ORONO, Maine — Luke LaBree has developed a little test designed to show tentative anglers exactly how stable the new Old Town Predator fishing kayak is.
Stand up. Turn around. Take a step backward. Forward.
Yes, in a kayak. And if LaBree has had to rescue any of his kayak-testers, he’s not saying.
“They stand up and they get this expression on their face,” said LaBree, the marketing communications manager for Johnson Outdoors Watercraft, parent company of Old Town Canoe. “It’s like, ‘Wow!’”
LaBree isn’t just marketing Old Town Canoe’s latest, greatest product. He’s also testing one of his own. And he said he’s constantly amazed at what the 12-foot Predator MX, and the 13-foot Predator 13, can do.
“I’ve taken mine and walked from the back to the front,” LaBree said. “[I’ve put] both feet on one gunnel. I put all my weight on one side. And it doesn’t tip over.”
One thing is clear: This isn’t your grandfather’s tippy kayak. And the built-for-fishing design has caught the attention of industry experts since Predator was rolled out on June 13, and the MX followed a month later.
“We’re really, really pleased with the reception that we’ve gotten,” LaBree said. “It was voted favorite fishing kayak by yakangler.com … and we took home best boat in show at [the] ICAST [sport-fishing trade show] in Las Vegas.”
LaBree said designers worked for two years to develop the Predator, and sent prototypes to testers across the U.S. Those pro staffers, in turn, sent back suggestions that would make the boat better for kayak anglers.
“We had some guys out west who took this [boat] on a five-day float trip and by the end of day two, they were standing up going down Class I and II water because it was so much fun riding this thing,” LaBree said. “This thing has probably more stability than a stand-up paddle board. It’s just a really versatile kayak.”
And it’s made right here, in Old Town, Maine.
LaBree said two factors have led to the Predator becoming so popular with kayak anglers.
First, there’s stability. The reason LaBree can stand on the gunnels of the boat and not fall in is pretty simple: The boat has a tri-hull design that helps the boat from tipping completely over.
“As you’re going back and forth, the boat basically catches on the water, kind of like a pontoon built into the kayak,” LaBree said. “It allows you to stand up and fish from it.”
And second, there’s comfort.
Designers addressed that by creating what’s called the “Element seat system.”
“That’s basically what you want to call lawn-chair class comfort,” LaBree said, explaining that the seat can be set into one of three positions. The first is low, and perfect for paddling when you want a low center of gravity. The second is four to six inches higher, and gives more visibility on the water. Or, you can put the seat in the “standup” position, which folds it out of the way so the paddler can stand and fish without worrying about tripping.
Another key feature: An Exo-Ridge deck that allows water to flow through it, then out of the boat through one-way scuppers. No more standing in a puddle while casting. Little features abound, including rubber sheaths that serve as rod-tip holders. Six polyethylene plates are mounted at various spots on the boat. Anglers are encouraged to drill through those plates — instead of the hull — to mount fishing specific gear such as camera mounts and rod holders.
The two Predator designs each cost in the $1,200 range; the boats are different, and will work best in different applications.
“The MX model is designed for what we called mixed-water conditions,” LaBree said. “The 13 tracks really, really well, like a torpedo. It gets you where you want to go a little bit faster than the MX, but the MX is the maneuverable version of the boat, so when you get going down some rapids or some more complicated water, you’ll actually be able to turn a bit quicker of a course.
Not too many years ago, the thought of a kayak doubling as a fishing boat was far-fetched. A few hard-core coastal anglers began to change that, and manufacturers started producing kayaks that were designed just for fishing.
Some manufacturers began focusing on those boats, and while Old Town and Johnson Outdoors weren’t the first, LaBree is confident that the new offering is the best.
“After paddling the Predator, you are basically spoiled,” LaBree said. “Everything else, it just doesn’t compare.”