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I’ve owned a kayak for a few years and love fishing from it. But I’m hardly an expert. In fact, I consider myself very much a beginner with neither the experience nor the physical fitness to explore the limits of kayak fishing.
My relative inexperience and advancing years – older people are increasingly taking up kayak fishing because it’s relatively cheap to get into, highly successful and we know it’s good for us – may be why I was asked to review Phoenix Kayaks’ latest model, an entry level fishing kayak called the Hornet.
Phoenix Kayaks is a New Zealand company designing and manufacturing boats in Silverdale, north of Auckland. Their Head of Sales & Marketing is Jason Walker, a well respected kayak fisher who for years held a senior role at the Johnson Outdoors Silverdale facility, developing and manufacturing the Ocean Kayak range for export around the world. Sadly, Johnson Outdoors has since closed its New Zealand operation and kayak manufacturing has shifted offshore.
However, Phoenix Kayaks have set out to produce a range of practical, affordable kayaks suitable for New Zealand conditions, and the Hornet is the latest addition to the range: a dedicated fishing kayak supplied as a ready-to-fish package with seat, paddle and a Railblaza rod holder for under $1000. Load capacity is 150kg maximum and Phoenix Kayaks offer a five-year warranty to the original kayak owner.
Short but sweet
At 3.6m the Hornet is shorter than some dedicated fishing kayaks, but it has all the right features: adjustable foot braces, a moulded transducer well, rear well with elastic webbing, carry handles at both ends and amidships, front storage hatch, central tackle well, two flush rod holders, a drain, somewhere to secure the paddle, and moulded-in attachment points for accessories such as a rudder. Like most kayaks, the base boat is a blank canvas awaiting finishing by the owner.
First impressions count and my first look over the ‘Mango/Yellow’-coloured Hornet didn’t disappoint. The rotationally moulded hull looked consistent in thickness, and Phoenix have used top quality virgin polyethylene with UV inhibitors to prevent the plastic breaking down in sunlight. The fit-out was basic but adequate; I hadn’t used a push-fit hatch before, but it seemed to close tightly enough and I liked the lift-out tray in the tackle well. The simple elastic hatch closures later proved easy to use and they’re easy to replace should they eventually fail.
I noted the Hornet didn’t come with a rudder and wondered how I’d cope, since I’d never paddled a rudderless kayak before, but the two-piece paddle included in the package seemed good value. It has plastic blades and an aluminium shaft; the blades’ angles can be adjusted relative to one another.
When I went to load the Hornet onto the roof of my car, I was surprised at how much lighter it was than my own 4.3m boat: 23kg compared to 32kg, and that’s before you add rudders, extra rod holders, pulleys and suchlike, all of which adorn my boat. The Phoenix was a breeze to lift over my head and onto the roof rack and just as easy to unload – a big plus.
At the beach it took only a few minutes to get everything rigged for fishing. I added a few of my own accessories, including some leashes, a Railblaza Tracport Dash module forward, a sea anchor and an insulated fish bag aft to hold the catch. The tackle well easily took my small Plano tackle box, a dry bag with my car keys and wallet, a water bottle, and a rain jacket in a stuff bag.
Sitting down in the boat for the first time I noticed it felt smaller and bobbed around a bit more than I was used to. It’s not bad though and after a few minutes I hardly noticed the difference.
The next test was to paddle the Hornet: would it go where I wanted it to and how much effort would be required to move it? Again, I was pleasantly surprised. The Hornet has an easily-driven hull that slips through the water with minimal paddling effort. It’s not as fast as my longer boat, but my guess is that it’s not slow for its length either.
I especially like how agile this boat is. I spent quite a bit of time poking around in rocky bays, exploring gutters and checking shallow flats. It’s easy to reverse course or even turn the nimble Hornet in its own length. Its light weight makes it very responsive to the paddle if you have to get out of trouble in a hurry, too, making it ideal for working close inshore, where longer yaks can sometimes be too clumsy for safe operation. It would also be a great boat for exploring inland lakes and the quieter stretches of our rivers. The Hornet’s seat is fairly basic, but surprisingly supportive. My back didn’t suffer, but the seat base doesn’t have the padding of more expensive designs, so after four hours of fishing my bum was beginning to feel pretty wooden.
Since this is a fishing kayak I caught some fish from it, landing a string of modest snapper on soft plastics. The Hornet proved a perfectly good platform to fish from and the stability is better than I had at first supposed. Once I was used to its different motion I never thought about stability again.
The soft plastics fishing required a fair few casts with some long paddles between fish and I began to enjoy better success trolling a deep-diving hard-bodied lure while travelling between soft-bait fishing spots. The snapper were no bigger than those I was catching on soft baits, but the bites came regularly so I eventually dispensed with soft baits altogether and devoted the rest of the session to trolling the contour lines close to the cliffs. That meant lots of paddling, but I was pleased by how little paddling effort the Hornet requires. Considering it was my first time in a yak in some months, I came away feeling very fresh after a couple of hours of almost constant paddling. And I hardly missed the rudder because the boat tracks so well and it also responds nicely to paddle input, so steering is not a chore.
Once back at home I found another reason to like the Hornet: not only could I lift it off the roof by myself, its smaller size made it quicker to wash and put away than my own boat ever was.
I thoroughly enjoyed my morning with the Phoenix Hornet, which proved to be a far more capable craft than its modest size and sharp price might suggest. As a fully-featured entry level kayak, or perhaps a second kayak for close inshore work around rocky coastlines, it’s amazing value at under $1000. Trick it up a bit with extras and after market goodies and you’ll have a pocket battleship with on-water performance that belies its modest 3.6m length.