Gear Closet: Old Town Topwater PDL Fishing Kayak Review

The return of spring doesn’t just mean we have an opportunity for more hiking and camping. For many, it is a chance to hit their favorite lakes, rivers, and streams to go fishing too. While I’m not an avid fisherman, I do enjoy dropping my line in the water from time to time. Recently, I had the chance to head down to Puerto Rico with Johnson Outdoors to do a little kayak fishing on the ocean. During that trip, I was introduced to the new Old Town Topwater PDL, a boat that is designed specifically with anglers in mind, providing a surprising amount of stability, performance, features, and control. Unfortunately, now I’m spoiled for just about any other kind of fishing, as the kayak delivered plenty of fun to go along with reeling in some sizable catches.

If you’ve never used one of Old Town’s fishing kayaks you’ll be in for a very pleasant surprise the first time you take one out on the water. Not only is there plenty of room to store all of the things you want to bring along –– including fishing gear and other necessities –– the boats are also designed to be comfortable and easy to maneuver. The Topwater delivers that level of performance and then some thanks to its ample amount of onboard storage, dual multi-position rod holders, and oversized stern tank. It even comes with built-in installation points for fish finders and other important gear.

In terms of stability, the Topwater is top notch in this category too. The boat uses a pontoon-style design to give it a shape that more naturally moves with the water, reducing the side to side motion dramatically. The boat is so stable in fact that anglers can easily stand up on it to improve casting distance and their ability to reel in fish. The deck even includes stability pads to keep your feet from slipping, even when the boat gets wet.

I put that stability to the test in the Caribbean, and except for times when the waves got extremely choppy it was easy to maintain my balance throughout the entire day. Transitioning from a seated position to a standing one felt natural and there was never a time when I thought I was going to fall in. Instead I’d just find a good place to cast my line, position the boat where I wanted it, grab my rod, and climb to my feet. It really was about as simple as that.

The “PDL” portion of the Topwater’s name refers to Old Town’s proprietary pedal drive system. This being a kayak, you can paddle it of course and it even comes with built-in paddle storage. But the best way to travel aboard the Topwater is by pedaling, which couldn’t be easier and more efficient to do. The pedal drive drops into place in the center of the boat and locks down with just a few twists of some knobs. Once installed, the angler can pedal the boat around just as if he or she were riding a recumbent bike, with one notable exception. If you want to go backwards, you simply pedal backwards and the boat will respond accordingly.

I’ve used other pedal drive systems from competing brands, but what I liked most about Old Town’s version is that it is just so smooth and easy to operate. It takes a few moments to begin collecting momentum, but once it’s up to speed it cuts through the water with ease. A built-in dial turns the kayak’s rudder, making steering a breeze. That rudder can be raised and lowered as needed with the turn of a knob, preventing it from getting damaged when in shallow water.

The entire system works incredibly well together and even complete beginners will get the hang of it in a manner of just a few minutes. Once acclimated, the boat becomes a true fishing machine, delivering anglers to just about anywhere they want to go. The best part is that pedaling around on the water is a lot of fun on its own, making the Topwater a great recreational ‘yak for those times when you just feel like going for a cruise. The pedal drive also offers a good workout as well.

Another advantage that the Topwater has over most of its competitors is in seat placement. While many fishing kayaks have the seat resting inside the hull of the boat itself, Old Town has elevated it some, brining it up above the water. This is not only more comfortable, but provides a better view of the surrounding area as well. The position of the seat may come down to personal preference of course, but from my perspective I much preferred the higher level. It was easier to get in and out of the boat for instance, and in my opinion it was more comfortable for an extended period of time. Old Town’s ElementAir seat was a big part of that however, providing not only support and stability, but breathability too.

The Topwater PDL tips the scales at 95 pounds (43 kg) and has a carrying capacity of 450 pounds (204 kg). That makes it a bit of a challenge to lug around, but strategically placed carry handles help ease that process greatly. Other nice features include integrated cup holders, adjustable foot braces, and scupper holes to aid with drainage. The drive system is completely maintenance free and comes with a five-year warranty, while the hull itself is guaranteed for the life of the boat.

Priced at $2000, the Old Town Topwater PDL isn’t a rec boat this is purchased on a whim. That said however, for serious anglers looking for a boat that they can use just about anywhere, this is not only a fantastic option but a real bargain too. This kayak has everything you need for a great day out on the water and it is competitively priced with similar boats from the competition. It is also far less expensive than buying an actual boat, without missing out on too many of the features. In fact, I’d personally rather fish from this boat than most motorized versions. It’s quieter, better for the environment, and a lot of fun too.

If you’re in the market for a fishing kayak this spring, than you have to add the Old Town Topwater PDL to your short list. Quite simply, it is a fantastic option that has all the features you could ask for, and then some. Check it out on the Old Town website.

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