My Facebook message chain with Brian Vincent at Appomattox River Company could hardly contain my excitement about receiving Bonafide Kayak‘s new RS117.

Bonafide Kayaks RS117 Specs
Length: 11’7″
Width: 33.5″
Weight: 75 lbs
Capacity: 425 lbs
MSRP: $999.99
bonafidekayaks.com

Ric Burnley: Is it there yet?
RB: When does it arrive?
RB: Is it there?
Brian Vincent: It will be here on Thursday.
RB: Can I pick it up Thursday afternoon?
BV: Yes.

Late Thursday afternoon, I picked up one of the first models to hit the streets. Less than 24 hours later, I had the boat on the water.

Anxious to test the RS117, I met with Kayak Angler’s esteemed photographer, Roberto Westbrook, to capture the event. We were supposed to be paddling, turning, reversing, spinning, standing and sitting in the boat, but I couldn’t help fishing.

In fall, speckled trout and striped bass action hits a fever pitch on backwater creeks and tidal rivers in Southeast Virginia. To reach untouched waters, I search out off- the-grid access points leading to prime light tackle targets; a perfect opportunity put the RS117’s features to the test.

Photos: Roberto Westbrook
The tank well is shaped to hold a YakAttack Blackpak sideways. Bungees are already sized to hold the crate in place. | 
Photo: Roberto Westbrook

Bonafide RS117 first impressions

The RS117 is worth all the excitement. Bonafide Kayaks premiered in 2017 with their do-it-all SS127 and SS107. A year later, Bonafide added the value-focused RS117. Luther Cifers, president of Bonafide, explained, “We need to be competitive with the box-store kayaks.”

The trick is to balance features with value.

In recent years, the sub-thousand-dollar category has grown crowded with offerings from every major kayak company. As prices at the top end of the market continue to rise, companies are anxious to provide new anglers an entry-level option with solid performance and smart rigging.

The trick is to balance features with value. “We can take advantage of our experience and expertise to build a great boat at a lower price,” Cifers explains. Bonafide’s advantage, even with only two other boats on the water, is in their team’s innovative approach to design. “Quality and innovation don’t cost extra,” Cifers adds. The RS117 is the result.

Photo: Roberto Westbrook
A pocket in the bow cover holds a paddle blade. The unique catamaran hull enters the water as a mono-hull to improve sea-worthiness and reduce noise. | Photo: Roberto Westbrook

Bonafide’s RS117 lightweight fishing kayak

To start, the RS117 is one of the lightest boats in the class. At only 75 pounds it’s easy to load onto the cart and roll 100 yards to the water.

Large, molded handles in the bow and stern provide solid holds, the wide handles also make it easy to balance the boat with one hand. I dragged the boat to the water without worry since two skidplates protect the bottom.

On the water, Bonafide’s commitment to stability and performance was evident with the first paddle stroke. Like the rest of the Bonafide family, the RS117 is built on a hybrid catamaran hull. Bonafide dialed in the design with the SS127 and SS107 and transferred their experience to the RS117.

The catamaran-style hull moves volume to the sides of the boat, while the tunnel reduces drag and the pontoons improve tracking.

The result is a boat almost incapable of flipping over. Lean to one side, stand backwards, move from bow to stern and the RS117 stays planted.

The catamaran-style hull moves volume to the sides of the boat, while the tunnel reduces drag and the pontoons improve tracking. Tunnel hulls often gurgle and spit making noise and increasing drag. Bonafide’s design brings the pontoons together in a sharp bow to push the boat through wind chop without complaint.

As Roberto snapped photos and told me to turn towards the sun, I made cast after cast looking for speckled trout. One of the advantages of fishing with a professional photographer, after we fish, I can see how the kayak performs in photos and video.

The RS117 sits low in the water, despite 425 pounds of capacity. Even with a light load of a couple rods and a tackle box, the low waterline keeps the boat out of the wind, and more hull in the water improves tracking and stability.

For day trips and quick stops at the local fishing hole, an open bow well makes sense for storing tackle boxes and other quick-grab gear.

At only 33.5 inches wide, the RS117 moves easily through the water. An 11-foot, seven-inch keel sits in the sweet spot between a short boat and a medium-length ride, balancing turning radius and speed. A slight rocker in the keel further improves handling. The Bonafide team went to painstaking detail shaping the hull for best possible performance. The payoff is a hull I didn’t have to think about operating. Sit down, stand up, paddling, poling and casting, I didn’t find myself fighting the boat.

The topside is equally impressive. The same attention to detail and performance inspiring Bonafide’s other boats and sister company, YakAttack’s accessories accompanies the RS117’s fit and finish.

Photos: Roberto Westbrook
The high-low seat is the easiest we’ve adjusted. A paddle holder is combined with the side handle to save space and cut down obstructions. | Photo: Roberto Westbrook

Taking cues from other sub-$1,000 rides, RS117 replaces the bow hatch with an open well to hold gear. The well is protected with a mesh cover outfitted with a pocket to hold my paddle blade. For day trips and quick stops at the local fishing hole, an open bow well makes sense for storing tackle boxes and other quick-grab gear.

A small dry box is molded into the cockpit to hold keys and a smartphone. YakAttack supplied Mighty Mount XL gear tracks on either side of the cockpit and in the center of the cockpit. The gear tracks and dry box can be configured to mount electronics with the transducer passing through a large scupper.

One of the challenges of designing a kayak is installing foot pads that are both adjustable and rock solid. Bonafide’s wide pads fit securely in aluminum tracks.

After wrestling with high-low seats in other boats, the RS117’s Quick Click system is spot on.

The wide deck is flat for unencumbered standup fishing. Foam padding keeps bare feet comfortable and solidly planted. One of my favorite details is the side handle dou- bling as a paddle holder. Under the seat, there is space for several full-size tackle trays.

Behind the seat, the tankwell is small, but wide enough to take a YakAttack BlackPak or any full-size crate. The tankwell also features a square day hatch for some inside storage but mainly to ease installing the optional rudder.

After wrestling with high-low seats in other boats, the RS117’s Quick Click system is spot on. The front seat legs fit in a clip. To move the seat up and down or remove it, simply tilt the seat forward and the legs unclip. It takes seconds and only requires one hand. The mesh seat is comfortable with plenty of support even though it isn’t padded.

I love it when someone rethinks a design in an effort to make it perfect. Every inch of the RS117 is a tribute to economy and efficiency. But this isn’t a starter boat. The RS117 is a capable standup fishing platform with enough features to satisfy any inshore angler. Even though it costs less than $1,000, there’s still plenty to get me excited.

Featured Photo: Roberto Westbrook

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