Classic: The Tarpon 160

A little slower and heavier with the years, this racer still has the moves

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Classic: The Tarpon 160
A little slower and heavier with the years, this racer still has the moves
L: 16’; W: 28”; 83 lbs.; 375-lb. capacity;
$1,269; wildernesssystems.com

By Paul Lebowitz

In 2001, Wilderness Systems birthed a legend. The Tarpon was lean and mean, a sit-on-top built on a go-far touring hull, stretched out to a wave-eating 16 feet. This was a boat built for big water, one capable of battling blue-water bruisers.

Early adopting anglers were slow to catch on to the beauty of this low-slung cruiser from designer Rick Jones. The original model sported huge hatches fore and aft, spacious ovals far larger than anything around these days. Tankwell, who needs it? Those in the know stashed their rods safely in the hull for daring dashes through big surf. The original Tarpon was fast and light, weighing only 58 pounds with room for 325.

Then came 2003, a new era for Wildy. The company expanded the Tarpon line. The new T120 and T140 were shorter and designed from the ground up for fishing, with spacious tankwells, room behind the seat for a multitude of rod holders, and a molded-in console ready for a fishfinder. In 2005, an “improved” bigger brother followed suit. The T160i added a tankwell and up-to-date outfitting, but under the waterline, it was the same quicksilver-fast hull.

And then, the mutation. Fishing kayaks grew bigger, wider and heavier, with enough payload to hold a quarter-ton of angler, tackle, and catch. The standup paddleboard craze hit. Many anglers were no longer content to fish sitting down. The Tarpon had to change.

In 2009, the classic was reborn. The new Tarpon 160—the contemporary model—kept its slim, 28-inch hips, but added volume in the bow and stern. The ride was drier and higher, with improved initial stability. The outfitting pounds piled up, a worthwhile tradeoff, eventually adding the Phase3 AirPro SOT Seating System (adjustably cushy), modern SlideTrax mounting plates (no-drill rigging), and sturdy Orbix hatches (one-handed operation).

When I look at today’s Tarpon, I still see that early racer. The years have added a few pounds (25 for those counting), but added confidence and the ability to get the job done. In an era when most fishing rides hew to ‘bigger is better,’ the Tarpon 160 is still the performance choice for those who want to go hard, go far, go fast.

Quick Launch: The Tarpon 160i was low-slung and fast enough to scoot through a surf break, yet traded the original stern hatch for a large tankwell for better gear storage.

Quick Launch: The Tarpon 160i was low-slung and fast enough to scoot through a surf break, yet traded the original stern hatch for a large tankwell for better gear storage. Photo: Paul Lebowitz.

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