A Tale of Two Boats

My first real fishing kayak was a used 2007 Hobie Outback I purchased in 2017. It was a huge change from my Old Town Discovery 119 solo canoe. In 2018 I started fishing tournaments and by the end of that season, old age finally caught up with that boat. The drivewell developed multiple cracks and fatigued to the point where it was no longer seaworthy (even with foam filler, silicone caulk, and a lot of plastic welding). Spring of 2019 I purchased a brand new Hobie Outback. I was already familiar with the Hobie Outback and being 12 years newer than my old one, it was a HUGE upgrade. That boat served me well for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

This year I had the opportunity to purchase a new boat, a Feelfree Lure 13.5 and I was able to join the Feelfree Fishing team. This led to many odd looks and a lot of questions about that decision. The most common of which was Why are you downgrading from a Hobie to a Feelfree? OK, most didn’t use those exact words. But the tone of questions, and the context was clear. Their perception was that I went from one boat to an inferior boat and they didn’t understand. This got me thinking about this concept of “Upgrading”. This is especially prevalent right now with the completion of iCast, anglers everywhere are looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest.

Clearly when I purchased that first Hobie in 2017 I was upgrading from a solo canoe with zero fishing features. But what is an actual upgrade within fishing kayaks? Is going from a Lure 11.5 to a Lure 13.5 an upgrade? It’s a bigger boat, so that means upgrade right? Maybe not if you’re a river angler or if you’re putting it on top of a Honda Fit. It might actually be a downgrade!

Fishing paddlecraft can be broken into four categories; sit-in/canoe, SOT, pedal drive, and motor driven. Now nobody would argue that in most cases when you go from one category to the next, you are upgrading to a more advanced fishing vessel. But I would argue that within categories, changing boats is never a clear upgrade. A Hobie is not universally better than a Feelfree. And where do Native, Wilderness, Jackson, or Old Town fit in? It’s the old Ford Vs. Chevy debate and you get brand loyalists on every side. Like almost everything in life, it is all about tradeoffs.

When I first switched to the Lure, it was a learning curve. I came from one kind of pedal drive (the Mirage Drive) which uses a push-pull action, to the cycling action of the Overdrive system. For those first few weeks it was tough to make an honest comparison since I was so new to the platform. I was still learning it. It took me a while to set up the boat and get things how and where I wanted them. But once I did, everything started to become second nature again just like it had in the Outback. After a while things began to click and I was cruising and fishing without a thought.

Then disaster struck a couple weeks back. I experienced some damage to the hull of my new boat. Feelfree was great and got right on it working to help me replace the hull. Unfortunately, the industry is still recovering from the high 2020 demand and current shortages. It would be a while till I would have my replacement hull. This forced me to move my rigging back over to the Outback for the time being. The upside to all of this is it has given me an opportunity to really compare the two boats, fully rigged, how I would want them, and give a proper assessment.

First off, lets talk specs!! The Outback is 12’9” long, 34” wide, and 103-lbs rigged. It was $2,799 new in 2019 ($3049 now). The Lure is 13’6”, 34” wide, and roughly 132-lbs rigged. It is $2,549 new. The Lure is 9” longer but the significant difference here is the weight. The Lure weighs the same without the seat and drive as the Outback does with the seat and drive. Functionally, this is very noticeable when lifting and maneuvering the kayak into a truck bed or onto a rack. But other than weight, the remainder of the general specs are quite comparable.

Side by Side, the Outback and the Lure

Now lets talk about layout. Side by side, immediately you notice that the seat on the Lure is much further back than on the Outback. With the sterns aligned, the tankwell of the Lure begins roughly a foot sooner than the Outback. The Outback has a large section of dead space in the rear of the kayak where the rudder system is situated under the hull, while the Lure’s rudder system (an add-on when getting the pedal drive) extends off the rear handle. Both tankwells are roughly the same length, but the tankwell on the Lure is noticeably narrower as I had to remove the side rod holders from my crate to get it to fit.

The seat and cockpit area starts next. With the seat in a mid-position for pedaling (I’m 5’9”)  there is roughly 6” of storage space behind the seat. Even with the seat moved forward in that position, it is still about 6” further back than the Outback. This provides additional rear storage space in the Lure compared to the Outback. However, this moves the center of mass further back, an important thing to consider when loading the Lure and trying to trim it properly. Additionally, the seat on the Lure can be placed in a much higher position providing room for a decent sized storage bin to be placed under the seat. 

The external rudder system, tankwell, and seat configurations mean that the Lure has a much larger standing area in the cockpit. While it does not appear to be much bigger, the platform is wider due to there not being any cubbies or storage compartments on the sides, and is a few inches longer than the Outback. This leads to a much more comfortable, and maneuverable area when standing. Speaking of standing, the Lure is significantly more stable than the Outback. This is likely due to the hull shape and the added weight since they are the same overall width, but more on that later.

In front of the drive units, the Outback has a single hatch which accesses the hull. Since the Lure is 9” longer and the cockpit area is slightly back, the bow is roughly 10-11” longer than the Outback. The result is that it is able to offer both a separated compartment directly in front of the drive and a front hatch to access the hull.

Rigging each of these boats comes with separate challenges. The Outback comes pretty much ready to roll right out of the box. There is little padding, but a special marine mat kit allows you to add matting to most surfaces. In 2019 Hobie announced the introduction of their Guardian transducer system, a mounting plate that retracts into the hull. They remain the only kayak brand with such a system to date. They include through hull wiring ports for electronics and such that align with the mounting areas. With the cockpit layout, there is little need for many add-ons and there is a Powerpole bolt configuration on the rear. The front and center hatches give you access to most of the hull for running wires or installing plugs, ports, or lights.

The Lure is much more bare bones requiring more configuring. Luckily, the cockpit has flat areas for mounting brackets or baskets. The rear rod holders are not molded in and can be removed providing (limited) access in the hull in the rear if necessary. The Unitrack system allows you to add items like rod holders, cup holders etc. The advantage of the unitrack is that items can be dropped into the track vertically without the need to slide them out the ends, however gear track adapters are required for standard track items. With minimal hull access, running wiring can be tricky, but there is a circular section at the rear that can easily be cut out and removed to install a small access hatch. One place that is lacking is a transducer mounting option. The Lure was originally designed with a sonar pod in the center providing an ideal place to mount a transducer. This is eliminated when installing the pedal drive system. You must use an aftermarket external mounting system for your transducers.

This brings up a good point. Kayak anglers are innovative by nature with a penchant for customizing and coming up with unique ways of getting the most out of their vessels. This is likely why Nucanoes are so popular. With a number of different hull designs, what they offer is a very stripped down, yet fully customizable platform. We should recognize that if a kayak doesn’t have something as simple as a cup-holder, it isn’t such a bad thing when that can easily be added for a minimal cost, and where YOU want it, rather than where the designer thinks is best.

Now all of that can be read on a website or observed just standing at your kayak shop. But what about actual real world use? I’ve already mentioned the stability. Don’t get me wrong, the Outback is stable. I’ve stood on the bow, on the stern, and spent hours standing flipping; but the Lure is steadier. The primary stability is much greater giving you a greater sense that the boat is not going anywhere. This is because of the boxier shape to the hull. I’ve talked about the standing platform size but the deck is constructed with a fiberglass plate overtop the plastic hull, and under a foam matting. The result is a large, stiff, flat, platform that makes standing easy and comfortable. The extra couple inches of space in the cockpit makes a world of difference for your feet when you’re turning around to flip a laydown or skip under a dock. And without a center storage hatch, your feet are free to just explore the space and be comfortable especially barefoot.

Standing fishing in the Lure

The seats on the two boats couldn’t be more different. The Outback uses a mesh basket style seat and back. The lumbar support has some adjustability and it is wide and reasonably comfortable all day. It has a couple height settings ranging from on the floor to barely up off the floor. After switching back to the Outback and spending a day where I was constantly going from sitting to standing and back down again, I found it was extremely exhausting. The seat on the Lure uses more of a padded mesh over hard plastic. The high back seat doesn’t offer much in lumbar support, but is still very ergonomic and comfortable. The seat has a massive amount of adjustability up and down and even reclining (which I am excited about for duck season). It makes for a much more comfortable day on the water with a much easier time standing up and sitting back down. This adjustability does come with one drawback. The construction of the seat is very complicated with a number of moving parts and pieces. It is important to check the bolts often, tighten things down, and add thread locker where possible to keep them from rattling loose in transport.

I touched on this earlier, but the Outback is filled with easily accessible storage spaces. With a cup holder on each side, gear track along the cockpit and tankwell, nooks with H-rails and pouches, and slots with bungies for pliers and fishgrips the layout is very functional for the angler. The center deck hatch with drop-in tray is perfect for lunch or bags of plastics and anything else you may need. The V2 Lure does not have any cup holders and there are no places to store gear in the cockpit area. The seat is equipped with pouches on both sides allowing for the storage of a few bags of plastics, but that is it. You get a very bare bones area. There are however flat surfaces and Unitrack along the entire cockpit. I was able to mount gear storage devices from BerleyPro which gave me adequate storage for tools or baits, and a YakAttack cup holder on the gear track solved that problem.

The last item to discuss is the drive units. Hobie is the original pedal drive fishing kayak with their mirage drive. The 2019 version is the 180 Arc drive and can be “put in reverse” by the pull of cable to allow both forward and backward motion. The drive can be fluttered in shallow water and pushed flat to the bottom when temporarily beaching but the entire drive system must be disconnected and removed when in transport. The Lure OD system is a prop system offering instant reverse by simply pedaling backwards. The drive locks in with a few spring pins which must be pulled to lift the unit when in shallow water or going over an obstruction. It can be lifted up into a stow position for transport and beaching without fully disconnecting from the boat.  

With the turbo fins, I can get the Outback up to 6 mph, and have a reasonable cruising speed of 4.0-4.5 mph. I top out at closer to 5 mph in the Lure and my cruising speed is about 3.5 mph. I found the Mirage drive can get bogged in dense heavy weeds, but in general comes through small millfoil patches with ease. The Lure OD (like most prop drives) easily gets wrapped up in even small amounts of grasses like millfoil or hydrilla which causes it to quickly bog down.

When standing, sometimes you need to move ahead just a small distance and sitting back down just to work the drive seems unnecessary. The Hobie Mirage drive is quite awkward to operate with your hands and you simply cant just push a pedal forward and expect the boat to go. The Lure OD makes it quite easy to reach down and give one crank on the arms. The instant feedback from the prop can move the boat just enough when you’re standing and trying to position your kayak around structure. Lastly, there’s construction and maintenance. The Mirage drive is almost all exposed cables and chains. It requires little maintenance, but some cleaning and a little silicone spray lubricant. The OD with its enclosed gears and drive requires regular greasing and maintenance to keep functioning properly.

My new Lure 13.5 hull is in and I am finishing getting it rigged to how I want it. When it’s done, I will have a great fishing platform that fits my style. I will be comfortable when spending 10-12 hour days on the water and I will have everything I could need out of a fishing kayak. Everything in life is about tradeoffs. For example, would I like more speed? Of course, but then I would lose stability. The Lure 13.5 is a great tournament fishing kayak and I don’t regret making the change one bit. Remember, there is no such thing as the “best” fishing kayak. What gets you on the water, makes you happy, and works well is a perfect kayak for you.

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