The rise of the Hobie kayak
Hobie kayaks, and to a lesser extent other brands of kayaks, are turning up everywhere. Sure there are still heaps of motor boats on the water, the quintessential Aussie Tinnie, but the rise of the fishing kayak is unmistakable. I would have expected to notice a few more shortly after buying a Hobie Revolution – like when you buy a new car and suddenly start seeing the same make and model in traffic everywhere. But 3 years on the number of kayaks on our waterways is still growing, suggesting that kayak fishing is more than just a passing fad. Given that you can buy a pretty reasonable Tinnie for the same price as a fully fitted out Hobie though, why get the kayak – are they really as good as they’re cracked up to be?
The mirage drive – hands free propulsion
If you’ve been living in a cave and have never seen a Hobie on the water, what makes these kayaks stand out from the others is the Mirage Drive. The ingenious foot-driven pedal system that leaves your hands free for more important things – most notably casting a fishing rod. Steering is controlled with a small lever next to your left hip. If you’ve tried fishing from a ‘regular’ kayak for any length of time, you’ll have confronted the constant juggling act between fishing rod and paddle. Rods need to be secured behind you so that you don’t smack into them, meaning you’ll be turning around every couple of minutes when the fishing is hot or any time you want to change direction. Hands free is the only way to go if you want to maximise your fishing time.
Design & features
At last count there were 14 models of Hobie that feature the Mirage drive, including 3 inflatable boats. I’m going to restrict this article to the Revolution (Revo for short), because that is the model that I own and know best. But across the range probably 80% of the features and components are the same, so the following will hold true for the others.
As standard you get two water-proof tackle boxes which fit snugly into the hull of the boat. One is ideally located between your knees for easy access. The two piece paddle tucks neatly into the side of the boat and is secured with a strap. There are places to put scissors, lip grips, water bottle and sun cream. You can even fit an esky, or live well, behind the seat to keep your catch in perfect condition for the table. The Revo comes with two rod holders positioned behind the seat – although many of the other models have more. Because it is a sit-on-top kayak there is quite a lot of storage space inside the hull. When drifting over shallow water there is a strap to secure the Mirage drive and the rudder can be flipped up with a simple pull of a cable. The removable seat has an inflatable section for your back and is generally pretty comfortable. All in all, it’s a very neat and functional package.
Extras and add-on features
The Revo was designed specifically as a dual-purpose kayak. It is narrower and longer than the comparable model, the Outback, which means that if you have an interest in going for a weekend paddle, you’re not trying to propel something as wide as a coffee table. As a keen paddler I loved this versatility. But as a fisho the down side is that it is less stable and standing up is a very risky activity – especially with electronics on board! Mind you I am told that standing up to fish in the Outback can also cause heart palpitations, especially with some boat wake or chop on the water.
Because you’re restricted to sitting, fishing for long periods can become a back breaking activity. A little wind or current and you quickly find yourself turning 180 degrees in the seat to work your lure which has somehow ended up behind you again. From a seated position it is also hard to cast as far, or as accurately, and harder to see the changes in water depth and colour. Thus if you’re serious about fishing from your kayak I can suggest one of two things:
1) Buy the Pro Angler
The pro angler is the behemoth of the Hobie range, it’s expensive, it’s heavy, but it’s packed with features specifically for fisherman, and it’s very stable. But at a whopping 50-60kg (the Revo is 25-30kg) and 14 feet long, getting it on and off the roof of your car is a two person job. The pro angler loses points for practicality.
2) Get the side kicks (out-riggers)
Good friend of the blog Danny Saunders put me onto these and they changed the fishing experience overnight. The beauty of the Hobie range is that it is modular. If you can think of something to bolt on, plug in or tie on, the chances are Hobie has beaten you to it. Like everything that carries the Hobie logo, the side kicks are really well thought through. Sure they are essentially inflatable pillows attached to the kayak with a pole. But the pole is kinked and from the seat you can twist them so they lie flush on the water, making it impossible to capsize, or twist them again and they sit a few inches off the water for drag-free cruising. Now I can jump up and fire off a cast before I’ve even come to a stop. I can see the changes in water depth and cast more accurately. The break from sitting means I’m now happy and comfortable fishing up to 8-10 hours. While standing you can even control the boat’s drift along an oyster lease or line of snags with some nimble footwork – similar to an electric motor.
Fishing flats and skinny water
Kayaks are an amazing tool to explore shallow water, the kind of water that most tinnies can only dream of getting into. In 40cms of water you can still peddle the mirage drive freely, assuming you’re using the standard length fins. In 30cms you can give short pumps on the peddles, like in the video above, and still propel forward. In 20cms, depending how much weight is on board, you can use the paddle to keep moving or just drift. This gives the kayak fisherman access to kilometres of rivers or streams where a rock bar or vehicle crossing stops boats going any further.
Even in a heavily fished area such as a popular lake or estuary, a kayak gives you unique access to some vast and productive expanses of tidal flats or weed beds. As boats roar up and down the deeper channels I’ve had some of my most memorable fishing sessions only a stones throw away. A favourite hunting ground of mine are the tidal flats that are only covered for about 3 to 4 hours during the tidal cycle and even then only by 10-40cms of water. With the mirage drive tucked underneath the hull and the rudder flipped up, there is some superb whiting, flathead, trevally and bream fishing to be had – all to yourself! Most fisherman agree that the less people and less pressure in a spot the better the fishing is. After great sessions in shallow water recently for whiting to 38cms, estuary perch to 40cms and a flathead estimated at 70-90cm (which spat the light hook) during a typically busy summer weekend – I’m sold on this idea too! I think the ability to get away from it all, and away from other boats, is a big reason why people are flocking to kayak fishing.
A boat for city folk
Before I bought a kayak, there were plenty of times where I thought about buying a little Tinnie. But then of course I would need somewhere to store it, which is a bit problematic just now. And a vehicle with a tow bar (which i don’t have) and with enough power to tow it comfortably (also a problem). And I would need to worry about fuel and oil, and maintenance of the engine and boat trailer. A short story on the dramas we encountered in the northern territory is almost enough to scare anyone off boat ownership. Boat owners regularly explain that the word boat is actually an acronym: Bring Out Another Thousand 🙂
In contrast, I can throw the Revo on the roof racks and fit the paddle, mirage drive, fishing rods and everything else in the back of a medium-sized sports wagon. Without a trailer in tow, the car still drives and handles great making for an enjoyable drive up to the mountains or down the coast. I don’t need to worry about fuel and oil, and with the exception of tightening a couple of cables around the boat it has been completely maintenance free. Once home, the kayak fits neatly along one side of the garage and the miscellaneous other bits can occupy a cupboard. So while these kayak are an expensive investment to start with, there are very few ongoing costs, and they are a great choice if space is limited.
It looks fishing kayaks are here to stay. In fact, they are now so popular that there are devoted fishing tournaments just for kayak anglers. After a long day on the water in a fishing kayak you will be pleasantly tired and muscles you never knew existed will be sore for days – it’s a great way to stay fit. A day on the water is also incredibly serene. Except for the movement of the Mirage drive, kayaks are virtually silent. The stealth of a kayak and that the fact that so much more water is available to you is a winning combination for catching fish.
After three years of use, I’m still impressed with the Revo and generally speaking Hobie is still king of the fishing kayaks in terms of practicality, versatility and for their mind-boggling array of optional extras. But it’s not all beer and skittles, and in part 2 of this review we’ll explore some of the drawbacks of this style of fishing and also offer some frank and fearless feedback on the Hobie range. But until then, Merry Christmas from us at all Flick and Fly and may a few freshly caught fish grace your dining table over the festive season!