Even though the Tarpon 120 kayak has exactly what you would expect from a first class craft, it has so much more.
The Tarpon 120 comes with four carry handles at the bow, stern and sides, has a large rear well area and eight scupper holes to drain water quickly from the cockpit – most of which can be found in similar models. The difference with the Tarpon is that its list of extra features is almost too many to mention.
The large oval hatch at the front and the 8” hatch directly in front of the paddler, are both hinged with a very easy to operate lever closure. Inside both hatches are attachment points to connect smaller items so that they don’t slide around to unreachable parts of the kayak. I would be splitting all my fishing gear into containers that can fit in this centre hatch and clip onto the attachment strap with a plastic carabiner.
The other unique characteristic of the 8” hatch is its angle position. A 6ft rod and reel can easily be stowed inside the hull and under the seat, which is important if the kayak to have any offshore capabilities.
The most outstanding feature of this kayak is its Phase 3 Seating System, which is explained in the next section. It also has the SlideTrax system that allows for additional rod holders, sounders, motor brackets and attachment points to be added without having to drill any holes in your kayak.
The Tarpon also has further attachment points for gear keepers and rod holders, two storage pockets either side of the centre hatch, straps for a Plano tackle box and paddle parks in front of the cockpit on both sides of the kayak.
The test rig had two rear flush rod holders with caps and a Scotty rod holder added.
The Phase 3 seating on the Tarpon is first class with a configuration that has the most adjustment of any seat on the market. At the front is a handle that conveniently changes the height of the backrest. There are also adjustable straps that lift the front lip of the seat so that it contours your body shape. This has the effect of spreading your weight across a larger surface area of the seat allowing you to sit more comfortably for longer.
The seat pan is raised up off the deck and two scupper holes are located under the seat. This means any water that splashes into the cockpit area is drained away without getting your butt wet! There are also adjustable footrests make a very comfortable paddling and fishing position.
The Tarpon 120 has all attachment points for an optional rudder already installed on the kayak. Therefore, if you decide you’d like a rudder this can be fitted in a matter of minutes without drilling any holes in your kayak.
When looking at the hull design of most of the fishing kayaks on the market, they are built more for stability than for speed. But not the Tarpon 120 – it nails both! Even big guys who have never paddled before can jump straight on to the Tarpon and feel comfortable.
If you look at the kayak while sitting in the water you can see that the hull cuts the water cleanly, disperses the water to the widest point of the kayak and then tapers off cleanly to a fairly pronounced keel at the rear. This allows the Tarpon to create only a very small bow wave and stern wave when moving through the water, which are important factors when looking at the efficiency of the hull. A good tip to be able to tell whether a kayak will paddle like you need is to look at the shape of the hull at the waterline level when loaded with a paddler and gear.
The 120 tracks well for a kayak under 4m and could easily be used to cover large distances to get to your fishing spot at a good cruising speed.
We tested the Tarpon in 1m surf at Narrowneck and found that it performed exceptionally well. The bow of the kayak has sufficient volume to lift up and over the smaller waves while paddling out. While punching through bigger breaking waves the bow cut through as long as you maintained sufficient speed.
However, where the 120 really excelled was on the return trip back to the beach. The issue for most paddlers coming in on a wave is either nose diving when on a steep part of the wave or tipping over towards the beach once broached sideways on a wave. The 120 handled both these situations with ease – in fact it was possibly the most forgiving fishing kayak I’ve had the pleasure of paddling in the surf! While catching a wave the large rear well would fill with water which planted the pronounced keel of the craft firmly in the wave and assisted the paddler in maintaining a straight line for the beach. If the kayak did go around sideways the paddler only needs to maintain a slight lean into the wave and the craft will slip, broached on the wave, with only a small paddle stroke required to straighten the kayak and continue in on the wave to the beach.
If you’ve had trouble paddling your fishing kayak back in through the surf zone, you should really try the Tarpon 120.
The Tarpon 120 is a fantastic fishing kayak! It is tremendously versatile not only being extremely capable in the rivers, dams and estuaries but also a pleasure to paddle in the surf and ocean. The ability to be able to stow 6ft rods and all your fishing gear for a surf launch or landing makes it a great fishing option for the closer reefs. The deluxe seating is also a winner.
If you have a close inspection of this kayaks fit-out, finish, hull shape and performance it represents not only a great option but also great value. To add even more value all Wilderness System kayaks come with a lifetime warranty on their hull!
The Wilderness System Tarpon 120 retails for $1299. For Wilderness System dealers in Australia, visit www.wildernesssystems.com.au.
Craig McSween of Splash Safaris Sea Kayaking who is also a Sea Kayak Instructor with Australian Canoeing conducted this review. For feedback on this review you can contact Adventure Outlet (Kayaking, Camping and Outdoor Store) in Southport on (07) 5571 2929 or --e-mail address hidden--