When the cable guy walked into my backyard, the first thing he said was, “Dude, you’ve got a boat!” I thought he was talking about my 21-foot center console parked next to the garage. But the guy rushed over to the LONO kayak sitting beside it.

Everywhere I took the genre-bending LONO Aero, the reaction was the same. “Nice BOTE!” And the public is correct. Everything BOTE makes is top-quality, aesthetically pleasing and fishing functional. The LONO Aero is no different.

BOTE LONO Aero Specs
Length: 12’6″
Width: 35.5″
Weight: 61 lbs
Capacity: 400 lbs
MSRP: $1,399
boteboard.com

BOTE (pronounced boat) jumped into the SUP business with both feet by designing glossy paddleboards designed for the Florida backwaters where the company was born and raised.

As the company has grown into a shallow water assault vehicle specialist, BOTE isn’t afraid to go boldly where no board has gone before. First, they released the Rover, one of the first SUP and micro-skiff hybrids capable of poling, paddling or outboard power. BOTE’s devotion to the flats continued on the inflatable side of the family. Then they produced ground-breaking Rover Aero, an inflatable, outboard-powered microskiff.

Which brings us to the LONO Aero, BOTE’s first foray into kayaks. But calling the out-of-this-world LONO a kayak doesn’t do it justice. To start with, the one-of-a-kind design transforms from a kayak to a SUP in seconds. The floor and sides of the boat consist of three high-pressure air chambers. The self-draining cockpit is open at the stern to let water run out.The fourth chamber is a removable platform strapped over the stern. With the fourth chamber in place, the LONO is a kayak. Remove the top pad, and it opens the deck from bow to stern to paddle like a SUP.

A unique open stern allows the LONO to drain water.

Two basic challenges face all inflatable watercraft: flexibility and handling. By its nature, blow-up boats aren’t as stiff as plastic kayaks. The flexibility of the air chambers robs an inflatable of performance as each paddle stroke causes the boat to flex and absorb power.

BOTE solved the problem long ago by developing Aero, their unique drop stitch air chambers constructed out of military-grade PVC with BVA foam padding and heat-sealed seams. Inside the air chamber, thousands of tiny composite threads connect the top and bottom layers. This allows the chamber to withstand higher air pressure creating a stiffer surface.

As I showed off the LONO, several people didn’t realize the boat was an inflatable. Many inflatables use a drop stitch floors; all of LONO’s chambers are drop stitch, giving it the look of a solid surface. The result is a super-stiff inflatable performing almost as well as a hard board or boat.

Handling is another problem plaguing inflatable boats and boards. Inflatable kayaks float on top of the water making them hard to track and easy for the wind to blow around. The LONO’s biggest asset is its 61-pound waistline. A little extra weight puts the boat deeper in the water for better tracking. BOTE includes two built-in fins and a third removable fin to keep the sterns straight. In the bow, a rubber keel guard also contributes to tracking.

After paddling the BOTE with both kayak paddle and then a SUP stick through 15-knot winds and a hefty current, I can attest to the handling. Considering the 20 inches of freeboard and a super-high seat, the LONO sits deep enough in the water to keep it tracking straight. With a little effort, the flared bow helps cut through the waves and wind while deflecting chop and spray. The BOTE was able to buck the forces of mother nature to get me to my fishing hole.

Once on the scene, the boat was easy to paddle while sitting or standing. The flat floor is completely stable, I could easily stand on one leg and turn around to cast behind the kayak. I was really impressed when I stood on the seat, which offers better visibility without sacrificing stability.

A deep keel keeps the boat tracking straight.

Between the top chamber and the deck, hard plastic inserts support the seat. The LONO is so stable, I was able to step back and climb up on the seat. I could pole or paddle from the seat and reach my rods in the rocket launcher behind me. A few extra inches of elevation adds distance to the water I can search for fish and structure.

BOTE boards are known for their beauty. Dramatic lines, smooth curves and a cool color scheme reflecting the bright green water and dark mangrove stands of the LONO’s home waters make the boat a pleasure to behold. I think I could pick up girls on the LONO.

In protected waters, the LONO really shines. While the boat’s construction and good looks get attention on land, BOTE’s first commitment is always to fishability. This is a backwater beast. The wide-open bow space, like a canoe, offers plenty of room for stripping fly line or stacking spinning rods. Bungees crisscrossed on the deck hold a tackle tray and keeps my water bottle from rolling around.

Stand on the upper deck for improved visibility and still reach rods and paddle at ease.

Two mounting bases in the cockpit will hold BOTE’s aluminum leaning post. The seat is comfortable. The seat back is easy to fold down and secure or remove for more room. Behind the seat, an aluminum rocket launcher includes two vertical holders and two tubes angled out for trolling. The rod holders are close enough to reach, even when standing in the cockpit or perched on the seat.

In the stern, the upper air chamber has a large hole sized to accommodate a five-gallon bucket or BOTE’s KULA cooler. I stashed boxes and dry bags under the top chamber. Further back, receivers for BOTE’s Sandspear Sheath makes it quick to drive a push pole into the sand to stakeout the LONO. Or, attach a Power-Pole Micro anchor to the receiver in the stern and stop the boat with a button.

Inflatable kayaks are notoriously squirrelly in wind and current. Quickly deploying a stakeout pole allows me to control the boat and make a cast without the boat spinning away.

LONO performs the most important backwater fishing functions with ease and ability. Standing on the seat provided a better view and improved casting distance not available on any other inflatable kayak. In fact, the LONO challenges most rigid kayaks in stability. I could easily stand on one foot or turn around in the cockpit.

At this point, experienced inflatable fans will be asking about the labor required to blow-up the LONO. Rest easy. The boat comes with a high-powered manual pump, but I opted for BOTE’s electric pump that hooks up to my car’s 12 volt outlet. Once inflated, the boat only weighs 61 pounds making it easy to drag around. The PVC material is impossible to damage, so I never worried about banging into rocks, pilings or deadfalls. Best of all, the capable inflatable kayak packs into a bag that can be wheeled to the launch.

Like the cable guy and all LONO’s admirers, whenI see the BOTE name, I expect top-quality, smart design and good looks. BOTE’s LONO does not disappoint.

“Dude, you’ve got a BOTE!” | Featured photo: Roberto Westbrook

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