Test Paddling Wilderness Systems' New Fishing Cruisers
Strong in the surf, they are faster than the Rides and haul more freight than a Tarpon
By Paul Lebowitz
It’s true. Wilderness Systems’ new and as yet unnamed offshore fishing cruisers are intended for boisterous water. It's fresh life in a category that hasn't seen much recent action.
One look at the loftier bows of the prototypes, one in the 15-foot range and the other around 14, is plenty of confirmation. The injection of volume sets the new boats apart from Wildy's long-running Tarpon series. Intriguing, particularly since we get to see how they handle punishing surf.
More on that later. First, it is time to meet Wilderness Systems senior designer David E. Maughan. He's escaped eastern ice storms in search of Southern California waves and warm 80-degree sunshine. A couple test pilots join him on the sand at San Diego's Mission Beach: CJ Siebler and Dave Easton, long-running members of Wildy's fishing team. Both are offshore hunters who routinely dare the waves.
I am there too, to take photos and get my own test strokes in. There are ground rules. To protect Wildy's trade secrets, there will be no dishing the details on proprietary deck features still under development.
Hull design, storage capability and paddling performance are all fair game. Let's get right to it and challenge that smashing four to five foot surf.
Unlike the Tarpons, these new offshore models pop over oncoming waves rather than pierce. On a day like today, it’s a mercy. Rather than take the brunt smack on a paddler’s chest, these lively rides hop out of the way. On the return, the high-volume bows are the antidote to the fearsome perl. Nose dives that result in flips are only fun for onlookers. With so much volume up front, no one is pitch-poling today. There’s still some surf carnage. We’re testing the limits after all.
Product designer Maughan takes a turn too. He digs his paddle hard to counter an unexpected snap of the nose. There's still work to do on these not quite perfectly formed prototypes. He says the finished versions will be more rigid and perform predictably.
How about outside the breakers? In an era dominated by ever larger and slower barges, it is a joy to paddle a fishing kayak that has a sexy wiggle. I'm referring to secondary stability, the characteristic that gives a boat a solid feel when the water gets rough. We lean these two new offshore models right over on their sides without tipping. Lovely, just the thing for chasing calico bass in the boiler rocks or paddling long and far for pelagics.
There's still plenty of primary stability, enough even to stand and fish on calm water, although the prototypes have little foot room in cockpits laid out for sit-down fishing. The seats are the typically cushy Phase3 AirPro Advance system.
Given the circumstances, my tape measure is back at the office. Both models look about 30 inches wide, squarely between the heavy-hauling Ride series (33 inches) and swifter Tarpons (28 inches). It doesn't take much effort to get the new boats moving or to keep them there. With no GPS for comparison, I rate paddling performance subjectively as all-day pleasant after a spin on the mild conditions of Mission Bay.
The new boats hold a course well. The shorter model is naturally more nimble; the longer a little faster in a straight line. I have no problem turning the longer model, although there isn't a breath of wind. I'd want to paddle it in a near gale before assessing the need for a rudder. The boats are stealthy silent on flat water. We’d need a ruffled surface to check for chatter. Not today.
Cargo capacity is ample; the boats trim out fine with Easton's large bait tank bubbling in the back. And with all that volume up front, there's little worry about overloading the nose. Rigability is just what you'd expect in a modern fishing kayak. Wilderness long ago figured out how to make the most of scarce deck space. In-hull storage access is a topic we can't touch for now.
The past few years, elevated seats and walk-around decks have been all the rage. It's good to see new energy devoted to the offshore segment. Sloppy big water conditions demand higher performance hulls. While Wildy's two new offshore models aren't low-slung rockets like the longer Tarpons, these prototypes offer more secondary stability than we’ve seen in a long time and haul quite a bit more freight.