Testing Old Town’s Latest Pedal-Powered Kayak for Coastal Anglers

What It Is:

The Salty PDL 120 is a pedal-powered fishing kayak released by Old Town in the spring 2020 as part of its Sportsman line of fishing kayaks. The Sportsman series includes 11 boats, each built to be powered either by electric motor, pedal drive, or traditional paddling. The Salty PDL is one of four models in the series rigged as a pedal-powered kayak, and geared toward the idea of the coastal angler. If your autumn hinges around chasing striped bass migrating from New England to the Mid-Atlantic, or spending the winter stalking redfish across shallow mudflats in the southern U.S., the Salty PDL 120 is what Old Town has in mind.

For the Salty, Old Town didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. It took the proven and popular design template of a sister brand, the Malibu PDL from Ocean Kayak, and made some tweaks to set the boat up as a maritime do-it-all fishing rig.

“The Salty became part of the line because we wanted a craft that would be speedy, relatively compact, and could handle some waves,” says Sharon Scott, the senior director of brand management and product development at Johnson Outdoors’ watercraft division. “The Malibu Pedal’s instant hands-free forward and reverse makes it a great platform at a very attractive price point, so we re-imagined it for the angler.”

Salty PDL 120

As Scott notes, the Salty has been outfitted with just about any feature you would expect to find on a modern fishing kayak. It is a sit-on-top style, open-deck kayak, with an elevated seat to assist in casting, vision, and keeping you high-and-dry. Storage wells open in the bow and stern for stowing gear and tackle. A universal transducer mount is ready to install a fishfinder. From there: built-in rod holders, plus multiple accessory tracks for your GoPro and GPS, or fish-finder screen.

At 12 feet long, over 34 inches wide, and weighing 105 pounds assembled (a wieldable 85 pounds without the pedal system installed), the Salty PDL retails at $1,900.

Why We Like It:

As a paddler, my first impression looking at the profile of the Salty was, “this is going to be fun.”

The boat has rocker, especially as it curves up through the substantial, wedged bow. The top of the nose sits nearly 18 inches from the ground. What does this mean on the water? The Salty can ride out some swell, and keep water out of the cockpit. The rocker in the bow not only means you can bust through some waves, but also turn downhill and catch a few rides.

Salty PDL 120
Johnson Outdoors

While narrower than the other pedal boats in the Sportsman line, the slender width provides a little extra speed, without sacrificing much stability. Also thanks to the pontoon-style tri-hull, standing casts felt stable, where waves rolled right under the boat while adrift. I’ve tested the Salty in busy inlets with erratic boat wake, as well as letting it sit broadside to short-period wind-swell, and never felt the need to make a reactionary grab at my paddle for bracing strokes.

The open deck of the Salty is laid out in a simple and usable fashion. The bucketed storage well in the stern is roomy, with a 27-inch by 22.5-inch footprint shaped to easily seat a cooler the size of a Yeti Tundra 35. The bow storage well is smaller but still has a capacity for a good-size drybag. There’s also a small dry-storage compartment built in the top of the pedal drive that lies between your feet within the cockpit area—great for keeping items dry and easy to access like a cell phone, snacks, first aid kit, or spare batteries. If you max that out, there’s also a dry hatch located under the seat, which also provides access to mechanical components inside the hull.

TopWater PDL Old Town Fishing Kayak console
Handy dry storage in the pedal console. Joe Potoczak

There are three built-in rod holders (one forward-facing and two rear-facing), making space for multiple fishing rigs ready to fly. The two pre-installed accessory mounts and paddle lock are nice out-of-the-box components that mean you don’t have to go drilling holes in your new boat to complete your setup. The mesh seat provides an elevated casting position, better visibility, keeps you high and dry, and most importantly, is comfortable. Simple buckles adjust the pitch of the backrest. The seat slides forward and back with a peg system within easy reach to move yourself to the appropriate distance from the pedals.

Salty PDL 120 pdeal Old Town Fishing Kayak motor
Joe Potoczak

The 12-inch span of the rotating propeller on Old Town’s trademark PDL Drive provided plenty of gas. In a strong headwind, the Salty easily trolled along at around 1.5 to 2 mph, and was able to accelerate into a sprint of around 5 mph when needed. I found the power of the PDL Drive to provide a confident amount of horsepower to handle any wind and tidal currents I faced. The bicycle-style pedaling system is intuitive. With the ability to also kick the PDL Drive in reverse, it makes me wonder how I ever fished with a paddle in hand. When entering a shallow stretch or making a landing, the drive can quickly be rotated up from under the hull, and locked in a disengaged position, pictured above. The rudder on the Salty makes for impressive steering. At around 16 inches in length and bellying out just over 4 inches, the usable surface area provides a tight turning radius, and can hold a line in tough conditions. The hand-controlled steering for the rudder system is low key, responsive, and conveniently placed on the left side of the boat where your hand wants to rest. A hand knob on the steering dial tightens down to lock the rudder angle, making for a straightforward and helpful autopilot-like function.

 

Nitpick:

If there is a place for improvement on the Salty, it is in its mechanical components. The hand control for example. Considering how heavily the steering dial mentioned is used, the materials and design seem light duty. My impression based on the feel of the current materials and build, is if something will be first to fail on this boat, it will be this hand control.

Salty PDL 120 steering handle on the TopWater PDL Old Town Fishing Kayak
Joe Potoczak

Similarly, the pre-installed paddle lock is currently in an odd position. If a paddle is latched, it provides some interference with the reels of a rod in both the forward- and rear-facing rod holders on the left side of the boat. If I were to make a quick grab for my paddle, I could see accidentally sending a rod in the drink. Slightly moving the position of the paddle latch seems it could easily alleviate this.

 


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