Test Paddling Wilderness Systems’ New Offshore Fishing Cruisers

Strong in the surf, they are faster than the Rides and haul more freight than a Tarpon

Carving foam: Wilderness Systems' new offshore kayak in its first test in big surf.

Carving foam: Wilderness Systems’ new offshore kayak slides home on its first real surf test. Wildy’s test pilot was so amped, he forgot to unclip his paddle leash. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

Test Paddling Wilderness Systems’ New Fishing Cruisers
Strong in the surf, they are faster than the Rides and haul more freight than a Tarpon
By Paul Lebowitz

It’s true. Wilderness Systems’ new and as yet unnamed offshore fishing cruisers are intended for boisterous water. It’s fresh life in a category that hasn’t seen much recent action.

One look at the loftier bows of the prototypes, one in the 15-foot range and the other around 14, is plenty of confirmation. The injection of volume sets the new boats apart from Wildy’s long-running Tarpon series. Intriguing, particularly since we get to see how they handle punishing surf.

Ready to hunt: Wilderness Systems pro staffer Dave Easton locked and loaded for big fish.

Ready to hunt: Wilderness Systems pro staffer Dave Easton locked and loaded for big fish. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

More on that later. First, it is time to meet Wilderness Systems senior designer David E. Maughan. He’s escaped eastern ice storms in search of Southern California waves and warm 80-degree sunshine. A couple test pilots join him on the sand at San Diego’s Mission Beach: CJ Siebler and Dave Easton, long-running members of Wildy’s fishing team. Both are offshore hunters who routinely dare the waves.

RELATED: Wilderness Systems Teases New Offshore Fishing Kayak

I am there too, to take photos and get my own test strokes in. There are ground rules. To protect Wildy’s trade secrets, there will be no dishing the details on proprietary deck features still under development.

Squint. This is as much deck detail as we can share. Wildy is holding back a few trade secrets.

Squint. This is as much deck detail as we can share. Wildy is holding back a few trade secrets. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

RELATED: Video of the New Wilderness Systems Offshore Kayak in the Surf

Hull design, storage capability and paddling performance are all fair game. Let’s get right to it and challenge that smashing four to five foot surf.

Wildy pro staffer CJ Siebler fearlessly paddles the new offshore kayak into explosive breakers.

Wildy pro staffer CJ Siebler fearlessly paddles the new offshore kayak into explosive breakers. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

Unlike the Tarpons, these new offshore models pop over oncoming waves rather than pierce. On a day like today, it’s a mercy. Rather than take the brunt smack on a paddler’s chest, these lively rides hop out of the way. On the return, the high-volume bows are the antidote to the fearsome perl. Nose dives that result in flips are only fun for onlookers. With so much volume up front, no one is pitch-poling today. There’s still some surf carnage. We’re testing the limits after all.

Product designer Maughan takes a turn too. He digs his paddle hard to counter an unexpected snap of the nose. There’s still work to do on these not quite perfectly formed prototypes. He says the finished versions will be more rigid and perform predictably.

On the nose: Wildy's new offshore fishing kayaks show off a proud, high-volume bow.

On the nose: Wildy’s new offshore fishing kayaks show off a proud, high-volume bow. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

How about outside the breakers? In an era dominated by ever larger and slower barges, it is a joy to paddle a fishing kayak that has a sexy wiggle. I’m referring to secondary stability, the characteristic that gives a boat a solid feel when the water gets rough. We lean these two new offshore models right over on their sides without tipping. Lovely, just the thing for chasing calico bass in the boiler rocks or paddling long and far for pelagics.

There’s still plenty of primary stability, enough even to stand and fish on calm water, although the prototypes have little foot room in cockpits laid out for sit-down fishing. The seats are the typically cushy Phase3 AirPro Advance system.

Casting platform: Wilderness' new offshore fishing kayaks are stable enough to stand, but most will fish them in traditional sit-down style.

Casting platform: Wilderness’ new offshore fishing kayaks are stable enough to stand, but most will fish them in traditional sit-down style. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

Given the circumstances, my tape measure is back at the office. Both models look about 30 inches wide, squarely between the heavy-hauling Ride series (33 inches) and swifter Tarpons (28 inches). It doesn’t take much effort to get the new boats moving or to keep them there. With no GPS for comparison, I rate paddling performance subjectively as all-day pleasant after a spin on the mild conditions of Mission Bay.

The new boats hold a course well. The shorter model is naturally more nimble; the longer a little faster in a straight line. I have no problem turning the longer model, although there isn’t a breath of wind. I’d want to paddle it in a near gale before assessing the need for a rudder. The boats are stealthy silent on flat water. We’d need a ruffled surface to check for chatter. Not today.

Surf test: You're not really trying until you've crashed out.

Surf test: You’re not really trying until you’ve crashed out. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

Cargo capacity is ample; the boats trim out fine with Easton’s large bait tank bubbling in the back. And with all that volume up front, there’s little worry about overloading the nose. Rigability is just what you’d expect in a modern fishing kayak. Wilderness long ago figured out how to make the most of scarce deck space. In-hull storage access is a topic we can’t touch for now.

The past few years, elevated seats and walk-around decks have been all the rage. It’s good to see new energy devoted to the offshore segment. Sloppy big water conditions demand higher performance hulls. While Wildy’s two new offshore models aren’t low-slung rockets like the longer Tarpons, these prototypes offer more secondary stability than we’ve seen in a long time and haul quite a bit more freight.

Hands on: Wilderness Systems senior designer David Maughan mixes it up in the surf.

Hands on: Wilderness Systems senior designer David Maughan mixes it up in the surf. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

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Comments

Tracy Dwyer
April 4, 2014 7:23 am

I have 6 Tarpons here in Costa Rica
I looking forward to the next level Wildy designed for the surf we have here. Getting back in can be a problem on swell days.

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