Nu Canoe Frontier kayak review

Nu Canoe Frontier kayak review

Local agent Gordon loaned me a Frontier model a few weeks ago, enabling me to embark on mostly rewarding fishing expeditions and to take advantage of some of the model’s more interesting features.

Initial impressions were promising, with the super-stable Frontier allowing safe fishing from a standing or sitting position, and with an ability to be paddled in the normal way or propelled as a paddle board. Nu Canoe supplies a convertible carbonshafted paddle that quickly transforms from a double-bladed kayak paddle to a single-bladed stand-up paddle, or a pole with a plastic foot for shallow sand-flats fishing. There’s even a pointed spike attachment so the paddle/pole can be used to hold the kayak in position in shallow water.

The hull is engineered to accept a small petrol or electric motor. I tried it with a 3hp petrol engine, but more about that presently.

Fishing tool

After using the Nu Canoe Frontier a couple of times it became obvious that this boat was initially designed for flats fishing, which mainly involves slipping around silently spotting and casting to fish in shallow water.

The ability to stand-up in the boat, leaning securely against the optional leaning bar – part of Nu Canoe’s ‘Stand Up Angler’ package – and poling or paddling silently along, is a huge advantage. The extra height is great for spotting fish, progress is almost silent, and the Frontier is stable enough to safely cast a fly rod or conventional tackle whilst standing up. Not surprisingly, the model is very popular with American anglers targeting red fish, as well as fresh water species on spinning tackle or fly.

Flats fishing is possible in New Zealand too, with some enthusiastic fly fishers enjoying great sport stalking kingfish in some of our northern harbours, as well as at the top of the South Island. This boat would also be ideal for chasing trout in our lakes.

But most kayak fishers in New Zealand target more mundane species such as snapper and kahawai, and fish in water too deep for fish spotting. Being restricted to Auckland and with only limited opportunities to use the Frontier, I took it snapper fishing.

Fully optioned

Nu Canoe kayaks are priced as premium products, but come with lots of cool stuff. The Frontier I used was fully optioned with a range of Nu Canoe accessories, including rod holders, cup holders, a rear storage box with additional rod holders, and a handy modular tackle-storage area, upon which you could also position a fish box. Neoprene non-slip panels should prevent the fish box from sliding around.

The Frontier even has bass-boat-style on-deck rod storage, with bow pockets for the rod tips and hooks that ensure rods are held securely along the gunwales. They work well, accepting two fully rigged rod-and-reel combos.

The Frontier features a versatile rail-mounting system that accepts all kinds of Nu Canoe equipment and accessories. The comfortable seat consists of a mesh and aluminium ‘chair’ with a folding back and a handy swivelling function, enabling full-day fishing expeditions without discomfort.

Better still, you can fit a second seat (or seat someone on a fish bin forward) so the Frontier becomes a tandem fishing kayak.

The ’yak is so stable I was able to sit down and swivel the seat through 360 degrees without risking capsize. This makes it much easier to access gear behind the seat – or you can simply stand up and reach over – as well as keep in touch with your lure and react to bites while fishing.

The leaning frame is definitely handy when standing to fish, though it gets in the way when fishing from a seated position. But it is removable, or can be folded down when not needed.

This vessel was also supplied on a locally-built trailer, which is brilliant. It’s a relatively heavy boat, so hefting it onto the roof rack is a two-man job. However, it’s easy to get on and off the trailer. The supplied beach trolley works well too, though it doesn’t provide a lot of ground clearance and I wonder how the powdercoated steel will hold up to salt water over time (the rest of the boat’s fittings are aluminium, stainless steel, rubber and plastic).

Under power

My first adventure with the Nu Canoe Frontier had mixed results. I’d opted for the higher of the two seat bases (the boat was supplied with two) which, like all the other fittings, are mounted along the boat’s versatile slotted-metal deck rails. They’re easy to change over, but not on the water!

Planning a reasonably ambitious maiden voyage, I’d fitted the boat with an old 3hp outboard. Nu Canoe rates the Frontier for petrol or electric engines of up to 2.5hp. My old Johnson is identical in size and weight to the 2hp version, so I figured it should be okay, provided I went easy on the throttle. A homemade tiller extension with a safety lanyard to shut off the engine completed the installation.

The motor clamps onto the flat transom, but a protective plate is a good idea to avoid damaging the PVC. I used a bit of 3mm plywood, but Nu Canoe offers an accessory for the purpose.

My experiment with the motor wasn’t an unqualified success. Under power I felt a little precarious in my high seat and couldn’t reach the throttle control, which is a bit disconcerting. Thankfully, stopping was easy – just a yank on the safety lanyard.

Of more concern was the way the kayak squatted under power, probably exacerbated by my positioning of my tackle box and ice, as well as the seating position, which was well aft. A hole in the transom, designed for the beach trolley, allowed water into the boat when under motor power. Before long the ‘yak was awash, though it is unsinkable.

A bung and some adjustments to the seat’s height (fitting a lower seat base), plus repositioning the seat closer to the middle of the kayak, made it much more tractable under power, but my setup was still not ideal. Nu Canoe supplies accessories such as tiller extensions and outboard mounting brackets, which make petrol power more practical, but personally I’d go electric. Electric engines are lighter, safer, and allow better control.

Paddle power

Once I’d retired the motor and emptied the kayak (pull out the bungs and paddle – it’s self-bailing), I was obliged to rely on paddle power for the rest of the session. I quickly discovered the limitations of a relatively short, wide boat, with paddling any distance in strong currents proving tiring. The height of the seat didn’t help, and as it swivels on the power strokes, my paddling was less efficient. As the seat’s position wasn’t right either, paddling a straight course was difficult.

I still managed a few fish without the benefit of petrol power, but learned that the leaning frame gets in the way while sitting down to fish. I decided to lower it for subsequent missions and also change some of the rod-holders’ positions.

My first impressions of the Frontier were, that while it was great to fish from and easy to manage, it wasn’t so great to paddle, at least as I’d set it up initially. Some adjustments were in order.

A few adjustments to the seat position (sliding it forward) and the addition of a bung solved most of my issues under power, but for my next fishing outing in the Frontier I left the Johnson at home. In the interim I’d fitted the lower seat base and dropped the leaning bar to make fishing easier.

The changes made a big difference to how the kayak handles. With the seat further forward, the ‘yak paddles much better, tracking straight and requiring less effort. Even so, the Frontier isn’t fast, but fortunately a leisurely paddling approach seems to suit it nicely. I reckon it gets along at three knots without too much effort, well shy of the 4-5 knots I normally manage in my Ocean Kayak 4.1, but not too bad.

I also adjusted the paddle’s shaft length, making it easier to clear the boat’s sides. But the biggest improvement in paddling effort came from using the lower seat base. This gave a much better paddling position and I had less trouble with the seat swivelling with each power stroke.

Rock steady

Where the Frontier really shines is in its amazing stability. Even with the leaning frame lowered to the deck, I was happy to stand up and fish. You’d think twice in choppy conditions, of course, but when the water’s calm, it feels totally secure. I also explored paddling the ‘yak paddleboard style, which proved remarkably efficient. It’s a good option when the sea’s calm or you’re stalking the shallows.

There’s a huge amount of reserve buoyancy and the Frontier can easily accommodate two anglers fishing or three people in total.

This upper Waitemata Harbour outing was thoroughly enjoyable and produced quite a few pan-sized summer snapper on softbaits. Several were caught while standing up to fish, but most of my fishing was done from the comfortable, supportive seat. A drift chute or an anchor clips onto the kayak’s port-side line and pulley system, which can be adjusted to anchor the boat from the bow or the stern. I wonder about the plastic attachment point though: a stainless-steel ring might be better.

I’d love to take this boat fly fishing. Sight fishing for trout is where the Frontier would really excel, but it’s great for inshore softbaiting as well. Fitting an electric motor would compensate for its modest paddling performance, too. Oh, and the trailer option is brilliant – now I want one for my other ‘yak as well!

Specs: Frontier 12

Length: 3.66m (12 feet)

Beam: 1.04m (41 inches)

Height: 30.5 to 43.2cm (12-17 inches)

Draft: 7.6 to 12.7cm (3-5 inches)

Hull weight: 35kg (77lb), plus seat, accessories and gear

Seating capacity: 1-3 ppl

Max weight capacity: 300kg (650lb)

Self-bailing capacity: around 136kg (350lb)

Max auxiliary power: 2.5hp or equivalent

Seating: (1) 360 Pinnacle Seat

Seat base: Rigid 360 Base, low.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

March 2017 - John Eichelsheim
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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