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There’s a scene in the film Ford versus Ferrari during the 24-hours of Lemans when the Ford team steals the Ferrari team’s stopwatch. This throws a wrench in the competition’s game plan and gives Ford team director Carroll Shelby an advantage. That’s how I look at Old Town Topwater 120 Kayaks. Just when the competition thought they were getting a low-price lead on the big guys, Old Town’s Topwater 120 bargain fishing kayak throws a wrench in their game plan. Not only is the kayak priced to fit in any budget, but the wide, stable hull and flat, open deck make it a competitive kayak designed for stand-up fishing over paddling performance.
Without a doubt, a price tag under $1000 makes the Old Town Topwater 120 Kayak a great value. But, as with any low-priced kayak, I have to ask what was sacrificed to save a few bucks? Is a cheap kayak worth the savings?
Old Town Topwater 120 Kayak Specs:
Weight: 82 pounds
Width: 33.5 inches
Capacity: 500 pounds
Hull: Rotomolded plastic
What Kind of Fishing Kayak Is the Old Town Topwater 120?
The Old Town Topwater 120 is the brand’s everyman fishing kayak. With a price tag below a thousand dollars, the Topwater 120 is the least expensive 12-foot kayak in the company’s fishing line. But this is more than a budget kayak. The Topwater 120’s essential fishing features make it ready for action.
The fishing features start below the waterline. Old Town’s DoubleU hull allows the Topwater 120 to balance stability and speed. On the topside, a wide, flat deck provides plenty of room for stand-up fishing. This kayak is all about fishing without the frills. Still, Old Town’s reputation as one of the oldest paddlesports companies extends to the quality of the build and components.
Key features of the Old Town Topwater 120 fishing kayak
Old Town added the right kayak accessories, in the right places, to make the Topwater 120 an off-the-shelf fishing kayak. Two flush mount rod holders behind the seat and a gear track on each side of the cockpit are minimum requirements for a sit-on-top kayak for fishing. I like how the gear tracks are flush to the gunnel so they don’t snag my line. Many anglers like to install a kayak fish finder display on this track to keep the controls in reach. The cockpit tracks are also a good place to mount a camera base or even a rod holder.
Open storage behind the seat offers anglers room to put coolers, tackle, and other gear. Ric Burnley Ric Burnley
For easy electronics installation, Old Town included their Universal Transducer Mount, a through-hull scupper forward of the cockpit that routes the transducer cable to a replaceable mounting plate recessed below the hull. The system makes adding electronics so easy, you may not even need a drill.
The only sign the Old Town Topwater 120 kayak is a bargain fishing kayak is the seat. A single layer of mesh fabric around an aluminum frame saves weight, but it doesn’t add padding. Luckily, the seat back and bottom are angled to be ergonomic and comfortable for all-day kayak fishing. I like the storage area beneath the seat to hold tackle trays. And, my rod butts fit under the seat when my sticks are lying on the deck. Since I spend so much time standing up, I guess the seat isn’t as important. The Topwater 120 seat is comfortable and functional, but nothing fancy.
What the Old Town Topwater 120 lacks in standard equipment it makes up for in adaptability. I like the boat with light rigging for quick trips after work. But, flat spaces on the deck and open areas in the cockpit afford creative anglers unlimited possibilities to add fishing equipment. The Topwater 120 has the space and volume to carry a full array of electronics, batteries, lights, rod holders, camera mounts and cup holders.
How We Tested: Backwater Excursions with the Old Town Topwater 120
When I’m heading to my favorite backwater speckled trout and redfish spots, I grab the Topwater 120. The boat’s solid stability and flat deck make it a pro for stand-up fishing. In super shallow, weed-choked water, the Topwater 120 is the best fishing kayak around. I prefer a paddle kayak in shallow water situations that would eat up a pedal drive. As long as I’m not covering miles of open water, the Old Town Topwater 120 is the perfect tool for inshore and backwater fishing.
I usually use the Old Town Topwater 120 in my local marshes and tidal creeks, but when my buddy invited me to go snakehead fishing, I grabbed the Topwater 120. Snakehead live in the thickest, muddiest and nastiest tidal creeks. As the tide drops, the fish are forced to leave the heavy vegetation for the last remaining water in tiny tidal creeks. Perfect for the Topwater 120.
Not only does this fishing kayak shine in shallow, sheltered water, but the stand-up friendly deck and hull allowed me to work hollow-bodied frogs all day. The boat is super stable with plenty of deck space to move around and even turn around and reach gear in my crate.
Snakehead are famous for saving the best part of the battle until they are in the kayak. Expect to go to hand to hand combat to subdue one of these powerful fish. After I netted a snakehead and dropped the fish on the deck, the wide open cockpit provided space to measure the fish and take a photo before releasing it overboard. I was able to land fish without turning the kayak into a cage match with the snakehead writhing overboard leaving me tangled and cursing.
When I stand-up fish in shallow water, I prefer a paddle kayak that scoots through the skinny stuff and easily weaves into tight spaces. Without a pedal drive, the deck is open and flat for more fishing space. This open deck design is perfect for stand-up kayak fishing and allows anglers to be versatile with their approach.
On the windy paddle back to the launch, the Topwater 120 tackles short-period wind chop and battles against an opposing current. In the rough stuff, the boat splashes through the waves and struggles into the wind, but the DoubleU hull keeps the Topwater 120 tracking straight and the rounded chine, the angle where the hull meets the side of the kayak, and sharp bow entry help absorb the waves. For short trips and shallow water, the Old Town Topwater 120 is the best kayak out there.
Old Town Topwater 120: Speed, Tracking, and Maneuverability
The rule of thumb in angler kayak performance is long and narrow boats are fast while short and wide hulls are more stable. Leaning towards stability, the Old Town Topwater 120 tries to cheat the rules of performance with its DoubleU hull.
This design, shared with other fishing kayaks in the class, pushes more volume to the outside of the hull to increase stability. Then, deep channels running down a sharp keel improves efficiency and tracking. A sharp entry with a wide bow rides over waves instead of cutting through.
The Old Town Kayak Topwater 120 takes the tunnel hull concept to its limits. The boat paddles straight even in a stiff breeze and moderate current. In the tight stuff, the Topwater really shines. The fishing kayak is easy to maneuver into small creeks and around boat docks.
The Topwater’s 12-foot water line is long enough to allow solid tracking while short enough to turn easily. A 33.5-inch beam is ideal for stability and the width is distributed evenly to allow the boat to turn without a rudder.
The tunnel hull passes through the water easily and the sharp entry cuts into waves. By channeling the water through the tunnels, the fishing boat makes decent speed without much effort. Compared to other fishing kayaks in the category, the Old Town Topwater 120 is one of the best handling stand-up kayak designs.
Open Water Performance
Of course, stand-up kayak models struggle on open water. The wide hull splashes through waves and the high seat and gunnels catch the wind more than fishing boats designed for bigger water. This is true of any stand-up kayak.
The Topwater 120’s tunnel hull does it’s best to fight the wind and current. A rounded chine, absorbs waves by rolling with the impact. The boat’s flared bow pushes spray away while cutting into the chop. Stand-up kayaks are not the best for fishing big water. Even if it’s not designed for miles of open-water paddling, the Old Town Topwater 120 won’t leave you stranded when the conditions turn bad.
Stealth and Stability
The sacrifice in speed pays off when I’m stand-up kayak fishing. The Old Town Topwater 120 has rock solid stability. By moving the volume to the outside of the hull, the boat is hard to lean to the side. The wide hull combines with a large, flat, open deck, to provide plenty of room to stand and fish.
An elevated seat and stand-assist strap on the deck lends a hand getting up, too. The padded deck is welcome when I’m standing for hours. Padding also sound-proofs the deck; when I drop a sinker it doesn’t spook every fish in the area.
The Topwater’s 12-foot water line balances tracking and maneuverability, especially when I’m stand-up paddling. The wide hull and rounded chine keep draft to a minimum, further aiding in maneuvering the kayak.
The Topwater 120’s deck is open from the seat to the bow. I can move forward in the kayak to pitch baits to dock pilings or vertical jig a rock jetty. Or, stand closer to the seat for improved stability. The wide deck allows me to spread my feet, taking advantage of the tunnel hull’s full stability.
The combination of a stable hull that still performs well allows me to confidently stand and fish. I can cast underhanded and throw large lures without hesitation. Working the lure back to the fishing boat while standing allows me to hold the rod tip low without hitting the water.
When a fish is on the line, I fight it to the boat and can even land and unhook the fish without sitting down. Turning to grab my net or leaning over to get my pliers is second nature.
On the rare bluebird days when I get an opportunity to sight fish the shallows, I can climb on top the seat and still paddle the Topwater 120. The Topwater’s stable hull makes it one of the best sit-on-top fishing kayaks.
What the Old Town Topwater 120 Does Best: Fishing Shallow Water
Some people look at the Old Town Topwater 120’s price tag and write it off as a cheap kayak. While the boat is a great value, it has other appeals. Using Old Town’s decades of experience designing paddlecraft, the Topwater hull is built from the top down for stand-up fishing. A wide, channeled hull is stable without being a bear to paddle. Complementing the stable hull, the Topwater 120’s seat, stand-assist strap and padded deck encourage me to stand and fish. There isn’t a better boat to fish shallow, sheltered water. The Universal Transducer Mount makes it easy to add a fish finder and battery power. With smart design and essential accessories, the Topwater 120 is a great value for a competent stand-up kayak.
What the Old Town Topwater 120 Does Worst?
Increasing stability requires a decrease in paddling performance. The Old Town Topwater 120 is not designed to cover long miles of open water or launch through the surf. An elevated seat and high freeboard catch the wind and reduce maneuverability in river rapids. This boat is for short distances and shallow water. The seat offers minimal padding, but the design is comfortable and functional. For a better throne, upgrade to the Old Town Predator.
Does This Fishing Kayak Deliver On Its Mission?
Old Town’s Topwater 120 fits two categories: stand-up kayak and budget boat. Costing just $999, the boat keeps its promise to fit in any angler’s budget. A tunnel-hull, flat, padded deck and elevated seat meet the requirements for stand-up fishing. But it’s Old Town’s century of experience that allows the Old Town Topwater 120 to exceed expectations. The smart DoubleU hull pushes the limits of the tunnel hull squeezing every ounce of performance out of a stable platform. And the Universal Transducer Mount, gear tracks, rod holders and padded deck come together for a competitive fishing machine. If you’re looking for a great backwater kayak for stand-up fishing, and you’re not interested in dropping a lot of money on a tricked out ride, then the Topwater 120 is the boat for you.
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