When it comes to canoes and kayaks, I’m not picky. I enjoy spending time on the water and being as close to the surface that these watercraft allow. I’ve tried quality boats as well as basic models found at your local box store. Recently I had a chance to spend some time in a borrowed Pungo 120 and realized that a quality boat does make a lot of difference.
The location was French Creek, near Cambridge Springs in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. As we drifted and paddled down the lazy section of moving water, our guide for the afternoon pointed out some interesting facts about the area. At one point he mentioned a particular rock sticking out of the water which marks the spot where General Washington and his troops crossed the creek and set up camp in what is now a local farm. He said that treasure hunters still scour the area for artifacts from the French Indian War.
There were three of us. My 9 year old son was in a 10 foot Pungo 100 which was perfect for him. It was his first real time by himself in a kayak and he loved it. Our guide, Scott, was in the same model Pungo as me but a year newer and a different color. He owns all of these boats and has let friends and relatives borrow them and put them through the motions. They fit nicely in the back of his pickup when he doesn’t feel compelled to put them on the roof or on the trailer.
A bit about myself. I’m 6’4” and weigh about 260 pounds. My wife always likes to say that I’m cut in the middle meaning even though I’m on the tall side my legs aren’t that terribly long. Even with my body type I found the Pungo to be just a hair short in the leg room compartment when it came to stretching out my legs. The foot pegs were set out to their furthest point and the seat was in its furthest back position, yet I could have used about an extra inch in length. However, what the Pungo 120 lacked in overall length leg room for the taller paddlers out there it more than made up for this deficiency with the oversize cockpit. When sitting and just floating I was easily able to maneuver my legs into a bent position. This shift enabled me to change the position of my back and ultimately enabled me to remain comfortable for longer periods of time.
Let’s address this cockpit that I mention above. It measures a massive 57” x 22.” Now how this would perform in rougher water I can only imagine, but I assume a spray skirt would be a total necessity. The Phase 3 Outfitting provided more than enough comfort for my backside and some of the adjustability features were a nice touch. Even though it may not be a proper tandem or a perfect set up, there is easily enough room to carry a small child in front of you. I grabbed an extra life jacket and placed it in front of me. This was a perfect seat for my sons as they took turns paddling with their dad. Zane paddled us around while I fished. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
The Pungo 120 is well suited for fishing and could be retrofitted with several different fishing upgrades (rod holder, anchor system, etc), however this is not a boat that has a ton of storage capability. There is an Angler version which has more tie downs and comes equipped with the features mentioned above.
So how did it handle? Perfect. Mind you I was in for the most part very slack water on this creek (I would personally classify this as a small river but that’s neither here nor there. I wasn’t around in the 18th century when George Washington named it. He was delivering a message to the French at Fort Presque Isle and Fort Le Boeuf, when he encountered the river. Not knowing the river had already been known as the Venango River, Washington named it French Creek and the name stuck.), which mostly resembled conditions one would encounter on a lake. When I needed to make up ground and dig in with the paddle I moved the kayak swiftly down the river. It tracked reasonably well for a 12 foot kayak due in large part to the molded in keel that runs the length of the boat. Turning and changing directions were also easily maneuvered.
Here are the specs:
Length: 12 foot
Weight: 50 lbs (Duralite model: 40 lbs)
Cockpit: 57” x 22”
Stern Hatch: 18.5” x 12.5” (no bow hatch)
Capacity: 325 lbs
The bow hatch is a bit lacking in that the opening just opens up into the base of the boat so it is not secured and/or kept dry in the least.
So overall I would give this kayak an “A” grade based on using it what it is for. I will also not knock off any points for the fact that it doesn’t quite suit my 6’4” frame as most people are under this height. Just because I was a bit too tall for this kayak doesn’t mean that the vast majority of people won’t fit perfectly in this boat. The Pungo 120 is one of the best selling kayaks for a reason. It is the perfect addition to a base camp along a lazy river or lake. Running Class II rapids in a Pungo 120? Maybe, but that isn’t what the boat is designed for. A weeklong camping trip up through the coves of Lake Superior? It could handle it, but you’d struggle to keep up with your buddies in longer touring kayaks.
Don’t get me wrong the Pungo 120 could probably make it through both of those situations, but its strength lies in the fact that it is a general boat for all around usage. Fishing, cruising, drifting and relaxing are what this boat is perfect for. Pick one up new for around $800 or better yet look for a used one. They are used by quality outfitters all over the country for a reason. If you look a bit you will probably find a gently used one for a few hundred dollars.