Shortly after I arrived at the boat launch, two guys pulled up next to me and popped the trunk. Talking excitedly, they quickly pulled out two inflatable kayaks that looked like pool toys and started pumping with vigor.
While one guy’s cheap plastic boat was slowly taking shape, the other’s craft was flat and making a hissing sound. I almost felt guilty unrolling the AIRE IK Angler 11, inflating it with the two-chamber pump and attaching rod holders. They didn’t really hate me until I dropped in the frame seat and paddled away.
Inflatable kayaks are blowing up. The boats are one of the fastest growing segments of the sport, appealing to outdoor enthusiasts with a strong desire to get on the water regardless of the obstacles to participation.
On an afternoon fishing trip to Stumpy Lake, a few miles from my house in Virginia Beach, I spotted several other anglers fishing from various forms of inflatable boat. Sheltered, shallow and full of obstacles, the lake is perfect for a light, indestructible paddlecraft.
Inflatable kayaks are perfect for anglers looking for an easy way to get on the water. Compact, light and simple, a blow-up boat can be stored in a closet and transported on a city bus.
Inflatable AIRE Ride IK Angler
Weight: 32 lbs
Capacity: 300 lbs
But, inflatable kayaks are also attractive to anglers fishing through unimaginable obstacles. Tree trunks, cypress knees, thick vegetation, jagged rocks, knives, spikes and bombs will not intimidate a good inflatable kayak.
For all the advantages, an inflatable has its challenges. The shallow draft keeps the boat from tracking well. Air filled bladders make it tough to install accessories. And, inflating the boat can be a lot like work.
With these plusses and minuses in mind, I was amped when I saw AIRE’s new IK Angler 11 win Best of Show in the Boat/Personal Watercraft category at the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show in Denver last year. The accolades are well-deserved.
AIRE has been building whitewater rafts, catarafts and kayaks for more than 30 years. Founded by four whitewater veterans, the company focuses on building indestructible rafts for guides, pros and serious enthusiasts. This is their first serious effort at making an inflatable fishing kayak.
It’s about time! Working with sister company, Outcast Sporting Gear, AIRE designed the IK Angler 11, a single-seat, kayak-style, inflatable capable of surviving huge rapids and catching big fish.
AIRE kayaks feature their AIRECell system, a urethane bladder covered with a removable PVC skin. The two-layer construction has many advantages. To begin, the internal bladder is easy to repair. The PVC skin is also easy to patch and tougher than a single layer of air-tight PVC.
AIRE uses the highest-quality materials designed to take the abuse of running the world’s biggest rivers. The PVC skin is constructed to be rigid when inflated, improving handling and tracking while still bouncing between rocks and trees.
The AIRE IK Angler employs three air chambers: two gunwales and the floor. The low-pressure chambers are easy to inflate with a hand pump, requiring less than 15 minutes of steady pumping. Once the boat is inflated, it is easy to drag to the river, drop down the bank and throw over a deadfall.
A couple cool features make the IK an angler’s kayak. First, the Integrated Gear System (IGS) accepts Scotty accessory bases. To install accessories, the IK has shallow pockets welded to the surface. When the boat is deflated, I could slide a base into the pocket and line up the bolts with the holes.
Once inflated, air pressure holds the base in place. I attached a Scotty Baitcaster/Spinning Rod rod holder just ahead of the seat and an Anchor Lock in the stern.
The IGS also accepts gear bags and fishing accessories from Outcast Sporting Gear. Gear loops anchored into the floor provide a solid place to attach a crate, drybag or the IK Angler’s frame seat.
The star of the show is the seat. AIRE designed an elevated seat that brings comfort to an inflatable kayak. The seat legs are strapped to deck loops and wedged into the floor seam for a solid fit. Holding the straps, I was able to lift the boat and carry it under my arm. A high seat back and lumbar support covered with mesh padding make the IK’s throne comfortable for all day paddling and the seat sits six inches off the deck to improve fishing position.
Once underway, the three-chamber hull creates three pontoons. The center pontoon is deeper than the side pontoons to keep the boat tracking straight. A removable fin further improves tracking. AIRE added raft lace in the floor to quickly drain water. For an inflatable, the IK Angler paddles pretty well. In flat, secluded water, the AIRE IK Angler 11 was a capable platform for fishing, I’m sure the boat would really shine on Class III rapids.
As for fishing, the IK 11 deserves the Angler graphic on its hull. At only 32 pounds, I was able to carry the boat, a tackle bag, rod, life vest and paddle. The Integrated Gear System provides a solid base for accessories. The seat is high enough to make fishing easier without negatively affecting stability. With a few wobbly moments, I was even able to stand and fish.
The big draw to the IK Angler 11 is convenience. The boat deflates quickly and easily rolls up and fits in a carrying case. AIRE brags their boats are easy to repair, but the IK Angler is so tough it will probably never need a patch. The same technology that makes AIRE the choice for whitewater guides is almost overkill for anglers.
With more people looking to get on the water, inflatable kayaks are sure to be even more popular. And river anglers looking for a boat to survive the biggest whitewater will appreciate AIRE’s decades of experience.
Unlike a box-store pool toy that won’t survive sticks and stones, AIRE’s IK Angler 11 is built tough for years of reliable adventure. Ric Burnley
From the truck to the water in one trip. | Photos: Natasha Burnley