Gary Rankel has just published a guide to kayak fishing in the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast: “Finding the Treasures of the Trails – Kayak Fishing Citrus County” (https://squareup.com/store/buendia-press).
The tragic deterioration of water quality and associated sport fisheries throughout much of Florida has prompted a mini migration of anglers to the Nature Coast looking to paddle their kayaks in the relatively pristine lakes, rivers and inshore area. Ditto for central Florida’s burgeoning “boomer” demographic seeking something more adventurous.
The book’s how-to section provides a comprehensive review of all things kayak fishing, including a few tips, tricks and techniques you may not have seen before. The where-to-paddle-and-fish section contains 27 color maps depicting launch sites, fishing routes and hotspots for targeting redfish, snook and seatrout in and around the Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Withlacoochee Rivers bordering the Gulf of Mexico, as well as largemouth bass and other freshwater species in the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes.
Anglers who’ve paddled around the marsh a time or two and think they know it all, as well as newbies to the sport, no matter where they dip their paddles, should find the book educational and enjoyable. So should manatee watchers, scallop snorkelers and other tourists to the Nature Coast looking to broaden their overall outdoor recreation experience.
A boat is deemed seaworthy if it is built and outfitted for a voyage at sea. By extension, when small boats are concerned, going on big lakes requires a seaworthy boat as well. A portable boat can be easily carried or moved, especially because of being lighter and smaller than other boats. Skiffs are flat bottomed boats designed for fishing flat water. Micro skiffs (microskiff) are smaller skiffs designed to do the same. These boats draft less than other boats that are made for fishing in deep water, and offshore. When used on flat water, skiffs and micro skiffs are relatively stable for their size, but they don’t excel when seaworthiness is concerned. Some skiffs and microskiffs can handle waves better than others, due to a somehow different form of their hulls called Shallow V Hull that feels less stable on flat water. But going with these boats through choppy water, let alone rough water, is uncomfortable at best, as typically, the passengers feel unstable, and get tossed around. This is to say that as a general rule, boats that are made primarily for going on flat water are not among the most seaworthy.
Portable microskiffs are smaller than the typical microskiff, and as such they are less seaworthy. In order for a boat to be portable, it must be small and lightweight enough to be car-topped, and carried to the beach either by dragging it on the ground, or with a lightweight wheel cart. Typically, microskiffs that offer these advantages are not full fledged boats – They are boards with little or no free board, whose decks get washed by water and spray even when they go in mild chop. The only full-fledged portable microskiffs are the Wavewalk 700 and Wavewalk S4 that offer sufficient free board to offer reasonable protection to their passengers and gear, as well as sufficient stability and balancing capabilities when going in rough water.
Microskiffs that are portable and seaworthy
Despite their similar catamaran design that’s based on Wavewalk’s patented invention, the W700 and S4 are two different micro skiffs in terms of performance and capabilities.
The Wavewalk 700
The W700 can be described as a hybrid kayak-microskiff. It is extremely stable even in comparison to the biggest ordinary fishing kayaks, and it paddles very well with a crew of one or two, and up to three medium size paddlers. It can be driven with an outboard motor of up to 4.5 HP, at speeds over 10 mph. The W700 offers stand up paddling and fishing to up to two anglers, and its on board storage capacity is greater than the storage offered by any sit-in or SOT kayak. The W700’s light weight (80 lbs) makes it easy to carry over long distances and rough terrain, including rocks and deep sand. The W700 also works perfectly well as a canoe, namely with single-blade paddles.
The Wavewalk S4
The S4 is more stable and more seaworthy than the W700, its load capacity (payload) is greater, and it has more room for passengers and gear. On top of this, the S4 can be driven with much bigger and more powerful motors, at sustained speeds of 17 mph (with a 10 HP outboard). The S4 weighs 20 lbs more than the W700, and it is likely to be outfitted with a more powerful, and therefore heavier motor, it is less easy to carry over rough terrain and deep sand. This said, the S4 is a car-top boat that one guy can handle without a problem. The S4 also works well in a paddling mode, with both kayak and canoe paddles.
And if you liked the feeling of driving an S4 in the open sea, in waves, here is a video that will show you what it feels like to drive this unique microskiff at high speed in tight and winding mangrove tunnels –
The performance of the S4 is in rough water is most impressive, even compared to inflatable dinghies that are designed primarily for going in rough seas. The S4 easily handles waves of up to 4 ft, while its driver and passengers ride its saddle in comfort and confidence stemming from the fact that they can balance themselves easily and intuitively, in the most effective way, being supported by their own legs and a large size hull on each side. The saddle in Wavewalk’s micro skiffs is of similar size and dimensions as the saddle featuring in large-size models of personal watercraft (PWC), often referred to as jet-skis. Similarly to jet skis, the driver of an S4 can drive it standing up, even in choppy water.
The video below shows a Wavewalk S4 user downloading it from his SUV, dragging it over a rocky beach, and launching it in a “rock garden” –
Similarly to micro skiffs skiffs, the S4 features a front deck that an angler can stand on and cast, although probably not in the presence of waves.
The S4 can be outfitted with accessories such as a wheel cart that can be carried on board, and a large-size, detachable spray shield that protects the front passenger from being sprayed when the boat goes in waves at high speed. The S4 micro skiff is more stable than other skiffs its size, and unlike typical skiffs, it is not made from fiberglass but from Polyethylene, which is a resilient and more durable material. This makes it possible to move the S4 over rugged terrain, rocks and various obstacles.
Even more versatility – Food for thought
Skiffs and micro skiffs are designed for flats fishing. The problem with these fisheries is twofold – The first challenge is that in low tide, the water can be too shallow even for a micro skiff to move in it, and the propeller is the lowest point in the boat that determines its actual draft. The second problem is vegetation that can get entangled in the outboard’s propeller. In this context, on top of its being a seaworthy boat, the S4 works well with a surface drive, also known as a mud motor. These motors work at sea, and they outperform regular outboards in shallow water, muddy water, and water where much vegetation grows. For some anglers, the S4 offers top performance and extreme versatility as a seaworthy microskiff, as well as an all-terrain and all-water boat.
Waterfront properties differ from each other, and so do boats, so the answer depends on a multitude of factors including –
Location of the property
Does the property border the ocean, a big lake, a small lake, a pond or a river? Is the water adjacent to the property deep or shallow? If the property borders the ocean, how strong are the tides there? Is it a beachfront property, or does it border a canal, or a cove? Are waves and currents too strong there?
Physical attributes of the property and access to the water
Does the property feature a beach or a dock, or both? Is it necessary to carry the boat from the house or the boat shed to the water and back? Is the water at the beach very shallow, and does it feature rocks, and/or vegetation?
Is the dock high or low above the water? Is it a permanent or a floating structure?
Boat size and type
Some boats are too big, and they draft too much to be docked close to shore. These boats may be moored close enough, but then they require a small service boat, namely a boat tender to allow transportation of passengers and goods from shore and back. Other vessels, such as canoes, SOT kayaks and sit-in kayaks, don’t offer much as far as boating goes, and they are not comfortable. Jon boats and skiffs work well on flat water, and they can go in relatively shallow water. However, they are not seaworthy, and they are not useful in water where abundant vegetation grows, unless they are outfitted with a surface drive (mud motor). These flat bottomed boats are usually too wide for their users to paddle them effectively over any meaningful distance. Inflatable dinghies are typically more seaworthy than Jon boats and skiffs, but they are notoriously uncomfortable, and similarly, they don’t paddle well. Most anglers would be reluctant to fish out of an inflatable boat, because fishing hooks can easily perforate their walls. Pontoon boats work well on flat water, but despite their extreme stability, they are not comfortable in choppy water. Big motorboats are fun, and they are more seaworthy than small boats, but they draft too much to go in shallow water, they won’t go in water with vegetation, and there is no way to paddle them, even over very short distances. In general, the bigger the boat the harder it is to carry it over land, and the more its owners depend on docks. Needless to say that maintaining a large size boat is not cheap, even if it’s possible to moor or dock it next to your property.
Could this boat fit your waterfront property needs?
Comfortable, seaworthy, lightweight, extremely versatile, no maintenance: The S4
The main advantages of the Wavewalk S4 as a boat for a waterfront property are:
It is lightweight and portable – barely 100 lbs without the motor. This means that you don’t necessarily need a dock to launch and beach it, and if needed, you can haul it on top of your dock. Moreover, being a car-top boat makes it available for you to take on trips to other places, even without a trailer.
It’s a kayak, and it paddles well as such, and as a canoe.
Very shallow draft, even with a motor. For many anglers and paddlers, this feature means everything.
It’s fast – 17 mph sustained with a powerful outboard motor.
It’s an all-terrain boat that you can outfit with a surface drive (mud motor)
It’s comfortable and back-pain free, thanks to its saddle seat that its passengers ride similarly to the way you ride the saddle of high performance personal watercraft (jet-ski), all-terrain vehicles (ATV), and snowmobiles.
It’s extremely stable – more than Jon boats and micro skiffs of similar size, which makes it great for fishing. It even features a front deck for casting.
Plenty of storage space and good carrying capacity – The S4 can carry a payload of 650 lbs, which means a powerful portable outboard motor and three passengers. The on board storage space it provides is equivalent to the storage space offered by good size skiffs and Jon boats.
It’s durable, thanks to the fact that it’s rotomolded from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and you can carry and launch it over rocks.
This kayak has been around for close to a decade, and our website features over 200 Wavewalk 500 reviews that our clients have contributed over the years. But I thought that since in the past few years we’ve introduced the bigger W700 and S4, there may be a need for a more comprehensive and professional review that would tell the full story of this kayak, especially in comparison to our new models.
I designed the Wavewalk 500 in 2008. Creating a cast aluminum rotational mold of this size and complexity takes a long time, so we rolled out the first production units of this kayak in 2009. Despite its small size, the W500 was the world’s most stable kayak for years, and it held this title till 2015, when the bigger W700 came out. A couple of years later, the W700 lost its title to the Wavewalk S4, which is currently the world’s most stable kayak, and is likely to maintain this title as long as Wavewalk doesn’t come out with an even bigger model, which is unlikely to happen. Simply, there is no kayak form that can produce more stability than that of our patented combination of a twin hull and a riding saddle. The Wavewalk 500 is still the world’s smallest twin-hull (catamaran) in production, and the most stable for its size, and at 60 lbs, it is also the world’s lightest production catamaran. Despite its small size and light weight, this kayak can carry on board two adult passengers that aren’t particularly heavy – The average man in the US weighs 200 lbs, and the average woman weighs 160 lbs. Their aggregated weight of 360 lbs is exactly the maximum payload we recommend for the W500. The W500 offers limited tandem capabilities, but when it comes to small size passengers such as kids, its capacity is pretty amazing –
The W500’s 1:6 Weight to Payload ratio (60 lbs /360 lbs) is remarkable, and only the Wavewalk 700 and Wavewalk S4 offer slightly better ratios of 1: 6.25 and 1:6.5, respectively.
The Wavewalk 500 was also the first kayak to offer full standing capability and zero back pain paddling to practically everyone, including big and tall guys, elderly people, and people with various disabilities, ranging from fibromyalgia and sciatica to Multiple Sclerosis (MS), dislocated vertebrae, and spinal fusion. This is a unique ergonomic advantage that the W500 offers to people who otherwise would have been prevented from paddling, and it’s one of the things that has made it such a special boat.
The W500 pioneered an era in kayak fishing, and to this day, only the biggest SOT and sit-in fishing kayaks that are much longer, nearly 50% wider, and twice heavier than this little, patented twin-hull kayak, can offer a level of stability that comes close to the stability that it provides.
The W500 was much better than the proof-of-concept Wavewalk 300 (2004-2010), without being heavier, so it naturally replaced the W300. I like the idea that after the W700 and S4 came out, the W500 still has its diehard fans.
Changes over time
Over the years, we offered the W500 in a number of configurations that included various types of deck mounted and flush mounted rod holders, flotation devices, anchors, bungees, motor mounts, spray shield, etc., but in recent years we offer it ‘as is’. Nothing beats Simple.
When it came out, the W500 did not feature a saddle bracket, and we left if to the owners to decide whether they wanted us to install this structural accessory in their kayak, or not. In hindsight, that was a mistake on our part, since some people who should have outfitted their W500 with a bracket chose not to do so, and sometimes damaged it. The damage was easy to fix, but still, these incidents could and should have been prevented. In 2013, we decided to offer the W500 with an integrated saddle bracket as a standard feature – Choice is not always a good thing, apparently, and we have learned that lesson. We also started shipping this kayak in a custom cardboard box, in order to better protect it during transit.
Years before the Wavewalk 500 came out, anglers already outfitted their kayaks with small, weak, electric trolling motors, Several W300 owners did so too, and one of them, Jim McGivray, in the UK, outfitted his W300 with a 2.5 HP Suzuki outboard gas engine. But Jim’s project turned out to be a little premature, since the W300 was still not the right platform for motorizing with powerful gas engines. It was the W500 who became the first full fledged motor kayak, namely a kayak outfitted with a powerful motor, whose driver can drive it in comfort and confidence in rough water, including in the ocean.
The W500 powered by a powerful outboard gas motor made electric kayaks look like supermarket’s motorized shopping carts. It still does, but when compared to an S4 powered by a 10 HP outboard, even the W500 looks almost like a toy.
Sungin Kim, in South Korea, was the first to drive a W500 powered by an outboard gas motor. It was a 2 HP air-cooled Honda, and ironically, he didn’t like his motorized ride very much, at first, since it was so fast. Later, Sungjin got used to it, and went on many fishing trips in the ocean, solo and in tandem.
Interestingly, around 2010, Captain Gary Thorberg experimented with mounting outboard motors on the side of his W500, but the advantages of transom motor mounts made them become the de-facto standard.
We tested the Wavewalk 500 with a 6 HP motor, and we came to the conclusion that with that much horsepower, it was overpowered. Currently we recommend not to exceed 4 HP with this little kayak.
In 2018, Keith Sylvester was the first to outfit a W500 with a surface drive (a.k.a Mud Motor). Keith’s ride looks good, with no apparent problems. He proved that even the smallest Wavewalk is stable enough to work with such a special and demanding motor, in shallow streams and ponds.
The W500 opened the era of full fledged motor kayaks, and it is currently the world’s third best motor kayak, with number two being the W700, and the S4 being the world’s best and fastest motor kayak, with a top speed of 17 mph, sustained. This record was achieved by Captain Larry Jarboe, of Key Largo. Oddly, we can’t think of a motor kayak that would fit in the fourth place, not because our competitors haven’t tried to come up with such a product, but because so far they have been unsuccessful. Simply, monohull kayaks don’t work well with powerful motors, and if you modify their form to make them work better, they no longer fit the kayak designation, which all Wavewalk’s kayaks do. Even large-size SOT kayaks that feature an outrigger don’t look good with a motor. The only class of small watercraft that’s comparable to the three Wavewalk motor kayaks are motorboats dubbed micro skiff (microskiff).
The storage revolution
Ten years after the Wavewalk 500 entered the kayak fishing market, it still offers much more on board storage space than its biggest competitors, whose overcrowded decks and tiny, hardly accessible hatches keep frustrating and disappointing anglers. Indeed, when it comes to fishing kayak design, storage is an unfinished, gloomy story, and a problem solved only by Wavewalk’s kayaks.
Before – How much gear can be stored in a W500 kayak?
After – All this fishing and camping gear got inside the W500
Paddling the Wavewalk 500
Paddling any ordinary kayak is not easy, as soon the paddler faces wind or currents. The challenge is tracking, namely to keep going in the direction that leads you to your destination, and not where the elements drive you. Ordinary, mono-hull (SOT and sit-in) kayaks track poorly, which is why high-end models feature complicated rudders. This is true for both fishing and touring kayaks, but not for the Wavewalk 500, since being a catamaran, it tracks better naturally, and it also offers effective means for the paddler to control its course just by moving forward or backward on the saddle, thus relocating the boat’s Center of Gravity (CG), as explained in this article about paddling and tracking in strong wind »
Indeed, many Wavewalk 500 paddlers who paddle it in strong wind and currents are unaware of the fact that it is missing a rudder, simply because they don’t need such an accessory. No paddler ever put a rudder on their W500, and the only W500 owners to use such accessory are those who sail it.
The W500 vs the W700
The W700 is better than the W500 – It’s faster, more stable, roomier, and it can carry a much bigger payload, or more people on board. It also works better with powerful outboard motors, and it comes with an integrated flotation compartment instead of detachable flotation modules. The W700 is better for paddling, fishing, and driving, so why do some people prefer the W500? The answer is simple – It’s because the W500 weighs 20 lbs less than the W700, and it costs less too. Not everyone needs a fast and roomy kayak.
After the W700 came out, and the concept of the saddle serving as a watertight compartment (flotation) proved itself, we played with the idea of applying this concept to the W500. But doing so would have added 10 lbs to the W500’s total weight, and we thought that at 70 lbs, and costing significantly more than its classic version, a modified W500 would not be attractive enough compared to the W700 that weighs 80 lbs.
Reach and versatility
Some W500 owners have been using it for nearly a decade, and they’re not planning to switch to anything else (except maybe the W700, or S4). Such is Gary Rankel, a retired biologist and fisheries consultant, who wrote a book about kayak fishing, and one of the best client reviews of the Wavewalk 500. Gary also suffers from back problems, and the fact that he can spend up to eight hours in his W500, fishing, without getting out of it, is amazing to me. BTW, Gary is not the only Wavewalk user who spends such long hours in their kayak, uninterruptedly, which is to say that the saddle seat indeed delivers a back pain free experience.
People use their W500 kayaks on flat water and in the ocean. Touring and fishing are the two most popular applications for the W500. Other, less common but interesting applications are photography, diving, bow fishing, treasure hunting, sailing, rowing, and servicing big boats (boat tender). They also use it for other outdoor activities as well, from ice fishing in Sweden to duck hunting in various regions of the US.
Geographically, the W500 has users and fans worldwide, including the following countries and regions – Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Australia (countrywide), New Zealand, UAE, Canada (countrywide), the US (nationwide, including Alaska), various parts of the Caribbeans, Panama, Paraguay, The UK, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Greece.
So this is the story of this little kayak, the W500, as I see after ten years. If you ask me if I would have designed it differently today, knowing that its end weight is required not to exceed 60 lbs, I’d say that I don’t think it’s possible.
I sold my 15 HP 4-cycle outboard and got a 9.9 HP modified instead. The old motor weighed 135 lbs, and it was too heavy. The new one weighs 108 lbs, and I outfitted it with a hydrofoil.
My friend tells me “You have a nice 24 ft boat, so why do you fish from that kayak?”… I like fishing with the S4 because it puts me on the fish – My big boat drifts too much with the wind because it has a big high deck, and it drifts too much with the current because it drafts 3 ft. No such problems with the S4, and since it drafts so little I can get much closer to shore without fear of hitting rocks.
The other day I was going with it through the Cape Cod canal, which can be a nasty place because of the currents there, especially when there’s a strong wind blowing. The water was rough, and you could see that even big boats had problems, but not the S4. We made it without any problem.
My dad and I caught many stripers out of my S4 this year, in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. I heard the tuna were biting now, so I think I’ll try going after them.
My next project will be adding a large size spray shield so we can go faster in big waves.
couple stripers caught in one of our offshore fishing trips
Built an aluminum tilt trailer for my S4
My S4 on its tilt trailer. It’s very easy to launch, just slides down into the water