Credit: Chris Woodward, Justin Lammers/kayakdiy.com
The region encompassing Lee County in southwest Florida—including Matlacha, Pine Island and Sanibel—ranks as one of my most favorite domestic fishing locations. Acres of mangrove-lined islets, quiet grass flats and quaint towns combine to slow the hurry of life and spark the soul-soothing effects of repetitive lure casting.
So when Hobie asked me last fall to join a small group of marine media to test some new inflatable kayaks—based out of Matlacha’s Tiny Village—I seized the chance. They explained that we’d be taking full precautions with regard to the COVID virus. Amen to all of that.
Once I arrived in colorful Matlacha, Hobie introduced our group to the new Mirage iTrek inflatables—the iTrek 9 Ultralight and the iTrek 11—which lay on the dock with an assortment of Hobie’s current line of hard-bodied kayaks. Representatives from AFTCO and Lowrance also debuted their new gear, including Lowrance’s Elite FS multifunction displays.
I’ve kayakfished for many years, but have never tried an inflatable boat. I was intrigued by the idea of a 20- to 28-pound hull that deflates to stow inside a duffel bag. What a concept for anglers who live in apartments and smaller homes, and for those who struggle with a 12- to 14-footer that weighs 75 to 100 pounds. But how would an inflatable fish?
The iTrek 9 Ultralight measures 9 feet, 5 inches long with a 3-foot-4-inch beam (350-pound capacity). The iTrek 11 measures 10 feet, 8 inches long with the same beam (400-pound capacity). The longer boat also sports single-chamber pontoons port and starboard. Both boats feature a 550 Denier PVC hull and come with MirageDrive GT pedals with Kick-Up Fins, a rudder system and a three-piece paddle.
The iTreks handled light chop well, though it was a little easier to feel the boats’ movements because of their flexibility. Both absolutely turn on a dime, more or less spinning within a boat’s length, and they accelerate very quickly.
The MirageDrive GT doesn’t come with Hobie’s 180-degree steering (in other words, no reverse), but because the light inflatables are so responsive, I found it easy to avoid close encounters with the mangroves.
I could stand up to cast or look for fish from both boats, as could everyone else—even fairly tall men—who tried. An EVA deck pad just ahead of the seat provides sure footing.
I found the elevated mesh seat comfortable and cool. An optional kayak crate easily bungees to the deck behind the seat and holds most of what you’d need.
Dining and Entertainment in Lee County
During two fishing days, we kept our social distance, covering many miles of winding creeks and open flats. We caught a smattering of seatrout, redfish and snook, despite a recent tropical storm that had just blown through. We sampled a little Matlacha culture at the Olde Fish House and the Blue Dog Bar & Grill. And, we gained new respect for lightweight, inflatable boats. The convenience, fishability and simplicity really can’t be beat.
The iTrek 9 costs $2,199, and the iTrek 11 costs $2,499.