As many kayakers know, most vessels come in two flavors: sit-on-top and sit-inside. There are relatively significant differences between the two types. Still, the general consensus amongst paddlers is that sit-on-top models are more user-friendly, so they tend to be the best beginner kayaks. One of the more popular vessels of this type is the Tarpon 120, and in this guide, we’re going to give you the ins and outs so that you can decide if this Wilderness Systems kayak is the right choice for your needs.
Overview of the Tarpon 120
One of the key advantages of a vessel like the Tarpon 120 is its ability to help you store your stuff. The rear storage area is extensive, so storing things like fishing crates and camping gear is made very easy. This area has bungees, so the stored material won’t become dislodged as you paddle and deal with any minor waves that may be present on the body of water you’re paddling on. In addition, there’s a nicely-sized hatched storage tank in the front for things you need to keep dry.
There aren’t any rod holders molded into the body of the Tarpon 120, but these are often added to kayaks as kind of an afterthought, so you’ll have to purchase aftermarket holders. In many cases, these will be more reliable and higher quality than the holders that might come preset into some poly kayaks.
This is an excellent vessel for those looking to go fishing, and it’s also a stable enough vessel to be running down rivers where there will be a small bit of chop. The tracking is also top-notch so that you corner well and cover distances without going off-course.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the more interesting stats of the Tarpon 120.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing
So, is the Tarpon 120 the kayak for you? Well, this depends. Kayaking is filled with vessel options. Are you going to be fishing consistently? What’s your budget? All of these are considerations that you’ll need to make, so let’s take a look at a few things that you’ll need to consider before you make a purchase decision.
The Tarpon 120 is a vessel that falls neatly in the mid-range insofar as price, so while it may seem prohibitive for a new kayaker, it’s not asking for the same pricing as a high-end kayak. For this reason, you should consider how much you’ll be using the Tarpon 120. Are you going to be using it to go on all-day-long fishing trips? Then, this is the right choice since it is made out of durable materials, is comfortable, and has plenty of room for storage.
On the other hand, if you’re purchasing this as a first kayak where you’ll only be using it intermittently, maybe a cheaper vessel will be more advantageous. In other words, spend the money on the Tarpon 120 if you’re planning on really using it for a long time.
Lots of Room for Accessories
There’s a reason why the Tarpon 120 is such a good vessel for angling; it has a wealth of room and storage so that you can bring what you need for your trips. For example, aft of the seating area is a large section designed for fishing crates, equipment, coolers, and even scuba tanks. This section of the boat has a mesh cover, so it’s easy to protect your belongings.
The Tarpon 120 also has two sections explicitly designed to keep things dry. The front storage area uses an oval Orbix hatch to protect your valuables. While there have been reports of leakiness in this section, this area is spacious and provides you with some noteworthy extra storage. The second area designed to keep your belongings dry is a dry box positioned just forward of the main seating area. This area is much more secure and has a seal.
In addition to the storage, the Tarpon 120 is designed for accessories. There’s a slide track so that you can mount items like fish finders and GPS devices. Additionally, there’s also a magnetic mount water bottle holder situated slightly forward of the dry box that makes it easy to retrieve your beverage as you paddle.
Features and Benefits
Let’s see how the features and benefits of the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 stack up.
This is a boat that is great for anglers. It has a good level of stability, so you’ll feel like you have a fair amount of purchase as you fish. Additionally, the rear storage is perfect for storing things like fish crates. If you’re going to be out on the water for the entire day, which is typical for fishing kayakers, then the Tarpon is comfortable enough that you won’t end the day with blisters and sore spots.
Insofar as fishing directly from a standing position, the Tarpon is usable, but expect a bit of instability. The positioning of the hatch and storage areas makes it hard to stand evenly, but experienced fishermen/women shouldn’t have TOO much of an issue. When you’re out on a lake/pond, you’ll need a place to put your paddle, and the Tarpon 120 has this need covered. Along the front of the boat is a dedicated paddle holder that helps free your hands for fishing.
If there were a category where the Tarpon could do better, it would be in its portability. This is a heavy kayak. If you’re going to be solo carrying, which you most likely will be, you’ll have to heft 63 pounds of vessel to and from the water. Remember, the average recreational kayak weighs about 35 pounds, so it’s pretty easy to see how this model may be a bit tough to lift for an extended period.
Still, there are features that do make it a bit more acceptable. One is the well-crafted handle at the front end; this will grant you a straightforward and stable means of dragging the boat. There are also handles along the side so that you’ll have multiple ways to grip it when you’re heading out to kayak. The Tarpon 120 comes with a replaceable skid plate, so the kayak’s hull will be protected should you need to drag it.
Many consider the Tarpon 120 to be one of the best-made roto-molded polyethylene kayaks on the market. The material is durable and should last you for years of use out on the water. This material is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), so nicks and scratches shouldn’t form quickly, especially if you use the replaceable skid plate when bringing it into the water.
Compared to other fishing kayaks like the Pescador 10, the Tarpon 120 has about the same level of durability. This means that the 120 will last for years, if not decades of fishing trips.
On- Water Performance
As a kayak designed with fishing in mind, the Tarpon 120 has very stable handling on the water. This translates well when you’re exploring new waters or when you’re using the kayak to follow fish. The seat is also positioned low on the kayak so that your weight contributes more to the stability of the vessel.
For turning, a rocker that’s in the hull helps significantly. This is a good beginner paddler feature that makes it an excellent kayak to learn to maneuver. The hull flare is also wider so that you feel more stable, but admittedly, you won’t be cutting through the water at any significant pace. Fortunately, this is a kayak that you’d only purchase for fishing or long-term paddling, so you’d never use this in a race.
Finally, fishing kayaks tend to end up in places with shallower waters, and the short waterline of the Tarpon 120 allows you to safely float these waters without scraping the bottom of the boat. The tracking on the boat is also straight and efficient, which you need on a good angling vessel.
Gear Storage/ Fishing Accessories
Storage is one of the significant benefits of this particular kayak. The rear section provides ample space for anything that you won’t mind getting a bit wet. This section also has two molded areas, so in theory, you can load up items like a fishing crate and a cooler with relative ease. When you don’t need so much vertical space, the section has a retractable mesh covering that will keep smaller items securely positioned.
The two aforementioned dry storage areas are also a significant consideration for anglers. We’d recommend using the smaller container for things like cell phones, wallets, or keys, and save the other container for anything that might not be damaged should it inadvertently get wet.
Accessories are essential for people who love to fish. The unique SlideTrax system, which provides tracks for your favorite accessories, is positioned in two positions on the bow and along the tankwell. This is useful for rod holders, extra dry storage accessories, bungee lines, fish finders, and GPS mounts. The system is entirely modular, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find the right fitment.
This thing shines for comfort. When you look at the well-cushioned seat, you can see how this is an optimal kayak for spending hours on the water. Not only are the base and the back of the seat cushioned for comfort, but the footrests are also padded and spacious for paddlers with larger feet. You can also use the locking lever to adjust the footrests’ position, which provides a good range for shorter or taller kayakers.
In addition to comfort, the seating is fully adjustable. You can even adjust the positioning while you’re sitting atop the kayak. This adjustability, which allows you to move either component up, down, front, or back, is useful since long-term kayaking will require that you shift from time to time to be comfortable.
The Tarpon 120 is something of a darling in the eyes of the kayaking community at large. Most customers agree that this is an excellent kayak for even larger paddlers since it has a 350-pound weight capacity. Additionally, most love the latest iteration features and agree that the angling additions that Wilderness Systems incorporated to make for a very useful and fully-featured fishing kayak.
One of the key features that many kayakers love is the 120’s stability, which is critical for a fishing vessel. While it’s not the perfect boat to stand on, it still does an admirable job providing standing anglers a reasonably stable surface on flat water. The other critical feature that many love is the storage. The 120 may not have as much room as some more premium kayaks, but it definitely has room to spare and plenty of accessory space for most kayaking gear.
With all this in mind, it’s essential to understand that the Tarpon doesn’t win over everyone. Many reviewers complain about the front hatches’ tendency to take on water despite being called dry storage. There aren’t any channels for excess water to flow out of, and the gasket doesn’t seal enough for some.
Here’s an owner’s review of the vessel:
Does the 120 not fit your ideal of a perfect kayak? Here are some alternatives to consider.
Feelfree Lure 10
- 10-feet long
- 70 pounds
- 375-pound weight capacity
- High-density polyethylene construction
- Gravity seating
- Shorter in Length
- More maneuverable than Tarpon 120
- Heavier but has a Keel Wheel
- 13-foot, 2 inches long
- 117 pounds
- 500-pound weight capacity
- Single-layer polyethylene construction
- This kayak has a removable pedal drive
- For more heavy duty yak fisheren
- Very high price point
- Fully-loaded fishing kayak
- Turbo fins, cranks, and rudder
- Easy to steer and track
- Customizable rig with lots of dedicated mounting points
- Ideal for calm fresh water
- Vertical hatches for tackle, lots of cockpit storage, built-in bottle opener
Feel Free Lure 10
Compared to the Tarpon 120, the Feel Free Lure 10 is very similar. Not only does it have seats that are as well-padded as the 120, but they are also adjustable for different heights and positions. This is also a vessel that shares much of the stability of the Wilderness Systems kayak – you should be able to stand up while fishing if need be.
Somehow, this kayak manages to be even more massive than the Tarpon boat at 70 pounds. This is mostly because the gravity seat is a full 10 pounds on its own. Fortunately, the Feel Free Lure 10 has a wheel along the keel that makes it easier to drag than the 120. It’s also worth noting that there aren’t as many complaints about the forward hatch experiencing leaks.
Hobie Mirage Outback
The first thing that you should know about the Mirage Outback is that it’s a pedal vessel. This is advantageous for fishing because you won’t need a dedicated paddle during your trips. This frees up your hands for angling, though this is less of an issue with the dedicated paddle storage of the 120. The second thing you should know is that this is a hefty vessel. In total, it weighs about 85 pounds and a full 12 feet, 9 inches long. These measurements are usually reserved for tandem kayaks, so don’t be surprised if this is a bit unwieldy at first.
Still, the Mirage Outback has tons of storage space, a high capacity of 425 pounds, and some genuinely outstanding stability. This is also one of the most in-demand pedal kayaks on the market, and it’s been available for almost 20 years.
Old Town Predator
Another big kayak, the Old Town Predator, is designed for people that are very serious about fishing. It has a length that’s more in-tune with tandem vessels at 13 feet, 2 inches, and it weighs a monstrous 117 pounds, so be ready to heft. Fortunately, the bow and stern have grab areas that make it a little easier; in fact, there are more handholds on the Predator than you’d find on the Tarpon 120.
Like the Tarpon, the Predator also has relatively comfy seats that are padded and adjustable, and you can even make quick adjustments on the fly. A feature on the Predator that’s not on the 120 is the strap that allows you to fully secure the back in a downward position – this makes it easier to haul and store without damaging this all-important area.
The Tarpon 120 is a great go-to vessel for anyone looking to do a little fishing over a longer period. Its adjustability, comfort, storage, and construction all make it an excellent choice for kayak fishing. While we wish that Wilderness Systems fixed the Obrix gasket so that it provides more of a seal, the presence of a secondary dry box mitigates some of the issues that this storage area might have. Overall, if you need a stable kayak fishing experience, we certainly recommend this vessel. For more details on the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120, click here.