RTM Abaco 4.20 - Review
Introducing the RTM Abaco 4.20
The Abaco 4.20 is a top spec fishing kayak from French kayak manufacturer RTM. It is 4.2m in length with a width of 72cm, a depth of 30cm and weighing in at 34kg, with a maximum stated capacity of 180kg. It is what I would call an 'Anglers Fishing Kayak’ rather than a 'Paddlers Fishing Kayak’ – let me explain what I mean by that.
Most kayak fisherman have come from a fishing background having never paddled before – they look for a kayak loaded with features for fishing and one that is a stable platform on the water. The paddling performance of the kayak is a secondary priority. The kayak is a means to take them to the fish and an ‘Anglers Fishing Kayak’ usually fits the bill. Some kayak fishermen have come from a paddling background but wish to have a go at catching fish whilst they are on the water. They may be a sea kayaker, or whitewater paddler who are used to paddling performance kayaks. In this case, they will look for a kayak that performs well on the water with the fishing features being a secondary priority. This type of kayak fisherman will look for a fast, often narrow and light hull with a few basic features for fishing. As the Abaco is loaded with features and is a stable-platform on the water, it is more of an ‘Anglers Fishing Kayak’. There are plenty of ‘Anglers Fishing Kayaks’ on the market and in terms of specifications, features and price the Abaco 4.20 sits neatly amongst the other top-end fishing kayaks such as the Ocean Kayak Trident Ultra 4.3, Wilderness Systems Thresher 140, Jackson Cuda 14 and Viking Profish Reload.
Before we talk performance lets start with the features that make this a 'Premium’ fishing kayak.
Well, it certainly has plenty of Features:
Plenty of features, but are they all useful?
We might as well start at the bow and work back. Soft rubber carry handle with a D-ring, drain bung and a massive front hatch! Let’s take a look in the hatch... a gear bucket – useful for storing stuff in to keep it separate from the rest of the hull but I have never used mine and it sits at home to save weight on the kayak. The hatch lid has a soft rubber edge and a hard plastic centre meaning that you could bolt stuff to the hatch if you wanted. It’s also leashed to the kayak. I like that the hatch has a rubber outer section for the seal, it really is watertight and unlike many rubber hatches this one seems quick and easy to put on and take off. The hatch lip sits within a recess so that when the hatch lid is on it sits flush with the rest of the bow - a nice touch, and that recess also comes in handy - that will be explained later. The hatch swallows up a C-Tug trolley with room for more. Inside the hull foam buoyancy blocks run down the sides. These are to pass French regulations which state a kayak cannot be sold unless it is ‘Unsinkable’ even if the hull is flooded.
A small recess with elastic retainer can be found at the bow end of the foot-well and comes with two tackle boxes that fit the space. It is a bit too much of a reach to store your tackle boxes there so I used this space to hold a waterproof battery box for a fish finder before I re-located this inside the hull when I installed a new fish finder. The Abaco also has a transducer scupper hole.
The adjustable footrests are sturdy and easy to tinker with whilst on the water. You can brace against them hard without feeling like they will snap. The foot-wells take my size 11 Palm Descenders with room to spare. A couple of moulded-in storage pockets with rubber mesh covers are found either side of the seating area. The rubber covers are important because hooks, barbed ones in-particular, tend to gravitate themselves towards fabric style material causing all sorts of fun trying to un-hook them, often resulting in the scissors coming out. No trouble with rubber though. I use the pockets to stow my scissors, forceps and often a spare weight or two. There is also a moulded-in fish ruler in the foot-well… handy for checking if your Bass meets the 42cm minimum retention size!
Slide rails can be found either side of the foot-well. These are great for attaching rod rests, camera mounts or a fish finder. The Abaco is supplied with a deck mount adjustable rod rest which can be attached to the slide rails. I have used the rails to attach a camera pole and rod rest. The Abaco is even supplied with some slide track plates and bolts as standard, which is handy and saves trying to source some at a later date.
The large centre hatch is very useful. What I really like about this hatch is that the inside compartment is fully sealed from the rest of the hull so no flooding the kayak if you tip the kayak over and the hatch isn’t closed. It also means you can put stuff in there without the fear of losing it somewhere in the hull! My hatch is usually home to my phone (in an Aquapac), a small tackle box and a small tub of weights. It makes a handy place to store baits out of direct sunlight too. There is also one more neat feature.... it contains a rod tube! This is really handy for surf launches and landings when it is possible you could flip the kayak. With the rods safely stowed in the rod tube they won’t get damaged should the kayak end up the wrong way in the surf zone! The rod tube will take a 7ft 2-piece rod with equal section length. There is also a small area you could store a fish finder battery too although mine is currently living in the hull.
The tough polycarbonate hatch lid is also useful for bolting accessories to. I have bolted my fish finder to mine. It would be nice to see some nuts moulded into the lid in positions that allow for Ram, Scotty and Railblaza bases to be installed without the need to drill into the lid. Drilling does however allow for more freedom of positioning when mounting your accessories over predisposed bolt positions. One possible gripe is that the centre hatch seal could be made from a soft rubber instead of the hard rubber that is present thus making a more waterproof seal. However, with the hatch compartment fully sealed from the rest of the hull this is not too much of an issue and rarely does any water make it inside. The hatch also sits fairly low in the foot-well, so is not obstructive to the legs.
D-rings are located in sensible places for attaching a seat. The 2015 Abaco is also compatible with an optional 'deck-chair’ style seat (these retail at £130), which have become increasingly popular on the top-end kayaks of late. I use a standard low back style seat. Two rear-facing flush mount rod holders are found behind the seating area, which are handy for stowing rods whilst paddling or whilst trolling a lure. The Abaco also comes with an adjustable rod holder that can be deck-mounted or fitted to the slide rail – handy for trolling a rod at a right angle to the kayak and for fishing at anchor or on the drift.
Behind the seat is another recessed area with elastic retainer, designed to take two lure boxes that also come with the kayak (no lures inside, Booooo!). I’ve been using this area to store my bait. It is also the perfect size for a Flambeau 14" dry box. This opens up into the huge rear tank well with bungees. It is the perfect width to fit a collapsible storage crate with loads more room to spare behind. You could really load this kayak up if you wanted a few days away. RTM also sell a removable rear cooler/ice case to fit the tank well (retails at £120) for keeping your catch cool. I was going to get one and covert it into a live bait-well but never got round to it. Two scupper holes stop water pooling in the tank-well. If you wanted to bung the scupper holes, scupper plugs are supplied with the Abaco.... a nice touch although i've never used mine. There are also a few moulded-in brass inserts along the top edges of the tank-well, two are designed to take stabilisers/outriggers (retail at £165) - no use to me and to be honest you would have to put some serious weight on this kayak to warrant them.
There is another soft rubber handle with D-ring at the rear. I mentioned that the front handle also had a D-ring, so these can be used to rig an anchor trolley if you didn’t want to drill into the kayak, with a cleat attached to the slide rails. I’m not sure if the anchor trolley would sit well rigged in this position so I opted to rig my own anchor trolley between two pad eyes riveted to the side of the hull at bow and stern. A small hole for a rudder is located right at the stern – this Abaco is the ‘Luxe’ version, the ‘Hi-Luxe’ version comes with a rudder fitted. Deck lines run down the side of the kayak. All fixtures are bolted down into moulded-in brass inserts - no leaky self-tappers! Paddle keepers are located on both sides as are soft carry handles. Solid side handles would be better but all is not lost as those moulded-in storage pockets I mentioned double up as a carry handle when the kayak is on its side. Still… proper solid side handles would be better.
Let’s take a look underneath. The hull design is unique and unlike anything I have seen on other fishing kayaks. A reasonably sharp, flared bow curves back into a wider mid-section which then tapers to the stern towards the rear of the tank well. A central keel line runs its length with tracking grooves running either side along the mid-section. As with the rest of the kayak, the plastic has a smooth finish. It sure looks interesting, but how would it perform on the water?
On the Water
I have fished from the Abaco in pretty much all conditions the average sane kayak angler would venture out in. At the extreme end I have taken it out in really messy chop on the North coast, and strong winds and swells over 12ft on the South coast. I mainly use it within a mile or so of the coastline but have taken it 3 miles offshore and anchored it in 200ft of water! 90% of the time though it is used in relatively normal conditions.
First thoughts when sitting in the kayak…. this is stable! It really does feel like a platform, it feels comfortable too. I am able to move from side to side, lean back, shuttle forwards and it feels stable. Sitting side-saddle, yep still feels stable. Well that’s good, because when I’m out there fishing, loaded up with gear, I want to feel stable. I want to be able to move around a bit, cast a lure, reach into the back to grab some food, lean forward to mess with the fish finder and bend hard into a big fish (or a snag!) without the fear of falling in. Well it is stable on calm water that’s for sure.
It paddles quietly with no hull slap. It tracks straight as expected with those tracking grooves in the hull. You feel like you are seated above the water, probably because the seating area is slightly raised above the rest of the foot-well. It is a dry ride, no water pooling in the foot-well and any water that splashes over the side quickly drains away. In fact there has been calm days where I have been completely dry after a days fishing! It pushes along well, it takes a bit to get up to cruising speed but once there it can be leisurely paddled along without too much effort. It isn’t the fastest fishing kayak out there but it isn’t designed to be. It’s not the slowest either. My GPS clocks around 3.5-4kts when paddling at cruising speed on calm water without the influence of tide or wind. Friends who paddle Abaco’s have also commented on how well it moves through the water. If you want more speed and performance take a look at the Tempo, however compromises have to be made with deck space and stability. In strong crosswinds the Abaco suffers from weather cocking, but in crosswinds less than 15mph it is not too much of a problem. A rudder would be beneficial if you wanted to launch in windier conditions. A rudder would also help with manoeuvrability. At 14ft, with a keel line running most of its length along with those tracking grooves, the Abaco isn’t going to turn on a penny piece. Dig the paddle in hard and it will come round eventually though.
Put it through a bit of chop and the bow tends to bob over the waves well. Every so often the timing of the chop will see the bow push through the wave face. I’m not sure if RTM designed this to be so but the water seems to channel around the hatch, down into the small recess at the front of the foot-well, out through two drainage channels and straight into the scuppers! Very rarely does any water make it past my feet and that is in the choppiest of chop on the North coast when you really have to dig down and push through the conditions. Stability wise it still feels like a solid platform even when the waves are slapping up the sides of the Abaco.
The Abaco has been out in some big swell too; the sort of swell that questions your sanity, the sort of swell that you probably shouldn’t have launched in. Luckily I have a launch venue that allows me to launch onto the backs of big swells through a narrow clear patch between a reef and a beach. An 8ft surf forecast turns into 12-15ft+ rollers once you’re out in deep water. In a trough the land disappears, but you feel safe on the Abaco because it feels so stable even when the water is really moving around you. It isn’t going to ride the swells like a more performance-orientated hull would but it handles the swell well enough to go for a paddle in it and throw a lure around whilst out there. You have to work the paddle a bit but you can’t expect a leisurely paddle when the Atlantic is throwing a wobbly!
Swell brings surf and surf brings potential trouble for kayak anglers. If you’re going to tip a kayak it will most likely be when you’re in the surf zone. Luckily down here in Cornwall there are numerous launches where a surf launch and landing is not needed, particularly so on the South Coast. These tend to be the venues I fish most as I am not limited by the swell allowing for a launch. The venues on the North can be lethal in swell so they are avoided unless it’s a calm spell anyway. Even though I rarely launch through surf I have taken the Abaco surfing, bare hull just to see how it would perform.... in a word.....badly! Oh it will surf 2ft waves, but it is a workout to stop it turning into the wave face. This is not a problem unique to the Abaco though, anyone who has tried to put a 14ft fishing kayak through surf will have experienced similar. Any bigger than 2ft surf and the nose likes to dive making control more difficult. I found myself having to lean right back to stop this and perhaps with gear loaded in the back it wouldn’t have been so bad. Anyhow, paddling out through 2ft surf...fine, coming back in through it....it’s a bit of a battle.
On Dry Land
At 34kg there is no avoiding the fact that the Abaco is at the heavier end of scale for a 14ft fishing kayak. It does mean that there is plenty of plastic in the mould and the kayak feels solid throughout. Whilst on the topic of plastic, RTM fishing kayaks are made from HDPE (High-density Polyethylene), the best grade of plastic you can make a kayak from - not cheap, and it will stand up to the test of time. The HDPE is also contains UV stabilisers so the kayak will resist bleaching if stored continually out in the sun. Mine has lived outside in the elements since i got it and there are no signs of colour loss.
Anyhow back to the weight, you will need a trolley if you are solo launching. Car topping isn’t the easiest on your own (easy with two people!) but I have done it numerous times without too much trouble. I lack in upper body strength so lifting the Abaco fully above my head is a no-go. I use a beach towel laid either on the boot or across the side of my car, put the bow up on that and slide the Abaco up onto the roof bars pushing from the stern. Once up I flip it over by standing on the door ledge and grabbing the side handles. It will depend on your car how easy this method is but there is usually a way to do it without having to lift the whole weight of the kayak above your head.
Fishing on the Abaco
It is comfortable, it is stable and I can spend more time fishing, baiting up, tying rigs e.t.c. than worrying about whether the kayak may tip over. It is an enjoyable kayak to fish from and is a solid platform from which you can haul up those leviathans from the depths!
There is plenty of room on deck. This is good because I like having some space to deal with a fish once I have brought it onto the kayak. I have had Tope to 40lb on the Abaco and even with a 5ft shark with a face full of sharp teeth trying to thrash around I feel comfortable on the Abaco and can unhook, photograph, measure and return big fish without worrying about falling in.
Tackle can be kept in the centre hatch for easy access. The storage pockets are useful for storing scissors and forceps. The centre hatch lid makes a good chopping board. The centre hatch also makes a good fish store if you don’t mind it getting fishy! You can fit a double figure Pollack in there or even 30 mackerel, although they slide up the rod tube and make a right mess! There is also that massive rear tank-well for storing fish too but I usually end up just filling the foot well with any fish I am taking for the table.
Fishing side-saddle is reasonably comfortable. You can straddle the kayak to if you need to increase stability when snagged or increase deck space when dealing with a big fish. It holds steady at anchor in swell and chop. I have found that in short interval messy chop waves tend to crash continually over the stern which gets annoying, shuttle the anchor trolley to the bow and it will ride the waves fine and keep you drier.
A fishfinder can be installed easily using the in-hull method which I am currently using for my Raymarine Dragonfly 5-Pro, with both transducer and battery located inside the hull. I have the head unit mounted on the centre hatch. The through-scupper method is also an option if your transducer fits into the transducer scupper and I used this method when I had a Lowrance Elite-4x on the Abaco with the battery box kept onboard in the small recess at the front of the foot well. You could equally keep the battery inside the centre hatch. It would be nice to see future designs incorporate a larger/longer transducer scupper to better fit the newer, larger chirp transducers. A transducer could also be arm-mounted using a Ram transducer arm attached to the slide rails. It would be nice to see a removable fish finder pod introduced in future designs - perhaps in the place of the small recess at the of the footwell.
So is it a good fishing kayak?
In a word....Yes! Overall it is a stable, comfortable platform to fish from. I’m only a measly 9st but Andrew at 19st has got on well with it too although was starting to push the upper limits of the Abaco’s capacity. It feels like a fishing platform with plenty of space and plenty of features that actually get used whilst fishing. It paddles surprising well in most conditions your likely to find yourself out kayak fishing in. A rudder would be beneficial if you’re out in strong winds. It does require a bit of effort to push it through the really messy stuff but it will still bring you back to shore. The storage space on this kayak is phenomenal; it could quite easily be loaded up for a weekend camping trip. The deck layout has been well thought out, quality fittings used and overall the finish is excellent and is what you would expect from a top-end fishing kayak. My only real complaint with this kayak is the weight but once it’s on the water the weight issue is no more. Once on a C-tug transporting it around is also no problem. Car topping takes the right technique but can be done solo. Solid side handles would be a nice addition too.
Other than those couple of niggles this is a very capable fishing kayak that performs well in the majority of conditions it’s likely to be paddled in and fished from whilst kayak fishing in the UK. It would suit both beginners and experienced kayak anglers alike. It is stable, has plenty of useful features, it paddles well for an 'Anglers Fishing Kayak', it has plenty of storage space and price-wise sits comfortably amongst similar top-end fishing kayaks, perhaps even cheaper if the 'Hi-Luxe’ version with rudder is compared against others once a rudder is added to them. After nearly two years of use and abuse (battle scars to prove, those rocks are as hard as they look!) and with 40+ launches it is still going strong without any issues. The Abaco has brought me some of my biggest kayak fish and guess what....I love it!
RTM Abaco 4.20 Range Overview
The Abaco 4.20 comes in 2 different specs:
and it comes in 4 different colour options at the time of writing:
The RTM Abaco 4.20 and other RTM Fishing Kayaks are available from Cornwall Canoes. Click Here to check out their website or give them a call to find out more.
I have had to say goodbye to the beloved Abaco. It has served me well for 2 years but in that time my style of kayak fishing and paddling abilities have progressed and as a result i have taken favour of the RTM Tempo over the Abaco, primarily due to its increased speed and performance through the water compared to the Abaco. Whilst i love the way the Tempo paddles the Abaco certainly takes the top spot for having plenty of useful features. Those clever guys in the RTM factory managed to come up with a solution - a kayak that paddles like the Tempo but has plenty of features like on the Abaco....and so a new fishing kayak was born... the RTM Rytmo Angler! So if your liking the look of the Abaco but also like a kayak that is fast, paddles well and performs well in big sea conditions then take a look at the following link: RTM Rytmo Angler Initial Overview
Nice well balanced review Liam. RTM are lucky to have you on board.
Cornish Kayak Angler
Cheers Flossy :)
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