Contributed by Richard Penny
After owning the original Jackson Kraken and offloading it after a full season, I was somewhat hesitant to even bother getting into the 13.5 version. I figured it would just be a shortened and skinnier version of the original, would offer some minor improvements and would still not be a boat that would be versatile enough for me on the freshwater lakes I fish 90 percent of the time.
Don’t get the wrong idea, the original Kraken design was good, some would argue that it was great for what is was intended for. It cuts through surf, it glides through the water and the built in pump scupper for a bait tank was a huge design win just to name a few.
To be fair, understand that I have been looking for that ONE boat, the one that could be a cross-over kayak of sorts, the one I could fish both fresh and salt with, met my needs and did not sacrifice to much on one side of the equation for another. The problem is, I primarily fish fresh water, and as such want a boat that meets the criteria of speed, stealth, stability, comfort and versatility. The original Kraken had most that, but at the end of the day it is a saltwater designed kayak. It was just too much boat in length and weight for me to use the way I wanted to.
Seeing many of the posts and reviews online none caught my attention more than that of my local dealer. It was a simple post on his Facebook page with him setting up a 13.5 for himself. This struck me as odd, as he and I had roughly the same issues with the original in regards to length and weight. Clearly he peaked my interest…seeing as we both top out at a steep five foot nine inches and probably weigh in less than 170 soaking wet. The fact that he was picking it up and carrying it with ease required further investigation. A few conversations later, and with very little prodding, I jumped in the 13.5 he had strategically staged on the shoreline.
As I paddled across the water, I was immediately impressed with the glide. As predicted Jackson did not margin much of a loss in the 13.5 cutting through the water. At the reduced length, the 13.5 is clearly lighter and more nimble than the original, and gets up to speed faster which made quick movements easy. Trimming the boat is made easy with fore-to-aft adjustable seat. With the seat in the lowered position the Kraken series cuts the wind very well.
The 13.5 is also quiet in the water, clearly something I care more about in freshwater than salt. I was not met with the scupper noise I had expected, even with a minimal load out (paddle, and one rod). This is an improvement over the original. As the speed through the water and agility was something I expected though, and I was pleased with how quiet the boat was in the water, it was time to test the stability.
I want stability because I like to stand up and fish, especially during the spawn. Sight fishing from a low profile seat just does not work for sight fishing. The Kraken 13.5 did take a cue from the Coosa HD and offers a high position for the seat that the original does not. Getting to the stand up position was easy. I had the seat in the lowered position and in the middle of the fore-to-aft setting. As I stood up and fished for the next half hour, I flipped and pitched a variety of areas and I was shocked with the stability of this boat. I have paddled a Jackson Kilroy for a few seasons, so needless to say, that was the standard at which I was judging the Kraken, and I was impressed. I had no problems standing and fishing from this platform, including the boat wash after a boat came by. The 13.5 design actually added a half inch in width to the original design, and it makes a noticeable difference. Adjusting the seat to the raised position does make the transition to standing easier, and allows for a little better view across the water. I would liked to have seen a secondary raised position incorporated into the design, the only raised position is with the seat all the way back and depending on how you are loaded, could limit the overall use of the raised position.
Comfort is an issue for most people and I am no different, including gear and tackle management. I want all of the creature comforts I left in my bass boat. It is hard to beat the Elite 3.0 seat with the included Therm-a-rest lumbar support when it comes to comfort. In regards to functionality, it could be improved. While there are side pockets that conveniently store a Plano 3600 box on each side, these boxes are difficult to get to with the seat in the lowered position. As storage on kayaks is a premium, the area under the seat could be better utilized, or the design modified to allow easier access to the side pockets.
I want the fish finder within reach and where I can see it easily either standing or sitting without having to manipulate several things and make a ton of noise. I care how my rods sit in front of me if I need to move quickly to another spot. All of these issues are easily configured with a quick addition from either Ram Mounts, Yak Attack or both. The fish finder mounting is easy and adjustable. The dedicated transducer scupper is perfectly placed and allows for easy wiring. The scupper is roughly nine inches long and three inches wide. While I realize that may seem overly large, I feel it needs to be just slightly larger to accommodate the larger Structure Scan or Side Imaging transducers. I am just not a fan of hanging a transducer mounting arm over the side to create more drag in the water and collect kelp, lily pads, grass, etc…
There are eight different rod storage locations, more than enough to keep all of those rods readily accessible for the avid bass fisherman who can never have enough rods. I would really like to have seen Jackson add some type of area under the center hatch for dedicated rod storage and make the center hatch lockable for those of us who keep our kayaks on a trailer or in the bed of a truck and need to stop for an extended period of time.
The Elite Series also comes with deck padding so lures, weights, pliers, etc…can hit the deck without transmitting noise to the fish you are sneaking up on. And shall I not forget the KKrate? Plumb this baby with a pump, a 6 volt battery with some tygon tubing and you are off to the races with live bait. For the record, I do not use live bait in freshwater unless my kids are with my and the bite is tough, at that point, “two bags of minnows please” dump those little jewels into the bait tank and my kids have a happy day on the water!
Lastly, I want versatility, in that I want the ability to go hit the salt water and open myself up to that type of fishing. It has been the never ending battle of finding a boat that can fish both fresh and salt well, not compromising too much of one side for the other. I want to cover larger distances without being worn out at the end of the day from pushing a brick through the water.
In the end, yeah….I called Jackson and put my order in for an Elite Kraken 13.5. Is it the perfect boat? Only time will tell. What I can tell you is that things keep improving. They keep improving because we keep pushing for more. For now, I just need it show up and start getting it rigged for 2016. If by chance you are wondering what I need to rig… it starts with a Power-Pole Micro and ends with a Torqeedo Ultra light 403.