Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Change is hard sometimes. I tend to have trouble with it. We get used to things being a certain way, things being in a certain place. We get hardwired through repetition and muscle memory. I just changed out the kitchen faucet at my house for a new one, because the old one was starting to leak at the base. The old faucet had both a "hot" and "cold" knob. The new one has a single, toggle style knob on the right hand side. The new faucet has been installed for a week, and I still find myself reaching with my left hand for the hot water knob which no longer exists. I wouldn't say it's a design flaw, I'm just not used to it yet. On the other hand, this new kitchen faucet has better water pressure, a retractable multi-setting sprayer built right in, updated supply lines, and now I only have to fiddle with one knob instead of two. It's just a matter of getting used to it. Overall, I feel the same way about the new Outback.
In early 2020, I landed a spot on the Hobie Fishing Team, along with 4 other awesome kayak fishermen from Connecticut (Jose Negron, Addison Carter, Shawn Barham and Corey Pelletier). This is my first year on the Hobie team, and it is an honor. One of the prerequisites for joining the team is that you must be fishing out of a current year model kayak. I had mix feelings about this requirement for a couple reasons. For one, I was reluctant to spend any money on a new kayak, but it would be nice to have two kayaks for others to join me on the water. More importantly, I've been fishing out of a Hobie since 2017 (kayak fishing since 2010, not sure what took me so long to make the jump), and since then, I have only owned and fished out of 2017 and 2018 models of the Outback. The older style Outback was tried and true. From it's origin in 2001 up until 2018, the hull shape didn't change all that much. It underwent several design changes through the years, mostly in the cockpit and gunwale trays, some major engineering went into rudder and seat upgrades, but the general shape of the kayak remained about the same. It was a very capable hull that I got very used to, and I felt confident and comfortable in almost any conditions in that kayak. Whether it was navigating a shallow smallmouth river full of boulders or in 4 footers out on the open ocean in Rhode Island, I felt the old style Outback could handle it. "The S.U.V of kayaks", is how the Outback was formally introduced to me by Theo Maryeski. The only complaints I ever really heard about that kayak is "hull slap", meaning when going through chop, the bow of the kayak creates a slapping noise on the small, close together waves. This never bothered me, personally.
So, I purchased a Seagrass 2020 model of the Outback. I can't say I wasn't excited about it, and I was already trying to come up with rigging ideas for easy access to my striper plugs and securing measuring devices to quickly and easily get measurements of striped bass and northern pike. The first thing I found to be different about this kayak compared to the old style, is the carry handles. I don't know if it is just me, but my new kayak feels noticeably heavier (only 5 lbs. heavier than the 2018-), and seems to be a little bow heavy when loading it onto my roof rack. The handles are not dead center of the weight. I quickly found that if I put one hand on those handles and the other hand on the H-Rail, it seems to balance out a bit better when lifting the kayak overhead. Ok, crisis averted. Once I got the kayak home, it actually sat for a while before getting used. Reason being, I was waiting to make the maiden voyage until I was able to get a fishfinder for it. But I was anxious to rig it, and slime up the deck. As with any other Hobie I've owned, the first things I removed from the kayak were the MirageDrive pedal straps and the flush mount rod holder covers. When kayak fishing, anything that seems like it will get in the way, will at some point get in the way. The other thing I'm considering removing which I have not done yet, is the paddle bungee on the starboard side. This is the side I land my fish, and that bungee and eyelet will become an issue eventually. I can just envision a large striper thrashing about with trebles swinging around and getting stuck in the bungee. Not good. As I'm writing this, the more I like the idea. Off it will come. I have finally purchased and installed a Lowrance Elite Ti2 7" with the 3 in 1 Transducer. Perfect unit for this kayak and any fishing I will be doing. The unit is mounted on a RAM Mounts 1.5" ball and arm, with the quick release Lowrance base. I like the simplicity and toughness of RAM Mounts products. The transducer is mounted using a BerleyPro plate specific for the Guardian transducer plate and the 3 in 1 transducer my fishfinder came with.
Since this "new" Outback is technically the same as the 2019 model (aside from the new Kick-up Fins on the MirageDrive), I won't go over every minor detail, change, or upgrade/downgrade that this kayak has compared to the old model, since it isn't all that new and exciting at this point. I have taken about a dozen trips in the 2020 Outback so far, and I do have to say I am impressed with it's performance. Faster, easier to stand in, maybe a bit more comfortable too. It is in fact a "sloppier" kayak than the original. The old one seemed to ride over wakes and waves, the new one cuts and crashes right through them and does take a lot of water over the bow in rough water. The inside of the hull does stay nice and dry though!
To me, the new style Outback does feel like it has a bit more "roll" to it, but at no point did I ever feel like I was going to flip. If you lean hard one way or the other, the kayak reaches a point where it kind of self-corrects. I've heard a lot of complaints about steering lag, similar to the Pro Angler. I personally didn't find anything wrong with the steering, in fact, I really like the way it handles. It seems to have tighter maneuverability than the old model, due to the fact the rudder is down into the water further and tucked under the stern a bit. I've found that if you lean hard into your turns, the kayak will turn a bit tighter.
Standing up in this new kayak is worry free and comfortable. This will be a game changer for sight fishing, fishing jigs in heavy cover, and many other applications. Because the hull is more hydrodynamic than I'm used to, I did notice it glides a lot easier, making it more efficient. On that same token, it glides easier when fighting a fish too. I haven't caught much of anything too big in it yet (a 28" striper being the biggest so far), but I found myself putting the MirageDrive in reverse while fighting fish more than ever. There are a couple reasons to do this: 1) Gain leverage on a fish. 2) To not be pulled out of position and onto the spot the fish was hooked because there may be more fish there!
Getting back to my analogy using the kitchen sink faucet, the rudder controls took some getting used to. They are not the same distance away from the seat as the old Outback, so at times I do find myself blindly fumbling and reaching for the rudder controls. I've gotten a bit more used to the controls now, but I do miss the suicide knob on my old model Outback. On the other side of the coin, it is AMAZING to have rudder controls on both the port and starboard side! I hold my rod in my left hand and reel with my right. That is how I grew up fishing, using a Zebco 33 reel, and I've never grown out of it. If you hand me a rod that is set up for left hand retrieve and watch me use it, it's almost as if I've never fished a day in my life! So, having steering on the right side, and not having to set the rod down or reach across my body to steer like with the old model Outback is huge.