There's something about fishing out of Old Town's pedal kayaks that makes me want to stay on the water longer. Maybe it's the way the rod holders are positioned, or the fact that navigation and steering are more precise than steering with a paddle. Maybe it's the stability that makes stand-up fishing way easier than any other small craft I've fished from. I think it has something to do with the comfort of the seat and the fact that my legs were constantly in motion, preventing them from stiffening up the way they do in a standard sit-inside kayak. Whatever the reason for it, I found in my recent testing of the Old Town Sportsman PDL 120 that this model takes kayak fishing to the next level.
Specs of the Old Town Sportsman PDL 120 and Testing Conditions
Old Town Kayak and Canoe builds several different variants in their sit-on-top pedal drive PDL line. I ended up going with the PDL 120, which is the middle-of-the-pack option between the 10-foot, 6-inch Sportsman PDL 106 and the much-longer 13-foot, 2.04-inch Sportsman BigWater PDL 132. The specs for the 120 are as follows:
- Length - 12 feet
- Width - 36 inches
- Assembled weight - 116 pounds
- Pedal drive weight - 19 pounds
- Seat weight - 6 pounds
- Total weight capacity - 500 pounds
- Usable weight capacity - 384 pounds
Why We Chose It
I ended up going with the PDL 120 in Ember Camo simply because I'm a shallow-water angler who sticks mostly to smaller waters. And also because the BigWater seemed a little too long for my current trailer. I live in Michigan, but I rarely venture onto the Great Lakes, so it made sense for me. However, after fishing the PDL 120, I think it could handle a calm day on Lake Michigan quite efficiently, and that will likely be something I do at some point this summer.
Without question, my favorite feature is the entire pedal console. It is well designed, easy to operate, and extremely rugged. More on that in a bit.
- Exceptional quality of all parts and finish.
- Extremely comfortable for hours of fishing.
- Easy to adjust the seat and drive.
- Easy to stand up in.
- Rod holders are perfectly positioned.
- Rudder and control system operate flawlessly.
- Tons of room for extra gear and accessories.
- Extremely durable.
- Pedaling is a blast.
- The weight.
- Might require a dedicated trailer.
How We Tested It
For my testing, I stuck mostly to the series of interconnected lakes near my house. They cover a few hundred acres, so they aren't monstrous. However, they are wind-swept and are quite difficult for most paddlers to traverse with a standard kayak, so I was curious how a much longer and heavier fishing kayak would track through the open water sections. And I did get some of those winds on my very first trip out with it. With that exception, most of my testing was conducted in normal conditions any Midwestern angler could expect to experience in the late summer and early fall months, when temperatures are just starting to drop and the winds were starting to pick up with the changing of the seasons.
Before I even get into the construction of the kayak, I want to give a little extra kudos to Old Town for their shipment methods. This is clearly a company that doesn't do anything halfway. My PDL 120 arrived in my driveway wrapped as snug as a bug in a rug under multiple levels of cardboard, foam, and plastic wrap designed to keep it protected during shipping. At a time when I've seen a lot of companies cheapen out on shipping materials with their products, it's safe to say the odds of an Old Town being damaged in shipping are slim. Just make sure you have a sharp knife handy, as it wasn't easy to unwrap. Seriously, it took me nearly 15 minutes to get it open.
Once I finally cut the PDL out of its wrapping and assembled everything I was impressed by the quality of the materials and the fit and finish on this kayak. If you hop on Old Town's Instagram page, you'll see videos of workers assembling these kayaks mostly by hand right here in the USA. and it shows in the quality of the final build. This kayak is built from an incredibly rugged single-layer polyethylene material. I've seen kayaks built of this stuff before, but it just feels beefier and more durable here. It adds to the weight of the kayak, sure; but at the same time, I feel like this craft could take a beating from waves or rocks that would destroy the hull of most boats.
The same goes for the PDL drive itself. This thing weighs about 19 pounds, so it is not exactly lightweight. At the same time, nothing about it feels cheap or slapped together either. So, I was rough with it. I tossed it around a little bit during loading and unloading of the craft. I also purposely ran it aground in the shallows, just to see what happened. I was pleased to see it took the extra abuse without any issues. The only time it was hard to pedal was after I managed to wrap the prop in underwater grasses, which are easy to clear up simply by flipping the drive back up through the hole. This kayak is not a speed demon by any means, but it is easy to get going at a 5-to-6 mph clip that will get you across smaller lakes in a hurry.
The fact that Old Town covers this drive with a five-year warranty is another nice touch that just adds to the confidence of using it. The whole drive easily docks into the craft by settling the bar on the drive into a groove and turning a series of locking latches to secure it in place. At first glance, I was a little skeptical of how this system would work, but it does an excellent job locking the drive into place. My one complaint with the PDL drive is about the dry box area that's built into it. For some reason, the little latch on mine sometimes worked itself open as I pedaled. As a result, the box would sometimes just pop open on its own. However, after testing some other Old Town PDL drive kayaks, I'm convinced it's just a little quirk of the kayak I received and not something that's common across the line.
I had a little bit of difficulty those first couple trips getting the latch that secures the drive to the bottom deck of the kayak to secure fully into place. However, I think it was just new and stiff. Once I worked it back and forth a few times, it finally started snapping into place as it should. Expect a little breaking in with these parts.
The seat of the PDL 120 is also extremely well designed. It feels rugged without being uncomfortable. The thing I appreciated most about this seat is the fact that you can adjust the position while still sitting in it. The seat sits on a shuttle track. Pull up on the two pins, and you can slide it back or forward to a comfortable distance from the pedals. The seat also sits high enough that you can easily slip the custom tackle box they include with each kayak under there. It's incredibly helpful to have quick access to your lures to change things up on the fly. I think any standard slim tackle box will slide under there if you don't like the one that comes with.
I also just wanted to mention the excellent natural positioning of the accessory tracks and the rod holders of this craft. I don't think I'd even add any aftermarket holders to the kayak. It's clear a lot of thought went into the placement of these items. No more twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to reach the rods behind you. The forward-facing holder is especially nice when you land a fish, as you can just slip the rod in there and focus on unhooking whatever you just caught.
Performance on the Water
Simply put, the Old Town Sportsman 120 PDL is one of the best fishing platforms on the market today. From the moment I first pushed off into my local lake with this thing, I was impressed by the stability and tracking. If you are worried about buying a wobbly kayak, you won't get that with the PDL 120. This is the first kayak I've owned where I felt comfortable standing up regularly to fish, even if the water is a little choppy. It just has a hull design that's superior over anything else I've encountered out there.
On my first trip out with the PDL 120, I took it out into more open waters where the winds were whipping a bit just to see how it handled it. The open water on my lake can really push a standard kayak around like an ice cube on a kitchen counter if the winds are strong enough. I was pleasantly surprised at how the PDL 120 tracks straight into the wind or while being hit broadside by a crosswind. There's significantly less drift than I've experienced with any other kayak. I also noticed less of a "roll" feeling when hit by the wake of a larger vessel passing close by.
One of my least favorite things to do is to paddle flat-water lakes on a windy day, but the pedal drive makes this type of navigating fun. It takes so much less resistance through your legs to get a significant amount of push behind the prop on the pedal drive. The PDL 120 cuts through water into the wind like a knife through butter. I've used quite a few kayaks over the years, but never one that tracks as nicely as this one does. If the water is flat and calm, you can keep this kayak on a straight path with almost zero effort.
Speaking of the steering, Old Town has a great system in place with a simple knob system that moves the rudder back and forth. The rudder is designed with a level that allows you to raise and lower it without getting up or stretching to reach behind you. Once it is in the water, it doesn't take much movement to change directions. You can't really cut sharply in one place like you can while using a paddle, but you probably won't ever need to do that. The PDL navigates rather effortlessly even into tight quarters, and it will steer effortlessly around branches, rocks, and other obstacles in the water. The only times I unstrapped the paddle was when I was launching or docking.
When it comes to fishing, that's where the PDL 120 really shines. After years of trying to paddle and cast at the same time, it was truly a joy to do some hands-free fishing from a kayak for once. The PDL 120 drifts slowly; but if you want to work a series of docks or a weed line, it's a lot like having a trolling motor attached to your kayak. The biggest difference is that you're providing all the power yourself. A little exercise and I get to fish? Sign me up.
As I already mentioned at the start of this article, the thing that astounded me the most was simply how comfortable this kayak is. I had no problems sitting for literally hours on end, working miles of shoreline for some late-summer and early fall largemouths. And believe me, it took me a while to find a pattern they were hitting on during one of my testing days.
There were some items I didn't get to test on this kayak, such as the universal transducer for mounting a fish finder. I also tend to pack light when I'm fishing, so I haven't even had the chance yet to take advantage of the dry storage in the large, sealed bow hatch in the front. However, I think that will be a good place to stow my drone and camera equipment. I checked it after every fishing trip and never saw a drop of water in it. The rear tank well held my tackle bag and other assorted fishing supplies quite handily. I still had room for a cooler or other gear had I wanted to take along.
The only things I didn't like about the PDL 120 are a bit nit-picky in nature. This is an extremely heavy kayak due to the size and building materials. Even without the PDL drive and seat locked into place, it comes in at 91 pounds. Add those things, and you're looking at 119 pounds. I don't care how big and tough you think you are, that's a hefty boat. If you plan to fish out of one of these solo, you will need a kayak cart of some kind to get it into the water.
I'm probably going to end up buying a dedicated trailer for this kayak at some point simply because it doesn't fit very well into the cargo trailer I have now. I just want something simple where I can slip it on and off quickly at the boat dock. So, that's another potential added expense to consider for anyone who is thinking of buying one of these boats. This isn't the kind of boat you can hoist onto a car roof rack and just take off.
The Bottom Line
That brings me to the price for the PDL 120, which I think is probably the biggest hurdle for most anglers to get over. This kayak retails for $2,700. However, I will say this: The price is is an understandable necessity once you've fished on it for a while. It's built in the USA; and as I've noted numerous times here, nothing about this kayak is cheap or thrown-together. This is a high-quality performance kayak that is built to fish long and hard for the user. There are times in life where you do get what you pay for, and in this case, the quality you are getting is worth the price of admission in my mind. It just might take a little saving and waiting before you can pull the trigger on one. And for what it's worth, I know a few people who have bought Old Town products and have no regrets over spending a little extra for them. Check out the Old Town website for more information on the PDL 120 and the other craft they produce.