Fishing Kayak Review: Bonafide EX123 Expedition

Buyer’s Guide | Kayak Angler

I was enjoying the heat and wind at last year’s Paddlesports Retailer demo day when Bonafide president Luther Cifers tapped me on the shoulder. “Follow me,” he whispered. Without giving me an opportunity to protest, Cifers led me around a concrete wall to a hidden corner. “Check it out,” he pointed—at a prototype of the Bonafide EX123 fishing kayak.

Bonafide EX123 Expedition Specs
Length: 12’3”
Width: 29.5”
Weight: 50 lbs
Capacity: 375 lbs
MSRP: $999

The Bonafide EX123 is a Futuristic Fusion

The EX123 that Cifers showed me was a space-age looking kayak with the convenience of a sit-on-top and the performance of a sit-inside. “The EX stands for expedition,” he explained, demonstrating how the boat would be capable for after-work fishing quickies or long weekend camping trips.

Six months after my introduction, the fusion hybrid hit the water. A few days after the release, I picked up a Hondo Orange EX123 from Appomattox River Company in Hampton, Virginia. Within hours, I had the boat on the water.

man paddles a Bonafide EX123 expedition fishing kayak
The Bonafide EX123 has a huge cockpit with plenty of space inside. | Photo: Patrick Buzz Hayes

Paddling the EX123 Fishing Kayak

At only 52 pounds, the EX123 is easy to cartop and carry to the launch. The flat bottom allows the boat to sit solidly in my truck bed. Bonafide’s iconic Fatgrip bow and stern handle provide solid grip for loading without snagging lines.

One look at a typical sit-inside’s small cockpit and tight footwell turns off many anglers. The EX123, on the other hand, has a huge cockpit with plenty of space inside. Climbing into the boat was as easy as climbing onto a sit-on-top kayak. I would expect a large cockpit to reduce rigidity, but Bonafide reinforced the opening to keep the boat solid.

the bow of the Bonafide EX123 expedition fishing kayak
Bonafide’s sharp entry cuts noise. | Photo: Patrick Buzz Hayes

Following in the footsteps of Bonafide’s RS117, the EX123 is built on their HyCat hull. HyCat means hybrid-catamaran, the boat rides on outer pontoons like a catamaran. The hybrid part describes the flared bow, which breaks the entry to reduce hull slap.

A 12-foot, three-inch waterline and 29.5-inch waistline is long and sleek. The bow flare works to split the water while the stern is angled to keep the boat from bogging down. The result is a smooth, quiet ride. Tracking is solid and the boat moves quickly. As expected, the long, flat pontoons turn slowly, the trade-off for rock-solid stability and sporty tracking.

Standup Fishing in the EX123

The challenge is designing a sit-inside kayak allowing the angler to stand and fish. Most sit-inside kayaks feature rounded hulls with less primary stability. The HyCat hull is designed for stability. They’ve even carpeted the floor with foam padding to encourage anglers to leave the seat.

Standup fishing from the Bonafide EX123
Yes, you can stand and fish from a sit-inside kayak. | Photo: Patrick Buzz Hayes

Placing my feet in the pontoons, I stood up to test stability. The elevated seat makes it easy to stand. With my weight lower to the water, and balanced in the pontoons, it was easy to cast and paddle. I could even turn around to grab a fishing rod or lean down to pick up the paddle.

The EX123’s deck plays many roles. In the bow, a covered gear well keeps small items in reach. For small gear storage, a console in the cockpit has a covered cubby and cup holder. The console has multiple attachment points for accessories. I would add a paddle holder and an elevated rod holder.

Behind the seat, two flush mount rod holders are angled up for vertical rod storage. A large, square hatch provides access to the stern well. The hatch lid is concave to host a tackle crate or cooler, just like the tankwells on sit-on-top kayaks.

Man paddles the Bonafide EX123, subject of this review
The stern hatch doubles as a tankwell. | Photo: Patrick Buzz Hayes

In addition to a lightweight grab-and-go boat, the EX123 can be stuffed with camping gear. Space in the bow is easy to reach from the large cockpit. Behind the seat, a bulkhead protects gear and provide stiffness to the hull.

I was glad to see Bonafide’s famous Stadium Seat in the cockpit. Brought over from the RS117 sit-on-top, the frame seat is one of the most comfortable on the water. Breathable mesh can be adjusted for comfort and the legs fit in Bonafide’s unique quick-release for instant removal.

Get One-of-a-Kind Comfort in the Bonafide EX123

Bonafide is a fledgling kayak manufacturer with only a handful of models, yet Cifers says adding a sit-inside to the line makes perfect sense. “We felt like we could bring another flavor to the sit-inside market that would appeal to paddlers and anglers.”

Cifers is a wizard of the unconventional, adding a frame seat, tankwell and catamaran hull to a lightweight boat with a covered cockpit. “We designed the EX123 to be one of the most comfortable and stabile kayaks,” Cifers says. Bonafide’s unique approach to design and attention to detail create a sit-inside kayak with the comfort of a sit-on-top.

Video Review of the Bonafide EX123 Expedition:

This article was first published in the Early Summer 2019 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Yes, you can stand and fish from a sit-inside kayak. | Feature photo: Patrick Buzz Hayes