The Tarpon 140 – Here's How You Do It

| September 9, 2009 | 0 Comments

Standing on a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140
Fly casting from a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 while standing.

If you already have a kayak, chances are you know as much or more than me when it comes to the ups and downs of a kayak as a platform for fly fishing.

I remember quite clearly what Joel Hays said when I told him I was thinking about a kayak to get around and hit more spots. “It’s an exercise in organized chaos”, JH said. Somehow, that just didn’t sink in with me. I thought I was coordinated enough to rub my gut and pat my head at the same time, and I believed a large enough kayak would eliminate some variables.

With the idea that a boat was out of the question, and the gas (headed to 4-dollars back then) to run anything motorized was fantasy island, I purchased a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 (T140). It’s a sit-on-top, and the 140 translates to fourteen feet in length. The Tarpon is pretty much shaped like most sit-on-top kayaks. If you are considering a kayak, you will first have to consider where you will be using it. Longer ‘Yaks go straight fast, while shorter ones go slower but are more maneuverable. So, the first thing you realize is … you need two kayaks. No really, just start with the one you know you will be using the most, and save the other for later. It may end up being a floating boat of another sort anyway.

A T140, naked, weighs 68-pounds. The kayak thing is much like the photography thing; buying the camera is just the start of a slippery slope of stuff you will “need”. If you’ve ever picked up 68-pounds that is 14 feet long, you know how awkward that can be, and the setup I have – a Toyota Land Cruiser with roof rack, tire on top, and lifted, makes for a horizontal bar about 9 feet overhead. At nearly 48-years-old, lifting 68-pounds, add the two together and that will be how old you feel the morning after your outing. So, you have to know your limitations, and purchase or build the rack, trailer or mounting system in order to safely, and securely, and efficiently load your kayak. Take it from me, the easier this part is, the more you will use your kayak. If just the thought of loading it stops you from doing it, you need to rethink your methods.

The reason I went with the T140 is because I wanted to go far, straight and fast. If you are doing distances in saltwater, or on big lakes, the you should consider the longer kayaks. They are incredibly fast and stable. I have stood on my T140, and casted standing up. I added stability to make that easier (more on that later), and standing is an important thing to think about when it comes to fly fishing from a kayak. Adding a fly rod to your quiver just for a kayak is completely unnecessary, and all conversations and discussion threads on fly rod choice for a kayak are moot. Why? Because if you know how to cast, you can cast from a kayak – seated, or better yet – standing.

After you have the kayak, and a way to safely transport it, you will need a whole plethora of add-ons. If you are doing distance, you will want a paddle designed for distance. Paddles are more of a science than the old days of the flat wood emergency paddle. For example, you will want a low approach paddle, or touring paddle for the proper angle on a Tarpon. You will also want a backup paddle in case something happens to your main paddle. Of course a personal floatation device (PFD) is necessary if for no other reason than you will be multitasking with a unique set of extreme circumstances, and just because I said so*. There are a variety of anchors* for different needs, and you will need lines* for tying off, anchor, and backup. You will need, and this is very important, rollers or a cart* to move your kayak from your vehicle to the water and back again. Big tire carts roll over sand and mud like it’s pavement – go with big tires.

Ram Rod Holder on Tarpon Kayak

Ram Rod Mount for fly rods. Make sure you get the mount specifically “for fly rods”.

Another thing you will have to commit to is rod holders. There are two systems that dominate the kayak world. One is the Scotty and the other is the Ram Mount System. It’s up to you. I chose Ram because I liked that articulation of the ball mounts and the ability for almost infinite angles. Ram does have retrofits that go into Scotty rod holders though. Ram is well known, and they have great mounts for GPS and fish finders as well. Once you choose your system, get ready to start drilling holes in your kayak, a truly intense experience.

The list of add-ons goes on; (if you are going to salt) you will need an emergency radio*, a sponge to get water out of places you don’t want it, a milk crate for behind your seat, an upgrade from the factory seat* (a real negative with Wilderness Systems), and a big decision on whether to have a rudder or not. Personally, I couldn’t afford the extra 200-dollars for a rudder*, and figured I knew which straight was, so no rudder for me. For efficiency sake, get the rudder if you can swing it. The more wind and distance you do, the more reason to have the rudder.

Ski Pole kayak stakeout pole

Simple solutions to difficult problems – like stakeout poles – can be found on Texas Kayak Fisherman forum boards.

A great site to see how pimped you can get with kayaks is Texas Kayak Fisherman forum. I simply read posts there and look at the photographs of kayaks to see what is possible, and believe me a lot is possible. Most of what you see there will be aimed at bait casters and spin casters, but it is plain to see what you don’t need as well as what you may consider to make for a more efficient fishing machine. Like backpacking the hills of Colorado to get to my favorite stream, I always consider weight and you should too. There is no hiding the fact kayaking is a workout, and if you are on the salt, it can take on the feel of a marathon as you fight the wind back to home port.

The downside to fly fishing from a kayak is … that you are fly fishing from a kayak. It’s like casting from waist deep water unless you come up with a way to get higher off the deck – and that’s exactly what I did. The tucked in elbow and near horizontal angle (see Lefty Kreh) give way to a 90-degree arm and high angle rod position in order to keep the (my undisciplined) back cast off the water. There’s obviously no shelter from the wind, so your casting is dealing with that as well. It can take me days to re-groove my cast after being out of the kayak.

Hobie Ama on Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140
Hobie Amas on a Wilderness Systems kayak. This is what makes it all work.

I knew the 140 was not quite stable enough (the T160 is) to stand in and fly cast from, so I started researching and found the Hobie Ama System for stabilizing kayaks. It is designed for Hobie kayaks, so once I inspected their mounts, and wrapped my head around how it all works, I went to work creating some adapters for mounting on a Tarpon. Somebody, somewhere, has probably devised a better location, system, or adapter, but the Amas have allowed me to stand, cast and even pole my kayak through the shallows with spectacular stability. One downside is that the mounting location was a compromise, and I gave up a bit of paddle stroke to run with the Amas locked in. If it is a short outing, sometimes I leave the Amas behind, and cast while seated. If it’s a long outing, I take them, inflate and click them in when I get to where I am headed. You can fall out of a kayak just like you can fall off a cruise ship, but you will not be able to swamp your kayak if you have Amas installed on your kayak – period.

A Shim makes the Hobie Amas work on a Tarpon in rear mounting methods.
Detail image of shims for Hobie Ama system on deck of Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140.

Other than the three Ram Ball Mounts I have installed for rod holders, and the Hobie Ama mounts, one extra cleat to stretch an elastic line over the front hatch, my T140 still looks like it did the day I took it home. The only thing I am currently looking for is a simple way to mount my GPS using the existing Ram System.

I am unsure as to how many times I have had my T140 out since I purchased it, but if I had to guess, I would say about 50 times in a year-and-a-half. It chased schooling sand bass in deep lake water, largemouth in shallows, catfish, carp, speckled trout, and redfish. Once you load it up, you will want to just leave it on your vehicle until the next day, or the next. It is almost like carrying a rod in your car – just in case you see a spot, offload, get in and go. Just yesterday I used mine to fish the middle of tiny Northlakes Park lake. I zipped around on it like I was motorized, and finally got to the Largemouth I had seen blowing up in the middle of the lake. It was a blast. It really is all about getting to places you really want to go – where the fish are.

Wilderness Systems isn’t the end-all of kayak style fishing. If I were to have a chunk of change right now, I would give serious attention to Native Watercraft. The folks at Native are focused specifically on fishing vehicles, and it shows in a dryer ride, more comfortable seat and upright positioning, and strict standards for quality control and customer satisfaction make Native one of the best rides out there.

Major rewards come to those who wait. If you can wait for overlap in year models of kayaks, there may be cosmetic changes year-to-year, but the savings can be dramatic. Also, if you are an REI member, a kayak, good paddle, or PFD should be on the short list when one of those 20-percent off coupons comes in the mail. I am pretty sure kayaks are not excluded from their 20-percent coupons. REI also has plenty of auto mounting systems and dry bags. However, my favorite local company, and seemingly a mom & pop, is Mariner Sails in Dallas, Texas. Second to that and excepting their location, Austin Canoe & Kayak has great deals, e mail discount coupons, and overhead much like Mariner – a warehouse space based in an industrial area that favors savings over glitzy locations and displays. These are really the golden days for those two companies. And in the Metroplex, the future is certainly bright for kayaks and kayak enthusiasts. The Trinity River project that will redefine Dallas will also redefine demand for water sports like kayaking. A true boom awaits.

There are so many places to find kayaks that if I were to detail them all, this post would go on forever. Try looking at craigslist and freecycle first. Just like fly fishing, there are people who think they are going to commit, like or love the new sport, but it eventually falls by the wayside. Those kayaks are out there, but beware of aging on kayaks as the are susceptible to all the degrading boats are – when exposed to the elements.

*For specific brands and details on individual items mentioned and not mentioned, either enter a comment (if you dare), or send an e mail.*

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Category: Equipment, Kayak, Reviews

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

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