Update: July 14, 2020. Added some quality issues I ran into below, along with experience on different water types and some hopes for future model improvements.
One of my favorite things to do is kayak. Another one of my favorite things is go fishing. When possible, I combine both of these activities! Earlier this season, my previous kayak of 13 years finally had its last trip. After extensive research, I purchased a new Bonafide ss107 kayak. Here are my first impressions. (There’s a video tour at the bottom if you’re pressed for time)
In 2007, I purchased an in-hull fishing kayak from Field & Stream for $400. The 12 foot Eagle Run kayak. It’s definitely an entry-level fishing kayak. It comes with two flush mount rod holders and an awesome removable dry box. For 13 years, it did the job. It’s been on hundreds of trips—ponds, lakes, rivers, and even ocean paddles. It’s always held its own (except for that one time it sunk 500 feet off shore in Buzzard Bay because I forgot to put the drain plug back in). However, during my first trip this season, I noticed I was taking on some water and discovered the bottom of the hull was paper thin in the front and back of the boat. I did some plastic welds with polyethylene, but it was only a temporary fix, I needed a new boat.
My kayak needs
For several weeks I researched upgrades that would allow for a superior fishing experience on the water, but also allow me to go on non-fishing kayak excursions with friends on local rivers. I needed a kayak that could:
- Be easily transported on the roof of my 4runner. (This includes me being able to lift it up there)
- Have space for all my gear
- Support my weight and gear with ease (I’m 230lbs)
- Look good (I’m a designer, what do you want from me?)
- Not break my wallet
I fell into a deep dark hole of kayak research. I had no idea the type of boats that are out there for anglers these days. I took a look at kayaks from Jackson, Vibe, FeelFree, Old Town, Hobie, Wilderness Systems, Bonafide, Pelican, and a few more.
After fishing with that Field & Stream Eagle Run “fishing kayak” for so many years, I had no idea what a real kayak for anglers was. My travels led me to learn about the benefit of open top kayaks with trolling motor capability, rudder systems, pedal drives, fish finder mounts, and more. These boats had gear track systems as far as the eye could see for things such as rod holders and even Go Pro mounts.
At the low-end, I could buy a similar kayak that I would quickly out grow, or I could spend my entire life savings on a $3,500 Hobie kayak and trailer to carry it. I was torn, because I’ve been fishing for almost 30 years. I know that if I spent a small fortune on a boat, I would definitely use it, but did I really need all that stuff?
Bonafide SS107 has entered the chat…
I discovered a new-ish kayak company called Bonafide. Bonafide Kayaks was founded in 2016 by the people who make YakAttack, quality kayak accessories. I found a video online that really sold me on the idea of being able to carry a ton of gear, in a small and stable boat.
They have several models at different price-points. The two boats that caught my attention were the Bonafide ss127 and Bonafide ss107. Nearly identical boats, except the ss127 is a couple feet longer and it has a few different design tweaks, which you can see below.
My Kayak Grading Criteria
Comfort & Space
This is without a doubt one of the most important criteria when looking for a kayak. After sitting very low in the hull of a boat at water level for so long, the idea of a high seat seemed like a dream. As you can see in the photos, this adjustable seat on the Bonafide ss107 sits extremely high. Never again would my legs fall asleep while fishing. It sits 15.5 inches above the hull!
The platform for standing
When I discovered some kayaks on the market had standing platforms similar to that of a bass boat, I rejoiced. You mean to tell me I didn’t need to spend $50,000 on a bass boat to be able to stand and fish on the middle of a lake? SOLD.
While I discovered many fishing kayaks on the market would allow for standing, the Bonafide and Wilderness Systems ATAK kayaks were the two that offered a clutter-free platform. From what I saw with Jackson, Old Town, and Hobie boats allowed for standing, but had components that would sit between my legs. I hate that.
Not as fast of my in-hull field and stream, but it’s not supposed to be. Even with the seat in the lowest position, with a paddle, it’s a fairly slow boat. And that’s okay. If I really wanted to I could install a trolling motor. But I don’t. I tend to stick to smaller bodies of water that are calm and have a lot of weeds and cover. For me, adding a trolling motor or rudder would just complicate the experience.
Tracking & manuerability
A lot of the reviews I’ve seen say this boat tracks very well. Again, coming from an in-hull boat, I disagree. So far, it’s not the best, but I’m sure I’ll get accustomed to it.
On windy days, you’ll find that the Bonafide kayaks will spin around and move tail-first with the wind direction. If you like to fish backwards, I suppose that’s fine.
I highly recommend getting an anchor or a stake-out stick. A stake-out stick slides down through the scupper holes and embeds itself in the floor of the body of water you’re on. Much faster than an anchor, but you have limited depth.
Ponds: In the weeds
I spends a lot of time fishing super weedy areas in Massachusetts. This is why I chose a traditional paddle kayak over a trolling motor or pedal drive kayak. So far, the Bonafide ss107 is magic in the weeds. Most of the time, I wedge myself deep in the lily pads and my kayak stays put on its own.
The Bonafide ss107 tracks much better on slow moving water, oddly enough. I took it on the Saco River in Maine in early July. I was able to use it as a paddle board moving down the river, with ease.
I was worried about taking my Bonafide ss107 out into Buzzard’s Bay initially. I noted that when a wind hits the boat with you and all your gear, you slings your backwards. And the wind on the ocean is a bit more fierce than in smaller ponds.
Turns out, it tracks fairly well off the coast. Even though I don’t have a motor or pedal system, I was able to whip around the bay pretty quickly. However, standing up was pretty difficult due to the wake caused by larger boats.
As you’ll notice on this site, I’m always carrying a ton of gear with me in my 4runner. I needed a boat that I could easily lift up and slide onto my roof rack, as I’ve done with my older kayak for centuries. A lot of the more robust kayaks I looked at would be impossible for me to lift by myself. Even the Bonafide ss127 turned out to be too large.
The Bonafide ss107 is a small boat when it comes to fishing kayaks. But as you can see in the photo above, it’s still big compared to my 4runner. It comes in at just under 11 feet long and weights 84 pounds without the seat. By comparison the ss127 is almost 13 feet and weights 94 pounds. A 10 pound difference doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you add an additional 2 feet, it makes it astronomically more difficult to get on top of a tall vehicle.
Gear & Capability
Oddly enough, the Bonafide ss107 and ss127 are built for fishing, but they don’t come with a single built-in rod holder. My guess is that they wanted to leave that up to the angler because everyone has their own preferred setup.
They do however, come with some very well designed components that really sold me. I can fit extra rods, safety flags, or bags in the dry hatch at the bow of the boat. It also comes with a removable dry pod as well. The seat is removable for easy transport, and the grip pads on the platform make it very comfortable.
In the back, I can fit my custom milk crate rig that I see a lot of kayak anglers have. I simply grabbed 2 Berkeley rod holders (~$24) and zip tied them to a milk crate (free). Now I can fit 4 rods, my net, and a visibility safety net if I go on the ocean. When I pack my boat up, I remove the crate with all the gear and stow it in my 4runner. Simple.
Other components added
in addition to what comes standard on the Bonafide ss107, I’ve added a few extra components to suit my needs:
- Cup holder
- Rear gear tracks (standard on ss127, not ss107)
- Tie down components (to keep pliers and fish grips attached on paracord
- Stake-out stick (6 foot rod to act as an anchor)
- C-tug cart to wheel my boat around easier when I’m solo (not easy. Just easier than carrying it!)
For the price tag, this kayak is a steal. It came in at $1,299. It sounds expensive, but when you think about owning a kayak for 10+ years, it’s really nothing. The seat alone is worth about $400. With all the added trinkets and capability it’s a no brainer.
Quality concerns and future improvements
Unfortunately, within a few uses I ran into some issues with a few components and had to reach out to support.
- One of the seat pads slipped off. I keep having to stick it back on.
- The rubber portion of the front handle warped and came apart. It’s not held on by any adhesive or glue, just a center screw.
I emailed them on July 4, and heard back from Bonafide support on July 6. They said they would be sending out replacements soon. As of July 14, I haven’t received the replacement parts yet, but I’ll update when I do!
A couple other items that my OCD picked up on that are an indication of less than 100% quality, but haven’t caused any real issues:
- Crooked “made in USA” sticker. May be an indicator that the factory personnel were rushing / don’t care about details. May be a red flag for more issues yet to be discovered.
- Faulty molding around one of the scupper holes. Doesn’t leak yet, but it’s a hull issue that may eventually cause a problem.
All-in-all, it’s a great boat, but per my usage I think a few things could be improved in future models:
- Remove “perch pads” from the side of the seat area and replace with gear tracks. I’ve never seen anyone use these and I don’t know how they could. Side gear tracks would be much more useful, especially for a cup holder.
- Rear gear tracks would be a nice standard touch for the boat. Right now they only come with the ss127
- Improve the front handle design. Employ a powerful adhesive to the rubber or use two screws instead of one to attach the rubber piece.
- Sell the boat with at least one rod holder. A flush mount holder or otherwise. It’s a little strange to me that it’s designed as a fishing kayak but doesn’t have any standard rod holders like competitors do.
Looking for a new kayak? Do these things first…
- Sit in the kayak
- Lift & carry the kayak
- If you can, take it for a spin in the water. Tracking is important
- Calculate what gear or mods you’ll need for your boat and compare it to your budget. Some of these fishing kayaks may need a trailer
I highly recommend this boat, but they’re not paying me to say this. There are lots of other great boats on the market and Bonafide may not be the best option for you. For me, the Wilderness ATAK 120 and ATAK 140 almost beat Bonafide out when I was searching. It honestly came down to availability and a few small designs on the Bonafide ss107 that sold me.
Before you go out and buy a kayak online, find a local dealer and test it out. This is crucial. I was dead set on the ss127, until I saw it in real life and tried to pick it up. It was just too big for me. The Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 was also on the top of my list, but when I saw the 14 foot boat in person, I knew there was no way I could maneuver it out of the water without a trailer or truck bed.
I tested a Jackson and Old Town as well, but it came down to little details that I just didn’t want or were lacking. As an example, side handles on a boat like this are crucial for me. Wilderness Systems ATAK kayaks are nearly perfect, but don’t have these built it. Which was a huge concern for me.
The folks over at Outside World Outfitters did a really quick video walkthrough of the ss107 that’s 4 minutes long. Check it out.