In my eight years as a kayak angler, I’ve steadfastly refused to even try an electric motor. Not that I’m a traditionalist, I just worried I would like a motorized boat so much I would abandon my favorite form of exercise.
I was right. After four minutes cruising around in the new Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120, I was prepared to spurn pedals and paddles and let the fat cells grow. I wanted one of these slick fishing machines.
This isn’t Old Town Canoe’s first experiment with motorized kayaks. The sister company to Minn Kota trolling motors, released the Predator MK in 2014. The reliable and capable Predator is a perfect platform for a motor and battery, and the boat gained a loyal fanbase. But, after just five years years motorized kayaks have come a long way, it was time for Old Town to play catch up.
I often wondered why Old Town didn’t design a new boat hosting Minn Kota’s ground-breaking AutoPilot motor with handheld i-Pilot control system and GPS-enabled anchor feature. I wasn’t alone. Enterprising anglers had already bastardized existing kayaks by adding an AutoPilot motor to the bow. The homemade systems looked weird, but they worked great.
Old Town’s Sportsman AutoPilot 120
So, after rumors leaked last year, I wasn’t surprised when Old Town introduced two AutoPilot models as flagships for their completely new Sportsman line.
Before the seven-boat Sportsman line was announced, I was invited to test out the AutoPilot 120 on a press trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Old Town’s media department swore me to secrecy and required me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they would even talk about the new boats.
Competition in the motorized kayak category is already stiff. More tournaments are allowing electric motors, so competitive anglers have no choice but to jump onboard the power bandwagon. Several companies are offering aftermarket motor systems, and kayak designers are tinkering with factory-built motorized models, so now is the perfect time for a leader in kayak design and trolling motor design to come out with the ultimate motorized kayak. Old Town hit the mark.
The new Sportsman line includes three motorized kayaks. The Sportsman 106 is driven by a traditional Minn Kota trolling motor for an economical and compact option. And the top of the line is held by the AutoPilot 120 and AutoPilot 136. My first ride came on the sporty AutoPilot 120.
Although the features on the Sportsman AutoPilot 120 benefit most anglers, Old Town built the boat for competitive tournament anglers. For example, they provided a variety of places to store and use a measuring board. In a catch-photo-release tournament, a flat area to measure fish and a recess to store the board will save time when logging a catch. The space next to the seat is perfect for storing the board and flat spaces on each side of the cockpit offer a stable and secure place to measure the fish.
Other tournament-friendly touches keep rods, tackle and gear in easy-reach. The AutoPilot 120 has four flush rod holders. I like the rod holders in front of the chair to hold the rod while I’m unhooking a fish or changing lures.
A molded area portside of the chair keeps tackle trays handy. On the other side of the seat, a watertight compartment secured my keys and wallet. Factory-installed gear tracks, two forward and two aft of the chair, allow countless options for adding action cameras, additional rod holders, electronics, lights or an anchor system. In the stern, a space with threaded inserts is intended for installing a PowerPole Micro anchor.
The star of the show is the saltwater-ready Autopilot motor with 45 pounds of thrust. The motor is placed in the center of the kayak ahead of the seat. This has several advantages over installing the motor in the stern. First, it places the weight in the middle of the kayak, where it is better balanced. Second, it allows me to steer the Sportsman with either the motor or the rudder. When my hands are busy fighting a fish or making a cast, I can still steer the boat.
The powerplant weighs just 24 pounds and snaps into a spring-loaded bracket. To lower the motor, the driver pulls down on a cord and secures it in a cleat. To raise the motor, pull the cord out of the cleat and the motor pops up.
To prevent the prop from spinning with the motor in the up position, Old Town included a kill switch in the base. When the lower unit is raised, the circuit breaks and the motor cuts off. There is another kill switch near the seat attached to the angler with a tether. If I fall out of the Sportsman, it won’t motor away and leave me.
The Minn Kota AutoPilot is a premium powerplant usually found on the bow of glitzy bass boats. The handheld i-Pilot remote, just slightly bigger than a smartphone, looks intimidating, with buttons to control its many functions, but after only a few minutes on the water, I was turning the motor, powering up and down and engaging the Spot-Lock feature.
Spot-Lock sets the AutoPilot apart from the competition. I pushed one button and the GPS-enabled motor turned and spun to hold the kayak in position. The biggest challenge to kayak fishing is staying in one place long enough to make a cast and retrieve a lure, using Spot-Lock I stopped the boat with one button.
Old Town doesn’t ship the AutoPilot with a battery. Instead, the customer can choose between a lead acid or lithium ion battery. The lead acid option is cheaper and easy to find in any auto parts store, while the lithium ion offers longer life and less weight.
Old Town testing shows a 100 amp-hour battery delivers up to 25 hours of service at slow speed, lasts two hours at the wide-open 10 setting, and provides a solid eight hours when used at varying speeds during a day of fishing. A lead acid battery will gradually loose power over the day while the lithium ion battery runs at full strength until the charge is depleted.
To further balance the boat and improve stability, the battery is stored in a plastic box nestled under the seat. Zooming around at over four miles per hour, I couldn’t tell I was sitting atop a 50-pound battery.
The Sportsman AutoPilot’s hull is designed for motor power. A keel in the bow keeps the boat running straight while the propeller turns in a tunnel hull with pontoons on either side for rock-solid stability.
As I feared, I like the AutoPilot so much, I now own one. However, my dedication to exercise isn’t dashed, the AutoPilot comes with an insert that allows me to remove the motor and paddle the kayak. On second thought, with the awesome capability of the AutoPilot motor, I better just renew my gym membership.
Set it and forget it. | Photo: Courtesy Old Town Canoe