Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Hobie Pro Angler

I went to the dark side… I pedaled today.            

I know a lot of people who Pedal a kayak instead of paddling one.  I am talking about the Hobie brand of kayaks.  Namely the Pro Angler series.  Today I finally got back on the water in a kayak with my buddy, IFA Kayak Angler of the Year and 2011 IFA Kayak Champion Justin Carter.   Carter is a local kayak fishing guide and knows more about redfish than most bottle nosed dolphins do.  I’d swear his Dad was a Redfish and his Mom was a Mermaid but I have met them both and I saw no scales.  Carter and I used to fish all the time, sometimes 3 or 4 times a week.  But school and work and other things got in my way so we of course do not fish as much as we used to.  Today was a day to catch up and check out a kayak I have heard good things about, it was time to see it for myself. 
I remember when Carter got his first Pro Angler (PA), or “BattleStar” as I call them.  I have photos of Carter standing on the bow of his PA and our other fishing partner Austin standing on the back of the same PA poling it around like a flats skiff while Carter threw a 10-foot cast net for bait.  These things are SICKLY stable. 

My goals today are to see the stability, comfort and ease of use the pedal drive affords for myself and see if I think they are as good as the claims.  

We met up at Carters house and loaded the gear and hitched up the trailer.  After a quick stop for a bite we were on the way to the landing.  Once we got there we started to unload the kayaks.  Carter had the PA12, this is new this year and winner of awards at ICAST, and I was in the PA14.  I dubbed it mentally as BattleStar Redfisicus.  Unloading from the back of the truck was pretty easy but I doubt I could do it by myself.  The kayak weighs in at a little over 100 pounds un-rigged,  it is manageable for most non-injured folks but not for this broken up old guy.  After we got all the gear loaded and the truck parked we launched and started making our way out.  It took me a few minutes to get the drive system down.  You’d think that it’s like riding a bike but it is a little different.  You have to watch your cadence to keep your, I guess fins is the term, from slapping the hull.  I didn’t realize I was doing it until Carter mentioned it and it makes a lot of sense… You don’t want to try puttin a sneak on a school of Redfish and then start slappin the hull with those fins making all kinds of noise.  After a few minutes I got it down and we were off and peddling.  

It took me a little while to find a really comfortable spot in the kayak.  I had the seat back too far up, too far back, pedals were too far forward, then too far back.  I made sure I was out of the way of any passing boats and got myself situated.  Once I figured out where I wanted to be it was amazingly comfortable.  As I tried to catch up to Carter the first thing I saw fish wise was a good sized Bonnet Head shark cursing the shallows… I threw a fly at him but he wasn’t interested and before I could think about another one he was gone.   I gathered up my fly line and chased Carter down.  We found a few spots and started fishing.  Carter throwing Top water and having a lot of blow ups, I was throwing an M4 and getting bit here and there.  As I started to fish I stood up.  Wow.  I have stood up in a good many kayaks and have always had to find a center of balance, sometimes a little sometimes a lot, but in the PA there is nothing like this.  You stand up, period.  It is literally like standing up on a dock.  The claims about the stability while standing to fish in this kayak have been under-rated.  It is simply amazing.   The drive system is easily removed and put on the seat behind me to keep my fly line from fouling, if you want to fly fish from this kayak I highly suggest this or have a good stripping basket with you.   I set a stake out pole and started casting.  I turned sideways in the kayak to cast to my right and it was still stable and a comfortable.  I have been a fan of the Freedom hawk kayaks but after today, they need some work if they want to keep claiming the stability they do, of course this just my opinion.   

We continued to pedal and fish along the Inter Coastal Waterway and pickup trout and lady fish here and there.  Sometimes I would get a little too shallow and have to pull the drive system.  Once I did this I used the paddle as a push pole and was able to get shallower and keep fishing.  One piece of advice for anyone who has never used a Hobie Mirage drive kayak… Make sure you do bring a paddle…   even though you may not need it, coming around a bend in a creek to find myself in a few inches of water, the Mirage Drive did me no good.  All you will do it tear up your fins and disable the drive.  Having a paddle is still a must but I only used it twice the whole day to get myself out of spots where the drive system was too long for the water depth.  The fact remains that it is a mechanical piece of equipment.  It seems very well built but if it has moving parts it CAN break… Take the paddle, ya never know.

So my list of Pros for the PA14:
-         -  Most Stable kayak I have ever been in.  Period.  There are others that are stable but nothing compares to this kind of stability.  I have been on power boats that were not this stable.
-         -  Comfortable seat and positions to pedal.  The seat is high enough to let you see easily without having you so high up you feel like you will tip over. 
-          - Plenty of storage room and even the bow hatch is easily accessible on the water.
-                      The smaller storage areas in the cockpit are well laid out and easy to get to and use.
-      -     The drive system is very easy to use after a little familiarization, you won’t be kicking up a rooster-tail wake behind you but it is smooth and powerful and makes fishing on the move or trolling very easy.
-       -   Very maneuverable for a kayak this big.  The rudder is well placed and the kayak responds very well to the rudder commands.  Having the rudder below the stern and basically enclosed keeps fish from getting wrapped up on it and lines catching on it almost impossible.  I have lost fish on other kayaks due to lines getting caught on the rudder hardware and breaking.  

My list of Cons for the PA14:
-          - The weight.  You have to sacrifice something and I will take a heavier kayak that has this kind of stability but for some people this will just be too much weight to handle solo. 
-         -  And personally the cost.  It is a little high for my kayak fishing budget.  In kayak fishing it is truly “you get what you pay for” in this case you get a lot for what you pay.  Not saying the kayak is not worth the price they ask, it’s just a little steep for me.  

Over all I would give the PA14, on my new scoring system of Redfish tails, 10 being the best,  9.65 out of 10 Redfish Tails.    I enjoyed my day in the Pro Angler, I saw that all the claims I have heard were true and some ideas I had about it to be wrong.  The kayak is stable, agile, comfortable, roomy and easy to pedal.  The awards won for this design are well deserved.  

If anyone would like to try out a Pro Angler, you can book a charter with and ask for Carter.  

If you’d like to purchase one they are available at your local Hobie dealer, here in Charleston that is Time Out Sport and Ski,  Stop in and the team will take care of all your Kayaking needs.  

And of course for ANY and ALL of your fly fishing needs, fresh or salt water, from rods to reels to books and videos, tying materials and tying tools, come visit The Low Country Fly Shop, the only true Fly Shop in the low country.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ugly flies catch fish too

While I was stationed in Colorado Springs I taught my self to fly fish.  I learned to cast, while not pretty it got line and my fly out and I caught fish.  I met people over my tour there and they helped me and I got better.  I actually started tying flies before I started fly fishing and was pretty bad at it.  My proportions were always off, I was tying Adams in size 2, yeah they were pretty huge.  The only fly I could tie that looked close to what it was supposed to look like was a wooly bugger.  My all time favorite fly.  Recently I started a fly tying challenge on and some one made a comment about ugly flies and it got me thinking about my ugly flies.  Just for the record though... I am a much better tyer now and do tie some pretty flies...

I was fishing some gold medal water in Colorado, ( Catch and release only, trophy waters), in 11-mile canyon.  it was notorious for being hard to fish and having heavily pressured fish that were very picky and hard to catch.  When I was at my local shop the guy told me to not even bother, I was too new and didn't have the skills yet to come close to catching fish there.  I left home early in the dark and made my way down the road and eventually found the pull out right as the sun came up.  I gathered my gear, a mish mash of cheap stuff I could afford and headed for the trail.  As I hiked down the trail looking for, well I had no Idea what I was looking for.  I knew where the water was but I had no idea what was good or bad.  I fished a few pools and saw nothing.  It was probably loaded with trout but I had no idea what to look for or how to "read" water.  As I came down a little hill on the trail I finally found a pool and I could see 5 REALLY nice fish just rising and sipping bugs. My heart started racing, my hands shook a little.  Nothing like seeing a redfish tail in the grass but I was geeked out pretty bad.   I got a little closer and realized there was someone fishing already. I worked my way down and behind the pool so I wouldn't spook the fish and sat down on a rock to watch him for a while.

This guy was the Orvis catalog come to life.  He had the perfect rod, the perfect reel, the hip waders, the cedar landing net, all the tools on a lanyard neatly around his neck, the felt hat with flies stuck in it, I mean this guy was a Trout Fisherman, a Purist I later learned was the correct term.  I watched him tie on a fly, make perfect casts with laser tight loops,  this guy was a surgeon with that fly rod.  He worked those fish for about 45 minutes, changed flies about 80 times.  Every cast he would lay down the trout would rise look at his fly and turn away or sip the real bug next to it.  New fly same result.  This was his mantra and he seemed to like it.  He finally reeled up and came over to where I was. His name was Charles.  Not Chuck  or Charlie, it was Charles.  He was a dentist from Denver.  We talked about how tough the fish were. He showed me his fly box, about 200 flies all perfectly lined up arranged by size and color.  My fly box was a cheap foam box with about 30 flies in it and they were stuck haphazardly wherever I could find room.

I looked at the pool, the fish had started their rising to bugs again and I asked him If I could give it a shot.  He looked at me in my shorts and Chucks,  my $20 Scientific Anglers rod and Shakespeare reel and literally laughed. (I had been fly fishing and tying for about 2 months now and by the way I still fish that $20 SA rod)  When he got done laughing at me he asked what fly I was going to use.  I held up my tippet with my carefully selected fly, that I used all my vast experience to choose, a size 16 "Trash fly".  Yep the one where you get head cement stuck on a hook and drop it in your trash bag and whatever sticks to it makes your fly.  I heard about this "mistake" fly and decided to actually "tie" one.  His eyes got real big and he laughed so hard I thought he was going to literally die. 

I stepped up to the run, took a really deep breath, pulled my line off my reel, mustered all my skill and training and made a really bad cast.  The line slapped the water and my fly bounced off a rock,  but the fly was in the water. The fish spooked but quickly settled down.  I pulled my line out and tried again, better this time, a little softer, it was no where near where I wanted it but I let it drift and tried to concentrate over his guffaws.  The first big trout in the run came out from the edge, and slowly rose to the fly, looked at it, followed it a bit and *sip* my fly was gone. Holy Monkey!!!  I didn't know what to do... I had never done this before.  I panicked and set the hook a little hard but the trout was on.  He ran and jumped and freaked out like all good Bows do,and after a pretty quick fight I had him in my landing net.

My heart was racing, my hands were shaking, but I had a nice Bow about 18" in my hands, well in the net, in the water in my hands but you get the idea.   The look on the guys face was priceless.  He wasn't laughing now.  I have never seen such disbelief in a persons face. The look was awesome, but it was even better when I asked him to take a picture of me with my fish.  He shook his head and took my picture.

He left right after that and left me to to the run.  I threw that fly back in there a few times and caught one more of the fish before they got wise to me.  I reeled up my line and made my way back up to my jeep.  I had a pretty good day and when I walked past the other Orvis Catalogs as they passed me and heard their snickers I just remembered I caught fish when they probably didn't.  

The moral to this story is, a fly, or a fisherman for that matter, does not have to be perfect or pretty to catch fish.... So get on your vise and tie and ugly fly, strap on your Chucks and go fish...