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Gear Review: Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5

The biggest river bass to enter my new Ultimate 14.5 and I'm not even the one who caught it!

     A few months ago, I decided to get a Native Watercraft Ultimate, but the big decision was whether to go with the Ultimate 12 (read my review here) or the Ultimate 14.5. As much as I loved the 12, I decided to go with the 14.5 for three reasons: Hope, Sam, and Mitchell. Those are my kids, who range from ages 4 to 7 and love accompanying Daddy on river adventures. The Ultimate 14.5 comes equipped with two seats, and can be set up as a solo or tandem boat. This versatility appealed to me since I still fly solo fairly often.

    As a matter of fact, most of my river trips in the 14.5 have been solo trips, so this review will mainly describe the boat as a solo fishing platform rather than as a tandem. My kids and I have enjoyed a few days of pond fishing in the Ultimate, and I'll write a story on how the boat performs with a passenger in the bow later this summer. To keep things standardized, I'm going to use the same criteria for rating the Ultimate 14.5 as I used for the Ultimate 12: Stability, Handling, Comfort, Toughness, and Fishability.

Stability

Rock solid. Notice how much extra space is inside the boat, despite the fact that I didn't even bother removing the front seat before this trip!

     The 14.5 is incredibly stable. It might be due to the extra length, but the 14.5 is more stable than the 12 (especially initially) .For those unfamiliar with the Ultimate series, the hull has a pontoon-like shape that makes them incredibly disaster-proof. I fish standing up about half the time, and I'll occasionally stand with both feet in either the port or starboard pontoon just for the heck of it. One does have to be a little more careful while standing, however. If I broadside a rock while standing, I'm going swimming. The boat, however, will be fine. I haven't attempted it yet (mainly because I've managed to stay inside the boat thus far!), but I suspect that it's not too hard to climb back in a floating Ultimate 14.5 even from deep water.

     Sitting in the 14.5 is akin to sitting on a lounge on a cruise ship. I've broadsided many rocks while trying to fish my way down a set of shoals and never come close to taking a spill. I have taken on a little water after getting the boat tilted up onto a rock sideways, but any water taken on sits well below the seat in the pontoons. I've also taken on some water while going through some big (but not technical) Class II water, but never enough to require stopping and dumping the water out. The lack of a self-bailing mechanism (the scupper holes in sit-on-top kayaks) worried me at first, but that fear has proven to be unfounded, especially when I use the bow and stern spray skirts that slide on and off the Adapt-A-Trac system.

    I've recently been experimenting with a system that raises the seat a foot or so higher that seems promising. I simply bungee the seat to a wide, flat board and set it on the gunwhale of the boat. This allows the angler to cast from an elevated platform and still enjoy that wonderfully comfortable seat. The boat might be slightly less stable due to the higher center of gravity, but the boat is just as easy to maneuver. So far, this modification has worked like a charm!

Handling

The Ultimate can even fly!! I seriously would have never caught this fish without a boat as fast as the 14.5. I was able to paddle upstream against a pretty fierce current and reach a prime fishing spot that nobody else could access.

     At 14 feet and 8 inches, I figured the Ultimate 14.5 might be a little too long to maneuver well in rocky or small rivers. It is certainly not as nimble as the Ultimate 12, which handles as well as any comparable kayak. The extra 2 1/2 feet have not really presented much of a hindrance in rapids, but the 14.5 does require a couple more paddle strokes to get it turned around than shorter boats.

    What the Ultimate 14.5 lacks in maneuverability, however, it makes up for in speed. This boat is fast! A lot of my river trips are of the paddle up-float down variety, and I've never been in a kayak this fast. There's a local river that I frequently paddle upstream for 1 1/2 miles and fish my way back to the car. Prior to acquiring the Ultimate 14.5, my best time making the paddle in my Ocean Kayak Drifter (which is gathering dust!) was 25 minutes. I recently made the paddle in my Ultimate in only 18 minutes, with the river flowing about 500 cfs harder than the day I set my previous record. The fish pictured above was caught on a Saturday when the local river was too high for anybody else to even attempt a float trip. It was tough, but I was able to paddle upstream and take advantage of some fantastic fishing that nobody else could access. The ability to boogie upstream (or down) might not be that beneficial to some anglers, but it allows me to spend more time with my line in the water than my paddle. This means more fish! I suspect that saltwater fishermen will absolutely love the 14.5 because it is so fast without being overly cumbersome.

     I have noticed that the Ultimate 14.5 (and the 12) tend to catch a little more wind than sit-on-top kayaks since they sit a little higher off the water, but in most river applications this isn't much of a factor since current is the main obstacle to boat control. Sometimes the 14.5 wants to drift along a little faster than I'd like it to, but this is easily remedied with the use of a drag chain  which also keeps the boat pointed straight downstream. Overall, I'd say the tougher maneuverability is more than offset by the tremendous speed of the Ultimate 14.5, which is directly responsible for a couple really fantastic days on the water so far this year.

Comfort

     I said it in the Ultimate 12 review, but I'll say it again: There aren't any paddle-powered boats as comfortable as the Ultimates. The seats are like lounge chairs, and they can be removed if you'd like to enjoy a comfortable lunch on a river rock. I'm pushing 40, and I doubt I'll ever go back to a traditional sit-on-top kayak simply because the aches and pains associated with those craft are so much worse. I recently fished five consecutive days out of the Ultimate and would've done a sixth if spring break hadn't ended!

    The 14.5 weighs in at 65 pounds with one seat (71 pounds with two). This is only about ten pounds more than the 12, and the 14.5 is a lot more boat. I haven't had any problems loading or unloading the boat from a cartop or a pickup bed, but it is easier with two folks than by myself. I keep telling myself I'm going to purchase one of those little canoe/kayak carts to make the trip from car to river and back easier, but 65 pounds is pretty light so I haven't made that purchase yet.

Toughness

     In my Ultimate 12 review, I proclaimed the jury was still out on how well the polyethylene model of the Ultimate would stand up to river abuse. It'll be a few years before I can honestly make that call, but after 17 trips in rock-strewn rivers in the southeast, my Ultimate 14.5 is holding up extremely well. There are a few battle scars on the hull, but my Ocean Kayak Drifter had to be patched after less than a year. The Ultimate is gonna last a lot longer than that.

     Native Watercraft has recently introduced an Ultimate made from a new material called Tegris that is currently only available for the Ultimate 12. The Tegris weighs in at only 36 pounds (19 pounds lighter than the polyethylene version) and is stronger than Kevlar. It will be interesting to see how well the Tegris handles the constant scraping of river rocks that occurs so often in southeastern rivers. A few ARFers have purchased Tegris boats and I look forward to reading their reviews on the various ARF message boards.

Fishability

Ready for action!

     If you are a large person or like to bring a lot of gear on your float trips, the Ultimate 14.5 is a great choice. The boat has a weight capacity of 450 pounds (as compared to 350 for the Ultimate 12), and there is plenty of space for coolers, rods, tackle boxes, and camping gear. The 14.5 also comes equipped with three Scotty rod holder mounts (I've never used them), which a lot of anglers like. I would definitely recommend this boat to anyone who likes to camp on the river. Other than a full-length canoe, there aren't any kayak-type craft out there that can haul as much stuff as the 14.5.

     Now that you're loaded up, now it's time to make some casts. Fishing from the Ultimate 14.5 is a joy. As mentioned earlier, the boat is so stable that most anglers will be able to fish from a standing position in calm water. I wedge the paddle underneath the floatation foam in the bow and never even have to bend over to grab the paddle. When sitting down, casting is much easier than in a regular kayak because the Ultimate's design and seating arrangement puts the angler about 4-5 inches higher usual. This makes casting a whole lot easier.

     Like every other kayak out there, the Ultimate 14.5 tends to wander a bit when you are floating downstream making casts. Getting the boat straightened back out requires a paddle stroke or two. The 14.5 also floats along slightly faster than shorter boats, which can be a little frustrating for anglers trying to fish a spot slowly and thoroughly. Installing a drag chain solves both of these problems by slowing the drift and keeping the boat pointed downstream. Basically, I attach a 15' retractable dog leash to the seat and through the rear carry handle. On the end I simply have about six inches of heavy chain wrapped in duct tape. My boat came with an anchor trolley and an anchor, but I rarely need to come to a complete stop, so I rarely use them. The anchor system has worked well the few times I've used it though.

     Another big advantage the Ultimates (12 and 14.5) have over traditional sit-on-top kayaks is the easy accessibility of gear. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten soaked in a rain storm because my rain jacket was inside the hatch of my sit-on-top kayak. Not only can you bring more stuff along in the Ultimate 14.5, but you can access everything without having to get out of the boat. This makes a day on the river a whole lot easier.

     Flyfishermen might find the Ultimate 14.5 advantageous for a few reasons as well. The longer length will allow fly anglers to keep all 8 or 9 feet of rod inside the boat while paddling. If you've ever flyfished from a sit-on-top you know what a pain it is to keep the rod clear from harm's way. It's a heck of a lot easier when you can just stick the entire rod inside the boat. Flyfishermen will also appreciate the extra stability, raised seating, and the large uncluttered area in front of the seat.

Summary

     The Ultimate 14.5 isn't the perfect boat for every river fisherman, but it works pretty darn well for my needs. Once I get a few more tandem trips in I'll write another review on how the 14.5 works as a boat for two.

     Dislikes: 1) Not as maneuverable as shorter boats

                 2) Faster drift than shorter boats (remedy: drag chain)

                 3) Wants to spin while drifting (remedy: drag chain)

                 4) In big rapids, some water will splash inside (though the bow spray skirt helps)

                 5) Catches a little more wind than some kayaks

     Likes:    1) Versatility: I can fish solo or can take my wife or one of my kids along

                 2) Speed: I can get up or downstream FAST. Maximizes fishing time.

                 3) Stability: I like to be able to stand and fish, but sitting or standing the 14.5 is solid

                4) Comfort: I'm having my sofa replaced with the Ultimate seats

                5) Storage: Take along whatever you need AND you can get to it. Great for camping!

                6) Toughness: I already know it's tougher than sit-on-top kayaks. Time will tell by how much!

 

 

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