Twenty years ago Hobie’s MirageDrive delivered a new way to kayak-fish by incorporating pedaling with the feet as a source of movement. The pedal-driven propulsion system was innovative, allowing anglers to put down the paddle in the kayak. Fishermen could now maneuver in the current, troll one or two rods, and move from spot to spot with both hands free.
The popularity of pedal drives among anglers soared over the years. Today, most major kayak manufacturers — including Hobie, Jackson Kayak, Old Town, Native Watercraft, Perception and Wilderness Systems — all offer pedal-driven fishing kayaks or are expected to enter the market in 2017.
“Having two hands free to fish is the reason why kayak anglers have sought additional methods to paddling,” says David Hadden, brand director for Old Town kayaks. “When fishing in windy conditions, current, structure or around tightly grouped fish, the ability to stay in the same spot without using a paddle guarantees greater success.”
Using your legs to travel in your kayak, instead of your arms, is also less tiring.
“I have no doubt that pedaling is more comfortable than paddling,” says Morgan Promnitz, Hobie’s fishing product manager. “It’s easier on the back, a drier ride, quieter, plus your leg muscles are stronger than your arms, so you can fish for longer and cover more water. I can’t go back to fishing from a paddle kayak, unless I’m in a super-shallow river or flats waters that span for miles — but then I’m moving and hopping out of the kayak to cast.”
Today’s pedal-drive systems also come with forward and reverse capabilities, something that was not always available with earlier drive models. Consider the Propel Drive System from Native Watercraft.
“It’s a lot like pedaling a bike but much easier to ride in reverse,” says Tyler Brown, director of marketing for Native Watercraft. “Since you can go from forward to reverse just by pedaling backward, and not have to use your hands, it is a significant benefit when fighting a fish.”
With the incorporation of a pedal drive into a kayak, expect to pay about $1,000 more at purchase time when compared with traditional sit-on-top fishing kayaks. Every kayak fisherman I’ve spoken to — and this isn’t hyperbole — says the extra expense is worth the cost.
“Adding features in the hull to accommodate a pedal drive does add more cost, plus the pedal drive itself,” says Christina Erb LoVullo, who handles marketing for Confluence Watersports. Other costs include the hardware for mounting the pedal drive and rudder controls, the advanced seating system, as well as additional structure molded into the hull to handle the pedal drive.
Below are five new models with pedal propulsion. Watch out — once anglers switch to pedal kayaks, they often don’t go back to a paddle craft. In fact, I’m guessing many readers have already made the jump and are looking for their next pedal-pushing ’yak.
The drive is based off the way a penguin’s wing flexes under the water. “The penguin wing has a bone running through the front of it, and we have a metal shaft running through our fin,” says Promnitz. “The back of the wing is flexible, just like our pedal blades.”
Add a side-to-side sweeping motion, and the wing or blade begins to flex and create pitch to push water. Weighing in at under 8 pounds, the MirageDrive 180 produces full power in both directions.
“We added shifters that flip the fins to go in forward or reverse,” says Promnitz. “We also thought it was important for our fins to fold flat against the hull for running shallow or beaching the kayak.”
The MirageDrive 180 can operate in inches of water using a flutter stroke, but for a full back-and-forth stroke with a loaded kayak, the angler needs about 18 inches of water.
“Our drive works off a traditional pedal system (like a bike) and also runs using a prop drive,” points out Hadden. “This allows the angler to go both forward and in reverse. While others have such a system, we believe ours is simpler to use.”
A 10.3-to-1 gear ratio means that anglers can hit speeds up to 5.5 mph to reach fishing spots quickly. Anglers can also troll through a range of different user-adjustable speeds. The PDL Drive weighs 21 pounds and can be easily carried. A proprietary weedless prop design promotes efficiency, speed and torque; the unit is maintenance-free.
“The Predator PDL also facilitates easy maneuvering with a steering knob on the side deck, and a patent-pending docking system easily raises and lowers the drive,” says Hadden. “This is especially useful for launching and landing, avoiding objects in shallow water, and dealing with weeds and vegetation.”
“The Propel drive system utilizes a 10-to-1 gear ratio — 10 revolutions of the prop for every one revolution of the pedals,” says Brown. “Plus, it’s incredibly durable, made from tough, marine-grade anodized aluminum and very easy to maintain.”
Native Watercraft has offered pedal-driven kayaks with reverse for more than nine years, designing the latest Proper Pedal Drive model for a stealthy approach and a smooth ride across the water. What’s different about the Slayer Propel 12 LT is its thermoformed ABS plastic fishing construction, outfitted fishing-ready with groove tracks and flush-mount rod holders. Native’s Propel series includes six different kayaks, ranging from 12 feet to 13 feet, 6 inches.
“It’s about the hands-free, forward and reverse capabilities,” says Brown. “Having the ability to use both of your hands for casting and fighting a fish without juggling a paddle is crucial to kayak-fishing. You can maintain your position longer to stay on the fish while casting.”
The optimized gear ratio in the Pilot Drive allows for effortless pedaling, LoVullo says, while Custom Turbo Flaps reduce noise and keep turbulence to a minimum.
Perception’s Pescador Pilot drive system can be moved into a zero-draft position by pulling a quick-release pin.
“Launch or dock easily,” says LoVullo. “Insert the Quick Key to engage or disengage; the view into the Pilot scupper simplifies aligning the prop for zero-draft transitioning.”
A recess in the hull stores the lightweight drive while not in use. Forward and reverse motion, paired with EasyGrip low-profile rudder steering control, allow for a tight turn radius.
Perception’s Pescador Pilot drive was designed as a cohesive unit, with the gear ratio and propeller able to maintain 4 to 5 mph for several hours.
The Helix PD Pedal Drive features a 6-to-1 gear ratio tuned to a 14-by-17-inch, two-blade fixed-pitch prop, and is designed specifically for Wilderness Systems’ Radar 115 and 135 models.
“The drive automatically transitions into a zero-draft position with a patent-pending design that activates a spring after a foot pedal is depressed, thus lifting the system,” says LoVullo. Called Auto Zero Draft, the handy system allows an angler to auto-raise the mast quickly from a seated position.
Fully deployed, the gears and prop deliver tight turns and maneuverability while fishing. The Helix PD Pedal Drive features forward and reverse functionality, important for maintaining position while fishing, docking and slowing for shore-to-land approaches.
Anglers can expect to maintain a higher pedaling cadence that allows average speeds of 4 to 5 mph.