Like a scourge of locusts or a blood red sea, it seems like new anglers have taken over every fishing hole. Oh well, I can’t fight them, so I decided to find a new place to fish. That means finding a launch other anglers can’t reach. To pull off the plan, I needed a kayak that can go places other kayaks can’t go. Enter the BOTE LONO Aero Apex, a kayak like no other.
BOTE takes LONO Aero to the Apex
BOTE LONO Aero Apex Specs
Weight: 93 lbs with drive
Capacity: 400 lbs
Sure, there are plenty of capable inflatable kayaks, even pedal-powered blow-up boats. But I needed a full-function fishing kayak with pedal drive I can drag 100 yards through woods to reach virgin water. The LONO Aero offers a full-size, full-feature fishing kayak with a pedal system. Using the LONO Aero Apex, I can go where no kayak can go and still have a capable fishing platform when I get there.
Here’s how it works: I start by searching a satellite image for prime fishing grounds out of reach of boaters and kayakers. Then, I look for a place to park my car within dragging distance of the honey hole. Once I have a few leads, I spend a windy day exploring each spot. When I find a suitable off-grid launch, I return in season loaded for bear.
Places where I would need a heavy-duty, balloon-wheel cart to muscle a rotomolded kayak to the water, an inflatable will bang and bully through any terrain.
Normally, to reap the advantages of an inflatable, I would give up the performance of a pedal boat and the rigging on a full-feature kayak. If I want to explore Shangri-La, I expect to sacrifice performance and range. With the BOTE LONO Apex, I get the advantages of an inflatable and the performance of a hard-bodied kayak in one boat.
In the Early Summer issue of Kayak Angler, I reviewed the paddle version of the BOTE LONO. I wrote “Calling the LONO a kayak doesn’t do it justice.” Adding a pedal drive further makes the point.
A well-earned reputation for innovation
The LONO isn’t BOTE’s first foray into an out-of-the-box design. The company’s history is full of genre-breaking and industry-leading ideas. From the high-sided Rackham to the first inflatable micro skiff, the folks at BOTE see a problem without seeing obstacles to a solution. The LONO is their solution to the biggest problems with inflatable kayaks: performance and rigging.
Start with the LONO’s unique design. The LONO comes in two pieces. The main hull is constructed of three high-pressure chambers, a floor and two gunwales. When I’m hitting a hidden spot that is hard to reach and super shallow, I can fish the LONO like a 50-pound standup paddleboard with almost zero draft.
Adding the inflatable deck to the stern turns the LONO SUP into a kayak. I can sit or stand on the stern deck and store tackle and gear below. The inflatable deck also offers more options for rigging with rod holders, Power-Pole Micro and other accessories.
The design allows the LONO Aero Apex to go from formidable inflatable standup to equally capable inflatable kayak. Now, BOTE has added a pedal drive to give the LONO greater range and open more possibilities.
Adding pedals to an inflatable boat
To pull off the conversion, BOTE keeps it simple. A small port in the deck holds the propeller drive. To install the drive, drop it through the hole and secure it with three knobs. Going into shallow water mode takes several seconds to lift the lower unit out of the port.
The LONO Apex includes an inflatable bench seat that can be moved forward and back to adjust pedal distance. The seat is comfortable and functional as a solid pedaling platform for short distances.
It only took a few minutes to rig the rudder and steering controller. From deflated to inflated pedal kayak, I spent about a half hour setting up the LONO. With three large, high pressure chambers, the seat and rear deck to inflate, I highly recommend a power air pump.
Since the LONO Aero requires some effort to inflate, I assemble the boat at home and truck it to the fishing spot. At only 93 pounds with the drive, I can roll it on a light cart or drag the boat to the water through almost any terrain. Some people worry an inflatable will spring a leak, but the heavy-duty vinyl is almost puncture proof and, if it does spring a leak, it’s easy to patch. When I’m beating the LONO around, I don’t worry about breaking it.
On the water with the LONO Aero Apex
But does the LONO Aero Apex keep its promise on the water? Is it an inflatable that performs like a hard body? Well…almost.
Okay, so you’re not going to replace a Hobie Mirage Pro Angler or Old Town Sportsman PDL with the LONO Aero Apex. On the other hand, you’re not going to fit the PA or PDL in your broom closet. While the LONO may not perform like a full-size kayak, it handles a hell of a lot better than the average inflatable.
First, the 12.5-foot-long, 35.5-inch-wide kayak is as stable as any full-size boat. The flat, open deck provides plenty of room for standup fishing. I like the LONO rigged with Rocket Rack rod holder and Kula cooler for tackle and gear. I keep rigging to a minimum. However, the boat can be set up with rod holders, accessories and even electronics.
Without the stern deck, the inflatable paddleboard performs almost as well as a hardboard. The boat has a unique flared bow and a stiff ridge in the hull creates a keel. A couple fins in the stern improve tracking. The high sides catch the wind, but they also offer more room for gear and keep my catch from flopping overboard.
Add the deck section to the stern and I get a convenient seat or standing platform. The boat’s design and elevated seat make it more comfortable and improve performance, but the LONO Aero isn’t as efficient as a hardbody boat. The AeroBote drop stitch construction keeps the inflatable chambers rigid so the boat doesn’t bend under pressure.
With the pedals, the LONO Aero turns into a formidable fishing kayak. Pedal power cancels the negatives of paddling an inflatable, and the lower unit and propeller improve tracking and speed. The pedals work efficiently to turn the propeller and push the inflatable like any other pedal kayak. While the Apex pedal system isn’t on par with higher-priced pedal kayaks, it will go toe-to-toe with many budget hard plastic pedal boats.
The rudder control is responsive and easy to index, so I can feel the angle the rudder is pointing. Of course, the high-sided, low-draft inflatable is subject to wind and current, but the pedal drive and large rudder help keep the boat on course. Turning the rudder hard to the side, I couldn’t get the boat to do donuts, but it did turn well enough to go where I pointed the bow. The shallow draft and light weight make the LONO Aero a champ scooting across skinny water.
Fish outside the box with LONO Aero Apex
To be honest, the LONO Aero Apex probably wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for BOTE’s dedication to quality. The drop stitch chambers, heavy-duty vinyl and high-quality components make it possible to put a pedal unit in an inflatable. The LONO’s design combined with BOTE’s pedigree as skinny-water, flats-fishing enthusiasts is behind the boat’s out of the box design that keeps its promises. If you’re looking to find new places to fish other anglers can’t reach, the BOTE LONO Aero Apex can take you there.
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This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 45. Subscribe to Kayak Angler and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos.
Get away from the crowd with this one-of-a-kind flats fishing secret weapon. | Feature photo: Roberto Westbrook