Big Rig Kicks Butt in Panama Coastal Angling

When the Jim Sammons TV gang heard that I’d ordered a Big Rig for my appearance on their show being taped in Panama, their reaction was a distinct silence… “What?  You don’t want a Cuda?”  Panama’s Pacific coast is as challenging as you can get with a combination of open seas as well as boiler rock territory that literally forces you and your kayak to use every paddling skill you have.  Add winds, long paddling days, the need for speed and size of fish you are dealing with, the kayak you choose needs to be spot on.  The final element to this decision is my experience level out in the ocean:  basically nil!

The Big Rig was about to prove itself in a new environment and with a rookie ocean fisherman.  It was time to put the Big Rig to the test and see how it can help a newby fish new waters.

The Big Rig was built for that first time kayak angler.  Its  big, solid, smooth to paddle, fully equipped for any accessories and friendly to the ‘first-timer’ fishing kayak, especially for those who worry about knowing any paddling skills.  To be clear, I’m not that paddler, been paddling before I could walk, but with the elements the coastal ocean was about to throw at me, I might as well be.  The waves surged into the Panamanian Islands surrounding National Park of Coiba Island leaving only feet from a nasty wash up into boiler rocks that surrounded any and all islands, shorelines and mid ocean reefs.  The current changed constantly and was further complicated with the big winds you can expect from such openness.  A kayak and its paddler must be able to paddle out of those shoreline currents, maneuver around and between boiler rock outcropping and then, after a day of fighting current, paddle hours back over chop, big swells and strong wind.  Time to test the Big Rig … and myself 😉

First test was the paddle out.  Day 1 was pretty clear, no wind, little chop, so a great chance to test the speed and tracking of the Big Rig.  Off the three of us went, led by the strong paddling of Jim Sammons and Louisiana team member, Ben Roussel.  With no wind, and JK designer Tony Lee’s new hull design, the Big Rig easily kept up with the Cuda.  A challenge because both Jim and Ben are great kayakers.  The unique bow of the Rig turned water aside of its exaggerated hull width and cut through the current like butter.  Once at the boiler rocks, the stability of the Big Rig took all of my fear away.  With a constant shifting, reflecting and surging of water around the bays and rocks of the islands, stability is often something you need to deal with for most with a narrower hull.  This kayak didn’t have to worry bout that at all.  Next challenge was the waves moving into the rocks, made complicated with us throwing large poppers into the froth at the shore.  With the Big Rig I immediately found that the popper retrieval didn’t bring me into the shore’s danger zone as fast as the Cuda.  The sheer size of the Big Rig was little effected by the poppers retrieval.  The only issue I had to pay attention to was my back paddling.  With the flat back end of the Rig, I had to take a few more strokes than I would with the Cuda.

The next test was my first big fish.  In my case it was my first Jack.  This was a 30lb fish that tugged so hard downwards that it took all the strength I had to keep momentum reeling upwards.  Again here, the stability made it easy as all I had to do was worry about the fish.  Once at the boat, dragging the fish in was a no brainer as I can lean pretty far out in the Rig to get the fish.  One of the biggest worries is your stability in handling the oft-toothy fish.  The Big Rig had no issue at all.  I’d be more apt at falling out of this kayak before tipping it, actually don’t think there’s a chance of a flip if you ask me.  Needless to say, you’re gear is mighty safe as well as you have so much space to move things out of the way while handing fish.

We had about 2 days of great calm winds out there, but the balance, especially one day, we had a great deal of wind and chop.  Chop mixed with surging currents and wind made for hard paddling.  On the long paddle stretches the Big Rig did good, but definitely would have liked to have the Cuda.  The wind did pick up the wide underside of the kayak as it was exposed due to the swell.  Cuda definitely wins that one.  On that on windy day, I decided to go for a day -long work out.  I paddled between two of our fishing grounds dragging a large bait with me across some pretty exposed waterways.  That hike, combined with circumnavigating the island we reached a couple times equalled about 6 hours of paddling in the hardest currents and wind we experienced.  Slept well that night.

Navigating the region and finding fish over such expanses of water meant you really needed a fish finder, GPS navigational system!  The bait fish were not in the region this week, so we had to hunt for fish.  Both Jim and I had our Raymarine finders.  I had the Raymarine Dragonfly finder which came with both nav charts and finders.  The ability to pin waypoints was key as the wind and current typically pushed us quickly off the spots we were jigging.  The finders gave us the depth of the fish and the jacks never had a chance ;-).  The Big Rig’s convenient Yakattack tracks combined with a nifty RAM Mount set up let me put the finder and transducer out of the way.  Again, there’s soooo much room on the Big Rig to keep your deck clean yet have all the bells and whistles you need!

On calmer days, especially in the morning and at dusk, I pulled out my fly rod and actually spent a good bit of time taking advantage of the stand assist bar and stood and fished.  Even with a surge, standing in the Big Rig wasn’t all bad at all.  I do have experience standing though, but there wasn’t a single moment where I felt vulnerable.  We had some local mangrove bays that Ben and I hit with the fly rods.  Where he didn’t stand in his Cuda, I stood most of the time tossing from my Big Rig.  Needless to say, the wide open deck in front of me, and the paddle rest on the stand assist bar allowed me to position, toss, strip and move around with ease.

Bottom line is that the Big Rig did what it should out there.  It took most of the worry about being a first time ocean angler out of the equation for me.  The stability alone helped me deal with boiler rocks, swell and handling fish.  Where the Cuda excelled was in its native ocean elements.  Its speed cutting through chop and handing wind made it a better boat for the open seas but the Big Rig was no slouch.  I’d definitely choose the Rig for the flats if there isn’t much distance being covered in open seas, wind and chop.  But MANY thanks to the Big Rig for teaching this dog new tricks!

The highlight for me this trip was a 30+ foot whale shark hitting my hull and passing right under me (check the GoPro footy!).  Incredible natural spectacle in Panama with howler monkeys, dolphins, whales, shark, jumping manta and more all around us!  Super cool place.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPc1L4HMDFY[/youtube]

A note about our hosts:  Many thanks go to Hennie and the gang at Paddle Panama (www.paddlepanama.com).  They are focused on putting Panama on the map for adventure tourism, especially paddlesports.  Hennie has partnered with local land owners, encouraging them to develop their homesteads into simple adventure tourism businesses.  The family we stayed with were awesome, funny and had as much fun with us as we did with them.  Many thanks to all who made this trip so much fun.  Will and Jim… you guys work too hard.  Many thanks to you guys as well can’t wait to see that episode!

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