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What Makes a Great Fly Fishing Kayak?

Posted: 10.16.2015

What Makes a Great Fly Fishing Kayak?
By Juan Veruete


I grew up fly fishing for a variety of species from native brook trout to smallmouth bass in central Pennsylvania. After leaving my fly fishing roots behind me for over 20 years in favor of “conventional” tackle, I picked up the long rod again about two years ago. Since then, I’ve had a lot of fun chasing smallmouth bass and panfish. There’s something special about making that perfectly eloquent cast to that perfect fish holding spot. Of course, there are plenty of “not so eloquent” casts along the road to perfection. I’m sure any fly fisherman reading this is well aware that not “every” cast goes where you plan. Let’s just say, I’ve snagged a few squirrels in my time.

A game changer for me in terms of my fly fishing was adding the distinct advantage of using modern fishing kayaks. Portaging into hard to reach small waters. Paddling into the far reaches of skinny water where neither power boats nor wading anglers go.  Parking in a downstream eddy within casting distance of some push water boiling with feeding fish. It’s all possible and more when you're fly fishing from a kayak.

I have fly fished out of a number of kayaks in the past two years. I also want to add that I’m a pretty big fly angler coming in at about 230lbs. I think that’s important in terms of understanding my perspective on “stand-up” fly fishing out of a kayak. Through a process of trial and error,  I’ve come to appreciate a number of qualities in specific kayak models in the Wilderness Systems line-up that I think align extremely well with the needs of a kayak fly angler.

Overall stability - Fly fishing requires quite a bit of movement compared to conventional tackle. Casting, landing fish, and dealing with the occasional line tangle means stability has to be at the top of the list for a fly angler.

Stand up stability -  Obtaining a high vantage point to sight fish and locate structure can take your fly fishing to the next level. Also standing means that you will be able to make longer casts if necessary. Not all fly anglers will want to stand and fish but given the advantages and the advances in stand up fishing kayaks, it’s something that you should consider.

Open/Clean Deck Area - Fly anglers are best served by kayaks that have plenty of room for standing in the cockpit and and/or laying down your stripped line. The cockpit should also be free of clutter and objects that can snag line. There’s nothing more frustrating than shooting you line only to have it snagged on something in the cockpit and come up sort of your target. A kayaks foot pegs are one such snag hazzard. In all the models that I’ll mention below the foot peg’s simple locking mechanism and long track system allows you to easily push the pegs far forward out of the way when fishing.

Paddling Performance - A good fly fishing kayak is more than just a fishing platform. You have to get to the fish to catch the fish. You also have to be able to get into position to make that perfect cast. Tracking, speed, maneuverability are all important considerations.

Seating Comfort - Regardless of whether your intention is to stand and fish or stay seated, a comfortable seat has to be at the top of your list. I tend to stand and fish a lot in my kayaks but having a comfortable seat to take breaks keeps me from experiencing a lot of fatigue during the course of a day. Bottom line it keeps me on the water and focused on the fishin not a sore back or bottom. The AirPro Max seat is available in most of the models that I use for kayak fishing. It’s the only seat on the market with three distinct positions: Low, High, and “Kick Back”. Low is great for running small rapids. The high position is excellent for kayak anglers who aren’t comfortable standing but still would like to have a higher line of site to the water making it easier to spot structure and fish. The “kick back” position is great for taking a little rest, grabbing a drink and gloating over the huge fish you just caught.


Wilderness Systems Commander Series

The Commander series is a in a class of kayaks known as a “hybrid”. It’s part canoe and part kayak. It’s basically got many of the paddling attributes we love in a kayak with the additional space found in a canoe. The Commander series comes in a 12 foot version (120) and a 14 foot version (140).

Both versions of the Commander offer excellent stand up stability. The size of the angler and how much portaging you plan to do are probably the two most common drivers in terms of which model you select. If you going to “bushwhack” into remote ponds and lakes the Commander 120 would be an excellent choice.

The cockpit floor of the Commander series is wide open making it an excellent choice for the fly angler who will be making long casts and stripping a lot of line onto the floor of the kayak. The footpegs are well out of the way and most of the time don’t need to be pushed forward when fly casting.

Both versions (120/140) track great but the 140 gets a slight edge which may be of interest to flat water paddles or paddlers who will be going longer distances on their fishing trips. Anglers who need a little more maneuverability may want to look at the 120. A recent fishing trip to the small, slow moving, wood choked rivers of Alabama showed me the value of this little gem of a kayak.

The Commander series provides a kayak angler with three options for fishing. First you can use the highly adjustable Phase 3 seating which is located down inside the cockpit of the kayak. If you want to fly cast, paddle or sight fish from a slightly higher position just slide the seat back and take a seat in what Wildy calls the captain's perch. From captain purch it’s very easy to come to a standing position to fish.

Wilderness Systems Ride Series

The Ride series is one of the most versatile kayaks that I’ve paddled. There are three versions of the Ride: 135, 115, and 115X. I like the Ride series because of it’s versatility. I’ve done small creeks, large rivers, ponds and large lakes in this boat. The kayak is very much at home when inshore saltwater fishing. You’ll also appreciate the amount of gear you can take with you in a Ride. It’s great for multi day trips.

The Ride series provides incredible seated stability. You can also stand in this kayak. The deck has two flat areas to place you feet when standing to fish. The Ride 115 takes a little practice to get comfortable standing but once you have your sea legs, you’ll be good to go. The longer Ride 135 offer a little more stability for larger anglers who like to take a lot of gear.

There’s nothing like hooking up with a big fish in skinny water. The Ride series has a lot of volume in the hull so you’ll be able to get into all those skinny spots where you’ve been dying to sling some flies. The shorter Ride 115 is great for maneuvering in small waters and for bushwhacking into remote spots. It’s also very easy to toss in the back of a pickup. The Ride 135 offers more room, a little better tracking and speed. I use both to fly fish inland lakes and rivers up to class II.

Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 140 (Advanced Tactical Angling Kayak)

In my opinion the A.T.A.K. 140 offers unprecedented stability for stand up fly fishing combined with great speed. Usually rock solid stability comes at a cost. That costs is “speed”.  Through some design magic, this kayak turns that idea on it’s head.

The A.T.A.K.’s tability makes this kayak an oustanding fly fishing platform.  I can fly fish in 360 degrees around the kayak as I move about on the flat open floor. Pushing the fully adjustable Airpro Max seat complete back on the track system opens up a more than ample amount of uncluttered deck space for stripping line.

The kayak is designed with a very low gunnel and shape that “sheds wind” so fly fishing in open water such as big lakes and saltwater flats prone to windy conditions is made much easier in the A.T.A.K. When I’m fishing among a group of kayak anglers the A.T.A.K. seems to “stick” in place while others are blown about by the wind. This attribute makes it easier to stay on a spot and make casts to precise targets. You’ll spend less time with the paddle in your hand and more time making casts. Like I often tell my guide clients, “The more your bait is in the water, the better your chances you have of catching fish”.

Parting Thoughts

Honestly, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface as it relates to kayaks and their application in the world of fly fishing. There is more…. a lot more but what I’ve outlined provides some ground level attributes, design considerations and specific kayak models that should be on your mind as you are choosing a fly fishing kayak.

I truly enjoy fly fishing from a kayak. It’s the art of paddling and the art of the presentation combined that keeps me motivated to improve my skills. I feel like that endeavour is made so much easier by paddling in a kayak suited for the job.


Juan Veruete, Licensed Fishing Guide & ACA Certified Kayak Instructor


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Wildy Regional Pro Staff Manager Lands Personal Record Smallie

Posted: 10.15.2015

Watch Jeff's video explaining how he caught his monster 6 lb 10 oz 21.5 inch smallie

Not only the largest fish caught in the River Bassin Tournament on the Susquehanna River, but also Jeff Little's personal best smallmouth bass. It was a great tourny for Wildy Pro Staff as Jed Punkert took first place in the individual division, while Jeff took second in the individual division. Jeff and Jed's combined total inches of their top 6 smallmouth was 124.75, enough to win the team division.  This total was a RiverBassin all time tournament series record. 

Watch the video as Jeff goes into detail about how he pulled huge smallies out of the river all tournament long at Tight Line Junkie Journal. 



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Wilderness Systems Pro Staff Growing the Sport of Kayak Fishing

Posted: 09.29.2015

Wildy Pro Staff demonstrate personal passion for kayak fishing and eagerness to introduce others to the sport.

Wilderness Systems Pro Staff: Growing the Sport of Kayak Fishing
What it means to be Wilderness Systems Pro Staff varies for each member on our roster. The common thread is that they all do something to grow the sport of kayak fishing. Some run tournament trails, some are founders of kayak fishing clubs, and some teach others how to kayak fish through their guide services. Many of our team members are leaders of conservation groups and charitable causes. However they choose to make the sport better, they do so with a generous spirit so that others can enjoy what has become such a big part of their lives.  Here are a few featured Pro Staffers and the ways they chose to improve and grow the sport.

Eric Tebbets, Founder, Estero Kayak Challenge
In the Spring of 2014, Eric Tebbets decided to host a benefit kayak fishing tournament. The idea grew from the desire to promote and share the sport while bringing together anglers from around California. After spending a few months planning the event and enlisting the help of fellow Wildy teammates, Andy O’Brien and Chad Britton, the Estero Kayak Challenge was born. On June 7, 2015, 49 anglers competed in 4 saltwater categories. Jim Gosciminski of Santa Cruz took home the title of Tournament Champ.

Following in the long tradition of kayak fishing tournaments supporting local causes and charitable organizations, the Estero Kayak Challenge was able to raise $3,000 for the local Central Coast Chapter of Heroes on the Water. The tournament is now planned as an annual event and is held in Cayucos on California’s Central Coast. Eric also owns a kayak fishing store called PRO Kayak Fishing.

Tim Perkins, Founder, River’s Edge Camps
In 2010, Tim Perkins left behind a successful bass boat tournament career spanning over 20 years to do something that spoke more to his childhood fishing experiences: kayak fishing for bass in rural Alabama rivers. As a kid, he plied the waters with a small homemade boat. A year later, he hit the kayak tournament scene with force, winning the Riverbassin’ National Championship. Realizing the impact that fishing remote waters in a small boat had on his childhood, Tim and his wife Michelle established Rivers Edge.  The nonprofit organization grows kayak fishing from the ground up. Tim explains, “We put together paddle camps for rural kids in Alabama. We wanted to offer the same opportunities that we had as kids growing up on the river.” The Riverbassin’ national title opened a lot of doors for Tim. One of them was an invite to the state office for the Alabama Scenic River Trail. He was appointed to the position of Ambassador of the upper Tallapoosa River region. The role of Ambassador involves conservation efforts including an annual river clean up. Tim speaks with pride about the position and the river he grew up on, “It’s like looking after an old friend.”

Jeff Malott, President, Arkansas Kayak Anglers 
Several years ago on an early winter trip to a lake in Northwest Arkansas, Jeff Malott and a few buddies decided to put together a last minute kayak fishing tournament, "just for fun". The vision was simple, use the tournament as a means to draw anglers out to meet new friends, share ideas and have fun. The tournament drew 15 anglers. Jeff looks back, “Everyone had a blast, and it gave us the confidence to push forward the next year.”

The following season he established Arkansas Kayak Anglers and the Razoryak Tournament Trail. In just a few short years the club has exploded, with nearly 1000 members joining the Facebook group. The Tournament Trail has partnered with other smaller clubs to grow into three separate tournament series covering the entire state of Arkansas. With several events still remaining on the Northwest Arkansas series, there have already been over 100 unique participants recorded in 2015 on that series alone. This fall the Razoryak Tournament Trail will crown its first state kayak bass fishing champion with qualifiers from all three trails and invitees from other kayak clubs across the state. Jeff credits some of the keys to the trail’s success, “Keeping the tournaments low cost, paying back 100% of the entry fees, zero membership fees, and having a leadership team that is willing to sacrifice their time to organize successful events.” As a result of the tournament participation, the AKA has had the platform to market the social aspect of kayak fishing to a large number of anglers. The AKA has held multiple camping trips, hosted charity tournaments, and is a proud supporter of Heroes on the Water.

Here are several other Wilderness Systems Pro Staffers and the positions they hold in various organizations related to the sport:

Rob Alderman, Owner/Guide, Outer Banks Kayak Fishing

Mike Baker, Owner/Operator Kayak Fish New England Guide Services, Registered Sea Kayak and Tidewater Guide Maine

Chad Britton, Co-founder Estero Kayak Challenge, HOW California Volunteer

Cody Carpenter, Founder, The Colony High School Bass Fishing Club

Brad Case, Founder/Director SweetWater Kayak Tournaments

Bobby Clark, Tournament Director, KBF Texas benefitting HOW

Sam De La Torre, Assistant Chapter Coordinator, HOW South Florida

JD Desrosiers, Board Member, Upstate Kayak Fishing Club

Cory Dreyer, President and Founder, Carolina Kayak Anglers Tournament Series

Craig Dye, Tournament Director of Kayak Bass Fishing Tennessee

Matt Eikenberg, Sponsorship Coordinator, Mid Atlantic Kayak Bass Fishing Series

Neil Farley, Founder and Director, Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail

John Franchot, Moderator,

Chad Hoover, Host, Knot Right Kayak Fishing TV show, Owner, HOOK1 Kayak Fishing

Rob Knoles, Coordinator, Nor Cal Heroes on the Water

Chris LeMessurier, President of Kayak Fish the Great Lakes Region, Founder/Director of the No-Mo Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament

Jeff Little, Producer, Tight Line Junkie Journal Instructional Video Channel

Kris Lozier, Board Member, Tidewater Kayak Anglers Association

Mark Lozier, Board Member, Tidewater Kayak Anglers Association

Andrew O'Brien, Administrator for Central Coast Kayak Fishing. Volunteer Guide- HOW California Central Coast Chapter

Thomas Philippi, Founding member, South Jersey Kayak Bass Fishing Club

Alex Post, Governing Member, Massachusetts Freedivers Association

Tanner Preciado, General Manager, Scappoose Bay Paddling Center, Oregon Licensed Guide and ACA Certified Instructor

Scott Shrader, Founder, Iowa Kayak Anglers

Bill Sikora, Founder, Florida Bass Paddlers benefitting HOW

Jim Smith, Volunteer, Maine Chapter Trout Unlimited

Jason Stock, Owner/Operator JW Snooky Guide Service

Brenden Terrill, Director, Indiana Smallmouth Alliance

Dean Thomas,  Owner/Guide, Slowride Guide Services

Manny Torres, Owner/Operator, Rodbenders LLM Kayak Fishing Guide Service

Robert Vaughn, Founding Member, SC Kayak Fishing Association

Juan Veruete, Owner/Paddling Instructor Kayak Fish Pa LLC

Wes Widrig, Adminstrator, Southwest Va Kayak Anglers

Dwayne Walley, Founder, TourneyX (tournament hosting software company), Founder Mississippi Kayak Fishing

Mike Zilkowski, Tournament Director, Eastslope Kayak Fishing Classic

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Small Buzzbaits for River Smallies

Posted: 08.28.2015

By Bill Schultz 
Wilderness Systems Fishing Pro Staff

Wading and kayaking for river smallies is one of my favorite things to do.  About 10 years ago a friend told me of his success using a small buzzbait on rivers and gave me one to try.  He was right, immediate success and what a blast.  From that day the Booyah Pond Magic Buzzbait has been at the top of my list for river smallies.

Most of the rivers I fish are smaller with the pyramid effect of more smaller fish than those two to four pounders.  For this reason, whether in the kayak or waders, I’m using light and medium-light action 7” St. Croix spinning rods.  As with all of my fishing, I use small diameter braid or superline.  This is usually Power Pro 10/2, 8 or 10 pound Nanofil and 8/3 Fireline Crystal.  To these lines I add a few feet of fluorocarbon leader attached with the Uni to Uni knot.  My reel preferences are those that have a faster retrieve ratio, which also enhances the ability to get that buzzbait up and running with ease.

With our shorter open water season in Wisconsin, I’m typically using the Pond Magic Buzzbait from about Memorial Day to early fall.  Because it’s a reaction lure, which is more successful when the smallies are more active, I like the water temps to be in the low-60’s or higher.  The best presentation is cross-current, trying to surprise the smallies into that reaction bite.  Casting to shore with the line perpendicular is perfect, with a little up or down from that just fine.  My retrieve is steady and fast enough to keep the lure on top of the water.  I’ve found this to work in all the conditions I fish.  As with all topwaters, this is an exciting presentation providing epic blow-ups at times.  And, as is common with topwaters, there are probably more miss hits than with other presentations.  However, with its small size and smaller 2/0 hook, this topwater has been more successful than other types. 

My primary color has been Shad, which is primarily white with white blade.  But, I’ve also had luck with Citrus Shad, Limetreuse and Firefly.  As I’ve noted many times talking about another smallie magnet, the Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish, I think the size and noise are the primary attractants, not the color.

This is truly a fun and extremely productive lure.  And, at 1/8 ounce and 3.5 inches it’s going to catch smallies of all sizes.  I like that it casts great even in windy conditions.  If you want to have a great time and increase your productivity catching and releasing those river smallies, give the Booyah Pond Magic Buzzbait a shot.



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