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The kayak fishing space has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and no topic has garnered more debate in that time than propulsion methods. Whether it’s paddle, pedal, or motor, everyone seems to have an opinion on which the best option is. And the debate about motor power versus manual power can get pretty divisive.
This dividing line has been one that many companies have struggled with over the years, with few having a solution that wasn’t some variation of “stick a motor on a kayak and call it a day”. Old Town has bridged that gap in a truly unique way with their new ePDL+ drive system. This new system essentially works like an electric bike. It utilizes a battery-powered motor that assists with your pedaling, but you can also cruise at five different speeds without pedaling at all. Putting your own leg power into the pedals extends battery life, of course.
I consider this the first advancement in the motorized kayak fishing space in years that can be deemed truly new and innovative.
Last winter, I was given the opportunity to test the new Old Town BigWater ePDL+ 132 in the backcountry around Tampa. Having several days to put the boat through the paces, I was able to really play around with its capabilities and dial in where it excelled and where it may need some work. I fished with both spinning gear and fly rods. I was on the kayak through multiple tide swings and weather conditions. Here’s what I found when using the new BigWater ePDL+ 132.
- Length: 13 feet, 2 inches
- Width: 36 inches
- Weight (assembled): 143 pounds
- Capacity: 500 pounds
- Battery: 36V, 20Ah Lithium Ion
- Colors: Steel Camo, Ember Camo, Marsh Camo
Old Town’s ePDL+ drive is a legitimately impressive and functional innovation that performs well. It takes a minute to get used to the dynamics of having both pedals and a motor integrated, but once you settle in, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Using the simple interface that’s stationed between the pedals, you can alternate between five speeds.
It would be easy to overcomplicate the motorized component (see: any trolling motor or fishfinder installation video on Youtube), but Old Town has done a great job keeping the ePDL+ interface clean. You navigate the settings through a polarized-sunglass-friendly control panel and a simple two-tone UI that more closely resembles an original Nintendo Game Boy than a modern touch screen. The five speeds allow you to jump from slow trolling to throttling down to get to a new location quickly.
Beyond the drive itself, Old Town made a smart move by basing the BigWater ePDL+ 132 on an already proven design. The original Old Town BigWater (and older Predator series) have been around for years and are a tried-and-true platform, which relieves many of the concerns about launching a totally new boat. The hull has been tested and tweaked many times over, allowing the ePDL+ drive functionality to be integrated without worrying about the overall functionality of the boat. Additionally, the existing hull design allows for backwards compatibility with older Old Town PDL drives, which is a nice feature for anglers fishing in “no motor” tournaments or who simply want a backup drive.
Safety can be a concern with any motorized craft, and the ePDL+ has several built-in safety mechanisms to ensure your boat doesn’t drive off without you. As with most motorboats, there is a magnetic kill switch on a key fob that the user wears while kayaking. Should the angler fall off the craft, ideally the fob will be yanked free and the motor will stop. Secondly, there’s another kill switch built into the motor mount itself. If the drive is lifted from its down position, this connection is severed and the motor will automatically turn off. Additionally, if you start pedaling in reverse the drive will automatically cut the motor, which is a critical feature to avoid being launched out of the boat on a whim.
Testing the Old Town BigWater ePDL+ 132 in the Field
Simply put, there is no perfect kayak for every situation. While that will probably always remain true, some are more well-rounded than others. The ability to do many things comfortably goes a long way in the world of kayak fishing, so I believe it’s important to evaluate how a boat handles a variety of situations.
As an avid kayak angler with years of experience across a wide range of styles and fisheries, I have a set of criteria that I’m always looking for when trying out a new boat. To accurately test the BigWater ePDL+, I tried to replicate the average experience of kayak fishing on a day-to-day basis as closely as possible. This means both pedaling and paddling, standing, poling, and casting from a variety of different positions. It also means fishing with both spinning gear and fly, as well as covering a lot of water searching and getting technical with casts. Basically, it means beating both myself and the boat up to find fish at all costs.
Cruise Control Mode
The drive system on the BigWater ePDL features a “cruise control” mode, which is really where it separates itself from traditional pedal or motor crafts. Essentially, once you start pedaling, you just pick a speed setting you want and hit the cruise control button. Then, once you stop pedaling, the boat will continue moving at that rate until you start pedaling again or stop. In practice, it’s pretty darn cool. It adds a whole new dynamic to the pedal kayak experience, while maintaining the same built-in muscle memory and functionality that many kayak anglers are used to.
There are five speeds. Essentially, settings one through four are what I would deem “fishable,” while speed five, for lack of a better term, absolutely hauls ass. While the top-end speed will vary based on load, this boat can flat out move.
Weight and Bulk
While Old Town did base the BigWater 132 design on older models, they slightly tweaked some aspects, improving a few features that the original BigWater hull was lacking. The biggest improvement comes in the size of the stern tankwell, which has been significantly increased to accommodate a much wider variety of crates and coolers.
The new BigWater 132 hull design has its drawbacks, primarily bulk. The hull design is streamlined and tracks well, but it’s undeniably heavy at 143 pounds fully loaded. This hinders the maneuverability and also makes it a beast to manage solo. Additionally, while the craft is very stable, its center of gravity while seated is much higher than many other kayaks in the class, increasing its tipping ability. The inability to adjust the seat height beyond the basic settings doesn’t help this, and it somewhat limits the boat’s range of use.
Despite some of the drawbacks of the BigWater 132 hull, it’s certainly a great platform for the initial showcasing of the ePDL+ drive. It functions well for its intended use and provides excellent proof of concept for the drive itself, perhaps opening the door for a wider range of uses in different boat models in the near future. It would be exciting to see this drive implemented in a smaller craft, something lighter and nimbler that can really move.
What the Old Town BigWater ePDL+ 132 Does Best
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the ePDL+ drive is that it eliminates one of the most frustrating elements of adding a motor to a kayak: lack of intuitive control. One of the biggest drawbacks to any motorized kayak is the lack of fluidity between fishing, paddling, and controlling a motor. Typically, the motor is controlled by a small remote of some kind, usually worn by the angler or mounted on the craft. No matter how effective the motor is, this method of controlling the boat will always result in some level of distraction and can be downright annoying when you’re trying to focus on fishing.
The ePDL+ drive provides an exceptional workaround for this, allowing the user to preset the speeds and then control the motor solely by foot pedal. This cuts out the frustrating element of fumbling with a remote fob or screen and allows the angler to focus on fishing while also covering more water efficiently. Once you settle into the pedal rhythm, it doesn’t take long to forget that the kayak is motorized at all. I can see this functionality being particularly helpful in the tournament angling world, where every second spent messing with motor controls can cost you.
Unlike some other primarily pedal or motor driven craft, the BigWater ePDL+ paddles reasonably well when the drive isn’t in use. Being based on the older existing Old Town Predator series definitely helps from a design standpoint, as that series was fully intended and sold as a paddle boat originally. It’s streamlined hull shape and tracking ability allow for paddling without suffering should the drive go down. It certainly doesn’t have the same awkwardness that some more modern motor-based designs do when forced to paddle.
While a somewhat superficial benefit, one of my favorite parts of the ePDL+ drive is that it allows you to have the benefits of a motorized kayak while not looking like you have a motorized kayak. I’ll acknowledge that this is more of a personal preference, but I have always hated the appearance of motors on kayaks. The appeal of kayak fishing to me is simplicity, and the more external stuff added to the craft, the more you lose that connection to the water and the fish that makes kayak fishing special. However, the combining of the pedal and motor has advantages beyond cosmetic and ideological reasons. It eliminates bulk and cuts down on extraneous material on the craft. This simplicity helps keep the boat streamlined when not using the motor and removes potential snags and failure points that traditional motors add.
Where the Old Town BigWater ePDL+ 132 Can Improve
The ability to stand and fish is critical. As a sight fishing junkie, I think this is an area the BigWater ePDL+ could improve. Now, before I get criticized for my lack of balance or inability to stand in a kayak, hear me out. My critique is actually unrelated to its stability. Yes, the BigWater ePDL+ is incredibly stable, making it very easy to simply stand and fish. No problem there. The issue arises if you want to change positions or angles while standing. While it’s very comfortable to stand and cast from the designated deck space within the console, it’s incredibly unwieldy to do so from literally any other position on the boat.
As someone who likes to change positions and sight fish, the limited range of comfortable standing spots became somewhat frustrating. Even the seat is limiting, having only the standard adjustments to allow for back angle and leg space. Most larger fishing kayaks generally have a high and low seat setting, some even offering a range of different angles and heights to make long days on the water more comfortable. The seat on the BigWater ePDL+ is comfortable enough, but it really needs to have more adjustability to accommodate a wider variety of angling styles.
Another area of improvement would be adding some form of wearable remote control. To be clear, one of the boat’s best assets is its ability to be controlled without a remote. That said, there’s nothing wrong with giving the user both choices. It would be nice to at least have the option of a small remote removed from the actual drive, allowing the user to control the motor without the need to get into pedaling position.
The speed jumps between settings one through five are somewhat uneven. The first four settings provide a fairly clean increase, while five jumps significantly. It’s not the most pressing problem in the world, but it would be nice to see a wider range of speed settings that can be more finely tuned down the line.
Finally, it would be impossible to discuss the downsides to the BigWater 132 ePDL+ and not bring up cost. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, the $6,000 price tag is more than many people will be able to justify. It’s understandable that a totally new technology combined with an existing top-end fishing kayak will be pricey, but still there’s a threshold for what most anglers will be willing to pay for a kayak. The industry is getting packed with more and more expensive options, and it will be interesting to see when that threshold is reached.
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Regardless of your attitude on motorized kayaks, I would highly recommend all kayak anglers find somewhere to at least test out the ePDL+ drive. Honestly, it’s difficult to put into words, because the drive functions so differently than other pedal systems, while at the same time feeling no different at all. It’s a three-dimensional functioning oxymoron, a seamless marriage of proven technologies and entirely new ideas. It may not be perfect, but it is a rare and legitimately progressive innovation in the kayak fishing space, and one that opens the door to a host of new possibilities.
The all-new Old Town Sportsman BigWater ePDL+ 132 will begin shipping in January 2024