I wasn’t the only angler converging on the hole. Not surprisingly, the osprey got there first. There was nothing subtle about its fishing tactics, slamming into the clear, sandy shallows to extract a 10-inch mullet. As it raced away with its prize, the bird uncharacteristically began screeching.
I assumed the insults were directed at me until I saw the bald eagle storming in from a quarter-mile away, intent on stealing an easy meal from the smaller, slower raptor. I watched the aerial battle unfold, and it looked like the big, persistent bully was going to harass its victim until it surrendered its burden due to exhaustion. Perhaps in desperation, the osprey swooped just over my kayak, causing the eagle to abruptly flare off and give up the chase – one of the few times I’ve felt good about inadvertently interfering with Mother Nature. Fair is fair. Let the eagle catch its own stinkin’ fish.
I just hoped the birds hadn’t blown out the fish as I eased the Hobie Quest 13 over the thick seagrass bordering the hole. Even with a choppy, 15-knot offshore sea breeze pushing the beginnings of an incoming tide onto the flat, the “hole” was barely a foot deep; between the sky-borne predators and boaters passing offshore in nearby deeper water, any redfish or trout in the clear water had good reason to be nervous. Thirty feet from the sand edge, I slipped my homemade anchor overboard in four inches of water. Amazingly, mullet grazing between the kayak and the hole didn’t scatter, a testament to the Quest’s lack of hull slap. They didn’t know I was there until I dragged an angry 26-inch redfish through the school.
This was my second day on the just-introduced, revamped Quest. As a disclaimer, I’ve had a pair of Quests among my kayak fleet for over a decade. I’ve always been fond of the model – the light weight, efficient simplicity, speed, and generous, easily accessible storage are what initially convinced me to switch from my previous kayak brand. Even with pedal-drive boats at my disposal, I still find an excuse to get them wet on a regular basis. When searching for tailing redfish or big seatrout and snook on extremely shallow flats, or reaching a wading spot, there’s a lot to be said for the ability to slip silently across a bar in three inches of water.
Besides, I enjoy the upper-body workout. Do I catch more fish with the Quest than with my MirageDrives? Heck no, and it ain’t even close. When I’m paddling, I’m obviously not fishing; I make literally twice as many casts when fishing from a pedal kayak. But getting there is half the fun, and every catch seems just a little sweeter due to my self-imposed challenge.
At 28.5 inches wide, the Quest 13 bucks the industry’s continuing trend toward wide, heavy and, frankly, unwieldy designs that have forced an inevitable proliferation of electric and foot drives. Although the dimensions haven’t changed, today’s curvy Quest — Hobie upgraded the hull a couple years ago – bears little resemblance to my old, flat-hatch models. The pedestal CT Vantage mesh seat featuring reclining back, height adjustment, tilt and lumbar support dominates the sleek deckline. I’m continually amazed at how much a mere four inches of added seat height aids in spotting bottom structure and fish in shallow water, further enhancing the attributes of the silent hull. Both proved to be vital components in stalking spooky, lethargic fish just returning to ultra-clear shallows following the winter’s hardest freeze.
What hasn’t changed is the great storage, with easy access to the huge forward compartment, an 8-inch Twist-and-Stow middle hatch, and an 8-incher behind the tankwell. And Hobie did well to leave the swiveling footrests untouched. With nine positions, they accommodate virtually any leg length, and their width provides excellent bracing without undue foot pressure.
Listed as eight pounds heavier than my old models — 65.5 versus 57, according to Hobie — I got the vague impression that the new model doesn’t accelerate from a standing start quite as fast, but easily makes up for it by demanding less steering effort in rough water. My old Quests track great into or perpendicular to a hard wind, and handle adverse conditions admirably. However, minus a rudder, a wicked tailing sea requires some diversion of paddling power to keep them in line, particularly with a wind-grabbing gear crate in the tankwell. That is no longer the case, presumably due to a noticeably more pronounced keel, which, by the way, now sports a most-welcome protective skid plate. At any rate, I had no problem achieving 5.6 mph, and maintaining a steady speed of 4 mph with a typical load of gear won’t be an issue for any decent paddler.
Fifty inches forward of the keel, paddlers will note a sonar transducer plate — the Quest arrives Lowrance-ready, with wiring plugs in both deck side pockets. A bungeed drain cord flushes any water that accumulates in the shallow well beneath the seat. Anchor points on the outside gunwale make it easy to secure a cooler, livewell or crate in the tankwell.