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GRF Gear Review: Native Watercraft Ultimate 12

 

    There has been a lot of hype in fishing circles regarding Native Watercraft boats, particularly the Ultimate line. As you can see from the picture above, they are certainly good-looking boats. Not quite a canoe nor a kayak, the Ultimate 12 looks like a nice enough fishing boat. We were curious to find out if the Ultimate 12 had what it takes to be a RIVER fishing boat. Thanks to the fine folks at The Outside World, we were able to abuse the Ultimate 12 over a long weekend of fishing in the Flint River in central Georgia.

    In evaluating any canoe or kayak for river use, we used the following criteria: Stability, Handling, Comfort, Toughness, and Fishability. We'll also compare the Ultimate 12 in some of these categories to some other watercraft with which we have become familiar (canoes and kayaks). Finally, we'll mention a few of our concerns, likes, and dislikes.

STABILITY

    As you can tell by the picture, the Ultimate 12 is going to be pretty tough to flip over. The pontoon-like hull design makes the Ultimate 12 extremely stable. The Flint River has it's share of quick water and rocks barely submerged under the water's surface. Normally, one needs to be vigilant and make certain not to get turned sideways. After about thirty minutes in the Ultimate 12, we realized that we only needed to straighten out the Ultimate 12 while running rapids. The rest of the time, we were OK if we hit rocks sideways as long as we were sitting down. This means we could worry a lot more about fishing and less about which way the boat was pointed.

    We spent about half our weekend with the Ultimate 12 fishing while standing. Initially, the Ultimate 12 felt a little wobbly to stand in. We quickly realized, however, that the sensation of unsteadiness was caused by our wide stance. Due to the pontoonish hull shape, one must maintain a fairly wide stance while standing, thereby making the boat shimmy occasionally. However, we intentionally rocked the boat pretty violently while standing, and even stood for a while with boat feet inside the same pontoon to see if it would capsize and it never did. Of course, most river fishermen don't care about being able to stand while floating downstream, but it's pretty cool to know you could if you wanted to. Going from a sitting to standing position was as simple as getting out of a chair (it ain't like that in a kayak!).

HANDLING

    We had two questions about the handling capabilities of the Ultimate 12. The first: Can the Ultimate 12 maneuver through rapids and stay somewhat dry in the process? We found the Ultimate 12 to be as maneuverable as most 12 foot sit-on-top kayaks and a drier ride in most cases. The Ultimate 12 is far more responsive than the Ocean Kayak Drifter, Prowler, and Big Game but probably doesn't handle quite as well as the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120. The hull design does require slight changes in whitewater paddling strategy for those accustomed to round-hulled boats. If you try to ride up on a rock and then slide off to the side, you can find yourself momentarily stuck in the Ultimate, as the rock will end up between the pontoons. The Ultimate is far more maneuverable than most solo canoes, but due to the lower sides takes on a bit more water when the waves get big. Still, we were  surprised at how dry the ride was. More on this later.

    Our second concern was speed. How easy was the Ultimate to paddle upstream? When we don't have time for a full-fledged, point-to-point float trip, many river fishermen resort to paddle up-fish down excursions. This is where solo canoes tend to fall short, and some of the wider sit-on-top kayaks are no picnic to paddle upstream either. The Ultimate is a little below average speedwise (but better than any canoe) until you yank a lever and drop down the skeg. With the skeg down, the Ultimate quits wagging its tail and moves upstream about as fast as any sit-on-top of comparable length. Those who only do float trips will probably not use the drop-down skeg very often, but it might come in handy on those evenings when the sun is almost down and you've still got two miles to go.

COMFORT

    The Ultimate 12 is the most comfortable canoe or kayak we've ever fished from. The removable seat offers incredible back support (unlike most canoes), and the seat is set up so that one's feet are more naturally positioned at a lower elevation than one's hips (unlike kayaks, in which hips and feet are about even). It's kinda like sitting in one of those beach chairs that puts your rear a few inches off the sand. Our feet were really comfortable too, due to the full size foot rests. The adjustment mechanism is pretty ingenious and one can adjust the foot braces while seated. At first, we thought the foot braces moved a bit too easily, but then realized that if we slid the seat back a little our feet wouldn't stomp the foot braces as hard.

    One problem with just about every sit-on-top kayak we've tried is that your rear or legs always end up wet. The Ultimate 12 solves this by seating the angler well above the floor of the boat. Even if some water does find its way into the floor of the boat, your rear and legs will still be above the water. For many of us, this means we don't have to wear waders when we want to go fishing in January. The Ultimate also has pads on the insides to protect knees and shins (canoe manufacturers ought to do this, too). Overall, an incredibly comfortable boat. And the coolest thing is that you can slide the chair out for a comfortable lunch on a river rock (see pic above).

TOUGHNESS

    It's pretty difficult to judge the toughness of a boat after one weekend, but the Ultimate took a good bit of abuse and didn't sink on us. We'll have to wait and see what people are saying a few years from now. The Ultimate does seem to be made from a pretty solid plastic. We'd recommend keeping the drop-down skeg up while in really shallow water, as it would probably break if it hit a rock sideways with any force. The tracks that hold the slide-in seat seemed a little dubious to us, but the seat would work just as well even if both tracks broke off. The seat itself looks tough as nails. It's made of a material that is common in outdoor lawn furniture and will last a lot longer than traditional neoprene seats. Plus, if the seat does wear out you can just buy a new seat since they are removable.

FISHABILITY

    The Ultimate 12 has plenty of room for stuff. We could've fit two tackle bags up front (had we stood the bags upright) and there was also plenty of space behind the seat after we put in our cooler, life jacket, and drybag. We probably could've brought along another rod comfortably, but would say three rods is about the limit unless you spring for the optional rod holders. There are bungees fore and aft to secure your stuff, but they aren't the sturdy criss-cross bungees you commonly see in the rear hatches of many sit-on-tops.

    One thing we abhor about most sit-on-top kayaks is the difficulty in reaching things we need. The simple act of changing lures requires all kinds of contortions to grab a tackle box from directly behind us and then return it. We're just not as limber as we used to be! Other items require paddlers to get out of the boat and open a hatch. The Ultimate solves this problem by allowing the seat to slide forward as far as you need to go. Just grab the sides, pull yourself forward, and grab your tackle box or bag.

    Another problem with canoes and kayaks is there is no good place to put smaller stuff like lures, sunscreen, pliers, scissors, cameras, etc. As you can see from the picture at left, there are some molded in trays to put some things (the cup holder is pretty useless though). Those are OK for some things, but check this out:

    This is a picture of the Ultimate with the seat flipped up. As you can see, there's plenty of room to keep those little things that you need all the time, and you don't have to flip the seat up to reach them either. We were able to grab whatever we needed without having to get up from the seat. This picture also illustrates why your rear end stays dry in the Ultimate!

    Another advantage of the slightly raised seating position is that casting a flyrod or baitcaster is just a heck of a lot easier. For flyfishermen, there are is a ton of clear, snagless floor space between the front edge of the seat and the foot braces, which is nice to have when you need to make longer casts. Plus, you can always just do this:

    The guy in the picture is about 6'2" and 230 pounds. If he moved the seat back a few inches and moved aft the same distance, the Ultimate would've been even more stable. Also, check out the paddle. It is possible to wedge a standard kayak paddle next to the forward flotation so a standing fishermen doesn't have to constantly bend over to grab the paddle and make course adjustments. This saves lots of mileage on the back!

    Speaking of saving your back, the Ultimate 12 weighs in at a fairly light 55 pounds with the seat, and the Ultimate 12 Elite (made of composite material) is only 50 pounds.

LIMITATIONS

    The Ultimate 12 is probably not the ideal craft for those who commonly fish rivers with lots of big drops, standing waves, or rapids that get above Class II. Here's why. The Ultimate 12 is a cross between a solo canoe and a sit-on-top kayak. However, solo canoes have higher sides which helps keep big water from entering the boat. Sit-on-top kayaks take on lots of water, but are self-bailing (in other words, they have scupper holes in the bottom). The Ultimate 12 has low sides and is not self-bailing, which means that it will be more prone to fill up with water in the heavy stuff. Of course, most fishermen tend to portage the hairy stuff since we don't want to sacrifice all our expensive fishing gear to the River Gods anyway. Native Watercraft makes spray skirts that might make the Ultimate more viable in big water, but you'll have to check that out for yourself.

    Anglers who are large in stature (say, 300 pounds or so) might also want to consider a different boat. The Ultimate 12 is rated for 350 pounds, but a lot of people bring way more than 50 pounds worth of stuff with them. Some larger folks use the Ultimate 14 (with one seat rather than two), which is rated for 450 pounds.

    Like most shorter boats, the Ultimate 12 doesn't always want to stay pointed downstream while drifting. There doesn't seem to be an immediately convenient place to install a drag chain. We'd probably drill a hole in the top of the stern and install an eye bolt, then run a drag chain through the eye bolt.

THE FINAL VERDICT

    We can't think of a more perfect boat for calmer rivers and streams. The stability and comfort are tough to beat and we absolutely love everything about that seat. The ability to comfortably stand and fish is also a major selling point. It's also pretty obvious that fishermen were consulted during the design process because somebody finally came up with a safe yet convenient place for the pliers, sunglasses, and digital scale. If rapids above Class II are common in your local rivers, we'd recommend something else (or maybe check out the spray skirt options).

   The Ultimate 12 retails for around $800. You can check with The Outside World for the best prices and service available in America and here is a link to the Native Watercraft website so you can find out all the stuff we neglected to mention. Like the fact that big fish love these boats.

 

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