be doing this full time? I'm having a great time on this ride.
KF: You teamed up with Jackson last year, and boom! Just like that here's your new kayak. How did it happen so quickly?
Jim: We couldn't have done it without a lot of great people. Damon Bungard, Jackson Product Manager, and Tony Lee, Jackson's designer. Tony took our crappy drawings and vague ideas and turned them into reality.
My good friend Sean White deserves a ton of credit. Such a sharp guy. He was always coming up with good ideas and pushing me for more. We brought in my ideas and gathered ideas from other kayak anglers, to see what worked and what didn't.
KF: Tell us more about the development of the Kraken. Is it the kayak you've always wanted?
Jim: I've learned so much over the years. Things are always changing, materials are changing, Luther Cifers of YakAttack is coming up with new accessories. I think the Kraken is the ultimate offshore fishing kayak this year.
KF: What is important to you in a fishing kayak?
Jim: I want a boat that paddles well. When we were in Sweden earlier this year, I paddled non-stop for six and a half hours, trolling continually in sloppy conditions. The Kraken would have been the perfect boat for that. For going offshore many miles, to get to distant fishing grounds, you need a kayak that can handle tough conditions.
The hull, with its pointed nose and curved rocker, is designed straight-up to handle big water, to launch through the surf with good lift, and to come back in without the nose digging in. I want lift and glide, the length to span short-interval chop and the speed to get in and out of the surf without dumping.
KF: Building an open water boat involves a lot of trade-offs. You want a quick kayak, but you also need to carry a heavy load including a live bait tank and a big fish or two.
Jim: I think Tony did a very good job of balancing speed and stability. Too fast and too skinny you're fighting to stay on top of it. We wanted the ability to carry a lot of gear (550 pounds). We wanted to be able to move around on it. The Kraken has substantial volume. It is not a small boat, but it’s a damn good paddling boat.
KF: Like past designs you've helped with, the Kraken breaks some new ground in an offshore boat. Tell us about the adjustable trim.
Jim: That was Tony. When we looked at how to put Jackson's Elite Seat in a kayak like this, we knew we needed it lower. We didn't need Hi-Lo seating. The seat is on a track, with several steps that run from front to back. When he sent me the prototype it was freaking awesome, a game changer. If I have my game bag with a lot of fish up front, I can move my seat back. Launching I might want my seat back for more lift. Or forward when I have a heavy bait tank.
KF: How about the bait tank scupper?
Jim: A lot of people are using live bait offshore. I've built custom bait tanks for years, always dragging a pump. They bang on the hull, catch on kelp and weeds. I wanted a better way to do it. I'm not hip to putting a pump inside the kayak either. If you have a failure it is catastrophic. If you go through a scupper that isn't designed for it you have a priming issue.
I am super excited that we came up with a specially designed bait tank scupper. We had to change the JKrate – it's the KKrate now. The plumbing is very clean. The intake comes in from the bottom. You don't need tubing all over the sides of the boat.
KF: What else can you tell us about the Kraken's factory rigging?
Jim: The Plano tackle box is kind of my throwback. A lot of kayaks don't have good tackle box area if you're also carrying a bait tank. If you don't want the Plano, you can slide the bait tank forward. It moves on a track.
There are seven rod holders on the boat: two flushmounts, two RAM Rocket Launchers, and three on the KKrate.
It should be called the Tracken. This could be Luther Cifers' signature boat. There are seven areas of gear track, and another two on the KKrate.
The center hatch is a new design. It hinges at the front. It is slanted front to back for better access to the interior of the boat and to more easily shed water. It's rigid. I love it.
The transducer scupper is in the center of the boat. Cables run right through the side of the center hatch. There's a plastic battery cradle tucked up inside the hull.
The Elite Seat was redesigned. It has a new, secure fit. There's a new self-inflating lumbar support produced by Therm-a-Rest.
This is an offshore boat. We wanted superior watertight integrity. That's why we have a new two-layer forward hatch. The hatch cover is peaked to match the lines of the boat. It sheds water fast; there are no 'grabby' spots. An old school flat neoprene cover is inside. It seals very well.
KF: That's a lot of innovation. You've been intimately involved in fishing kayak design for years including the introduction of several industry first features, but haven't publicly received much credit previously. How does it feel to launch a kayak with your name on it?
Jim: This is not an ego thing at all, but it's nice to have some recognition for what I've done for the sport. To entire team at Jackson has just been incredible to work with. They are doing some amazing things. To say I am excited would be a gross understatement.
The Jackson Kayak Kraken: L 15'6"; W 29.5"; 75 lbs; Cap. 550 lbs; $1,799; +200 with rudder.
An earlier version of this story quoted Jim Sammons saying the Kraken’s bait tank scupper was the first he’d seen. Jim Martin of Santa Cruz Kayaks contacted me to say he’d fielded one with his Raptor three years ago. I reached out to Sammons for comment. Sammons said the version used on the Kraken was in development many years ago, suggested by his friend Sean White, who first pitched it (unsuccessfully) to Cobra (they don’t make kayaks in this country any more, and haven’t for several years), Malibu Kayak (Sean was a Malibu and Cobra dealer) and Ocean Kayak. -PL