GRF Gear Review: Native Watercraft
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
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.
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!).
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.