Kayak Fishing with Bobby Clark of Wilderness Systems

Wilderness Systems pro-staffer Bobby Clark knows how to make kayak fishing look good!

Check it out as he hits up a private Mississippi Bass lake for a little kayak fishing in his Commander 140 where he not only came out with plenty of fish but caught some great footage as well.

See some older footage of Bobby Clark at Texas’ Lake Fayette.

Two New Videos with Blake from Wilderness Systems!

Not only is the Kayak Angler Tournament Series (KATS) a great place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors, fishing and camaraderie but it’s also a great place to learn from the experts in their field. Wilderness Systems representative Blake Bartlett took some time off from promoting his products at the Lake Bastrop event last weekend to talk to us about the unique features of the Wilderness Systems Commander which make it ideal for the fisherman or someone looking for a canoe / kayak hybrid as well as the 2013 Wilderness Systems Ride 115 / 135 with the new, upgraded AirPro seat. I’ll hush up and let the expert do the talkin’!

-Trent @ ACK

Pigs in a Tent…Well Almost

Yeah, we know, more gear than we needed but we made it work! Photo by Carlos Mata

Back in January, I wrote a short article ranting about partaking in new adventure this year. Shame on me, two full months later and I had yet to do any of it, that is until just recently. I agreed to join a friend of mine on a 36 mile kayak camping trip on a stretch of the Texas Colorado River a few weeks ago that neither one of us had ever paddled. With unseasonably warm temperatures here and a busy new year both at work and home I figured why not?

While we were paddling a new stretch, I am no stranger to kayak camping. I’ve got a great gear setup that I have compiled over the years utilizing a Wilderness Syetems Commander 140. Everything I need is already set to go in a group of pre-defined dry bags and boxes. Problem was my current gear setup is meant for a one night trip so off I was to ACK.com to select some gear for “product testing” (a fine perk we enjoy as employees of ACK).

Staying Off the Grid (Sort of)

Goal Zero Nomad 7

We were planning to paddle 36 miles over the course of 3 days, this meant I needed to figure out a way to keep my phone charged in case of an emergency or to…ya know, post on our Facebook page. One of our buyer’s recommended the Goal Zero Nomad 7. It’s a small portable solar charger combined with a speaker system that connects right into my iPhone. I was impressed! It not only charged my phone in about an hour but the speakers weren’t all that bad either. The biggest challenge was remembering to set it up prior to launching every morning. It’s not waterproof nor is my iPhone so I was worried about having keep it dry while paddling. I was not impressed with how the different pieces stored. It would be great if they made it so that it was an all-in-one package that could be separated if needed because right now I have a solar panel and a speaker system that, while they work together, don’t store well together. It’s pretty much two separate products that connect via a wire. Would be nice if the speaker system could double up as device that holds your solar panels in place. Nevertheless, this product proved valuable and the music was a perk at the campsite!

Stohlquist Contact Gloves

Keeping Warm and Protecting My Face and Hands

While warm during the day, we woke up to a frozen tundra…well not really but it was a bit too cold for these Texas boys. I knew my hands and face would be the most vulnerable to not only the cold, but dry winds and bright sunny days.

I have some wimpy hands (yeah I admit it) so I wanted to keep them warm but more importantly wanted to avoid dealing with blisters on a 36-mile trip. I picked up a pair of Stohlquist Contact Fingerless Gloves. To sum it up, warm enough, dry quickly when wet, love the fingerless features (see picture) but most of all the contact between my hands and paddle felt great.

Buff Headwear

With dry sunny days and cold mornings in the forecast, I knew I would appreciate the use of a Buff Multifunctional Headwear. And, by using a Buff, I avoided chapped lips, wind and sun burned skin and at the same time was able to keep my ears warm during our early morning paddles when temperatures were in the mid-30s. I also used it to keep my neck and face warm while sleeping — truly multifunctional. Yeah, I may have looked a little odd but was well worth it when reaping its benefits.

Protecting My Life-Line

Another new item I took with me was the Aquapac Mini Whanganui Electronics Case 108. Designed for any device that’s about the size of an iPhone it was the perfect solution for keeping my phone safe and accessible. I submerged it a few times to test it’s reliability and sure enough, it was as dry as can be. We sell a variety of cases for iPhones but was interested in something that would still allow me the ability to use it without having to open it. The clear back of the case allows for this and was surprisingly responsive. My only gripe about this product is that trying to get the phone out of the case was difficult because the phone sticks to the clear plastic.

A Trip Worth Taking

Wild pigs spotted along the banks of the Colorado River. Photo by Carlos Mata.

So enough of the product reviews, you are probably wondering what the reference to “pigs” in the title is all about. Here in Texas we are no stranger to wild pigs. They are typically wary of humans and are long gone before you even see them, that is unless you are dumb enough to set up your camp write smack in the middle of their trail.

We woke up to what sounded like no less than 10 pigs racing through our campsite, literally inches from our tent. So close, I could hear every breath, snort and step. My only thought was that at one point or another, a giant mama pig protecting her young or foraging for food was going to come crashing into one of our tents. I held my breathe for what felt like forever and just like that, they were gone. Needless to say, I slept with one ear open the rest of the night.

Reality is, this trip could not have gone any better. We ran into some low water issues, in fact the water never got much deeper than 3 feet in most areas. Otherwise, mild daytime temperatures, accessible islands to camp on, useful gear, amazing food, good conversation and the awesome sights and sounds of the Colorado River made for one of the best river camping trips I have ever taken.

Interested in kayak camping? Check out this diagram I put together several months ago highlighting recommended gear and suggestions on how to pack it.

Scroll down to see the rest of the pictures!

Roland @ACK


Colorado River Kayak Camping

I joined a local paddling group through meetup.com to get in on some group paddling action. Shortly after I joined, a meetup was posted for a 2-day/1-night kayak camping trip on the Wilbarger Paddling Trail on the Colorado River in central Texas. This would not only be my first meetup, but also my first kayak camping trip so my fiancé and I eagerly signed up to go.

Gear Check
Kayaks, Paddles, PFDs – check
Sleeping bags and pads – check
Tent – check
Stove – check
Cookware – questionable

My favorite part of planning a trip is the gear check. Of course, we needed to choose some kayaks or canoe so we chose the Wilderness Systems Commander 140 and Tsunami 140 for the trip. Since we were camping and we needed plenty of storage space, we decided on the Commander for my fiancé, he would be the gear mule. The Colorado is a wide and slow moving river so I decided on the Tsunami 140. I figured it’s agility and speed would get me moving right along. As we were laying out our gear for the trip, we discovered that we desperately needed to upgrade our cookware (ok, maybe not desperately, but I needed a good excuse anyway). We snagged a few things that were on the top of the list like the GSI Bugaboo Backpacker Cook set and Kitchen 23 Piece Utensil Set to complete our camp kitchen. A quick run through of the rest of the gear showed everything else was in good condition. We did find that we were running short on dry bags, so I used a tip I got from one of the other paddlers I simply placed a trash bag in the stuff-sack that my tent came in, shoved my tent into it, rolled the top of the bag like you would a dray bag and finally tucked it all in.  It’s probably not ideal for most trips, but it worked pretty well for a one-nighter.

Meet Up
We rolled into the meet up location ready to meet some new folks and have a great trip. The weather was perfect, the water was flowing and the birds were chirping; right off the bat, we could tell it was going to be a great trip. After our initial meet and greet we headed to the drop in point to unload. Since we were doing our own portage, a couple of us stayed with the gear while the others took some of the vehicles to the take out point. Our organizer’s lovely wife shuttled everyone back to the drop in. I volunteered to be the caboose to make sure that no one got left behind or into trouble. We did one final check and headcount and we were off!

Zippity Do Da…
…my oh my, what a wonderful day. The river was calm and meandering, the sun was out with a slight breeze — it couldn’t have been a lovelier day. Early into the trip I discovered the importance of weight distribution and good posture. Since it was my first kayaking camping trip, I did a lot of research on packing a kayak, but practice makes perfect. When we stopped for lunch we did a little bit of gear shifting which helped alleviate some of the balance issues. I don’t have back problems but I don’t have very good posture, this had never been a problem until I was carrying about 30 lbs of extra gear in the kayak. In my slouched position, my back was on fire, but noticed that when I sat up straight it went away quickly — easy fix. I could just hear my mother’s voice saying, “I told you so!”

We covered about 8 river miles on the first day with just a little over half of that at a nice leisurely pace. I have to say the Tsunami performed perfectly (once I rearranged the weight)! There was plenty of storage and it glided like a dream so I was able to give my bad shoulder a rest every now and then without falling behind.

Yay! Camping!
We arrived at our river island camping destination and discovered that most of the prime real estate has already been taken by another paddling group. It wasn’t a huge surprise since the river and weather are ideal for paddling this time of the year. We found another suitable campsite on the other side of the island and quickly began setting up camp. We pitched our Mountain Hardware Drifter 2 tent and Lamina Sleeping Bags, laid out the Therm-A-Rest Trail Pros to let them self-inflate and pulled out our newly aquired camp pillows. Once all the tents were up, we started gathering enough wood to set a signal fire viewable from space. With the fire started and the sun setting, it was dinnertime! Recently I discovered a deep love for cooking and feeding people so I was really excited about putting my new cookware to the test. I had prepped all the veggies, couscous and salmon at home by putting them into separate baggies. Some other folks brought some shrimp and sausage so we ended up with a bit of a melting pot for dinner. It was a huge hit and we were all impressed that it all cooked in one pot. Cleanup was made easy with the camp sink that comes with the Bugaboo Backpacker and the utensil set that included a sponge and camp towel. The night was filled with fire, stars and of course, some adult beverages.

Once asleep, we were woken several times during the night by all sorts of critters. There was a pack of coyotes right across the river, a wild hog that was making it’s way by our camp and various other furry critters running through camp looking for leftovers. It sure was nice to be out of the city for a little while.

All Good Things Must Come to an End
The second day started out with sausage and eggs for breakfast. I tried out the new Starbucks Via Columbian Roast instant coffee that we now carry and was pleasantly surprised with a nice smooth cup of coffee. We packed up camp at a leisurely pace and then headed out. The rest of the trip was easy going with a couple small class 1 rapids and a quick stop to eat lunch and skip rocks. We made it to the take out point at Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop early afternoon with plenty of time to get home and unpack. It was a wonderful trip and I will look forward to going on another outing soon!


P.S. I’d like to give a shout out to all the folks who showed up (Frederick, Josh, Roger, Brian, Martin, Nenita, Craig and Nolan)!

Commanding the Colorado

Prior to joining ACK, a group of friends were busy planning a 26-mile paddling/camping trip down the Colorado River in central Texas. I had already missed a week-long west Texas Pecos/Devil’s River trip so I made it a point to put this in one in my calendar with no intentions of deleting it. I was so excited about this trip that my wife actually gave me a free ticket to go despite the fact that it fell on our 11th anniversary weekend — high five.

Deciding on a Boat
Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago; I was trying to figure how I was going to get all of my gear into one of my sit on top kayaks. Most of the paddlers on this trip were taking canoes but I still preferred to use a kayak. Then it occurred to me that the best option would be a hybrid such as a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14 or a Wilderness Systems Commander 140. Because of their wide-open cockpit design, either would easily accommodate all of my gear while still providing an experience closer to my personal preferences. (Click here for a short article on hybrids I recently wrote.)

I Need Room
I’ve used the Native Watercraft Ultimate on many occasions so decided on the Commander this time and I didn’t regret it. From the moment that I set it down in my garage and started stuffing it with gear, I knew this one was going to be a hit. I was able to load it with a tent, sleeping bag, mattress pad, pillow, ice chest, camp chair, fishing rod, fishing gear, stove, food and drinks, 2 gallons of water, anchor, camera bag and clothing amongst many other camping related items and, as you can see in the picture to the right, it all fit! I must confess, one of the canoe paddlers was a chef (more on this later) and carried the camp food in his canoe, however, I could have easily fit a slightly taller ice chest to accommodate at least my own personal meals.

This Boat Better Not Tip
That’s a lot of stuff, I know — my thoughts too. At the time, I didn’t say anything to my friends but I must admit that I was a littler nervous at the launch point in Bastrop, Texas, when my boat was shoved into the water. I was concerned that it would sit too deep in the water but when I sat in the boat and took to the river — no problem. As with any kayak I paddle, my first reaction is to test its limitations. Of course, I should have done this without the gear but it was pretty secure and the clock was ticking. While sitting down, I pushed the boat side to side and not once did I feel like I was going to tip the boat. I also stood up and again, rock solid. I even cast a few jigs into the water and caught and released 3 small bass — yeah, not relevant but I had to throw that in somewhere. There was a consistent 8 inches of free-board all around the boat despite the cargo I was carrying (300-350lbs including myself). The Commander lists a carrying capacity of 475 lbs. Even though this was a flat-water stretch, it was comforting knowing that I probably wasn’t going to capsize this boat.

A Winding River With Long Straight Stretches
With mostly cloudy skies and a chance of severe thunderstorms in the forecast, we took off into the wild. Our first stretch was set for 16 miles. Good news is that aside from the occasional cooling shower, the storms stayed north of us and the overcast skies kept the temperatures mild. It’s not uncommon for us to experience 90-degree temperatures in this region in October. Anyway, back to the boat. It paddled straight…no really, like a freaking bullet straight. So straight that I would definitely consider one with a rudder to assist with steering the boat. I was truly impressed at the tracking capability of the Commander. I never, not once, felt like I had to correct my direction unless it was caused by intense headwinds which we had the pleasure of enjoying for a good 3-4 hours of the trip or the occasional small class 1 rapids.

This Wasn’t a Race
If you ready my previous article about “hybrids”, I mention that they are not speed demons. However, it simply performed much better than I had expected. I was able to keep up with the canoes, which were being powered by two paddlers. There was one paddler that was literally doing circles around us though — he was using a Wilderness Systems Tsunami. I did notice that the Commander would slow down rather quickly when I stopped paddling, I am not sure if this was due to the weight in the boat, headwinds or simply a characteristic of the Commander. Either way, we made it to camp by 5pm.

Long Trip + Bad Back = No Can Do
Comfort, ah, the holy grail of recreational kayaking. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me complain about my back. Long story short, I have a bulging disc, so comfort for me is key. Knowing that I would be sitting in a boat for 6+ hours, I knew that this boat would be perfect for me. Yeah, great seat but more importantly, dual sitting options. By simply sliding the seat under the molded in seat area, I was able to sit “on top” of the boat for a more natural sitting position. Further more, I occasionally stood up and paddled while standing to help stretch my legs. Yeah, I guess I was kind of showing off but nevertheless, it was fun.

A New Appreciation for the Colorado
While I have had the pleasure of paddling and fishing parts of the Colorado River, never have I experienced such a stretch. My favorite characteristic is that you see little to no signs of civilization. The river is lined with a few nicely manicured pastures, thick forests of oak, elms, sycamores and willows, sandstone cliffs and bluffs and a variety of wildlife. We even had a rare opportunity to see a couple of Bald Eagles. The water clarity was amazing with rock and sandy bottoms throughout.

The Perfect End to a Long Day of Paddling
After a long 16-mile stretch, we finally claimed our island for the night. It was a massive sand bar nestled between two small rapids with an open pasture peppered with oaks to one side and a thick old growth forest on the other. If you are not familiar with the Colorado River, most of it is privately owned so take great care when finding a camping spot. (Click here for more information) I was excited to setup my new Kelty Teton-2 Tent. This was the first time I was going to use it and from what I knew, I was supposed to be able to set it up in minutes. Sure enough, 5 minutes. It would have been less if I actually followed the instructions but either way it was quick. It’s a small backpacking tent but at 6’2”, I didn’t feel cramped.

My favorite part of any camping trip is cooking up a good meal. This time however, I didn’t have to cook a thing. One of the paddlers, a Chef, prepared an amazing dinner of grilled rib eye, homemade scalloped potatoes and salt and pepper buttered asparagus all cooked over an open wood fire. As the full moon eerily rose above the trees, we reminisced about our experiences throughout the day, enjoyed a few good laughs and eventually, one by one, made our way into the tents.

Slept Like a Champ
I like my pillow, so I needed something for this trip that I could easily compress into a small bag, which resulted in another new purchase, the Kelty Luxury Camp Pillow. It was a little flat at first,  but by simply stuffing some (clean) clothing into the rear pocket, it was perfect! I would have slept well into the morning but one of the guys woke up early and was walking around the campsite playing the dueling banjos theme song from the 1972 movie “Deliverance”.

And The Story Continues…
As I woke to the sweet sound of banjo music, we slowly packed our gear and once again paddled the river to Smithville, Texas where we took out.  This was a great trip and deciding to paddle the Wilderness Systems Commander 140 made it even better. Sure, it’s easy for me to rave about a product that we sell, so I invite you to give it a try for yourself. I know you’ll be pleased with its performance.

As for the route we covered, I highly recommend this stretch of the Colorado River for any paddler. Texas Parks and Wildlife together with community organizations have been doing great job of designated paddling trails. The Texas Paddling Trails is a program to develop public inland and coastal paddling trails throughout the state and support these trails with maps, signage and other information. These trails provide well-mapped accessible day trips in a variety of settings and for all levels of paddling experience.

Here are some additional photos of the trip.


The Other Kayak

When I first immersed myself into the paddling business, it was simple, customers either wanted a canoe or kayak. Of course, each of those categories can be broken down even further but the fact was, you either wanted one or the other. Today you have another choice, one that seems to have exploded in popularity just a few short years ago — the “hybrids”. Also referred to as “crossovers” or even “kaynoes” (just kidding on that last one). They can best be described as watercraft that combines the stability, openness and capacity of a canoe with the speed, comfort, materials and functionality of a kayak.

It’s not hard to spot them. Simply look for a boat with a large open cockpit from bow to stern similar to a canoe. You can also identify them by the seat design. Typically, canoes have benches or hardened seats. A hybrid will have a padded seat that looks similar to those in kayaks but with additional back support. Another key indicator is of course the design. If you were to view a hybrid from the top, the overall hull shape would be about the same width and shape of a kayak instead of a canoe. Then there is their profile. If you look at the boat from a side angle, it will have a lower profile which is typical of a kayak. You’ll also notice that paddlers will use a kayak paddle, albeit generally longer than average, instead of a canoe paddle.

So why would I want to buy a hybrid? It really comes down to 3 things:

Stability: While most recreational kayaks and canoes are built with stability in mind, hybrids define stability. You’ll find that manufacturers often show pictures of paddlers standing up in their boats, and for good reason — because you can! Since the hybrids are so much more stable, you’ll feel more secure than you normally would in many kayaks and even some canoes. This is achieved through the use of a tunnel-hull design, which mimics that of a pontoon boat hull. You’ll also find that since the seats are lower, you are usually sitting at or just above the water line creating a better point of balance.

Comfort: Because of the wide open cockpit design, manufacturers were able to design seats with comfort in mind.  Not only do they utilize a higher back design, they are also wider and provide better lumbar and leg support. In addition, your feet sit lower than your bottom providing a natural sitting position.

Cargo Space: Hybrids also provide the much needed cargo space that many desire on longer trips, when fishing or camping. It may not be enclosed but you can simply utilize dry bags to store cargo in both the bow and stern areas. Some manufacturers also offer coolers or bags specifically designed to fit within the cockpit of the hybrids.

There are so many other benefits such as lower overall weight, capacity and the option to customize the boat with a variety of accessories built to specifications.

Things to keep in mind:
Unlike a sit on top kayak, the hybrids are open to the elements. If your desire is to paddle out into big waters or rapids, you may want to consider other options. While they do offer skirts to help keep water out of the boats, they are not 100% waterproof. Another characteristic of hybrids is that they do tend to be a bit slower than their counterparts. The difference is not much but if you are looking for a speed demon, this is not your boat.

Every kayak, canoe or hybrid is built for his or her own purpose. When shopping for a boat, make note of what your personal goals are and what is most important to you. Personally, hybrids are my favorite kind of boat. I enjoy fishing and camping, which usually leads to having to haul a lot of cargo. I also have a bad back and the comfortable seats provide the lumbar support I need for long paddles.

Here are a couple of examples of hybrids that we carry:

Native Watercraft Ultimate 12
Length: 12’1”
Weight: 55lbs
Capacity: 350lbs
Cost: $999

Wilderness Commander 140
Length: 14’
Width: 30.5”
Weight: 68lbs
Capacity: 475lbs
Cost: $1,149

Roland Jimenez