The Freedom Hawk, Freedom 12

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Having done my fair share of kayaking (including the Dusi Canoe Marathon and the 50 Miler) I’ve spent many an evening contemplating fishing skis and whether they’re fly fishing friendly. The thought of combining the paddle with the rod definitely appealed to me and it made perfect sense for both estuary fishing as well as to open the doors to some “deep” sea fishing in the form of nearby reefs.

But was the standard fishing ski (or kayak) a genuine option for a fly fisherman? I’d certainly heard of people fly fishing off of them but it sounded both uncomfortable and inconvenient. And then one day, while browsing fishing websites, I came across Freedom Hawk’s range of fly fishing kayaks. My eyes widened and I immediately sent them an e-mail inquiring about availability in South Africa. A response promptly arrived in my inbox indicating that Xplorer Fly Fishing stocked the product locally. My interest peaked.

The Freedom 12
The Freedom 12

I immediately contacted Xplorer Fly Fishing who were kind enough to lend me a kayak to demo. I also contacted a friend who owned an Eric’s Fishing Ski and was kind enough to lend it to me. This put me in the perfect position to compare both products and to explore the option of fly fishing from kayaks (and/or fishing skis).

The Freedom Hawk range was initially designed for shallow water fishing. This made the Durban harbour the ideal testing grounds for the boats and, thankfully, the tides suited my needs perfectly. It was close to spring high meaning that I could drift across the sand banks in search of grunter or drift the drop offs looking for kingies or springer.

Now before I get too far into this review it’s only fair that I mention that fishing skis come in many shapes and sizes, and since I got my hands on an Eric’s Fishing Ski I can only really comment on that. That said, I’d imagine that other sit-on-top fishing skis would be very similar. As for sit-inside fishing kayaks, they may be slightly different. And since I’m yet to fish off of one I can’t really comment.

So after finding a suitable launch site we packed our fishing gear into the two boats. The Freedom 12 offered two waterproof hatches, one in each outrigger, situated behind the angler. My immediate concern over these was whether I would be able to reach them easily once on the water. Thankfully I can now confirm that they are easy to access whilst on the water, except for perhaps the deep dark corners inside them, so pack carefully. Over and above these two hatches the Freedom 12 had ample deck space which was perfect for storage. My only concern here would be around surf launches where you’d need to make 100% sure that everyone was securely tied down in case you roll.

Storage on the Eric’s Fishing Ski came in the form of 2 hatches. Immediately behind the angler is a small waterproof hatch for items such as cell phones, flares, wallets and perhaps your food. Then between the angler’s legs it a non-waterproof hatch with a strap down lid. This is far bigger and can be used to hold rods (split of course) as well as anything else you’re willing to get wet. Finally, on the front of the Eric’s Fishing Ski, there is some netting which can be used to hold items down. This wasn’t hugely useful except for perhaps holding fish.

Nick testing the Eric's Fishing Sk
Nick testing the Eric’s Fishing Sk

We then carried both the Freedom 12 and the Eric’s Fishing Ski to the water. The Freedom was definitely heavier (at 32.6kg) and slightly more cumbersome to carry. That said you can remove the 2 outriggers which drops the weight to a more manageable 24.5kgs and should make the Freedom 12 easier to transport.

Once on the water we spent some time paddling both boats around the flats. It was immediately obvious that the Freedom 12 was more stable on the water than the Eric’s Fishing Ski. It also had a different feel due to it being a kayak rather than a fishing ski. The Freedom 12 was fractionally slower through the water than the ski but not enough to worry me. I would also guess that it would match up to other fishing kayaks which, judging by weight and design, would generally be slower than fishing skis.

With some of the “less important” testing out of the way we finally reached our chosen location and it was time to fish. I gently pulled on the two levers and the outriggers slid out easily. The change in stability was astounding and I could easily reach behind me into the hatches.

This also meant that I could easily adjust the outriggers into their second position, parallel to the boat. Although moving the outriggers parallel to the boat offers no additional stability it does offer one HUGE benefit. It means that you can paddle (or pole) the boat around easily without having to pull them back in and then deploy them again later. This is perfect for adjusting your drift slightly or re-positioning yourself if you spot a fish. When moving large distances you would however still pull them back in for the additional speed.

Then came the important part…standing up. My first attempt was slow and cautious but I quickly realised that this was not required. I could easily move from seated to standing and found that the Freedom 12 was so stable that I could rock it from side to side and jump up and down without any risk of falling out.

Warren fishing off of the Freedom 12
Warren fishing off of the Freedom 12

I will admit that it was relatively calm day on the water so I didn’t get to test it in choppy conditions. That said, a lot of boats (and tugs) passed by leaving huge wakes in tow to challenge me. They posed absolutely no threat and never once did I feel unstable.

At one point we purposefully tried roll the Freedom 12 (with the outriggers out). The best we could so was to lean over until water poured in, but even then the boat would not tip. We did eventually manage to fall out by leaning too far over, but the kayak immediately righted itself and remained upright in the water. Impressive!

Now standing I lifted the casting brace and secured it using the pole. Looking at the system used to secure it I wasn’t expecting it to be 100% solid, but it was. I could easily lean against it without it moving at all. Thanks to the near perfect conditions and stability of the Freedom 12 having the brace up was certainly not necessary. That said it provided a lot of additional comfort in the form of something to lean against to take some of the weight off of my feet.

Casting from the Freedom 12 was an absolute breeze and no different to casting off of a boat. I could also easily cast in any direction and was not limited to just forward or sideways. One concern I did have was that the line may get caught on one of the moving parts making casting tricky. This however was not the case and I only managed to snag the line on one of the outrigger levers once (and even then it was because I tried to turn around mid-cast). If this does however worry you a small, collapsible stripping basket would easily resolve this issue. But as I said, I only got snagged once in a couple of hours of testing.

Warren fishing off the Freedom Hawk
Warren fishing off the Freedom Hawk

Drifting over the banks and along the drop off was a pleasure and I could easily see for long distances and spot fish. Adjusting my position was also easy thanks to being able to paddle with the outriggers out (and standing). You can also paddle with the casting brace up but I did find it got in the way of my stroke and so I only left it up for very short distances.

Hugely impressed with the Freedom 12 I jumped onto the Eric’s Fishing Ski to see if it offered a similar experience. It’s initial benefit was that it was slightly faster over the water but the real question was whether fly fishing off a standard fishing ski was viable.

Since I was in the shallows the first thing I tried to do was to stand. Getting up was wobbly but I made it up and could certainly stand on the Eric’s Fishing Ski. That said I was completely off balance, even in calm water, and there was no way I’d be able to cast. With that question answered I sat down and paddled to the drop off.

I began fishing sitting down and must admit that it was definitely plausible  The Eric’s Fishing Ski was stable enough to cast off without any risk of tipping but it wasn’t hugely comfortable. Being lower down meant that my fly would occasionally hit the water and my range was definitely less that on the Freedom 12. With a push I could cast the same full line as on the Freedom 12 but it certainly took a lot more effort.

Testing the stability of the fishing ski
Testing the stability of the fishing ski

With my feet in the foot straps I wasn’t too comfortable casting and as such I tried other positions including sitting on the hatch or hanging my legs off the side. Hanging my legs over the side was by far the best but this wasn’t something I really wanted to do in the shark infested harbour. A seat/backrest of sorts would definitely improve the experience by taking the pressure off of your core and back, but it still wouldn’t be the awesome experience of the Freedom 12.

Fly fishing off the Eric’s Fishing Ski was also made trickier by the lack of stripping space. Sitting down meant it was harder to strip long lengths of line at speed. Thankfully this isn’t always necessary in the harbour where many fish feed on slow moving prawns and glassies. But when targeting some of the kingies often a fast strip is the only solution. Casting direction was also more limited and was most comfortable directly in front or two the sides.

Visibility on the Eric’s Fishing Ski was also slightly less due lower position in the water and spotting fish therefore wasn’t as easy.

So having fished off of both vessels it was plain to see that that Freedom 12 was definitely the right tool for the fly fisherman. It made casting easy, in any direction, and offered incredible stability. It also made spotting fish a breeze and was hugely comfortable to fish from.

Nick trying to roll the Freedom 12
Nick trying to roll the Freedom 12

The Eric’s Fishing Ski on the other hand was uncomfortable to fly fish from and, although possible, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. I could easily see myself getting frustrated and therefore not fishing for as long or as hard. That said, if you’re looking for a boat to troll behind then the Eric’s Fishing Ski is the better option. It was faster through the water and slightly easier to paddle. It was also easier to load onto the vehicle, especially if you find yourself fishing alone.

A final note, and something that may be important, is the ease of getting back onto the boat in the instance where you fall off and into deep water. Climbing back into the Freedom 12 (with the outriggers deployed which you can do from in the water) was no problem at all. Climbing back onto the surf ski was far more difficult and required some level of skill and balance. It was however still possible.

Both boats had two rod holders for trolling and holding rods. The Freedom 12 did however have two ever important drinks holders. The Freedom 12 also has a motor mount for an optional small motor.

Specs for the Freedom 12:

LENGTH
WIDTH
WEIGHT
Total Hull Outriggers Total Body Only Max Weight Capacity
12′ 3″ 9′ 45″ 31″ 72 lbs. 54 lbs. 250 – 275 lbs.
373 cm 274 cm 114 cm 79 cm 32.6 kg 24.5 kg 147.5 kg

The Freedom 12 comes in yellow, blue, olive or a sand colour. You can download the full spec sheet here…Freedom 12 Spec Sheet.

In summary the Freedom 12 is definitely the right tool for the job. If you’re a fly fisherman (or a bass fisherman) then this is the boat you want, no questions asked. It’s only downside is that it can be tough to load onto your car by yourself, but hopefully removing the out riggers would make this easier.

Note: Xplorer also stocks the Freedom 14 which is similar to the Freedom 12 bar being slightly larger (14 foot as opposed to 12 foot). It is the recommended boat for larger anglers since it supports weights of up to 181kg, rather than the 146.5kg of the Freedom 12.

A very impressed Nick
A very impressed Nick

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