By: Eric Fey
In my mind, the Hobie Pro Angler 14 is the ultimate fishing kayak. I have been fishing one for a couple of years now and the arrival of the Mirage Drive 180 was sure to improve the performance of this kayak. With the arrival of this new Drive system came the 2017 line of Hobie kayaks. In addition to the new drive, the Pro Angler and Outback would be offered in a camo version. Aside from looking cool, the camo model had some upgrades on each model. Once I found out that the new Camo Outback would be equipped with turbo fins and a larger sailing rudder, I made the decision to swap over from the PA and give the Outback a try for the upcoming year. I was able to take to the waters of Delacroix, LA recently to try out the new kayak. The following review is comprised of my opinion of the new model having only fished it one time.
2017 Camo Hobie Outback with 180 Mirage Drive
Unlike the Pro Angler, there isn’t much flat space on the bottom of the Outback hull. I normally store my kayaks on a set of saw horses with towels to soften the contacting surfaces. On the Pro Angler, the surface is flat and therefore very stable. The Outback however, has a rounded midsection of the hull that forces the hull to lean one way or the other. I was able to solve the issue by using a strap on the front and back to anchor the kayak to the horses. No biggy. The Outback is noticeably lighter than the PA so getting it up onto the horses and down from them was a bit easier. Another option would be to build a cradle out of PVC and 2×4’s. Instructions for build are online and easy to find. Or, you could purchase the Hobie cradles, but they are a little pricey.
The Outback is approximately 2 feet shorter than the PA. I no longer need to use a truck hitch bed extender when hauling the kayak. Again, the kayak does not sit flush in the bed and I highly recommend building a cheap cradle to help it out. This will make it much easier to tie down without any wiggling. Once again, the Outback is lighter and easier to load and unload without any assistance. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a cart of some sort. The cart will take the kayak to and from the water. If you intend to fish alone, a cart is a necessity. This is just as true with the Outback as it was with the PA.
I did not notice much difference when launching the Outback. I use the same method of carting it down to the water, lifting the back and letting the cart fall from the rear scuppers, then pushing the kayak into the water. Since the Outback is a little lighter, I give the edge to the Outback when launching and picking up.
When it comes to speed, the Outback is a clear winner…..maybe. Here is the problem. I can say definitely that the 2017 Outback is faster than the 2016 Pro Angler. But the drives are different. The 2017 Pro Angler may be just as fast but I can say without a doubt that the 2017 Outback FLIES!!! Without having actually measured the speed, I would be comfortable saying that it could be 2-3 mph faster. It makes sense that the Outback would be faster. It is lighter, sleeker, and therefore has less drag. Keep in mind that I was using turbo fins since they came with the camo version of the Outback.
The PA is a clear winner for layout and storage in my eyes. In fact, this was my biggest complaint about the Outback platform. There are no in hull rod holder which I have come to love. There is very little in hull storage in the front hatch and even less in the middle circular hatch. The back of the kayak is much smaller than the PA and could barely hold my 35 qt Yeti and Hobie cart. I would be much better served with a soft sided cooler on this kayak. I know plenty of anglers that have solved this issue and rig milk crates and fashion extra PVC rod holders. I am into keeping my kayaks simple and basic so this type of solution doesn’t appeal to me. I did however like the forward facing rod holders on the Outback. While sight fishing it was nice to have my rod at the ready and in front of me for when I spot fish.
I found no issue with the stability of this kayak. I fish nearly all day from the standing position. I never once fell like I was at risk for going overboard. The PA is more stable as you would expect, but the Outback was plenty stable enough. There is nothing more to say on stability other than don’t let the size or shape of this kayak scare you out of standing.
Being that the Outback is a smaller kayak, it obviously handles a bit better than the PA. Turning is more responsive, at least with the sailing rudder. One thing that did surprise me was that the Outback seemed to track better than the PA as well. When I took it out, the wind was blowing pretty good (10-12mph). On the way back to the launch around noon, I was traveling North-Northwest into a Northeast wind. I rarely had to make any adjustments to my rudder to stay on course. This may be because it has a lower profile than the PA and therefore catches less wind. I am not sure, but it was noticeable. One HUGE benefit to the Outback is its paddle-abilityishness when the fins are locked up to the bottom of the hull. Often when I am sight fishing, I pick up the fins and use my paddle to push pole or paddle across the flats. The Outback was very easy to propel from the standing position. This alone almost entirely makes it a more pleasant kayak to sight fish reds from.
The PA is rigger friendly. You can attach almost anything that you could want without putting unnecessary holes in the hull. This is not the case with the Outback. Both kayaks look really sharp but the Outback is seriously lacking in modular rigging options. Again, many people have no issue tearing into their brand new hull. I am always a little more hesitant. That being said, it is more than possible to rig the Outback anyway that you could ever want if you have the stomach for it. I find the circular hatch in the middle of the Outback next to useless and would seriously consider changing it out to the rectangular hatch. It is worth noting one more time that the Camo version of the Outback comes with extras which in my mind, more than justify the extra $150. One of those options is the Turbo fins on the new Mirage Drive. The other is the larger sailing rudder. Aside from these two extras, you also get a sweet camo paint job.
New Mirage Drive with Reverse
I will start off by saying that even if you never use the reverse feature, it seems like Hobie has found a way to make the Mirage Drive perform even better. The new drive seems faster and feels like it requires less effort. Once again, I am comparing a 2017 Outback to a 2016 PA, but I will make an effort to get in a new PA soon. Now, on to the reverse function. For the first part of the day I found it difficult to switch the drive into reverse. Or rather I thought it was difficult. It turns out that in the water you cannot hear the audible “click” of the drive spinning around, WHICH IS A GOOD THING! Quiet is always better. But, since I was expecting to hear it, I wasn’t recognizing when the drive was flipping. Once I came to that realization, it seemed quite easy to engage the reverse. Once the fins were locked in, you have the benefit of full power, full speed reverse. This drive is capable of pushing the kayak in reverse at unnecessary speeds. When you are in super skinny water, you will not be able to reverse the fins. They need to be in almost a full upright position to switch. I did find that because of the reverse, I did not have a need to anchor all day. In fact, I think that I will fish without an anchor for a while to see if this holds true. If for any reason it doesn’t I have a PowerPole Micro ready to fill that gap. All in all, I really like the new drive and cannot wait to see if it is more rugged than the last model. Previously I had a bad habit of bending the fin masts. I am told that the new masts are stronger and less prone to bending.
Both the Pro Angler and Outback are industry leading kayaks and you really can’t go wrong with either. If I was forced to choose one, I would most likely choose the Pro Angler with the reversible Mirage Drive. That being said, I loved the Outback and look forward to fishing from it this year. Who knows, maybe my opinion will change. As of now I just like the in hull rod storage and overall layout of the PA a little better. I encourage anyone who might be interested in checking out these kayaks to visit The Backpacker or give them a call. They can get you into both of these models so that you can try for yourself.