A Little Piece of Wilderness

Finding a versatile kayak isn’t easy. As Scott Thomas reports, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 offers a good compromise for fishing creeks and open water.

The choice to buy this kayak coincided with a move to Sydney’s inner city. I was looking for something cost effective, manoeuvrable and versatile. What I also needed was something to suit my cramped and chaotic lifestyle. What the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 offered me was far from cramped or chaotic; it was compact enough to store, light enough to carry, and large enough to handle Sydney’s choppy harbour.

That was a year ago. In the meantime, I’ve fished the Tarpon 120 extensively throughout estuaries, creeks and freshwater rivers and so far I’m pretty impressed with its simple layout, fishability and quality build.

Harbour views
The Tarpon range comes in four models: 100, 120, 140 and 160. The 100 is considered a “recreational” kayak, while  the three larger models are considered by Wilderness Systems to be more suited for fishing. In my opinion, the 100 size would make an ideal calm water or creek ’yak for bass. But I opted for the slightly larger 120 model for protection against rougher water.

I also believe anything less than 3.6m, or 12 feet, will slow down paddling considerably and won’t “track” straight through the water. That’s fine in a tight bass creek – in a large estuary or open bay, something which tracks and maintains a reasonable pace to cover some water, is essential, in my view.

At 3.6m, a sit-on-top is a little short to stay entirely dry on in open water, but kayaking is a watersport and you should expect to get wet in any kayak. However, for a medium size ’yak crossing windy stretches of water shouldn’t be a problem. The raised position of the Tarpon’s seat keeps water from flooding up towards where you’re seated. This is a really simple yet handy feature. The only water that comes aboard is a little wind spray and the usual flow of water around the scuppers. These scuppers can be plugged up in calm water, but I’ve never really bothered. Still on the subject of open water and strong wind, a paddle leash is a handy piece of gadgetry. My carbon fibre paddle and even heavier fibreglass models can be blown away or dropped overboard and float away. Unless your hands are webbed like duck’s feet it could be a long paddle home. While fishing, stability through boat wash and waves is excellent – I’ve never felt like this ’yak would capsize, unless I was being completely careless.

Estuaries, rivers and creeks
Sydney Harbour has some awesome fishing, but playing chicken with a giant ferry isn’t my idea of fun. Kayaks are designed for escaping crowds and this is exactly where the Tarpon 120 comes into its own. I’ve had great sessions floating across gin clear flats casting poppers at whiting and bream. Then there’s the shallow water mangroves and tiny mosquito plagued creeks, all full of fish, and all inaccessible via the average boat. The Tarpon draws very little water and is light enough, even when full of gear, to be dragged across ultra shallow flats or exposed sand.

Freshwater rivers and creeks also suit the Tarpon. The ’yak’s maiden voyage was to a small bass creek north of Sydney. This creek required a long paddle from the estuary’s mouth through a salty section before reaching freshwater. After a short paddle the creek’s overhanging foliage turned from mangrove to gum trees, the fish from bream to bass. It was a stinking hot day. I tied on a popper to match the buzzing cicadas heard above. The creek was narrow, only just wide enough to spin the ’yak. My first cast was met by a small bass and the hot action followed all day. The Tarpon fulfilled its promise, or at least my expectations – to reach out-of-the-way, fishy places.

One disadvantage of a longer kayak in this tight water, especially one with a pronounced keel, is that it doesn’t turn easily. Shorter sit-in kayaks are really easy to manoeuvre around snags, but can sometimes drift too fast or float too close, too soon, into a likely snag.

It’s a compromise, but I’m happy to trade a little manoeuvrability in narrow water for speed, stability and storage space.    

The Tarpon 120 comes with plenty of standard features and I added a few more to suit my needs. At the bow a sealed storage hatch allows extra storage room for camping gear, surplus tackle or anything that doesn’t need to be accessed while on the water. Behind the hatch in between the adjustable foot rests is an elevated mid-section where I’ve attached a Scotty Rod Holder, and in front of that, a Lowrance X-50 sounder. It’s only a basic sounder, but easily does the job of finding drop-offs and underwater structure. The sounder runs off a small battery pack, which I bought from Sydney Hobie dealer Sailing Scene, and the transducer is mounted inside the hull directly below the seat. Youtube.com has some great instructional videos on how to install a ’yak sounder.

There’s a built-in drink holder and directly in front of the seat is a small waterproof hatch big enough for keys and a wallet, but not much else. I understand the newest model features a bigger hatch and other pockets suitable for tackle.

Behind the seat there’s another small hatch which isn’t used too much and an open area for tackle boxes and storage. My small Plano tackle bag fits here and is secured with the elastic straps, just in case I capsize. The Tarpon is stable enough to twist my upper body and grab tackle when needed. I carry a small box of lures/flies, pliers, cutters, etc, in the area around my legs for easier access.

Blue Earth at Drummoyne, Sydney, installed the two flush mount rod holders when I bought it. Interestingly Wilderness Systems had already pre-marked mounting points for easy installation.

The Tarpon 120 is available in both a Recreation and Angler model. The Angler comes with above mentioned features such as rod holders and an anchor as standard. I opted for the Recreation model and simply customised it to suit my fishing style.

For more visit: www.blue-earth.biz or call (02) 9181 5200.

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