In fishing, secrets are hard to keep. Take a buddy to your favorite spot and soon enough the place is blowing up all over the internet. Secrets are hard to keep in the fishing business, too.
I first caught wind of Old Town Canoe’s plans for a new line of boats late last year. But OT’s people kept their lips tight; they were afraid to divulge too much about the project. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they would even tell me they had a secret project.
Immediately following the first hints, my mind started to race. I considered all the trends in kayaks. I looked for holes in Old Town’s line. Then I had a eureka moment, “It’s got to be a motorboat!”
Old Town Canoe and sister company Ocean Kayak turn out high-quality, smart fishing kayaks. I knew their next boat would have to be significant. Their last motorized kayak, the venerable Predator MK, came out years ago and needed updating. Mating a Minn Kota trolling motor with a proven Predator hull resulted in a sea-worthy motorboat that was a little too big and bulky to be practical for every-day anglers.
Recent changes in tournament rules now allow electric motors in many events. Competitive anglers looking to stay at the top of the leaderboard are almost forced to go motor power. The market is wide open for a pimped out, high-quality, reliable motorized kayak designed as a perfect platform for bass fishing. Taking in the sport’s landscape and scrolling through Old Town’s line-up, I figured the next logical step would be an ultimate motorized kayak.
My first peek came early 2020. Kayak Angler photographer Jason Arnold submitted images from an undercover photoshoot. “Got to keep these photos under wraps until March,” he warned me.
I opened the file, excited to see the new boat. Ugh! Arnold captured breathtaking over/under images of an angler fighting a fish framed by blue sky and clear green water. Great shot. But the waterline covered the kayak. Ugh! I couldn’t see the boat. But, zooming in to the waterline, I got a glimpse of a propeller.
Even with my suspicious satisfaction and my curiosity further piqued, there were still a lot of blanks to fill in. Those questions were answered a few weeks ago, when Old Town finally pre-released information on their all-new expanded Sportsman line.
Breaking down the Sportsman line
While I was expecting one new boat, Old Town has released seven new models, expanding their Sportsman line to four paddle kayaks, four PDL pedal models and three new motorized boats.
Introducing: the paddle and pedal models
On the pedal side, the Salty PDL 120 is a modified Topwater PDL 120 and the Bigwater PDL 132 is based on the flagship Predator PDL 132.
The Sportsman models are capable versions of more expensive and feature-rich Predators. The removable accessory plates on the Predators are replaced with composite gear tracks. The seats are simpler and there is less padding on the deck. The new models offer an easy-entry option for anglers looking for the performance of a Predator at a lower price. All of the models use Old Town’s best-in-class PDL pedal system. The system is completely sealed, precluding any maintenance outside a freshwater rinse. I always carry extra propeller pins and tools in case I hit an obstacle. I’ve never had to use it. In fact, the system is so reliable, Old Town backs the PDL with a five-year warranty.
Joining the no-nonsense Topwater models with their top-of-the-line Predator cousins creates a family of kayaks for any purpose. Old Town brand manager, Ryan Lilly, says the line was developed to meet the needs of a wide range of anglers.
“The Old Town Sportsman line was the result of extensive consumer research,” he explains. Leaning on years of experience and exploiting trends emerging in the modern design, the line captures the latest features and capabilities available in a human-powered fishing platform. Lily explains, “Understanding what motivates fresh and saltwater anglers drove us to develop a line of truly innovative products.”
Introducing: the motorized models
The real excitement is on the motorized end of the Sportsman line. Old Town is releasing three brand-new motorized kayaks powered by modified Minn Kota power plants. Minn Kota, a Johnson Outdoors sibling of Old Town, contributed a 45-pound thrust motor working with Old Town engineers to integrate the motor with the kayak design.
The new Sportsman 106 with Minn Kota is a pocket-sized motorboat. Based on the Topwater 106 design, the motor is mounted on a pod that fits through an opening in the deck. The power cables are plumbed through the hull for trouble-free rigging while the oversized rudder is operated with foot pegs for hands-free fishing.
Reminiscent of the system on the Predator MK, the Sportsman 106 pod has a lower profile, almost flush with the deck, for more space in the little boat. At 104 pounds when fully assembled and only 10 feet, 6 inches long, the boat offers one of the lightest, most compact motor options for cartopping and off-grid launches.
Introducing: the Autopilots
But Old Town saved the best for last. In response to the growing demand of tournament anglers and inspired by a new generation of micro skiffs, Old Town and Minn Kota pushed their talents to the limit to design an ultimate motorized, solo-angler fishing machine. The new Autopilot 120 and Autopilot 136 will set the highest mark for kayak performance and functionality.
The completely new boats are purpose built for motor power, the wide-open, padded deck and expansive crate well offer maximum room for fishing. An extra-large rudder controlled with foot pegs facilitates hands-free fishing. Rod holders, cup holders, gear tracks, cubbies, hatches, and a premium mesh and padded seat highlight the fishing features borrowed from other Old Town models. Old Town pulled all the stops to design the topside for total fishability and open-ended customization.
The Autopilot’s most exciting feature is the motor. Lately it seems like everyone is slapping a trolling motor on a kayak. Aftermarket motors use complicated systems with quirky external rigging to bastardize a paddle-minded boat into a motor-powered platform. But no one has a match for the Autopilot system.
The Sportsman Autopilot, with 45 pounds of thrust, can be controlled with an i-Pilot wireless remote. In addition to steering the boat with a rudder, the operator can also turn the engine with a handheld controller. This means the angler can zoom to the fishing hole using the rudder to maintain course, then snake into the tightest structure with the motor control. The Sportsman can go forwards, sideways and backwards without the paddle.
When the fish start biting, break out the Autopilot’s most amazing advancement. Push a button on the remote and the GPS-controlled motor will hold the boat in one place. No anchor or push pole; the motor spins and turns to keep the kayak locked.
Imagine the advantage for tournament anglers. They will be able to not only beat paddlers and pedalers to the best fishing, but also stay on the fish without expending time and energy. For fun-fishermen, the Autopilot series completely removes the challenges of kayak fishing. No worries about wind, current or other obstacles that limit the range of a pedal or paddle boat.
The Minn Kota motors can be powered by a 12V marine battery or comparable lithium-ion battery. Despite the extra cost, significant weight-savings make the lithium-ion option optimal.
The incredible level of functionality is housed in a platform that can be loaded into the back of a pickup or wrestled onto cartop racks. For the quickest and easiest transportation, I recommend a kayak trailer. Carrying the Autopilot on a trailer allows me to leave the battery in the boat, install the seat and motor, and then back the trailer down the ramp and float the boat to the dock.
Taking the Autopilot 120 for a test-drive
A week ago, the anticipation finally came to an end when Old Town delivered an Autopilot 120 to the Kayak Angler office. Unwrapping the kayak and assembling the components, I dreamed of goals this boat would realize. I can finally reach distant grass beds I’ve mapped on Google Earth satellite images. I can finally take my 80-year-old dad kayak fishing. My friends were bugging me to borrow the AP120 for upcoming tournaments. But that would have to wait for my first test drive.
On a small, hidden lake, (I was still bound by the non-disclosure agreement) I launched the Autopilot 120 to zoom around and test the systems. As promised, the boat is fast, stable and functional. The i-Pilot remote is easy to learn—I didn’t even read the instructions—and fun to figure out. Combining the motor control with the rudder allowed the kayak to move in ways never experienced in another motor or pedal kayak. The boat is high, wide and heavy; great qualities for performance and sea-worthiness, but impossible to move on a non-motorized boat.
Push a lever and the prop lifts up through the hull for instant shallow-water clearance. It takes just seconds to remove and install the motor. The Autopilot includes a plate to cover the motor well and turn the boat into a paddle kayak.
With the powerful Minn Kota motor pushing the Autopilot 120, the 12V battery provided more than enough range for several days of fishing. After preliminary tests, I’m satisfied the Autopilot 120 will set a new mark for motorized kayaks. The hull is shaped to handle the weight and speed of a motor. Most important, the Autopilot 120 is outfitted with a reliable motor that can go anywhere, hold the kayak in one place and run all day. The whole system is integrated and easy to install.
Zipping and spinning on the little lake, I recalled the first I heard of new boats from Old Town. Recognizing the company’s commitment to make great boats for everyone, I knew the news would be good for the growing army of kayak anglers. From value-priced to pimped out, all-around to purpose-built, and meeting the needs of big water and little water anglers, the new Sportsman line offers a perfect platform for any angler.
As I expected, the top-of-the-line Autopilot 120 and 136 will take motorized kayaks to the next level. Secrets may be hard to keep, especially when they are as big as seven new designs from one of the most respected kayak companies. After months of anticipation, I’m glad the cat is finally out of the bag.
Meet the Old Town Sportsman Line—seven boats, three ways to travel, one passion. Old Town leverages 122 years of boat building innovation with something for every active water-lover.
“The new Old Town Sportsman Line was born from extensive consumer research,” says Ryan Lilly, Brand & Product Manager of Johnson Outdoors Watercraft (Old Town). “Understanding what motivates fresh and saltwater anglers drove us to innovate a lineup of truly amazing products.”
“Old Town’s new line-up of fishing crafts provides seven different models for sportsmen and women of all abilities and interests. Whether you’re a weekend warrior who loves the access of a small watercraft, an avid angler who demands hands-free fishing, or someone who just wants to take advantage of nearby water access, the Old Town Sportsman Line has a model that suits your pursuits,” Lilly continues.
The flagship model in the Old Town Sportsman Line is the exciting, all-new Autopilot, a state of the art fishing kayak that delivers the ultimate hands-free fishing experience. Available in two sizes, the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136 & 120 use fully integrated Minn Kota 45-pound thrust saltwater-safe motors with GPS Spot-Lock virtual anchoring to put the craft exactly where you want it. Controlled with the touch of your thumb using the iPilot remote, your hands remain free to catch fish. In varying tide, current, or wind conditions the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136 & 120 will change the way you fish from a kayak.
Also new to the line-up, the Old Town Sportsman 106 Powered by Minn Kota delivers a plug-and-play, easy-to-use motorized kayak experience. This 10-foot, 6-inch hull, based off of the popular Old Town Topwater 106, features a seamlessly integrated Minn Kota electric motor console. Simple and intuitive, the Old Town Sportsman 106 Powered by Minn Kota features an all-new throttle style thrust control for simple forward and reverse maneuvering and speed control. Additionally, the foot brace rudder steering ensures an intuitive hands-free fishing experience. The shorter hull and lower weight make this kayak a breeze to car top and transport.
Built on a legacy of quality and innovation, the Old Town Sportsman line is manufactured in Maine. All models from the Sportsman line boast a lifetime hull warranty and share an impressive array of features. EVA foam floor pads and upgraded breathable seats provide all-day comfort and support whether you’re sitting or standing. At least one forward-facing rod holder and a branded tackle box makes changing your lure or landing a fish a breeze. Full-length accessory tracks paired with intuitive storage options allow for full customization and accommodation of your favorite accessories.
To learn more about the new Old Town Sportsman Autopilot, 106 Powered by Minn Kota, the fun and zippy Salty PDL 120, Discovery Solo 119, or any of the Old Town Sportsman line visit oldtowncanoe.com or demo one at an Old Town dealer near you.
JOHNSON OUTDOORS is a leading global outdoor recreation company that inspires more people to experience the awe of the great outdoors with innovative, top-quality products. The company designs, manufactures and markets a portfolio of winning, consumer-preferred brands across four categories: Watercraft Recreation, Fishing, Diving and Camping.
JOHNSON OUTDOORS WATERCRAFT RECREATION includes Old Town canoes and kayaks, Ocean Kayak, and Carlisle paddles. Old Town canoes and kayaks have created genuine watercraft with innovative designs for over 120 years.