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NEW BOATS LET PADDLERS SEE CLEARLY NOW

Boaters and anglers need to see where they are going, and two new Innovex kayak models give paddlers sights both along the horizon and under their boat.

Dan Belyeu of Spring Hill, Tenn., south of Nashville, began production last summer of a line of vinyl kayaks fitted with a clear Lexan liner.

The clear hull allows boaters to see directly below them. These clear-bottomed kayaks are similar to commercial glass-bottom boats passengers ride in Florida's inland and shoreline waters.

Belyeu, an avid snorkeler who enjoys diving for lobster, got the idea for his kayaks when his wife, Peggy, showed concern about his diving activities off Summerling Key in Florida.

In 1998, Dan fitted his small boat with a clear-bottomed bucket so that Peggy could watch his progress along shallow lobster beds. Fellow boaters took interest in his underwater observatory. He began getting requests to insert a clear liner in others' boats and the concept of a full-hull clear insert in a small vessel began.

Design and production stages took some time, but sales in Florida, Japan and the Caribbean took off when he introduced his two basic models -- the single-seat Atlantis and the two-seater Caribe -- in 2003.

Wisconsin outdoor writer Doug Stamm introduced both models to writers from northern waters during the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers held in mid-September on the shores of Lake Okoboji in Iowa.

I bought one and Stamm put me onto all kinds of ways and means to get the most enjoyment from a red Caribe.

Polarized sunglasses help boaters and waders spot bottom structures and fish movement in shallower waters, but this "glass-bottomed" viewing access lets paddlers see weeds, bottom structures and finny folk directly under the boat, where they would be shadowed from view over the gunwales.

My wife, Jean, caught the kayak craze while attending area Women in the Outdoors programs where paddlesport people brought canoes and kayaks and offered hands-on practice.

We finally got a chance for a regional test run of our Caribe in early October. Joe and Chris Fischer invited us to their cottage on Honeoye Lake. That Saturday morning began with stiff breezes and dank skies.

Even with overcast skies and a slight surface chop, bottom views stunned all who took out the Caribe for a sight-seeing shoreline tour. Weed patches, masses and edges showed much more clearly than anything seen over the side.

Popular bottom pockets for panfish, bass and newly arrived northern pike came into view clearly.

Belyeu, who lived in Florida and Alabama before moving to Tennessee, immediately saw the possibilities for fishing from these Innovex kayaks.

"It's actually a hybrid between a kayak and a canoe," he said, referring to the wide center beam.

A wider, more stable hull allows for greater movements anglers need when casting and catching fish. He began fitting both models with mountings to add a live well, rod holders, running lights, flags and other fishing accessories.

"A deck-mounted adapter kit holds all the fishing gear and cockpit fasteners can be removed and tightened onto the mount with a quarter," he noted.

Along with the bright red finishes so popular in Florida and Caribbean waters, both models can be ordered in a neat neutral gray for plying fishing waters up north.

A decade plus of zebra and quagga mussel filtration has cleared Great Lakes and larger inland lakes water to the point that boaters can more clearly see bottom and aquatic life just below a boat hull today.

That Honeoye run prompted me to ask Belyeu about its prospects as a hunting boat. Hunters could more easily spot sunken grass beds, likely spots to place decoys.

He had factored out duck and goose hunting options, because hunters take dogs that get in and out of the boat when retrieving. "These kayaks don't have self-bailing hulls, so hunters would be wet in no time," he said.

But for finding good sites, setting decoys and retrievals for waterfowl hunters without dogs, the Innovex may have some possibilities.

New features for linings and accessories have been started in the 2005 models. For more details, check with Belyeu at (800) 459-1409 or go to: www.clearkayak.com.
e-mail: wille@pce.net

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