There's a moment after I switched the Old Town Big Water ePDL+ 132 from power level four to five that took me by surprise. The electric motor kicked up into another level and the kayak took off with more gusto than one would expect to get from such a small craft. It immediately reminded me of the first time I used my electric fat-tire bike—and of why it was only a matter of time before some inspired kayak builder brought the concept that's taken bikes by storm and applied it to a fishing kayak.
The Big Water ePDL+ 132 is Old Town's first foray into combining their widely-loved fishing kayaks with an integrated battery-powered pedal drive. The result: a saltwater-ready kayak that's so easy to pedal, you almost feel like a kid in a toy pedal boat.
I got an early sneak peek of the new boat and the chance to spend a full day on the water with one of the prototype kayaks, fishing the shallow mangroves of Ruskin, Florida. The whole experience left me clamoring for more, and I'll certainly be trying to cast off one of these bad boys again soon. This craft really is a game changer in every sense of the word. Here's what you need to know about Old Town Kayak and Canoe's BigWater ePDL+.
The BigWater ePDL+ is an extension of the brand's already-popular Sportsman line. The ePDL+ uses the same platform as the BigWater PDL system. A closer look reveals that this is not your average pedal kayak, though. The heart and soul of this new kayak is the hybrid electric-and-pedal drive developed by Old Town. It's a fully motorized system that only makes the drive just slightly bulkier than their standard PDL drive.
Old Town powers this new drive with a 36-volt, 20-amp hour lithium ion battery that stores neatly under the seat. Old Town says it gets three hours of continuous battery life in the highest setting on cruise control. That is without the operator doing any pedaling of their own. "If you knock that back to level three, which is about three miles an hour, it will give you about 20 hours of battery life," says Old Town brand evangelist Ryan Lilly.
That said, the more you add your own pedal power, the longer the battery will last.
To talk technicals, this fishing kayak has:
- Length: 13 feet 2 inches | Width: 36 inches | Weight: 143 pounds
- Total boat capacity: 500 pounds | Usable weight capacity: 357 pounds
- 36-volt, 20-amp hour lithium ion battery, included
- Manual pedal and power modes to navigate fishing waters with ease
- Five battery-assist speeds, plus cruise control for motorized versatility
- Average battery life in cruise control:
- Cruise 1 runtime: 46 hours
- Cruise 3 runtime: 23 hours
- Cruise 5 runtime: 3 hours
How the Sportsman BigWater ePDL+ Drives
I'll admit, I was skeptical about the claims of battery life considering how small the battery appears. Also, in my experience, my fat-tire e-bike really seems to drain the juice fast after only five to eight miles of riding on flat trails.
However, as I pedaled around in this kayak for a full day of fishing in the shallow mangroves around Ruskin, I ran the motor quite a bit at higher pedal-assist levels. I also ran it at full speed on cruise control against the tide.
Once we were back to shore, I noticed I'd only used a sliver of the battery's charge, according to the polarized display on the drive. Consider me impressed!
"You can get a lot of battery life out of this kayak," Lilly says. "And, at the end of the day, if you forget your battery or your battery dies because you didn't fully charge it, it's a fully manual pedal drive as well, so you don't have to worry, you can get yourself home because it is still a pedal-drive kayak."
He's not joking. The big difference between the ePDL and your standard e-bike truly is the ease of pedaling. In truth, my fat-tire e-bike is way too heavy to comfortably pedal without the assist activated. Believe me, I've tried. Even on level ground, it's a big ask.
However, that's not an issue with the ePDL. The tension on the pedals feels identical to my Sportsman PDL 120, which is not motorized.
Old Town made it easy to stop this kayak, too. Need to brake while on full cruise control? Just pedal backwards to turn the assist off and slow you down. I found being able to pedal backwards with this type of drive extremely helpful, as I tangled my lure in mangroves more than once trying to skip a curly-tail grub under them for redfish.
How the Sportsman BigWater ePDL+132 Fishes
As mentioned, my test of this kayak took place in the mangroves around the Ruskin area. The waters were shallow and filled mostly with redfish, snook, and Jack Crevalle. The fishing ended up being rather slow, and that one redfish was the only fish I caught all afternoon.
However, the ePDL+132 handled things quite well as I battled the spunky three- or four-pound fish. I also steered down a few narrow canals in an area packed with docks and boats and found turning around with this kayak as easy as it is with Old Town's standard PDL models.
I also ran the ePDL+ around in the shallows a couple times back in the mangroves, and it seemed to take the abuse in stride. There was one area during low tide where I had to pull the drive up and break out the paddle. The motorized drive is slightly heavier Old Town's standard PDL drives, but the experience of lifting the drive in the kayak is not too different.
Likewise, steering and tracking are excellent with this craft, as I've come to expect from Old Town products. We had relatively calm conditions for my one-day test, but I have no doubt this kayak is as stable as the other Sportsman models I've tested in the past.
I need to mention the ePDL's safety systems here, too. Even if you do manage to flip this kayak, which I believe would be a tall order, Old Town built in a kill switch that will instantly kill the motor the second you fall out. There's also a second kill switch built into the hull and drive itself that will kill the motor if you hit something hard that pops the drive out of place. No worries about injury from the prop coming up through the hull!
If you've ever fished in Old Town's offerings before, you already know how comfortable it is to angle from their kayaks. The day came to an end much too quickly, which is usually the sign of a fun day on the water, even though I only caught one fish. The pedal-assist of this kayak makes it so you can fish longer without getting tired nearly as fast as you would under your own manual power.
For anyone who wants to maximize their time on the water, this is the way to go. This was one of those days of angling where I didn't want to call it a day!
Is the BigWater ePDL+132 Worth Buying?
As you might expect, the Old Town ePDL+132 has a higher price than a standard pedal kayak, with a retail price of $6,000 compared to roughly $1,200-2,500 for a model without the electric assist.
For those wondering, the ePDL drive will not be available separately for those who already own a standard PDL model. As the Old Town engineers explain, this is simply because manual-powered models do not include the wiring or safety cut-offs they've built into this model.
So, while the price of this e-pedal fishing kayak puts it in line with a higher end e-bike, and it's certainly an investment in your kayak fishing hobby—after my test run, I think if you can afford it, the investment will likely be worth it.
For both freshwater and saltwater, the Old Town ePDL+ is simply one of the coolest kayaks I've ever experienced. This innovation goes a long way towards improving the amount of water you can cover in a day, and how long you can fish.
Even when you're not fishing, it's just so much fun to put this thing on level five, hit the cruise, and just ride along enjoying the scenery.
Keep in mind we don't know yet where the ePDL falls with state registration laws. Under the wording I found in my state of Michigan's boating regulations, I think the ePDL will probably require registration.
Regardless, expect this kayak to be the new hottest thing on the market when it finally hits the stores in early 2024.