Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120
2019 Review Update
Still a popular choice for both rec paddlers and kayak fisherman. New models now feature the updated Wilderness System Hatches.
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 Canoe Shops Group - Review by Duffer and the Erk
I have the opportunity to paddle and fish the kayaks we stock. I will be objective and fair but in the end my personal paddling and fishing preferences will determine what I like most. I am hopeful I will like everything we sell, but maybe like some a little more than others.
It is known I am a fan of the smaller angling kayaks because of the way I paddle and fish. When I fish I select a target species or two and gear up for that session. I can therefore leave 90% of my gear at home becasue only 10% is needed for the next session. I am not an angler that fishes for everything and anything at once.
Looking at the range of boats we stock I felt myself drawn to the little Tarpons. Into the van went a Tarpon 120 Angler and a standard Tarpon 100. You have to admire the build quality and the attention to detail that is typical on all Wilderness Systems kayaks. I like the fact that either boat can be fitted with Scotty rod holders without drilling a single hole in the boat.
First job on the prep list is "nerdification" (most people call this modification). No-one has ever manufactured a kayak that is just right for each individual angler. I rig a simple anchor system using a few loops of cord. The anchor supplied with the boat is the same pattern as I usually use. I fit 2x Scotty Rodmaster 2 to the front rails - I like the Rodmaster. I fit a lanyard to my tackle box and tie it off to the gear loops inside the middle hatch - this way I can retrieve my tackle box as it moves inside the hull. Pretty much everything else is as it should be.
I rig my top secret bait feeder to the anchor! The feeder is wonderful when the wind and tide align the kayak correctly. Anyone want to buy a bait feeder? I will either patent it or flatten the thing with a shovel. Pass the shovel...
I consign the drain bungs to the bin - "I no understand Mr Fawlty, why you have scupper drain bungs? You no like to get wet in kayak? Qué?" Having said that, I'm not sure why the scuppers are blocked off under the seat. It's lumpy and wet out here and I ended up with a pool under the seat.
Talking to the Tarpon 120
Off we go: me (Billy no mates) and the Tarpon 120. By now, the T120 (called Bonneville) and I are having quite detailed discussions about kayak fishing and our expectations of the day. I told the Tarpon 120, "My you are a comfortable fellow and how well you paddle." Bonneville was very pleased. I've added about 15st of kit and me to the boat. The water is level with the top of the scupper drain holes. This I think is perfect; I want the boat to "sit in the water" and not on the top acting like a sail. My preferred sea kayak is a North Shore Polar and in small seas the water washes over the deck just as it should. I am not a fan of angling kayaks that make you feel like you're sitting in a high chair. There are piers and harbour walls for that.
Today there is an easterly wind blowing over a 1-2m ground swell left over from Sunday's blow. Sunday saw an interesting 0245 sailing out of Pembroke Dock - never a good sign to see the ferry crew putting out the sick bags!
Targeting Rays and Dabs
The seat and all its adjustments are well thought through. My buoyancy aid fouled the seat back as most BAs do. The BA I am using is a Palm Symbiant Tour and it's a cracking bit of kit. It just doesn't work with a Wilderness Systems angling backrest. The rodmaster are acecssible without moving my bum forwards, but if only the tracks were a little further aft. Even so, access on the Tarpon 120 is better than on many kayaks.
Thankfully the bait has shown up, along with some Pollock.
I have included photos of Chris's Pollock but not mine because this is a Dab and Ray day for Bob. I plan to do the Pollock thing on the Tarpon 100 later, so go away Pollock (best one went 5lb plus).
I paddle to my chosen mark which is a small clean bank that catches some current. I line up on the marks I used last time out - two boulders and a sheep. Bother - the boulders are now overgrown and the sheep have gone. I have a GPS plotter sat at home to be fitted to my Hobie Outback, so until then it's all about skill, instinct and a possible blank.
I've set the anchor and feeder, and the breeze and current have set the Tarpon at variance to the feeder - free food for the fish again. I am sitting very comfortably, stable with the tools of the trade close to hand and the rod tip is making encouraging movements. I am fishing barbless 1/0 Aberdeen wire hooks to running ledger - no beads - 2oz leads, 10lb main line and mackerel baits cut to the size of small sand eels with most of the flesh cut away and its working. The small hooks are fine even on bigger rays as all my tackkle is light and the ground clean. My 6500 Chrome Rocket on a 10lb Maximums with 10lb line amplifies the sport these fish can give. I did lose one thornie to a broken hook - serves me right.
The following images are of the fish I caught on this session.
I love the action shot of the little Gurnard - just look at his tail.
I was very pleased with the Spotted Ray
Most of the Dabs were standard English Channel size...
...until Dab number 6 came along
The Thornbacks were mainly butterflies, the best going to 7lb. I fished with two rods most of the time, and had two rays on at once. One managed to collect the anchor cord and it all got very busy for a while. I have a mark for bigger Thornies but I didn't fish it this trip - I'll visit that when we test some of the Ocean Kayak range.
No current, no fish. The better fish come when the current is at its strongest. This mark appears to get three pushes of tide on the flood, but a steady current on the back tide. The fish feed on both ebb and flood.
This was a productive and at times busy session. The Tarpon 120 is a brilliant sit on top kayak that paddles really well. It has good forward speed, responds well to sweep strokes and sits properly in the water. Sat facing downwind at anchor, the kayak gives a little shudder as the stern sits into the trough between teh chop - nice once you know what it is. The shape of the hull at the stern provides good tracking and weather cocking was no worse than any other kayak I have used. Does it need a rudder? Only if you can't paddle.
The deck layout works very well. The best way to find out is to have a busy session and see if it works. All kayaks work well when nothing is going on.
I give the Tarpon 120 top marks on all counts with some scope for further nedification. The balance between paddling performance and deck space will, I think, suit most paddlers and anglers alike.
Bonneville (T120, for those of you not keeping up...) is another top flight kayak to confuseour customers even more. We can all live with choice when all the choices are good.
The co-ordinates of this mark are free to everyone. Line yourself up on the two invisible boulders and anything that looks like a sheep! Happy Days.
Wilderness System Tarpon 120 Review by:
Duffer and the Erk
for the Canoe Shops (Group) Ltd.
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120:
- Air Pro Seating System.
- Self-Bailing Scupper Holes.
- SlideTrax Universal Mounting Plate.
- Gear Storage Pockets.
- Side Carry Handles with Paddle Holder.
- 8-inch Orbix Midship Hatch.
- Keepers Foot Brace System.
- SlideTrax Accessory System.
- Large Oval Orbix Bow Hatch.
- Comfort Carry Handles.
Length: 12' 3" / 373 cm
Width: 30" / 76 cm Max
Capacity: 350 lbs. / 159 kg
Weight: 70 lbs. / 29 kg