The Pedaling and Fishing Kayak: Hobie Mirage Outback
Unlike other kayaks made for general recreation, Hobie's new Mirage Outback is made specifically for fishing. You can tell before you get in that it's a well thought out little boat. Technically it's a sit-on-top kayak because there is no cockpit, but it's not a get-wet or surf-the-waves model. The 12-foot 1-inch rotomolded polyethylene hull weighs 56 pounds and sports four angular molded-in rod holders, a strap-over tackle tray, small-cooler storage area, two molded-in drink holders, two molded-in side-storage trays, a comfortable adjustable backrest, three storage hatches, and fore-and-aft elastic cargo straps.
The main fishing advantage, I found, is the MirageDrive pedal system. It's a removable pair of foot-controlled flippers that propel the boat forward, with steering provided by a hand-controlled rudder. By pedaling the Outback, it's possible to go for long periods without picking up the paddle, and you can move slowly or position yourself entirely hands-free while you're casting. Working into the wind or current, holding position, and simultaneously fishing is much easier with the Outback. You can also go considerably faster for short durations by pedaling than by paddling--and if you want, get quite a thigh-muscle workout in the process.
The Outback feels tipsy when you first get in. It takes a little getting used to, but it's sturdy and meant for heavy loads, having a capacity rating of 350 pounds. For maneuverability, it's excellent. Although best for warm weather (and warmwater) fishing, it can be used in the North if you dress properly, wear a life jacket, and have waterproof footwear. There are drain scuppers to whisk splashed water away, and a plastic aft plug to drain compartments.
The Outback retails for $1,295. For $100 there's a sportsman's package that includes a cooler, tackle tray, kayak anchor, and custom wheels for portability. The wheels are on a brace that slips into molded-in hull tubes, so they won't fall off. I wheeled one down a hill through the woods to get to a lake. From Hobie; 800-462-4349; www.hobiecat.com
At Home or Camp With the Smokette II
My use of the Smokette II from Cookshack is still a work-in-progress, since I only bought one of these units a few months ago after seeing it demonstrated at a sport show. But I've had no complaints and seen a bunch of lip smacking and finger licking at the results so far. I've mostly done fish to this point, and pork ribs, and I'm really impressed.
The Smokette II, as advertised, is perfect for home and camp use in any weather. This is a professional-quality smoker. It runs on 110 volts of electricity and has a 500-watt thermostatically controlled heating element, which means you can control the temperature to slow cook and slow smoke at the rate you want. It has superior insulation, so no matter what the weather is, you get reliable performance. And there are no drafts of drying air to affect the final product. It produces superb smoked fish and meat.
Smoke is created by small blocks of wood. A 5-pound bag of blocks comes with the unit, but you can provide chunks of your own choosing--hickory, mesquite, oak, etc. The wood does a slow smolder and is reduced to ashes. You replace the chunk as necessary if you're smoke-cooking for a long period. Cleanup is easy, and the racks can be removed and placed in a dishwasher.
The Smokette II weighs 82 pounds and sits on (back) casters so that it can be easily moved. I keep mine in a Rubbermaid deck box when not in use. It holds a maximum of 22 pounds of food. Cost is $479 suggested retail for the all-stainless-steel model. From Cookshack; 800-423-0698; www.cookshack.com
Comfortable Georgia BooFishing Shoes
This well-known manufacturer of outdoor footwear entered the fishing arena over a year ago with a line of shoes for anglers. I've been using their Turbo model, one of seven styles, and if it's any indication of the quality of the others, the whole line should be a hit. I chose the Turbo because it's an ankle-high lace-up shoe that seemed to provide maximum support and cushioning. I'm sensitive to the effect of long hours on my feet because I feel it in my knees, so I only wear shoes that have good cushioning. The Turbo has a polyurethane Comfort Core orthotic footbed, which does just what I had hoped. I've been impressed that long days have not made either my feet or knees overly sensitive. Additionally, this particular shoe has a good slip-resistant storm rubber outsole that provides excellent footing. The upper part of the shoe features waterproof leather with breathable net mesh, and the inside has a lining that provides quick-drying moisture wicking. Suggested retail price is $78. A similar model with over-ankle uppers is available. There are also three slip-on shoes and two moccasin-style boating shoes. From Georgia Boot; 800-251-3388; www.georgiaboot.com
Bite All-Trail Sandals
Because my knees are sensitive to pounding and rugged walking, I rarely wear sandals to fish on foot or in a boat. But I do wear them for casual use and for shorter walks. A few months ago I bought a pair of Bite all-trail sandals for general-purpose wear--and because they simply looked neat. I've since discovered that this company makes an impressive lineup of hiking, casual utility, light trail, and wading sandals as well. Their Troutstream wading sandal ($70), which has a combined felt and sticky-rubber sole, features a toe guard, one-pull elastic laces, and strong Durahide leather. The Headhunter Aquatrac all-trail model that I bought features a wide-lugged all-terrain sole, water channels that prevent hydroplaning and force water away, a deeply contoured midsole with better-than-anticipated cushioning, an upswept toe guard, and Durahide uppers with snap-buckle enclosures. I'm told these can even be used with neoprene booties for wading. Bite sandals are available in some stores, from Cabela's now, and Bass Pro Shops next year. From Bite Footwear; 800-248-3465; www.biteshoes.com
Garmin's Multipurpose GPSMAP 76S
Everyone who saw the Garmin GPSMAP 76S while I've used it over the past few months has been very impressed. And that includes me. I've put it to work to help friends figure out the best fishing periods in a day, to settle a dispute over the moon phase, and of course, to do exemplary navigation. This unit has a built-in base map, which I used successfully and often; plus it accepts detailed maps from MapSource CD-ROMs, which cover many major North American waterways. An interface cable is included to allow connection to your computer to retrieve CD-ROM info. The unit also features an electronic compass, barometric altimeter, and a good-size display with fine resolution. You can easily work it with one hand, and it has a dedicated man-overboard function. It stores 500 waypoints and gets up to 10 hours of use on two AA batteries (although I'm sure that I got more than 10 hours of on-and-off use). There are celestial tables for the best times to fish and for current moon and sun data. With 12-channel GPS reception, it locks in quickly, and it is WAAS-capable. Finally, this 6 x 2-3/4 x 1-3/8-inch device is waterproof--and it floats! Suggested retail price is $482. From Garmin; 913-397-8200; www.garmin.com