A caveat: Many different yaks are used and liked by yakfishers. My reviews are biased in two ways, first as they may perform strictly for all around yakfishin in South Florida and second, in the hope that both manufacturers and yakfishers will go beyond the current marketing hype and think more seriously about actual performance.
A yak is first and last a yak. The better the yakking performance the better the fishing experience. We must go beyond thinking of the yak as simply a fishing platform and carrier of equipment. I apologize if some may feel I'm singling out WS: I'm not; these criticisms apply just as well to many manufacturers, eg. Cobra, Malibu and Heritage among others. WS just happens to be the best example of marketing over performance.
Indeed the WS Tarpon 160 is a fine light tourer or long distance fisher; the 120 and WS Paradise are more than fishable and appear on my "recommended" list.
Let's face it. We live in a corporate, marketing dominated world. It's all about image and spin. And in the world of yaks no one does it better than Wilderness "Systems". It's not a yak, it's a "system". A WILDERNESS system yet. C'mon, it's a yak. Reminds me of the Hummer ads showing richly tanned socialites humming accross the wild tundra. Where do you really see Hummers?
Driving to the mall. No one really needs a Hummer, it's really quite impractical. The gas guzzling, heavy, tricked out SUV taken to a maddening extreme. Somewhere, somehow we've gotten off track. Let's try a reality check. Let's start with the name:
"Wilderness Systems Tarpon". I've covered the "wilderness" and "system" hype. And to attach the name of the magnificent tarpon is an act of marketing genius. What panache! What knish! Now let's go to looks and "included equipment":
The "Tarpons", like Escalade Pickups, are really tricked out with all the gewgaws: Bungee's everywhere: bow, stern, even the cockpit. Really smooth, shiny and lustrously smooth finish and deep colors. Oval, two-toned soft rubber covers with a raised "W" for all to see. Well-designed integrated logo. Sliding footrests. A totally tricked-out and bungeed pivoting seat. Several mini-hatches plastered wherever they will fit. Cupholder. Paddleholder. Big open roomy flat cockpit. A tankwell so huge it takes up almost all the stern. Plushy side handles in recesses. Equally plush front and rear handles. And so often with a rudder system. Gee you get it all!
And these yaks look good!
And how bout the design? Again, marketing driven. The buzzwords that sell to the uninitiated newbie yakfishers: Stability. Tracking. Dryness. Speed. So what do you get: relatively flat hulls, little rocker, double channels, hard chines, skegged stern, and a keel. High 'n wide seating. Why? Not because this serves yak performance, but because these SELL. And brought to you by a company who's made some very fine SIK's. Must be a winner, right?
Wrong. Of the 100 - 120 - 140 and 160 only the 120 is really fishable, especially considering far superior alternatives. The 160 is a bendy, perling, straight line, calmer water touring yak. The 100 is just too short. And the touted 140 is unremarkable, way heavy, hard to turn and suffers from all the design shortcomings that permeate the entire Tarpon line (see reviews).
Let's go down the list: Bungee's everywhere. If you don't have a front hatch bungees are nice. But most yakfishers FAR prefer straps and clips for less snagging security and/or plenty of padeyes so they can do what they want. The smooth finish is hard to grasp, especially if you've dumped and need a handhold to remount with wet hands. And this lustrous finish is soft and scratches easily and more deeply, and reflects sun glare into your eyes.
The two-toned "W" rubber covers must be precisely mounted or they can fly off with serious consequences in rough seas. Serious yakkers prefer hard covers that are strapped down. The footrests and sliding channels are really cheap plastic, bend and break with astonishing regularity. Barefoot yakkers will swear when they push hard on the sharp vertical edges. There are no heel rests, and the cockpit floor is VERY slippery when wet (in the 140 especially). This frustrates proper paddling technique and power.
Most buyers HATE the damn seat. Not only does it add yet more lure snagging bungees, it fits almost no one well, and most 160 owners get rid of it within days. The 120 -140 hinged seat is marginally better, but is still a pain. In no case do you have any real forward or aft adjustment as you do with ordinary seatbacks. A bad joke.
And those mini-hatches! One in the cockpit, nice and low and just waiting to admit water, one behind the seat designed to make the tankwell hard to reach. This hatch is particularly useless. Most yakfishers want the tankwell just as close to the seat as possible, easy and safe to reach. Paddle rest means more bungees, more clutter. Good yakfishers much prefer the paddle-at-the-ready technique promoted by Ken Doubert.
The side handles are centered, stand snagginly high and do not promote yak balance and handling. There are a million ways to better handle and manueuvre your yak. The 100 - 120 and 140 especially lack a true center console. Not only does this allow much more hard-to-drain water to fill the cockpit in a poop, but is sadly missed by yakfishers who ADORE center consoles for managing lures, boxes, pliers, compasses, Scotties, you name it.
Speaking of water, the tankwell is way, way too large. Sure a roomy well is nice, but this well runs almost to the stern of the yak! Get pooped and fill that bathtub with water in rough sea, and you're in big, big trouble. And the vaunted dry ride means no scuppers, that's right, none - in the seat. Any water that ends up in your lap will stay there.
And how bout that tracking folks... the double channels, flat bottom, keel, chines and stern skeg combine to force these yaks to "track" so well they are all hard to turn quickly. Forget the 160, and the 140 is not much better. Only the 120 can turn, but only with effort. No (safe) weather helm here. The 160's fine bow perls and digs into surf. The 140 carries a cockpit floor fulla water. Only the 120 has a chance, but pray the humonga-longa tankwell doesn't get pooped by a crashing wave. And you are forced to consider an expensive rudder system to overcome the designed in inability to turn quickly.
And did I mention heavy? The little 10 ft. 100 weighs 50 lb., almost as much as the almost 15 ft. Scupper Pro. The 120 weighs 60lb. (more than the 15-1/2 ft. Prowler), the 140 is 65 lb. and the 160 is pushing 70 lb. Ouch! Hope you got a strong yakkin buddy.
So there you are. Classy "Wilderness System Tarpons". Look good, impressive, average at best, unfishable at worst, will continue to be well marketed. My prediction: the surge in owners selling their 160's will continue. The 140 will barely sell only to the converted. The 160 will retain it's niche long distance market on Florida's west coast. And the 120 will remain WS's only moderately fishable yak.
To be fair Cobra, Malibu and Heritage promote equally egregious offerings.
Just my opinion.
"Honest - it was this big..."