Slayer 14 Ride
Native Watercraft’s Core Built Fish Cruiser
Photos by Aaron Schmidt
"A year ago we stepped back from the business, took a look and decided to go back to our roots. To focus totally on fishing," Woody Calloway says in his distinctive laconic voice. The veteran kayak maker--he founded Liquid Logic, which eventually merged with Native Watercraft--is spinning a yarn about the birth of the Native's new Slayer two-some.
It's a story that reaches back to Native's first hit fishing platforms, the Ultimates, still in the line. These Jimbo Meador designs--"He put Native on the map," Calloway says appreciatively--were the first modern canoe / kayak crossovers, "standable" platforms featuring the earliest elevated mesh seats to hit the kayak fishing market.
"We had a lot of requests to make a sit-on-top version," Calloway says: the Slayers.
His next words are remarkable in an industry that plays its cards close to the vest. "The coolest thing about these boats for me is, we let the public design them. Typically you don't design in front of your competition,” he says, but Native couldn’t ignore the upside of crowd-sourcing. “We know the people who use our product are the best people to ask how to improve it.
Native head of design Shane Benedict took the flood of user input and shaped it into a pair of fish killers, the Slayer 12 and Slayer 14.5. He had to balance competing priorities. "Making a hull that has some performance and is super stable is not the easiest thing to come up with," Calloway notes.
Mission accomplished. Kayak Fish tested the larger Slayer, the 14.5, on a wind-blown Florida flat, and found plenty to like. Most notably, the stable hull--standing is trivial, even for heavier anglers--boasts a reassuringly curved chine that offers outstanding secondary stability. This is no flat-bottomed barge; the Slayer 14.5 feels solidly at home in the rough stuff.
The deck design--where the fish bite the hook--follows the KISS principle. The acres-long cockpit is wide-open and uncluttered (take note fly flingers), with a compact console up front. The console top unscrews for easy in-hull access (sonar anyone?). Low profile Groove accessory track is everywhere: front, back, cockpit, even perched on the console. The bow and stern are near-twin open storage wells; Calloway says users requested easier on-the-water access to gear stored up front.
There are no molded-in or factory-installed flush mount rod holders, although there's room for them on the aft deck. The Slayers are strictly DIY. Calloway explains: "People said they wanted to do it themselves. It's always easier to add something that looks like a feature but gets in the way."
Fair enough, but Benedict and his design team put plenty of thought into subtle adjustments that pay off. The updated High/Low First Class Seat is an outstanding example. It takes no more than a second to switch from high to low position, and offers more lumbar support than the highly regarded earlier models. The cockpit and console are well padded to dampen fish-spooking noise. Console indents hold deck rods at the ready. Nothing's screwed into the plastic; all the fittings are molded-in. Every handle is rigid for easier beach-side boat handling. There's even a Tag-A-Long keel wheel.
The one nitpick? Pack your scupper stoppers. The pair in the open-bow storage well slap and spit, particularly when paddling head-on to the chop. Plugging ’em solves the problem.
"We did our best to give them what they wanted," Calloway says. If this is design by committee, it's a committee of hardcore kayak anglers. -KF
Native Watercraft Slayer 14.5: L14'6"; W30"; 75 lbs; $1279; www.nativewatercraft.com.