When I started kayak fishing in 1998, anglers had two choices. Skinny guys who favored performance chose the Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro. Almost everyone else was in the Cobra Fish ‘n’ Dive.
The waterline was short and the beam wide, for a design prioritizing stability over speed. At 12.5 feet long and 36 inches wide, the Fish ‘n’ Dive invented the SUV class of fishing kayaks. Back then, I thought the boat was heavy, a massive 57 pounds—nothing compared to today’s triple-digit boats.
With a fondness in my heart for the first everyman kayak, I decided to look into the history and mystery around the big boat with a long name.
The Big-Man Boat: Cobra Fish ‘n’ Dive
The Birth of Cobra Kayaks
The early days are murky. The design was introduced in 1993 by Cobra Kayaks, then headquartered in Gardena, California. The company was owned by Warren and Glynys Aitken, a married couple from New Zealand.
I started writing about kayak fishing in 2002. Even though I frequently talked with the Aitkens, I never thought to ask them about the origin of the warhorse. I attempted to catch up with them for this story, but the trail grew cold after locating Glynys on Facebook.
She and Warren sold Cobra to a New Zealand company around 2009 and then moved back home. The new owners operated in Gardena until 2012, then returned to New Zealand.
The Fish ‘n’ Dive had an astonishing 20-year production run. While the boat doesn’t seem to be available in the United States, I found new models for sale online in New Zealand.
Fortunately, I was able to reconnect with Wes Ogle, a long-time Cobra employee. I first met Ogle as the face of Cobra Kayaks. He remembers wearing many hats at the time, but he doesn’t remember his actual job title.
Was the Fish ‘n’ Dive the First Fishing Kayak?
Ogle started with Cobra in 1994, when the company only sold four models. One model was a tandem, which would eventually share a hull design with the Fish ‘n’ Dive.
“I don’t know what prompted Warren to build the boat,” Ogle told me. He swears the Fish ‘n’ Dive was one of the first fishing kayaks. “I don’t remember any other models specifically for fishing at the time.”
My friend Ric Hawthorne, a kayak designer who worked for Cobra in the 2000s, recalled the Fish ‘n’ Dive’s angling pedigree as “more accidental than anything.” He points out the obvious: “Warren must have had fishing in mind when he named the kayak.”
Fish ‘n’ Dive Hits the Big Time
In 1995, Cobra added a tankwell to haul SCUBA tanks, but the move contributed more to the boat’s fishability. Early models were famous for an enormous center hatch. There was nothing like it. It had about a million toggles but was superbly useful for stashing gear and fish. Aitken couldn’t find a hatch large enough, so he had one custom made for the boat. Turns out, there wasn’t a large enough hatch commercially available.
“Between the wide, flat-bottom design and the tankwell, I think the Fish ‘n’ Dive was unique early on,” Warren Ogle says. Most of the other boats at the time had rounded hulls, making them less stable. “The Fish ‘n’ Dive was the first sit-on-top stable enough to stand and cast,” he recalls.
“I LOVE THOSE STUPID BOATS.”
Paul Walker, an Oregon-based free diver and kayak fisherman, must have owned one of the first Fish ‘n’ Dives to sport a tankwell. He bought his in 1995. “Fellow free diver Tom Harrison had one. I saw it and went out with him a couple of times and just had to buy one,” Walker remembers. He continues, “We were the only ones out there; we never saw anybody else fishing off a kayak. Powerboaters thought we were nuts.”
Walker prized the Fish ‘n’ Dive’s stability. “I could do surf entries and exits without dumping and climb on and off pretty easily with all my gear.” He still has his Fish ‘n’ Dive. “The thing is nearly bulletproof. It’s scratched up and covered with stickers but still works great.”
Bobby Kirk, known as Anacapa Bob, was one of the first hardcore anglers to use his Cobra off Malibu, a hotbed of early kayak fishing history. “It had a big hatch. I love those stupid boats,” he tells me.
Venerable Fish ‘n’ Dive Keeps On Fishin’
Sometime after 1998, Kirk bought his first Cobra to replace a tippy Ocean Kayak. He laughs and says, “I used to call it the fishing pig.” In the beginning, Kirk was the only local rocking the Cobra. “Everybody wanted the fast boats. I was in no hurry,” he says.
Like many of the owners I tracked down, Kirk still has his beloved Fish ‘n’ Dive. He says the boat’s color was mango but has faded to a light cheddar cheese color, a common issue with early kayaks. Despite appearances, this legendary boat is still relevant. For kayak anglers there’s never been anything quite like it.
This article was first published in the Spring 2019 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.
At one time, almost everyone was in a Cobra Fish ‘n’ Dive. | Feature Photo: Paul Walker