By Paul Lebowitz
This review of the Wilderness Systems Ride 115x originally ran in the Spring 2014 edition of Kayak Fish. Prices and specs were correct at that time. Since then, Wilderness Systems has debuted the Air Pro MAX, a new height-adjustable seat for the Ride series.
Ride 115X—L: 11'6"; W: 33"; 80 lbs.; Cap. 500 lbs. ($1,059 / $1,229 Advance Angler, wildernesssystems.com)
In December 1947, Chuck Yeager blasted through the sound barrier at the controls of the secret Bell X-1 rocket plane. Since then, the letter X has graced a long series of boundary-busting experimental craft testing new technologies.
It might surprise you, but the latest flavor of Wilderness Systems Ride 115—the X—merits the legend minus the sonic boom. Just a year after introducing the original Ride 115, the first full-featured heavy-lift fishing kayak to come in a compact 11-foot package, Wilderness is again knocking down barriers. The Ride 115x introduces a slick industry-first removable through-hull sonar console. Wilderness calls it the Flex Pod.
As product designer Hans Nutz tells it, the Wilderness team was gathered around a Ride 115 one day to consider how to make it "more innovative, more fishing specific." They were chewing over the different systems anglers install on their kayaks when someone brought up the problem of fish finders. There are plenty of ways to mount them, none of which is perfect.
"We were thinking about a drop-in console, a pod that you take with you when you're finished fishing. That way you don't have to disconnect or leave anything in the boat. The more we talked about it, the more excited we got," Nutz recalls.
They came up with a self-contained unit that accommodates the display on top, the battery inside, and the transducer on the bottom. The pod slots into the boat just aft of the bow hatch, between the footwells.
Though the idea is simple enough, making it field-ready posed a tough technical challenge. Nutz and his team had to design the pod receptacle—in essence an enlarged scupper—and come up with a pod that fits consistently boat after boat. There's a bit of witchcraft when working with roto-molded kayaks. When the boat comes out of the mold, every color of plastic shrinks a different amount as it cools.
There were other questions. The waterline had to be just right, the pod recessed enough to protect the transducer but not so shallow that it ships air. (That would degrade sonar performance and maybe make the boat an annoying chatterbox in choppy water.)
"As it turns out, it worked pretty well," says Nutz." I'm interested to see how people use it and collect a lot of feedback. Can we evolve it? Can we make it more functional?"
If the experiment proves out, Wilderness is sure to introduce the Flex Pod to additional fishing models. Might we see it on the as-yet-unnamed offshore model Wildy has teased? A Ride 135X also makes a lot of sense to us. For now, Nutz and other company representatives are keeping mum.
The million-dollar question, of course, is how does it perform? Is the Flex Pod a drag, does it get in the way? With a plugged hole in the middle, does the Ride 115X lose any rigidity? Does water squeeze between the pod and the hull? No, not at all. We didn't note any Flex Pod issues on our borrowed test boat or the others we checked.
Before we get into the further fishing tweaks Nutz and company added along with that X indicator, let's revisit the 115's interesting place in the world. With few exceptions, short boats are usually intended for smaller paddlers or those who don't want to buy much boat. The Ride 115 and 115X stand that thinking on its head. These 33-inch-wide, stable platforms can handle up to 500 pounds of angler, tackle and fish. They are big boats that can fit in a tight space, whether that's a bass pond, claustrophobic swamp, short-bed pickup or cramped storage shed.
In our test-fishing, the Ride 115 handled as expected, easy to maneuver but not particularly swift. There's plenty of stability; many anglers will be comfortable fishing on their feet.
Back to those X-grade improvements. This fishier model has additional flat deck space behind the cockpit and up forward, as well as extra lengths of Slide Trax on either side of the tankwell. The result is a lot more useful rigging space—a huge benefit. We also like the new rigid carrying handles, a nicety for a boat that feels every bit the listed 80 pounds. Best of all, they aren't likely to catch hooks. There's a stand-up assist strap that helps in the transition from seat to vertical and back again.
Like the original 115, the X comes with the comfortable Phase 3 Air Pro seating system. For a few more inches of seated elevation, opt for the optional Advanced Angler version. It is just as cushy, but gives up a bit of stability.
Weight: 80 LBS.
Capacity: 500 LBS.
MSRP: $1.059 / $1,229 ADVANCED ANGLER