By Paul Lebowitz
Jim Sammons is looking right at home on an uncharacteristically snotty La Jolla ocean. It's only right - he's sitting aboard his hotly anticipated signature series Jackson Kayak Kraken, a newly released offshore beast.
It's his dream kayak, designed in close cooperation with Jackson designer Tony Lee and product manager Damon Bungard. The TV personality famous for big water exploits seen on The Kayak Fishing Show with Jim Sammons is navigating his battlecruiser confidently through the slop.
The Kraken is something to see, a big bad boss of a high-volume boat with a swell-eating stride of nearly 16 feet, just 16 inches longer than Jackson's Cuda 14 with the same maximum 30-inch width. Don't be fooled by the similar stats. The models could scarcely behave more differently. The Kraken is purpose-built to confidently punch surf and tackle nasty conditions while traveling fast and far.
"The Kraken doesn't get pushed around. The impressive secondary might feel unstable to beginners but really settles down in rough water," Sammons says as he powers onward.
The Cuda, a multi-mode crossover, offers much more primary stability and a less streamlined nose more suitable for flat water and stand-up fishing. It features Jackson's Hi/Lo Elite Seat. Sammons is sitting in an ergonomically improved Elite 3.0 Seat too, but his is different. It hovers just above the deck to provide the comfort of a soft mesh seat bottom while retaining a low center of gravity. Instead of adjusting vertically, it moves forward or aft - the adjustable trim feature Sammons has always wanted in one of his boats.
"If I have a full bait tank, I can move my seat forward to balance the boat. If I want more pop on the nose for a surf landing, I scoot back," he says.
The heaviest among its class of big water bruisers, Jackson lists the Kraken's hull weight as 85 pounds, 110 fully loaded with the many factory standards (more on those later).
"Don't be fooled by the weight. Once you're out of the hole the length comes into play," Sammons says as he easily keeps pace with a competitor's lighter kayak. It takes effort to get going, but once there it gallops.
"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," Sammons says.
The design aimed for a 550-pound capacity. Just after launch, Jackson listed the capacity at a controversial 400 pounds. It's conservative. Jackson's James McBeath admits as much.
"We come from a whitewater background where if you are over the boat's performance levels, your day is greatly affected, and in whitewater that can be serious. In fishing its a bit different, but we want to ensure that the buyer knows that anything over the listed capacity starts to change the way the boat runs. In fishing we may change the way we look at things, mostly because many of our market are fisher persons first, paddlers second," he says.
Weight capacity rating varies considerably from company to company - there's no industry standard. Sammons routinely loads his Kraken right up to or even beyond 400 pounds, without any noticeable impact.
"There can be a lot of variables in how a kayak carries weight, starting with the kayaker himself and how the load is placed into or on the kayak," Sammons adds.
With two hefty yellowtail on board along with a full bait tank, half a dozen rods and way too much tackle, his Kraken isn't burdened or low in the lively water. The boat seems well capable of handling the intended 550 pounds, but your experience may vary. Exercise good judgment and, as always, try to test paddle with an actual gear load.
Jackson ships the boat fully rigged. There's no buying a bare hull; you're getting a complete fishing system including a waterproof Plano tackle box and the huge KKrate storage box / bait tank, which plumbs through a dedicated pump scupper (it's up to the user to provide the pump and plumbing). It can be user configured with a standpipe drain for an adjustable water level. The better to scoot safely through surf, tackle box and KKrate both bolt firmly ti the many lengths of Yak Attack Gear Trac that stud the hull.
"There's so much track. I love the ability to firmly lock down gear. The plumbing is very clean. The intake comes in from the bottom. You don't need tubing all over the sides of the boat," Sammons says, relieved his pump-dragging days are over.
There's much more. There are a ridiculous eight rod holders, three on the KKrate, two RAM tubes, a further two flushmounts and another RAM meant for the forward tracks. The transducer scupper is located right in front of the seat for improved performance and sized for serious electronics. An in-hull battery tray is perched up front. There's a new-design flip-forward hinged center hatch for easy gear access. It comes with a deck light. The fishing ergonomics are outstanding; the storage capacity among the leaders in its oceangoing class.
"This is an offshore boat. We wanted superior watertight integrity. That's why we have a new two-layer forward hatch. It sheds water fast; there are no 'grabby' spots," Sammons says. He stashes an emergency bilge pump between the neoprene inner cover and hard plastic outer section, but doesn't otherwise access it while on the water. There's no need.
Jackson offers a rudder option for an extra $200. Sammons isn't bothered by a moderate blow - he's a strong, expert paddler - but concedes that it would be a nice option in certain points of wind.
Later, after landing dry despite the dicey surf, Sammons is still smiling. He's living the dream. He pats the ferocious Kraken logo on the nose of his boat, the one with his signature embossed below. "It's nice to have some recognition for what I've done for the sport. I'm having a great time on this ride."
The Jackson Kayak Kraken: L 15'7"; W 30"; 85 lbs / 110 lbs fitted hull weight; Cap. 400 lbs; $1,799; +200 with rudder.