Santa Cruz Raptor Review E-mail
Written by Rickey Mitchell   
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 07:37

Santa Cruz Raptor rigged and ready

It's been over 10 years since I cast a line from my first kayak and longer still since I fell in love with paddling. As an author, writer and photographer I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to try out and review kayaks and canoes for magazines and other media. This has been a mixed blessing. Because my last count puts the number of kayaks I’ve rigged for my own personal use at 25. I should mention along with everything else, I’m a fly-fishing guide, a fact that has weighed heavily on my personal requirements for a kayak. My search for the perfect combination of stability and speed in a kayak has been filled with many different frustrating, humorous and humbling experiences. Allow me to share them with you.

Sea kayaks were the first craft I tried to cast a line from. I loved the way they handled and their sensitivity to a paddle stroke. I could cover water quickly and the spray skirt you wear, which seals you in and water out of your yak, makes an excellent stripping apron for the fly line. Sitting in my sea kayak I really felt as one with the kayak until I tried my first back cast.  Then I became one with the water as I was in the water. I eventually developed techniques that prevented this from happening.

I was on a fishing trip around the same time to South Padre Island, Texas. I saw people fly-fishing from sit on top kayaks; however they weren’t sitting they were standing and fishing as they poled along. I never got a chance to talk to those kayak fishermen but I did find out from the owner of the fly shop in Port Isabel Texas which kayak they were using. When I returned home to California I bought my first sit on top kayak (which I still have to this day.) At first I didn’t miss the speed and the lack of paddle sensitivity I’d experienced in Sea Kayaks.  That's because of the stability the SOT provided. I could pole (another art form), stand and cast. I was in Heaven and it was the perfect yak for my clients. As long as we didn’t paddle long distances it was great, however I’ve had to tow clients back at the end of the day a few times.

A year later the 30”wide SOT was still a perfect yak for my clients. However what I wanted was to move faster for the sake of my clients and my sanity. The savior of my sanity, at least for a while, came in the form of a 16 ft sit on top kayak, with a hull similar to a sea kayak. At the time it was one of the fastest sit on top kayaks on the water. However I sacrificed stability for speed.

My experiences in this new SOT inspired one of my favorite quotes “When in doubt straddle” a quote I’ve repeated many times since then at seminars and demos up and down the West Coast. It was a technique that came about the first time I tried casting a fly rod from the 28” wide SOT. When I made my first back cast, it felt like the kayak was going to capsize. I immediately straddled the yak and my extended feet provided instant stability. It had gotten to the point where I had to have two kayaks to fish all waters, one for fresh water and another for salt.

By this particular time in my life, the kayak fishing revolution had begun, as well as the industry that it inspired, and now some 10 years later where there were once only a few choices in kayaks to fish from, now there are many. As I mentioned before I’ve rigged and reviewed many different kayaks and to be honest I’d given up on the ideal kayak for my needs. A kayak that combined the perfect blend of stability and speed, until about a month ago.

That was when I got an email from Jim Martin, owner of Santa Cruz Kayaks and creator of the Raptor. I checked his creation at I had never seen a kayak design such as the Raptor. The first image you see when you go to the web site is an aerial shop of it.

I figured if somebody ever did cook up the perfect recipe of stability and speed, normal looking wasn’t going to be in the mix. So far I was right. The first thing I noticed about this craft is its triangular shape. Length is : 13' Width: 34" Weight: 62 lbs. Weight Capacity: 310 lbs.


The last few feet split into what looks like outriggers.


This was without doubt the most unique looking craft I’d ever seen. I checked out some footage in the videos section and I called Jim. We made arrangements to meet so he could provide me with a Raptor for review.

The following weekend I took the Raptor down to the San Joaquin River. The first big plus I discovered about the raptor is there’s a handle on each pontoon, which make it perfect for steering. I slid my paddle boy dolly over the bow and it worked like a charm and tracked like a wheelbarrow. It worked exceptionally well when I took it down the hill to the river and again when I brought it back up.

Stability: First thing I noticed when I adjusted the foot braces was that they were SEA-LECT Designs Kayak Adjustable Footbrace, my all time favorites. Without further a due I launched the Raptor. I simply stepped in the kayak and stood on to the floor (designed for just that purpose)

Raptor_Seat_and_Standing_platform right in front of the seat bracing my legs against the sides of the cockpit. I made a strong stroke with my paddle which propelled me out onto open water. No problem at all due to the pontoon like stability incorporated into the design of the craft. Stable_enough_for_casting_ Still standing I paddled all the way over to the other side of the pond where it flowed into the river. Anybody with just a bit of practice could have done the same. Usually when I’m standing and paddling I’m looking for fish, now I see why the paddle-boards are so popular. This yak gets a 10 from me for stability. 

Handling: I honestly thought because of the design this yak wouldn’t turn sharply, I was pleasantly mistaken. Once I reached the other side of the pond I sat down put my paddle against the outside of one of the pontoons, braced, made a strong stroke to the bow, one more stroke and I was headed back iin the opposite direction.

Then being that the Raptor is a sit inside kayak (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) I braced my knees against the top and locked myself in (something I had to have thigh braces for in a sit on top,) and started paddling. I paddled aggressively. After I’d taken about a dozen strokes I was moving at very enjoyable clip. I have to tell you this yak is smooth. It just cut through the water and because of the sharp narrow bow it did so without hull slap. I paddled back to the bank so my wife could take her turn in the craft and she loved it. By the way she is far pickier than I am if you can believe that. She’s somewhat on the short side so her only gripe was the sides were a too little high. A cushion solved that problem. For a utilitarian craft that angler, photographer or simply someone who just wants to enjoy a good paddle the Raptor gets a 10 for Handling.

Fish ability: Like the folks at Santa Cruz Kayaks said “The Raptor was created especially for fishing the coastal and off-shore waters of California.” That’s the honest truth, however living in the center of First bass from Raptor California I spend most of my fishing time in fresh waters such as lakes, rivers and the San Joaquin Delta. It paddles just as well there too.  Yes you can stand… and because this yak is a sit inside it’s a whole lot easier to stand in. I’ve told audiences at seminars many times casting a fly line from a reasonably stable kayak is one thing, hooking and fighting the fish is a whole different matter. You simply put your hand on the side and support yourself to stand up or sit down. Something you can do with a rod in hand even while fighting a fish.

This yak is the quietest kayak I’ve ever paddled, a feature ridiculously important for stalking bass of any kind or trout. This feature alone makes the Raptor worth its price. The 13’ length is perfect for moving in and out of tulles in the Delta or dodging boulders in middle of a river. Not only does the sharp narrow bow provide quiet paddling, it also cuts through waves going in and out of the surf.

Comfort: The only seat I’ve ever bought, the Surf to Summit Tall Back Fishing Molded Foam Kayak Seat is included in the price of the Raptor. I’ve spent many, many hours in that seat and I can sit in it for an entire day of fishing.

Layout/Rigging: The spray skirt is optional but I strongly recommend you take advantage of it as it can be used as a stripping apron or work surface to tie on your lures or flies. This spray skirt Santa Cruz Raptor spray skirt can also do its regular job, which is keeping water out of your yak and shielding you from hot and cold weather. You can wrap the Raptor skirt around you or roll it up and have it out of your way. As a fly fisherman I think it’s the best stripping skirt I ever used in a kayak.

The Raptor is designed with the small flat area located on top in front of the cock pit for mounting a fish finder. There’s also a nice large storage well. With the straps provided it lends itself to any rigging setup you might want to use. Raptor sail in action

Also included in the price is SEA-LECT Designs TRUCOURSE™ RUDDER made by the same folks that make the foot braces. There are a couple of more options. The rudder drive can be converted for an electric motor. You’ll find the motor on the accessories page. While not available yet sail systems are being tested for the Raptor and will be available soon. I’ll let you know how it works after I've had a chance to use it.



Length: 13'

Width: 34"

Weight: 62 lbs.

Weight Capacity: 310 lbs.

Mfg Suggested Retail: $1150.00
(plus shipping)

The Raptor is a kayak I believe anyone could enjoy paddling, angler or not. The Raptor gets a 10 from me.


About the Author: Rickey is a freelance photographer and writer, Rickey Noel Mitchell, AKA Paddle and Flies is the author of The Orvis Guide To Personal Fishing Craft published by LyonsPress writes for Fly-fishing and Paddling magazines.

He is the owner of the website was a kayak fly-fishing guide, and professional fly tier. Being a pro tier also meant being a production tier and tying a dozen flies a day for over nine years. While being a guide had its rewards it also meant watching other people fish. These days he spends his time on the water looking for Images and material for the next article, DVD or book. He still designs a few flies a month and guides a few times a year.

Projects in progress: 2 DVDs Titled- Recipes for Mr. Bucket Mouth and Friends. About warm water fly tying and fishing.

The second is titled Paddle and Flies and is about Fly fishing in different waters and different places from a kayak.


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