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Every year, with the release of new models, it’s obvious that most major fishing kayak manufacturers are working hard to incorporate design innovations to improve the kayak fishing experience and keep their product ahead of competitors. The new Predator PDL from Old Town Kayaks is certainly a real game-changer, and although its concept has been around for a number of years the system used is a new design for manufacturer Johnson Outdoors.
Primarily the kayak is a sit on-top but the deck area, pedal drive system and seating make this more like a fishing vessel and platform. For starters, the nose of the kayak has a smooth round shape to allow fishing line to pass unimpeded over it, and yet it cleverly incorporates a carry handle as well. But what you see on deck is very different from the design that forms the hull. The shape is based on a Tri-Hull design that combines superior stability and tracking with a very sharp nose that suggests a streamlined passage through the water.
The hull is four metres in length by 91 centimetres wide, with nice lines straight out of the mould. The quality of the job is superb when compared with other roto-molded kayaks, with a flawless finish on all surfaces. This comes down to the LT900 polyethylene used in manufacture; according to the maker it delivers incredible durability and strength – to the extent that it’s backed up with a lifetime hull warranty.
There are eight scupper holes, and the one transducer scupper is large enough to support side imaging units. On the keel is a replaceable wear strip, allowing the kayak to be dragged down to the water without wearing out the hull. Moving up to the deck area we find two inserts located at the stern which are designed to accept transom transducer mounts; really handy for the larger transducers favoured by various makers. Above this area is the rudder, fitted as standard with the kayak. It’s of a solid construction, based around the system used widely in both the Old Town and Ocean Kayak brands. This gives it strength, and the blade is made longer and wider for efficient, positive steering.
Moving forward from there is the rear well area: large enough for species like kingfish and easily able to hold a limit bag of snapper. Two removable mounting plates sit alongside the rear well and are an excellent option for attaching accessories. In front of the rear side plates are two flush-mounted rod holders, and in between them a small hatch with click seal access is positioned on top of a raised section, rising from the floor. This is ideal for extra storage when going on overnight camping trips etc.
Above the hatch is the Element Seating System with forward and back adjustability, plus customization, to provide ergonomic performance for all-day comfort. There’s a compartment under the seat that’s ideal for storing a tackle tray, and the rear has a large pocket with Velcro fastenings. On the right hand side of the seat is a lever designed for raising and lowering the rudder and in front of this a cup holder is also the perfect size for a water bottle. In front of this is a solid carry handle; it’s paired with another on the opposite side. Just back from this is the rudder control knob and, after this, a bungee attachment system. Below this is a set of inserts designed for the attachment of the paddle keeper that’s supplied with the kayak.
This item is made in the standard clip-in design featured on previous kayaks, but it’s been improved with a rubber fastening to keep the paddle securely in place. In front of the seat on both sides is another set of mounting plates that are slightly larger than the rear ones, just behind two more which are smaller. In front of these is a large central deck hatch with click seal access; when opened it reveals a factory- fitted battery bag mounted below deck.
Back in the cockpit area on the front upper part of the deck is a recess moulded into the kayak hull that provides for the kayak’s drive system, and includes two clips for securing. The pedal drive system itself is removable, taking seconds to install, and also lifts up instantly on a pivot system when launching and landing in shallow water. It includes features such as the handle used for lifting the unit above deck and carrying it to and from the vehicle.
The propulsion system is fully sealed with a sleek design and its padded pedals can be used with bare feet or footwear. They can be operated in either direction, providing instant forward and reverse, and are an integral part of the lift-out drive system, as is the propeller, which is designed to remain weed-free. The drive system also has a console with six-inch hatch for dry storage, and large enough to fit a number of items. The pedal drive drops down into an opening within the cockpit area and seals in place using the locking mechanism.
The floor of the cockpit and rear well area are made using the Exo Ridge design that provides grip on the surface while directing water away through channels to the one-way scupper holes. On both sides of the cockpit area are recessed gear storage pockets, conveniently positioned to provide quick access, while the cockpit is large and deep enough to hold a good kingfish securely. Because the fish is below the deck’s surface it can be dealt with more easily; the angler, equipment and fish finder are much less likely to be damaged by a fish thrashing around.
Testing the Predator
Personally, I find it hard to get away from the long-term association between a kayak and the paddle. For a kayaking purist it’s difficult to break away from this mind-set, although a re-occurring shoulder injury could provide motivation. My first time out was at the local beach for a short session, to see how the Predator handled and to assess its speed potential; first impressions were so positive, I rushed off home to finish setting things up.
The first fishing session had the kayak tackling the local north-western Coromandel waters, chasing snapper in the current lines. Conditions on the day meant choppy seas with white caps and 15 knot-plus winds. During this time micro jigs and softbaits were used successfully, without anchoring. These conditions would normally require a drift chute (drogue) to slow the groundspeed; the pedal drive system easily overcame the drift factor and provided excellent manoeuvrability when hooked into a big fish.
Having the ability to be hands-free means you can move the kayak around during the fight. Not only does this allow the angler to get line back on the reel sooner, but also to get positioned directly over the fish and lift it up and away from the sea floor.
On the next adventure the kayak would be used for a camping mission to an off-shore island.
The afternoon we departed meant travelling across to an island in conditions less than ideal; certainly not an occasion for the inexperienced. The kayak was loaded with over fifty kilos of equipment and provided superior storage space below and above deck to accommodate this. It handled the conditions with ease and felt completely stable during the rough conditions which included a side-on swell.
During the following two days the Predator PDL went out in conditions which were still less than ideal, with choppy seas and strong winds. Again, the conditions were handled with ease and it provided a very comfortable platform to fish from, transporting me and my equipment successfully for more than thirty kilometres. On the third outing I was feeling really familiar with the kayak and its setup, so it took me no time to get ready at the local beach and launch for a few hours’ fishing.
During my journey along the sheltered side of the headland I did something I usually can’t do while travelling: I tied a new leader and jighead on the softbait setup and rigged up a fresh softbait. The kayak’s steering was set in place, and with a slower pedal speed the task was completed easily. Next I had to navigate a channel between the headland and an island with fast outgoing tidal flow and a headwind which was pushing the water up to at least a metre. The kayak made easy work of this and I stayed dry in the process, with the kayak punching its way through more choppy seas to the fishing location. In these conditions the Predator continued to track well and provided a stable, comfortable platform which allowed easy repositioning when prospecting with softbaits. A trophy snapper on the line required some careful handling during the fight, but the kayak was more than capable in this situation – particularly compared to a paddle-powered watercraft, where the fish more often controls the situation. The Predator made it much easier to subdue the fish.
The advantage of this is that the fish doesn’t have to be fought for as long a period and is less likely to be completely knackered when released. In the case of the sixteen-pound snapper that fell victim to my offerings it was a little tired after staying out of the water for photos. However, using lip grippers I was able to hold the fish alongside the kayak in the water while pedalling the kayak forward; this allowed fresh, oxygen-rich water to pass over the snapper and its gills, in turn reviving the fish until it was ready for release. After this a few more fish were stored in the rear well catch bag and the kayak quickly travelled back to the vehicle.
With a good number of hours now under my belt it’s clear that I’ve taken a shine to this kayak, and this comes down to the drive system and its overall performance. The benefit of using your legs to propel yourself to fishing spots is obvious: most of us have more strength in this part of the body. The fact that you can maintain a decent average speed with a modest amount of effort is of huge advantage.
It’s worth noting that other fishing kayak paddlers have also found it difficult to challenge the Predator at top speed thanks, clearly, to the kayak’s efficient hull design and the pedal drive system. This really is a fine piece of engineering; its operation is smooth and easy to use at every level of fitness. The advantage of being able to pedal both forward and backwards really helps when a fish is on the line and also for holding the kayak in position when casting to structure.
The rudder system is easy to raise and lower, while the wide rudder blade turns the kayak quite rapidly and in a relatively small radius. Getting used to operating the steering knob takes a little time, but once mastered it’s simple. The knob length could be slightly longer though, in order to provide greater leverage on the rudder, especially in bigger seas. However for the conditions this kayak is designed for it’s quite adequate; some of the sea states I was venturing through would not be considered by most users.
So the performance and stability are faultless in my opinion – which leaves questions of personal comfort and usability. Comfort is extremely good, thanks to the new seat. The positioning is perfect when using the pedal drive system and there’s enough adjustment to accommodate varying leg lengths easily. The higher seating position does take a bit of getting used to compared to other kayaks, but sitting up higher in the kayak does give you a better perspective of what’s going on around you. And when you stop to have a cast it’s possible to put your legs down on the deck, which puts you in a more normal position.
The only downside is that you’re not able to brace in rough seas as you can when sitting within the cockpit of a traditional kayak. The higher seating position also leaves you more likely to be thrown out of the kayak – but only in very rough conditions, so this should not be a problem if you’re mindful of the sea state and operate within your ability. You might initially feel insecure because of the higher seat and the raised centre of gravity, but the Predator design soon puts you at ease.
I also liked the amount of space within the kayak that allows for plenty of leg room to stretch out; this is something traditional sit on-top fishing kayaks lack, big-time.
In terms of the vessel’s deck layout and its ability to accommodate accessories like fish finders, rod holders and more, the Predator is fantastic. Although it doesn’t offer a large centre hatch for tackle, the various modules will more than cater for the most demanding tackle junkie: there’s a large area under the seat for a decent tackle box, while the console on the pedal drive system also allows you to hide lots of items away. Fitting a fish finder is really easy and the forward mount plates have areas for coiling up the extra cable you have with transducers, while the side plates offer plenty of options for attaching extra rod holders, camera booms, mounts and more without drilling into the hull of the kayak.
Even the overall weight surprised me; I was expecting a heavy craft, considering its size. Yet when the seat and pedal drive system are removed this kayak is surprisingly light, at around thirty five kilos. This means it can be lifted onto a roof rack using the well-placed carry handles on the side – although a trailer is still the best option.
With so many set-up options and the overall ability to fish hands-free, there are plenty of fishing methods yet to be explored. This kayak will be perfect for trolling – and harling too, in freshwater. There’s huge potential with the Predator PDL for casting poppers and stick baits. The ability to hold the kayak in the zone, with a better view from the higher seat position, will make casting at marker poles and structure for species like kingfish much more achievable. Even activities like mechanical jigging will be easier to do and allow a much better technique because the rod lifts can be worked longer and higher. The greater stability and capacity will also cater for more drag pressures to be applied – a real advantage on hard-fighting species like kingfish.
Top this with the ability to move the kayak while playing a fish and you can control the situation much better, even to the point where you can a pull a fish away from structure or marker poles. I’m sure there’s more that can be achieved with this kayak and only time will uncover this potential. One thing is for certain though: the Predator PDL is a real game-changer for small watercraft fishing in New Zealand.