Pedal Driven Kayaks E-mail
Monday, 14 December 2009 10:18

These are kayaks that you propel by using your legs opposed to conventional kayaks that you paddle using your upper torso.  I’ve been using Hobies version, called the mirage drive, for several years.  Hobie isn’t the only company using foot driven propulsion, but they’re by far the biggest and the first to have introduced this feature.  They did so in the late 90s, over a decade ago.  The system has continually been improved as time’s gone on.  Hobie has really gone after the market, especially fishing.  In the spring of 2008 Legacy introduced the Multi Propel and had several models incorporating this pedal drive system.  It is very different from the mirage drive.  Hobie uses a flipper system that goes back and forth perpendicular (see video http://www.hobiecat.com/kayaking/miragedrive.html) and this is accomplished with a push pull system on a pair of pedals.  The multi propel used a circular motion like a bicycle that drives a propeller.  I’ve used the mirage hundreds of days on the water but I’ve only spent about an hour in a multi.  The multi requires a slightly more reclined seat position then the mirage which makes sense since you have to complete a circle rather than a push/pull.  The advantage in a circle is you gain reverse, which is a nice feature to have.  With a mirage kayak you have to grab a paddle to go backwards.  An advantage the mirage has due to the nature of its flippers is it can operate in shallower water.  You don’t have to take a full stroke to propel the kayak.  I call it feathering and while I wouldn’t want to do it for a long distance it’s nice when you hit a shallow area and don’t want to grab the paddle.  Each system has strengths and weaknesses but what they have in common is they free up your hands for other things, like fishing.

carl4x4 relaxing with a donut in one hand and rod in the other Native multi propel The first time I tried pedaling I didn’t like it but I recognized the advantages of having my hands free to fish.  Humans are hand oriented, walking creatures.  We use our hands for everything.  While paddling a kayak our hands are occupied, greatly restricting what we can do while under way.  While pedaling I can have a drink, eat, rig a rod, change a fly or lure, change settings on my fish finder and GPS, talk on the radio or cell phone, use my binoculars to scan for working fish and cast.  While using a paddle my only means of fishing is to troll.  While trolling is an important technique from the kayak, having the ability to cast while either moving or holding the kayak stationary, expands the effectiveness of fishing from the kayak and is often invaluable.

For several years I’ve been involved with the Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Tournament and Jamboree held each year in May.  It always seems to be windy at this time of year on the bay.  Those participants with pedal drives spent their time on the water fishing while paddlers spent the bulk of the time trying to get to the fishing grounds.  I remember the second year, during the tourney, Craig took out his Hobie Adventure and cruised all around fishing, taking pictures and checking on people.  Participants commented that he seemed to be all over the bay.  ESPN2 filmed the event for Bass Masters and when interviewing me they asked about pedal drives.  They remarked it appeared the anglers using pedals had a distinct advantage over fishermen who were paddling.  One comment I heard repeatedly from participants was “it took me an hour to get to my spot and in 20 minutes the wind blew me back to where I started.”  Tourneys’ in the northeast have seen an explosion of pedal driven kayaks in attendance.  At the 2009 Striper Shootout in 2008 of the 130 participants 106 were using a pedal drive!

While a pedal drive frees my hands it also allows me to fish environments and situations I wouldn’t normally be able to.  They’re very effective in wind.  I don’t know about you but it seems to me many gamefish prefer to blitz on windy days.  I rarely encounter them in dead calm seas.  While paddling I’d work hard to get to the fish and if the first cast didn’t result in a hookup the wind usually blew me out of position.  I’d have to put the rod down, grab the paddle and head back into position, put the paddle down, grab the rod and cast again.  In a pedal drive I can maintain constant contact with the school and get a lot more casts.  One breezy day my brother, Pete, and I fished a local lake.  I positioned my Hobie Sport downwind of wherever I wanted to fish.  I’d used the pedals to essentially tread water and hold position.  I was fishing most of the time.  Pete was in a conventional SOT kayak.  He spent more time positioning his kayak then fishing.  I easily caught 3-4 times the number of fish as he did.  His comment was of course I did better because I fished all the time.  Another effect of kayak fishing in the wind with a conventional kayak is anytime you go to do anything that involves putting the paddle down, you’re loosing ground.  Unless you deploy and anchor the wind is going to change your location.

Pedal drives are equally as effective in current.  It doesn’t matter if it’s produced by tide or river.  I can hold position and fish precisely where I want to.  It’s much more effective and the more times you put your offering in the optimal zone, the more fish you’re going to catch.  I spent a lot of time fishing the Ten Thousand Islands region of the Everglades.  In Chokoloskee Bay, where I fished the most, there are numerous oyster bars.  At low tide they’re fully exposed and at the high they’re submerged.  When the tide starts coming in the water flows between the bars.  The effect is they act like a river.  The narrow areas between the bars funnel the water, which increases the current.  Game fish love this faster water and use it to ambush hapless prey as they’re flushed through the vortex.  With a pedal drive I was able to tread in position and fish this zone.  It was how I caught most of my snook.  It wasn’t really fishable in a paddle kayak as you’d only get one cast before being swept out of position.  When fishing rivers I head upstream and position the kayak to cast, again treading water to stay where ever I need to be to make a good presentation.

I’m often asked how the performance compares to paddling.  It doesn’t.  I’m not trying to be cute but it’s a major step up in certain situations.  On a trip to Cape Cod three of our group decided to fish Barnstable Harbor.  They crossed the bay to the mouth and the wind really started screaming.  They ended up with a 30 mph headwind to get back to the launch.  Greg had a mirage Hobie Outback and Rich and Rich (That’s right, 2 guys both named Rich.  What’s even stranger, they both had the same kayak model.) paddle kayaks.  The Rich’s could only make 1 mph of headway against the wind.  Greg chucked them a line and towed them both in.

When I first considered becoming a dealer the rep told me about senior citizens using the kayak in places they’d never be able to paddle.  They’d pedal out inlets in Florida.  I’ve seen kids as young as 6 easily handle one.  On a recent trip to Vermont we couldn’t get my 10-year old cousin out of a Hobie Revolution.  Besides using our legs, which are the strongest muscle in the body, the motion is very simple.  Push one leg and then the other.  If you can do that you’re converting 100% of your physical expenditure into propulsion.  It’s a lot like walking and humans are walking creatures.  If you can push with one leg and then the other you’re making a perfect stroke too.  The design produces only one result.  Paddling is much more complicated.  Technique plays a huge part in efficiency.  Most kayak fishermen are new to paddling and their strokes are very inefficient.  I’ve found for the energy expended I can cover 2 to 3 times the distance pedaling opposed to paddling.  Pedal driven kayaks are fast too.  I’ve had my Adventure up to 6.9 mph and I know others who can hit the mid 7s.  What’s more important is they cruise well and cover distance much more easily then all but touring kayaks.  The mirage takes off fast too.  You overcome the friction of the water much faster.  I remember the first few times I saw an Outback in action.  It was as if it was doing a hole shot.  It reminds me of something I heard about thoroughbred racehorses.  In 2 strides they reach 40 mph, which means they accelerate very quickly.  The quickness of a pedal drive is useful too.

If you’ve never been to Cuttyhunk Island, in Massachusetts, it’s a small island that’s exposed to the open Atlantic.  There’s rock everywhere.  You’ll be cruising along in 20 feet of water and then a rock or rocks will appear a couple feet below the surface.  Because of all the rock it’s an excellent place to fish for big striped bass.  Some friends have been going for a few years and June of ’06 I joined them.  Most of the repeaters were using Tarpon 160s and Prowlers.  The first timers, which consisted of a couple buddies and myself, were using Hobie Adventures.  While up at Cuttyhunk I had seen JoeV troll through an area.  I was 5 minutes behind him and decided to head the same way.  This was my first time here and JoeV had been here numerous times.  I hit the general area and the water depth started to get very shallow.  I was going from 20 to 6 feet of water.  It was a reef 100 yards off the beach.  I heard a wave break and looked towards the sound to see a large wave breaking headed for me.  If it hit me broadside, and it would, I was going to flip.  I immediately and simultaneously pedaled hard and turned the rudder to face the kayak into the wave. It all happened really fast but I was able to get perpendicular to the wave and avoid being dumped.  The wave broke over my head and then as I cleared it there were at least 2 more that broke over me.  It was exhilarating.  I was fine.  The next day, Jim, a very experienced kayaker, encountered a similar set of waves at this same reef and he got dumped.

Also on the same trip there was another situation where pedals allowed me to do something a conventional kayak can’t.  Where we launched and landed the kayaks was a beach that consisted of lots of round, surf worn rocks.  The sizes were from softballs to bowling balls.  In the surf zone there were lots of larger rocks, some approaching the size of luggage up to small cars.  This beach was exposed to the open surf.  So we had waves crashing on the beach depending upon the direction of the swell.  It wasn’t the easiest place to launch or land a kayak.  Bill, while preparing to take off, had a wave smash his kayak into his leg and broke it.  JoeV, landing at dusk, got turned broadside to the beach and the wave that picked him up deposited him on a rock.  It destroyed his fish finder.  On one of my landings a bunch of the guys were sitting on the beach on some logs.  I was pedaling in and timing the waves.  I saw an opening and accelerated.  While pedaling hard I was looking over my shoulder and watching the waves.  A wave was gaining on me and I didn’t want it to catch me.  So pedaled harder, beating it to shore, and as my bow was about to make contact with the shore, I folded up my pedals and with the aid of the round rocks rolled up the beach beyond the surf.  The guys sitting on the beach thought it was terrific and commented that they were convinced of the effectiveness of pedal drives after seeing me do that.  A paddle kayak couldn’t have done what I just did.  I maneuvered in the surf zone, timed the waves and out accelerated them.

I was able to go into areas the paddle kayaks couldn’t approach.  My buddy JoeV, tried to get some pictures of me fishing amongst the boulders and surf, but he couldn’t get close enough to get a decent shot.  In the fall of ’06 I was fishing Cuttyhunk again.  Mike Laptew (fisheye) was up there to take some photos from the water of me in the kayak.  He snorkels with still and video cameras and both produces videos on fishing and films for nature shows. The fishing was off.  We still got some nice bass to 30 pounds but there weren’t many fish around.  Mike came back from a scouting excursion and told me he only found one school of bass.  They were in a cove about a half-mile down the shore, within 50’ of the cliff.  Woody and I headed to the cove and there was a boat on the outside casting towards shore.  Their casts weren’t getting to the fish zone.  I pedaled through some boulders while trolling a Tube ‘n Worm and as soon as I hit the right area I hooked up with a 25-pound bass.  The boat saw this and it’s funny because a few weeks later I was talking kayaks in the shop and the gent I was speaking with wanted a pedal drive.  He had been at Cuttyhunk a few weeks back and this guy in a kayak cut way inside a cove where they couldn’t take the boat and caught a nice bass. Small world isn’t it?

Another aspect of pedal drives is they only propel the kayak in a straight line.  So a hand rudder is necessary and comes standard with the kayak.  I’m a big fan of rudders for kayak fishing and since you can’t purchase a pedal drive without a rudder you get the advantages a rudder gives you for fishing from a kayak. Both systems have the rudder control on the left side.  I assume because most people are right handed.

Last but not least, kayak fishing is a great form of non-impactive exercise, which we get for going fishing.  I don’t kid myself, I’m a fisherman but the by-product of going fishing is I am going to get a workout.  The type of workout is determined by my effort.  I can make it as easy or hard as I want, aerobic or anaerobic.  The pedals work my lower body and I can paddle the kayak to work my upper body too.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned kayak angler or purchasing your first kayak. If you haven’t looked at pedal drives then you owe it to yourself to check them out.  Most kayak fishermen who do don’t go back to paddling.

 

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