Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Pedals, not paddles, power these boats

By Glenn Sapir

Contributing Writer


Seven years ago I enjoyed a new experience on a local pond I had been fishing for decades. Typically, I would set out in my 14-foot johnboat, propelled by my oars. I’d tried an electric motor on this weed and lily-pad filled body of water a couple of times and just got too frustrated by the frequency of my stops necessary to clear the mess from the prop. On a couple of outings, I fished this pond with a friend on his two-man pontoon boat that offered pedestal seats – one behind the other, powered by an electric motor that seemed to fare somewhat better with the weeds than either of the two models I owned.


On the occasion seven years ago, however, I was fishing from a one-person, foot-controlled kayak, skimming along the surface. Not paddle power, but pedal power was scooting me around the pond and allowing me to glide across the surface and sneak over beds of weeds and patches of lily pads, places I could have never approached so stealthily in my oar-powered johnboat. The rudder, controlled when necessary by my left hand, gave the directional commands, and the 12-foot-long, three-foot-wide craft responded. I was casting unweighted plastic worms, tantalizingly dragging them over the vegetation. When the retrieve brought the worm to open pockets, I’d let it sink – that is, if it had a chance to descend into the depths of the pond. Several times waiting largemouths didn’t allow the bait to fall, and on other occasions they simply burst through the carpet of greenery to take the worm. Then the challenge was getting the bass out of the vegetation, and, with both hands free to cut the distance between me and the fish, that job became a lot easier. I was discovering the attributes of bass fishing from a pedal-powered kayak.


That Hobie Pro Angler 12 was a craft built for fishermen. An elevated seat with a back seemed as comfortable as Archie Bunker’s TV chair. Hull storage in front of me revealed two pop-up Plano tackle boxes in which I could stow lures. Two slots on each side allowed horizontal, out-of-the-way rod storage. A rod-holder accessory provided additional, convenient vertical storage of a rod or even a landing net. Drink holders put the finishing touches on spoiling me. I was told I could even stand up in the Pro Angler 12, but I chose not to test that attribute.


At the end of the day, however, the craft went home to the dealer from whom I had borrowed it for this field test. I wouldn’t encounter another Hobie Craft while fishing until a day on a Long Island pond five years later. On that occasion, I was being hosted in a local angler’s electric-motor-powered johnboat while his brother fished the same pond from his new Hobie. I watched him bring in a couple of largemouths on a tough day when neither of the two of us in our craft could match his success.


The setting of my next pedal-powered kayak adventure switched from New York ponds to a Florida river this past spring. Estero River Outfitters ( is based off the much-traveled U.S. 41 Highway, also called the Tamiami Trail, in Estero. Everything about the setting said developed commercialism, that is, until I settled into my Hobie MirageDrive kayak. Four of us – Capt. Justin Stuller, manager of the family-owned retail, rental and guiding business, a fellow writer and friend, a representative of Lee County, where we were fishing, and I – in minutes found ourselves in another world, away from the traffic. Incredibly, we had traveled not only in feet and yards, but also seemingly in decades and centuries. Except for an occasional reminder of civilization – a house, a dock or a bridge – we were in Lee County as that whole region of southwest Florida once was. Only trees and other greenery lined the banks. Large green turtles sunned on fallen trees. The Estero River was not wide. It more resembled a lazy stream. The water here was brackish, promising the possibility of fish ranging from snook to largemouth bass and including several other species.


The first two fish to hit my live shiner were those “other species.” Early in the outing a 1½-foot-long alligator gar took my bait. I worked it toward the boat, but somehow he shook the hook when I got him close to the craft. Next, I momentarily hooked a small fish that with one jump became a never-to-be-identified flying object. All the while our spread-out, four-kayak flotilla slowly meandered upriver, with my feet doing the pedaling and my left hand on the rudder manually leaving me in forward or putting me in reverse.


For one exciting sequence of events, I needed to do a bit of maneuvering, switching directions at the whim of my quarry. I had cast a shiner, probably lifeless by then, to a spot a under the shade of a tree in perhaps three feet of water. I let it sit for several seconds, and then the line grew taut. I set the hook and was into a strong fish that had been strengthened most likely by fighting the daily current and tides of the river. As I fought him, he towed the kayak and then burrowed under what must have been unseen roots. My rod tip was bent well into the water and, truthfully, I never thought I’d get to see the fish as the end of my line seemed to be wedged tightly into the unseen snag.


By maneuvering my craft to the side of the roots in which the fish burrowed in, as suggested by Capt. Stuller, I was soon relieved to feel my line go free – with the largemouth still on the hook. The fish was lip-landed, and I sized it up to be a Florida bass of about 3 pounds, the strongest 3-pound largemouth I’d ever caught.


All four of us caught bass, and my friend, Steve Waters, a long-ago transplanted New Yorker who now writes about the outdoors for the Miami Herald, even caught an alligator gar. 


Foot-controlled kayaks had demonstrated to me that whether fishing on New York ponds and lakes or Florida rivers, pedal power was a force to embrace.


Glenn Sapir has gathered 167 of his magazine and newspaper articles into a handsome, leatherette-covered book, “A Sapir Sampler: Favorites by an Outdoor Writer.” Copies are available for $29.50, plus $5 for shipping (check or money order; note whether you want it signed), from Glenn Sapir, Ashmark Communications Inc., 21 Shamrock Drive, Putnam Valley, NY 10579.

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