Behind my house, a weed-choked ditch leads to an overgrown canal dumping into a small bass pond. On weekday evenings, or windy weekend mornings, I put on my PFD, throw the Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman over one shoulder, a backpack of tackle and water bottle over the other shoulder and grab my paddle and fishing rod. Then I wade through the weeds and drop the little canoe off a drainpipe into the water.
Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman Specs
Weight: 56 lbs
Capacity: 354 lbs
Try that with your sit-on-top kayak.
Old Town’s new Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman is a canoe and kayak hybrid; picture a small canoe paddled with a kayak paddle. Compared to other hybrids, the Sportsman excels at combining the best qualities of a canoe and kayak.
The closest comparisons come to Old Town’s own NEXT hybrid and the Sportsman’s grandfather, the Discovery 119. Even though the NEXT and Sportsman are both canoe and kayak hybrids, the Sportsman has more freeboard, a wider beam and less tumblehome. The Sportsman’s keel is slightly arched for a sportier ride.
The only comparison between the Solo Sportsman and the original Discovery 119 canoe is the shared hull. On the topside, Old Town added a low-profile seat and storage for hunting and fishing gear.
Lined up against other hybrids, the Solo Sportsman is lighter, more comfortable and drier than a cross between a standup paddleboard and kayak. The canoe body gives the Sportsman enough volume to carry a dog or kid. Compared to other grab-and-go kayaks, designed for quick trips with limited gear and minimal effort, the Sportsman rises to the top.
If the objective is to provide a fishing platform that is easy to use, transport and store, the Sportsman hits a homerun. Weighing only 56 pounds, the Sportsman is light enough for one person to lift. The open cockpit makes it easy to carry on a shoulder or drag with the extra-large bow or stern handle.
My favorite feature of the Discovery series is the three-ply polyethylene hull. Using a foam center and tough hard plastic outer layer, the plastic sandwich is light and tough. I can drop and drag the Sportsman and hardly scratch the surface.
The three-layer material seems tougher than roto-molded plastic used in traditional sit-on-top kayaks. The Discovery Solo Sportsman is a good choice for bouncing over rocks in low-water rivers with minimal rapids. More important, I can lower the boat down rocky shorelines and concrete culverts, perfect for suburban commando fishing missions.
The topside of the Sportsman is a twist on the canoe and kayak hybrid, too. The open canoe cockpit offers space to pack light camping gear, room behind the seat will hold a large crate or 25-quart cooler.
Ahead of the seat, Old Town moved the thwart forward for more space to accommodate kayak-style foot-pegs for a solid paddling platform. The front thwart features a flush-mounted gear track to hold a fish finder, rodholders or other accessories. I added a paddle holder to the gear track to keep my stick from sliding out of the kayak between casts. The rear thwart, directly behind the seat, hosts two flush-mount rod holders with room for another gear track or other accessories.
The Solo Sportsman can easily handle a ton of gear, but heavy loads go against the small boat’s grab-and-go DNA. To dump the gear crate, I make use of the standard rod holders and throw gear and lunch in a waterproof backpack. I added a new YakGear YakSack to the rear thwart to hold a small tackle box, leader and a couple fishing tools.
A pair of adjustable foot pegs provide solid foundation for strong paddle strokes. The new locking mechanism on the foot pegs stays in place.
Of course, the star of the show is the Solo Sportsman’s new seat. The frame seat in the NEXT doesn’t provide support for powerful paddle strokes. The bench seat in the Discovery canoe isn’t designed for sitting, more of a leaning post for paddlers kneeling on the canoe floor. The Sportsman’s seat is a full-fledged sit-on-top seat with padded back and bottom.
The seat is slightly elevated off the floor to stay out of the water. The low position improves stability and moves the paddler closer to the water for more power on the stroke. The seat back can be adjusted up and down and forward and back to provide lower back support for any height paddler. The padded seat bottom and adjustable fit make the Sportsman one of the most comfortable canoes for a single paddler.
The arm rests feature a cubby for small tackle items or shotgun shells with cutouts to hold pliers, scissors or hang lures. The arm rests are padded with a small patch of EVA foam. This comfort touch was appreciated. With a low seat and high gunnels, I found myself resting my elbows on the pads. The configuration improves stability and offers more protection from the elements, but I found myself paddling with arms high and hands wide..
Using a longer, 240 Carlisle Predator paddle helped me reach the water, but sitting so low in a canoe took some adjustment. Once I was dialed in I could see myself taking the Solo Sportsman on longer trips.
Granted, a kayak and canoe hybrid isn’t an all-around boat for any type of fishing. But for the freshwater commando angler or waterfowl hunter, the Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman fits the needs of a tough, capable boat that can be stuffed with decoys and dog or slung over a shoulder and hucked to a hard-to-reach fishing spot.
Sports Utility Canoe | Featured photo: Roberto Westbrook