Along with the Wilderness Systems Ride 115X, I have also been having a look at the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140. Where the Ride 115X is the perfect boat for the smaller inland waterways that Ireland has in abundance, the Tarpon 140 is better suited to more open waters. A longer, sleeker boat, first glance tells the paddler that this should be a craft for covering distance and be well able to carry a bit of fishing gear. Have a look at what Wilderness Systems have to say about the Tarpon 140 here.
I got my hands on a factory fresh boat in the company’s new ‘orange dusk’ colour. Once again, being a Wilderness Systems boat, the first thing that impressed me about this kayak is the plastic that it is moulded from. It immediately comes across as a thicker and higher grade plastic than can be found in other kayaks that I have used for fishing. The Tarpon 140, like the Ride 115X, appears to be a very well built boat utilising high grade materials for its construction.
In the Tarpon 140 there are a lot of features that can be called into action by the kayak angler. Starting with the bow, which sits high and should be able to cut through the water and surf with ease, this is a boat which has the appearance of being able to attack whatever water you put it onto. Next up is the bow carry handle which is comfortable to grip and is fitted with care and quality hardware.
After the bow handle there is a crossover length of bungee. This could be used to lash an extra bit of gear to if you really were travelling heavy and had used all your hull and tankwell space which would be no mean feat in itself. A far more sensible option is to use it as a paddle keeper for when you get stuck into a fish. I sometimes keep my fish measuring trough there too, nice and handy and within reach.
The next item that we come across is a kayak standard; the bow hatch. Made from good quality plastic and hinged, the pair of latches ensure a snug seal when it is closed. The hatch gives access to the full length of the hull and the recess in the bow is large enough to accommodate my kayak trolley and a host of other bits and pieces. There are deck areas especially at the stern end of the hatch that also allow for extra rigging of cameras, a fishfinder screen or whatever else the angler may desire or require.
After the bow hatch and surrounding deck areas we move onto the cockpit. The cockpit is flanked by GearTrac by Yakattack. This very clever system allows a huge range of accessories to be attached to the boat within easy reach and not a single hole has to be drilled. That may come as a disappointment to the rigging junkies out there but fear not; there are plenty of other flat surfaces in the cockpit that you can make holes in! The centre console is pitched towards the angler with a few flat surfaces thrown in for mounts from Scotty or RAM to be customized to your own specifications. The console ends with a circular drinks holder, always useful when paddling longer distances.
Either side of the console are the adjustable foot braces which are solid and well installed. On a standard Tarpon 140 these are just your standard foot braces for extra purchase when paddling. The Tarpon I wanted had the rudder attached. Wilderness Systems seem to make most of their kayaks, certainly their angling kayaks, ‘rudder ready’. They can be retrospectively be fitted with a rudder should you decide not to have one installed when you first buy the kayak. The adjustable foot braces double up as your rudder controls when a rudder is fitted. But more about that later………
As the cockpit levels out the next feature that the angler notices is the bungee that will sit under most paddler’s legs when in the seated position. This is a very useful addition for securing a couple of small lure or fly boxes to keep them within easy reach for quick changes. Just behind this are a pair of small recesses that are three quarter covered with rubber mesh. Storage is the function of these additions and they keep items close to hand, items like weighing scales, weigh slings, forceps or scissors are kept close to me in these areas.
Between the mesh pockets you can find another hatch. This hatch gives full access to the length of the boat’s hull and is an excellent place to stash a couple of fishing rods when attempting a surf launch or landing. The hatch is well made from decent quality components and the latch on it ensures that it shuts tight. When you use it you get the impression of it being built to last and not prone to failure.
Moving back again the next item we come to is the seat. Much like the Ride 115X, the Tarpon 140 uses the ‘Phase 3 Airpro Seat’ which, for the purpose of kayak fishing, is beyond comfortable. The back rest is adjustable vertically to offer excellent lumbar support to shorter and taller paddlers. The backrest can also be pushed back or pushed forward depending on your paddling style or preference.
Webbing straps also allow the paddler to adjust the height and support for their legs resulting in a truly adaptable feature in a fishing kayak, a feature often overlooked by manufacturers. This comfort really becomes noticeable after the fourth or fifth hour of sitting there, waiting for a bite! The difference a comfortable seat makes to a kayak is difficult to articulate. Try one of these seats to see for yourself. My meager skills as a wordsmith cannot do them justice. There is a moulded space under the seat which will accommodate a small lure or tackle box.
Either side of the seat we have bungee paddle keepers to keep your paddle right beside you when you want to start fishing. Also to the side of the seat are a pair of carry handles. Well made, installed and comfortable to use, they have been positioned in such a place as to balance the boat perfectly when you lift it.
Immediately behind the seat we have a couple of banks of flat space which are perfect for rigging. I added a couple of flush mount rod holders and will no doubt be adding some camera equipment when time and budget allow. We then move back into the tankwell, which will accommodate tackle boxes, crates, bait buckets, scuba gear, camping equipment or anything else that you might be inclined to carry.
The bungee to cover the tankwell is held in place with more top grade fixings and rather than these being stuck in one place, they are mounted onto more GearTrac which allows for a bit of maneuverability with larger loads in the back. The GearTrac can also be used for a VISIPole or other suitable warning flag/navigation light.
Coming up to the bow is where we will find the last couple of features that the Tarpon 140 has to offer. We have the stern carry handle which lies at the end of the tapering tankwell. Well positioned it serves its function perfectly. There is a bung very close to the stern for allowing the kayak to ‘breathe’ when in storage and the final piece on this boat is the factory fitted rudder to aid tracking.
Weight and Handling
A walk through of features is all well and good but most kayak anglers are looking for the vital statistics in terms of weight and handling. A boat of comparable size that I would be familiar with is the Ocean Kayaks Trident 15.
I never get too bogged down in manufacturer’s claims about boat weight. If I can lift it onto the roof of my van it is not too heavy. If I can’t, it is! The Tarpon 140 is slightly lighter than the Trident which makes van topping it handy enough for me. I’m no Hercules and I reckon that if I can lift the boat onto a van unassisted then most people should be able to manage to get it onto a car roof which would be considerably lower than my van.
As for performance on the water, I had my doubts as to whether this boat could out perform the Trident 15 but I have been pleasantly surprised. The Tarpon 140 tracks super straight in calm conditions and feels easier and lighter to paddle. Throw a bit of wind into the equation and the boat is prone to weather-cocking but so is any boat I have paddled that is over 12 feet long. The rudder eliminates this issue instantly.
Incidentally, the factory fitted rudder works like a dream. The deftest of touches on the foot braces will illicit a response from the craft. All movement between the pedals and the rudder are fluid and feel as responsive as they should.
In choppier conditions the hull is designed to punch through waves rather than ride over them and this results in a bit of spray in heavier waters. A bit of spray is nothing to be worried about as a kayak angler though! I have had the boat out in conditions that could be described as ‘challenging’ but I never felt uneasy on it when travelling into the waves, away from the waves or across the waves.
What really impressed me about the handling of this kayak as much as the ease of covering distance is its stability. One test saw me sitting side on in the middle of Lough Corrib. I wanted to see how far I could push the boat before it capsized. I gave up when it was at such an angle as to have water spilling into the cockpit from the side and still it wouldn’t tip.
Another saw me tackling a very heavily flooded river in what can only be described as ‘washing machine’ conditions probably more suited to stubby sit in style kayaks. I’m very happy to report that the Tarpon performed wonderfully and not once was there a danger of the boat tipping. This looks very promising for some of my summer plans!
The Final Verdict
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 is a very well crafted angling kayak. The rigging options alone make it worth considering but it has a lot more to offer than that.
This boat is maneuverable enough to be able to use it on the smaller inland waters but fast enough to cover distance on the bigger waters. Its stability will make it a good boat for fishing the marine bays and inlets that are a feature of our coastline. It also makes an excellent choice to travel that bit further out in search of meaner targets.
Will it be able to hold up to the rigours and punishing demands of the Irish landscape and the fishing within? Only time will tell. I’d like to say yes and I think the answer will be yes. All the right boxes are ticked so far but one test remains and will do so until the summer; how will it handle the sharks? I think it will take them all in its stride. Watch this space!
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon series and other angling kayaks can be found in Ireland at the Canoe Centre.