Our friends at Sea Eagle provided us with a brand new 385 Fast Track Angler (385 FTA) to put through its paces. After a year of running rivers and paddling ponds, and tossing it around the back a pickup truck, we’re ready to report our findings. This inflatable kayak is a far cry from the kiddie boats Dad blew up at the beach. It’s a serious fishing craft that’s capable of giving hard-shells a run for their money.
385 FTA Overview
The 385 FTA measures in at 12’6″ from bow to stern with a 36″ beam and weighs only 45 lbs; a far cry from rotomolded boats of similar length. Deflated and packed up this fishing machine only takes up a diminutive 6 square feet (2′ x 3′) and is roughly 1′ high. Two sets of D-rings along each gunwale provides anchor points for seats and accessories. Four inflation valves are located close to the bow and two scupper plugs are just north of the stern rod holders.
There are four different trim levels; although 385 FTA allows for plenty of customization. We rocked the Swivel Seat Fishing Rig trim which comes with a jon-boat style swivel seat that’s secured with two straps. As with all trim levels the Fast Track came with a hand pump, carrying case, and paddle. We also had the opportunity to try out the clip in seats along with Sea Eagle’s battery powered motorized pump.
Sea Eagle’s premier inflatable fishing kayak is constructed out of 1,000 denier PVC vinyl. Denier is a unit of measure for textiles that denotes the mass in grams of 9,000 meters (linear) of fiber. As a baseline silk has a denier value of 1 (i.e. 9km of a single fiber of silk weighs 1 gram). All this is important to know because it reinforces this yak’s durability. This fabric is tough. Densely packed threads keep water out as well as rocks and hooks from doing serious damage.
One of the biggest fears surrounding inflatable kayaks is their propensity to punctures, and subsequent sinking. While that may be founded on lower end kayaks there was never a time when we felt that was even an option on the Fast Track. Fully inflated the port and starboard pontoons cylindrical shape present a natural obstacle to most hooks; the hook gap is too shallow to even permit a puncture. A gator-skin like rubberized coating covers the mid section of each pontoon for additional protection.
The belly (inside bottom) has a drop-stitched insert with foam padding to provide extra rigidity, Drop stitching enables this part to be inflated to 15 PSI for a really rigid ride, but we never saw any reason to. A few pumps past 3 PSI and the floor is sufficiently stiff.
On the underside of the boat the inflatable bow keel and hull are coated in extra durable rubber. After a year of dragging this inflatable kayak through mud, sticks, and rocks some of the reinforcing tape around the keel came loose. Everything else was tip-top. Overall the materials all feel top-notch and perform equally as well.
The 385 FTA is composed of four separate inflatable sections: the two pontoons, bottom insert, and keel. Each section has its own inflation valve – and these are a standout feature worth highlighting, because they’re a hallmark of good design choices. The valves have a rotating push-pin that switches the valve between inflation and deflation. Nubs on the outer diameter provide a locking point for the connecting hose. Connected threaded caps keep water out during expeditions. These valves work amazingly well. A far cry from the rubber nipple on pool inflatables these valves let air in, and out, expeditiously.
Accessory components are built with comparable attention to detail. The pump is lightweight and pistons smoothly. Both versions of chairs are secure and comfy (more on that later). And the skeg fin slides in without friction. We had to bust out the heat gun to re-mold the built-in rubber rod holder which got squished a bit during packing. Other than that the only accessory that didn’t thrill us was the included paddle. It’s serviceable and comfortable, but also very heavy. If this is your first boat it won’t be an issue. Paddlers accustomed to lighter implements will find it a tad jarring and reach for a lighter option.
Paddling the 385 FTA is a blast. If you’re used to paddling plastic fishing kayaks then you’ll find yourself shocked at how powerful each stroke feels in the 385. At just 45 lbs (without seat, you, etc) the FTA is less than half the weight of most conventional rotomolded kayaks. We were able to paddle further and faster with straight tracking and an easy glide. Turning is a one stroke affair and we found it far easier to maneuver more precisely.
There’s a significant caveat regarding performance with inflatable kayaks to keep in mind. Performance is almost entirely dependent on rigging. Changing the seat type or position can entirely change the craft’s handling and will severely affect your experience. We tried several configurations and there’s two parts inparticular you’ll want to pay extra attention to.
The Skeg Fin
The 385 FTA ships with a medium sized swept-back fin that inserts into a plastic receiver on the stern hull, although differently shaped skegs are also available. With the skeg inserted the Sea Eagle tracks well and keeps a straight line. It takes a little bit more effort to keep the boat straight than it would a deep-chined plastic hull, but nothing consequential. Without the skeg fin you’re basically paddling a bumper boat.
Every stroke pushes the bow of your boat quickly to the other side. It’s still possible to stay straight – but it requires far more physical effort and rapid paddling. As soon as we finished paddling the kayak would turn into a half rotation, leaving us staring where we came from. These effects made fishing difficult and frustrating.
The only advantage going skeg-less offers is a lower draft, as the skeg requires around 3″ of depth before hitting bottom. This added draft would be great for going through a stretch of rapids or ripples, but you’ll want to quickly re-install after getting through those sections. We highly recommend grabbing an extra fin in case you accidentally lose one or forget it at home. We’ve done both.
There are two different seat styles available with the Sea Eagle 385 FTA; the standard padded seat that clips on to D-Rings and a high-backed jon-boat style swivel seat.
The padded seats secure into place with locking clips onto two sets of D rings to provide a rigid back. After some fine tuning you can quickly find a comfortable position that provides firm back support. Sitting closer to the water feels more responsive and paddling wasn’t as strenuous. The biggest downside to this configuration is that you tend to get wet. As Paul Hollywood might say, you’ve got a soggy bottom. The two scupper holes in the rear provide some drainage, but didn’t completely negate the problem.
360 Degree Fishing
The far better option, in our opinion, is the 360º swivel seat fishing rig package. A plastic backed flip seat, like what’s usually found on jon-boats, is secured to an aluminum frame via swivel mount. Pre-drilled holes on the edge of each frame permit for mounting Scotty universal rod holders. The frame sits on top of the pontoons and is secured by straps. After a few trips out strapping down the seat quickly becomes second nature, but keep the instructions handy during anyway.
The swivel seat is an absolute game changer. The seat is supremely comfortable. Back support and a higher seat position offers a natural sitting position that makes longer trips far more bearable. The swivel seat makes casting in any direction a breeze and offers easier access to stern storage. Finally this seat makes transitioning to a standing position an easier prospect. We don’t recommend standing in the Sea Eagle 385 FTA except on the calmest of waters. And even then just to stretch your legs.
One of the best features of any inflatable kayak is its small size off the water. The SE 385 comes with a fabric carrying case that’s secured by a series of straps and d-rings. All folded up the boat measures approximately 3′ x 2′ and is about 1′ thick. It’s not a small package, but it’s nothing compared to a 12′ hard shell yak. Packed up the 385 fits in car trunks and back seats with ease. Loading up is quick and easy without having to worry about tie down’s.
Besides eating up less space in your garage the compact size opens up a world of new launch opportunities. Banks and shore lines that are too steep or brush-laden for a rotomolded kayak are no problem for the Sea Eagle. This feature proved especially handy during the initial Covid lockdown in early 2020 when boat ramps got the kibosh, The 385 can launch places that hard shell boats simply can’t – and that’s a huge perk. It’s one of those features you can’t truly appreciate until you see a pristine patch of lake and no ramp in site.
Setup at your chosen point of embarkation is a quick affair with either the manual or electric pump. We timed it and inflation with a manual pump took right around five minutes, which left us just a little short of breath. The electric pump is easier on your shoulders but wasn’t any faster and causes quite a bit of noise. After you’ve strapped on your seat and thrown in your tackle you’re only down 15-20 minutes, which is highly variable on your loadout.
Cleanup after a trek out is one of the few downside of any inflatable kayak. Deflation is just as easy as pumping it up. Most of the air escapes after you’ve turned the valve, and the rest is quickly pumped out with the “deflate” port on the pump. After pack up extra attention is needed to ensure your boat’s completely dry before storage, lest you want a moldy yak. We left ours out on the driveway for a few hours during summer, and in the garage in cooler months. It’s a mild inconvenience at best, but one to keep in mind if you’re short on sunny side real estate.
If you’ve only ever fishing out of a hard shell kayak then transitioning to an inflatable kayak can present some potential drawbacks. Foremost is setup/breakdown. The Sea Eagle 385 FTA can support up to 635 lbs which provides more than enough room for all your gear and then some. But, it’ll take a few more trips to load it up. If you’re used to keeping your kayak fully rigged and loaded for easy loading then you may need to adjust your fishing style on the 385 FTA. The more gear you carry will equate to more trips between your car and the shore.
The 385 FTA works best with lighter setups and especially for anglers who practice a grab-n-go fishing style. Loadouts that include a fishing backpack and a few rods work great for getting on the water quickly. Fishermen who have to have their full fishing arsenal at their disposal can find themselves crowded in an inflatable. And there simply aren’t as many spots to anchor down gear in case of a flip.
Lastly wind can be an even bigger nuisance than usual. The 385 FTA effectively sits on top of the water. With voluminous pontoons and light weight you can quickly find yourself being pushed around against your will. A proper anchor is a must if you want any chance of staying close to your intended target.
Final Thoughts on The 385 Fast Track Angler
Overall the Sea Eagle 385 FTA is a well-equipped craft that’s a great addition to your fleet. If you’re just getting into kayak fishing and want a highly versatile boat then you’d be hard pressed to do much better. The Swivel Seat fishing package retails for $1,299 and comes with just about everything you need to get out on the water.
On the other hand if you’re a seasoned kayak angler then the 385 is a great option as a second boat. Its light weight, portability, and launch-ability perfectly compliment the shortfalls rotomolded kayaks present. In addition it’s awesome for bringing a friend kayaking with you. Fitting two hard plastic fishing kayaks on a vehicle can be challenging, even with the right equipment. The 385 can fold up and fit in your backseat, so there’s still plenty of room for rods and tackle in the trunk.
This is a tough, durable, and serious kayak. And we’ve enjoyed every minute on it. Except for the time we capsized on the Cacapon river in West Virginia, but there were a few err…adult beverages involved in that incident. If you’re a fellow Sea Eagle fan let us know and share some pics. Tight lines and keep on fishing!