Old Town’s Sportsman AutoPilot Fishing Kayak is awesome, but it has a bit of a learning curve. GearJunkie contributor Morgan Nowels went down to Florida and got the inside scoop.
Old Town recently released new boats in its motor-driven, pedal- and paddle-powered Sportsman line. Included in the new line are two groundbreaking motor-driven kayaks: the Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot and the Old Town Sportsman 106 Powered by Minn Kota.
The Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot beat out 30 other products to take the overall crown for Best of Show at the 2020 Virtual ICAST show.
The Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot comes in two sizes, the 120 and the 136, which are 12 and 13.5 feet long, respectively. The 120 retails for $3,800, and the 136 retails for $4,000.
A third pared-down option called the Old Town Sportsman 106 Powered by Minn Kota measures at 10.5 feet long and retails for $2,500. The 106 is a phenomenal boat in its own right, allowing anglers to fish from an easy-to-use, power-driven kayak at an affordable price.
Read on for our full review of the AutoPilot option.
The New Motor-Driven AutoPilot
The two Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot kayaks are the flagship boats in the Old Town Sportsman line. The AutoPilot is unique because it’s controlled differently than any other kayak before it. It may be an oversimplification, but the AutoPilot is essentially a fisher-friendly remote-controlled boat.
A handheld i-Pilot remote controls the saltwater-ready Minn Kota power drive. While this remote is waterproof, it does not float. However, if you were to lose it, you can download an app on your phone that will allow you to control the motor.
There are only two ways to control the boat outside of the remote or phone app: foot pedals that control the rudder or the kayak paddle on the right side of the kayak, which is useful for situations where you can’t use the motor.
Hovering in Place With Old Town’s AutoPilot’s Spot-Lock
The i-Pilot remote has five buttons that I found myself using consistently. The button I used the most is the one that makes this boat truly spectacular, and that’s the anchor button located at the bottom of the controller. With this button, Old Town married the technology and features you see in a high-end bass boat with a kayak.
The anchor button controls Spot-Lock, a GPS anchoring technology located within the trolling motor. When pressed, the propeller will hold the boat at the exact location the angler pressed the button without the angler doing anything. To turn off Spot-Lock, press the button again.
The Spot-Lock feature allowed me to fish from a kayak like I never have before. All kayaks I’ve ever fished from share one thing in common: I’ve always had to worry about the boat’s position while I’m trying to fish. Wind and current always push kayaks around, keeping anglers from giving 100% of their attention to fishing.
After testing the Spot-Lock feature in very windy and choppy conditions, I can say it works as advertised. I didn’t have to worry about the position of the kayak at all and just fished.
In my opinion, if I’m fishing and forget I’m in a kayak, its a phenomenal boat. The AutoPilot offered just that.
Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot Fishing Kayak: Hands-Free Motion on the Water
Another unique control the AutoPilot boasts is the button with the “N” above an arrow. This button locks in a directional heading when traveling. To use, turn on the motor and point the boat in the direction you want to go. Press the button, and the kayak will automatically keep the same heading without you having to do anything.
I found this feature invaluable when traveling from spot to spot. While moving locations, I was able to replace leaders and baits on numerous rods. In other boats, I’d be actively paddling or pedaling, and I’d have to re-rig upon arriving at my destination. The AutoPilot bought me more fishing time by allowing me to rig in transit.
The remote also has arrow buttons that control steering through the motor’s propeller. When driving the boat, I found it best to steer by positioning the propeller straight forward with the arrow buttons and then steering with the foot-pedal-controlled rudder.
However, when utilizing the rudder alone, the boat is only capable of wide turns. To turn sharply, I’d steer both the motor and the rudder, which allowed me to turn on a dime and gave me precise control of the boat.
Not for Very Shallow Water
One of the most significant advantages of a kayak is the ability to draft in shallow water. With both of these boats, you lose some of that ability.
With the motors deployed, there’s a propeller hanging underneath your kayak, which allows you to draft in roughly 14 inches of water. Any shallower than that, and you’ll have to pull up the drive.
That in itself isn’t a big deal, but if you often find yourself fishing waters that are shallower than 14 inches, the motorized drives won’t offer you any advantages. You have to pull the motor up and essentially have a regular paddle kayak.
A Learning Curve for Motorheads
The AutoPilot had a few unique setbacks. First off, it took some time to get familiarized with the controls. There was a learning curve on how to use all the features of the i-Pilot remote.
Specifically, it took me some time to dial in turning sharply with both the rudder and the steering control on the motor at the same time. I also struggled in situations where I’d need to react quickly and found myself reaching for a paddle or trying to use foot pedals instead of the remote to control the boat.
These issues can be overcome with time in the boat. After 5 hours on the water, I felt completely comfortable. However, if you struggle with technology and handheld remotes, it may take longer to become familiar with the controls.
The other negative thing I found in the AutoPilot was a lack of instant reverse. To get the motor to go into reverse, you have to use the arrow keys on the i-Pilot remote to turn the propeller 180 degrees. Turning the motor 180 degrees takes a second, which means there’s a slight delay before the boat starts going backward.
The delayed reverse was a problem when I would accidentally approach a dock or other obstacle too quickly. Due to the delay, I may or may not have run a propeller into a submerged cement wall. It turns out, the propellers and Minn Kota motors are very durable.
In my opinion, Old Town upped the kayak fishing game with these two AutoPilot boat options. The AutoPilot is genuinely groundbreaking and gives you any feature you could ever expect from a kayak. After fishing with the Spot-Lock, it will be tough for me to go back to a regular pedal kayak.
And, with the experts at ICAST in agreement, it’s really a must-have for the seriously techy kayak angler. Whether you’re a diehard tournament angler or a weekend warrior that gets out at every opportunity, these boats deserve your attention.