Unveiled earlier this month, the Old Town Predator kayak has been turning heads in the kayak fishing community. I recently sat down with Steve Messana, co-owner & president at ACK.com, and spoke with him about his recent opportunity to play a unique role in the development of the new kayak.
Is this the first time you’ve been involved in product development with a manufacturer?
This wasn’t the first time a manufacturer has reached out to us at ACK.com to help give feedback about an upcoming product. People here have been involved multiple times in multiple ways and I personally have helped on a few. Usually it’s the boat manufacturers that get retailers like ourselves involved and sometimes that means they ask a couple of questions about things like what features we’d like to see and other times we’re asked to play a bigger role in the process. This particular project was probably the most involved I’ve been in any development projects.
How did the process work exactly?
It started off with a conference call about a year ago with a mix of retailers, pro-staffers and the Johnson Outdoors R&D team. They gave us a short presentation about the idea for the Predator and fielded some initial Q&A about the purpose of the kayak & basic features. After another meeting and a few prototype mock ups, they invited us out to test an actual prototype against similar kayaks already in the market. In the end, the process was about how they could pack as much fish-ability into the Predator as possible.
As an ACK representative, what were you able to bring to the table?
There were a number of retailers involved so that they could get different views from different areas around the country. We were unique in that we span both the open water market and inland lakes & fisheries. So a lot of our customers are using kayaks that might be designed for the coastal fisherman on bodies of freshwater or vice versa. As a result we’ve received a lot of feedback over the years about what’s different between the bodies of water and how certain models perform. Things like getting through surf versus paddling calm flat water or going beyond the breakers versus fishing on a moving river, so that’s really what we brought to the table.
What was Old Town able to glean from the feedback?
A lot the features that came out of the discussion are not really surprising. It was the high/low seat option which we hear resoundingly from our customers that they want and then there was a number of other things like having an open deck area to stand comfortably in the boat and the positioning of the scupper holes so you’re not worried about tearing your scupper tubes up in moving water going over rocks or oyster bars.
We talked a lot about trying to balance stability with something that still performs really well, in terms of speed & tracking, especially in flat water where wind can become an issue. In a big wide open lake where you have wind blowing in your face you want really good performance without your stability suffering too much. It’s a trade-off but it’s about finding the right mix. I can’t speak for the designers on what the actual trade offs were but in my eyes it’s turned out to be a great blend of stability without the tracking noticeably diminishing.
What differentiates the Old Town Predator kayak from other fishing kayaks?
On a feature by feature basis, you can probably find most of the features on other kayaks. But I think what the Predator does is really well is bringing all of the features together: you have stability, an open deck where you can stand up and flip the seat out of the way, the option to replace the seat with a cooler if you want a standing deck, multiple paddle rests, a place for your stake out pole, a very easy to use hatch, a center pod that’s got great rigging ability, a place to mount a trolling motor and a lot of locations for mounting rod holders that also have Starboard to prevent drilling directly into the kayak. It’s brought together all these great features that are maybe on five or six different boats and put them all onto one.
What feature do you think people should be most excited about?
I really like the high-low seat and that’s something our customers have really loved on other models like the Slayer & Pro Angler. What makes the Predator’s seating system so cool is that it will actually flip it out of the way to add extra standing area.
What kind of kayak anglers will most appreciate the Predator?
Any angling customer looking for a feature-rich kayak should check out the Predator. It’s not an inexpensive kayak, so it’s not necessarily for the guy who just wants to try it out for the first time. It’s really for the customer who know’s what they want and understands the importance of the features in the boat. In regards to whether they’re taking it to lakes, rivers or bays – I think it’s well suited for any of those locations.
When will the Predator be available for purchase?
We’re already accepting pre-orders for the Old Town Predator 13 kayak and the Predator MX kayak and we’re expecting to have them in stock sometime in July, likely sometime between the middle to end of the month. We’re going to be getting our hands on one even earlier than that so keep an eye out for more photos and maybe even video footage when we do.