The Ski Evolution

Yak expert Dan Bode hits the bluewater in a new flagship fishing ski.

By all accounts, Brett Chanellor of Stealth Performance Products spent many sleepless nights fine-tuning 3D wireframe images for what would become a collection of three CNC laser cut foam and epoxy moulds. Months later, a new line of vacuum injected fibreglass fishing skis – Stealth Evolutions or Evo’s for short – were born. When the first production models arrived in Australia, I was granted two weeks’ fun time with the flagship of the range – the Evo 495.

If you know nothing at all about fibreglass sit-on-top fishing skis, the Evo 495 looks just like a fibreglass open water fishing ski should. At first glance, everything seems to be in proportion, even its $2550 price tag.

Looking along the deck from the rear drain plug and handle, a screw-in rudder access port reveals a shallow but generous rear storage recess. This leads to a fully moulded dry or wet storage area with a capacity of about 30 litres and easily accessed via an 8” screw-in hatch lid.

Flush-mount rod holders with saddles for lanyards are nestled conveniently behind a comfortable seatwell. Two carry handles on the port rail and one on the starboard, balance the load when lifting. Running up the middle to the Evo 495’s bow is a cavernous centre hatch box that measures a class-busting 2.4m x 300mm x 260mm from the rectangular opening forward; another 800mm runs back underneath the seat well. My evaluation ski lacked the handy optional sliding tackle tray.

On either side of the clip-down hatch lid are spacious foot wells that house a user adjustable rudder pedal assembly. A bait rigging flush-mount rod holder set at a slight angle can be reached with a long stretch forward on the local models. Closer to the bow is a small series of bungee tie downs and a shielded paddle keeper. The forward handle and drain plug complete the deck layout. Underneath, a generally flat hull shape extends to a long and narrow built in rudder that sits behind a fixed skeg. At 5m in length and 66cm at its widest, the Evo 495 tapers off with precision to a sharp point with deep sides bow and stern.

On the water
During testing I experienced an excellent variety of paddling conditions. These included onshore afternoon sea breezes, gusty offshore winds, calm and choppy seas, rising swells and surf conditions that both complemented and challenged the craft’s performance capabilities.

As it turned out, my first session on the Evo 495 was an excellent introduction that pushed the upper limits of the craft. Conditions on that day were absolutely horrendous with a constant 35km/h onshore wind, sloppy one metre surf and a backline full of unpredictable white caps and sweeping seas. Even though it was impossible to commit to an overall appraisal that day, after performing the standard slide, rock and crawl as far forward to bow and stern as possible without overbalancing, I was confident the stability of the 495 could easily be considered among the best in class when compared to the current crop of open water fibreglass fishing skis.

Heading out through the surf on the first test day left me disappointed as a manufacturing glitch with the adjustable rudder pedals became known. The ski was one of the first production units off the floor and the pedal assembly was cut too short for the rail system, forcing the pedals to pop out of their housing when trying to steer – this has now been fixed across the entire fleet.

With each passing day the Evo got better and better. When paddling out through the surf zone the bow spears through pitching crests before slicing past the wave back. To its credit the Evo resists pulling left or right when breaking out of a face, which is a direct positive contrast to many other sharp bowed paddle ’yaks. Much of this is due to the rockerless bow section with square pitched sides, flat bottom, skeg and built-in under hull rudder system.

On re-entry, it was pretty clear that other Stealth models still own the surf zone on bigger days. Even though the 495 doesn’t compete with Stealth’s Supalite or BFS on more challenging waves, it still delivered impressive straight line rides back to the beach in smaller clean swells and shortens the gap between a perceived clunkiness of surf capable fishing skis and the finesse and speed of open water touring ’yaks.

Well beyond the breakers the Evo delivered with an impressive combination of speed, comfort and ease of paddling. On the calmest day, my GPS recorded 12.8km/h in near glassy conditions on a 200m sprint and cruised comfortably at around 8.4km/h over one kilometre. It’s not the fastest fibreglass fishing craft I’ve paddled, but it’s competitive. Even though I found steering pretty slow, turns were acceptable, given the ski’s 29kg weight and 5m length. I believe heightened manoeuvrability could be achieved with a bigger rudder. Higher turning efficiency would also be achieved on the shorter skis in the Evolution range.

Despite gusty offshore winds on one test day, I always felt in complete control. With the bow directly facing the wind, I was easily able to propel the craft forward with little sideways deviation. At rest the craft squared itself perfectly stern to wind to create a straight running drift line. Positive buoyancy and increased safety via foam filling added to my open water paddling confidence.

Over a few fishing days the Evo 495 was a highly practical open water all-rounder that performed exceptionally well for livebaiting, lure trolling and bait fishing. Due to the attention to detail in deck layout and seating comfort, everything you need for long hours at sea is within easy reach, either in the massive centre hatch or moulded tankwell. The flush mount rod holders are positioned perfectly behind the paddler’s hips and the under hull rudder system deters lines from accidentally hooking up.

Due to issues discussed earlier, quick tight turns in winds over 15km/h are difficult from a near stationary start. A lot of physical effort is required to pull the ski against the wind and oncoming sideways chop. I found the heavy turning circle somewhat frustrating when working short snapper drifts as conditions deteriorated. This issue was reduced when trolling lures or livebaits because turns generally consist of much wider arcs and make use of forward momentum. It should also be noted that 15km/h winds are not particularly comfortable while drift fishing from any ’yak.

The stability while fishing is impressive – it’s by far the most grounded fibreglass ski I’ve ever sat on. Huge amounts of lean and over-balance are required to compromise stability.

Complementing the Evo 495 are the 465 and 430, which maintain similar glide properties to the 495 and are designed to meet the needs of lighter paddlers or anglers looking to trade off between slightly shorter vessels, turning, stability and speed.

In summary, Stealth has delivered a stable and very versatile big water fishing platform that holds a definite class advantage for long distance paddlers targeting big pelagic fish. The best launch application for the Evo 495 is on protected and semi-protected sites but those confident in small surf may find it a happy medium given the fishing characteristics once they make it beyond the backline.


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