Fishing Kayaks, Review, Wilderness Systems

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

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The Tarpon 120 is the best-selling kayak in the Wilderness System’s Sit-on-Top Tarpon family and comes equipped with a number of great features including an ergonomically designed phase-3 sit-on-top seating system. Highly regarded by anglers, it also comes in a version made specifically for fishermen, the Tarpon 120 Angler, which includes a built-in Scotty rod holder and two flush mount rod holders. But these features are easy to add on the Tarpon 120 thanks to SlideTrax (see below) and it can more affordable to go with the base model and add the accessories you need. Here are the options for best fishing kayak this year.

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So Why The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120?

Tarpon 120 Features

There are carrying handles at each end of the boat for tandem carry and one on each side in the middle allowing for solo carrying. For storage, the Tarpon comes with two easy opening hatches including a front-hatch located at the bow of the boat and a mid-ship hatch located in the middle of the kayak directly in front of the seat for easy access while paddling.

All-Day Comfort

The Tarpon comes with a phase-3 sit-on-top seating system that can be adjusted to meet the exact needs of the person using it. Both the seat bottom and seat back are fully adjustable – even from the seated position. The seatback can be moved forward, back, up, and down. The front of the seat is also adjustable and can move up or down using the “leg lifter” straps for maximum comfort. To accommodate kayakers of all sizes, the Tarpon includes fully adjustable leg pegs.

Plenty of Storage

Located behind the seat is a large tankwell capable of carrying a cooler, milkcrate, dry bag, and other essential gear.  There are also storage pockets located on the inside of the kayak in front of the seat, perfect for storing smaller items. The side carrying handles double as paddle holders, allowing you to safely secure your paddle to the kayak when not in use.

SlideTrax Technology

An innovative feature of the Tarpon is the SlideTrax Modular Outfitting System. You can easily add accessories like rod holders and GPS mounts to the Tarpon kayak without drilling or complicated adjustments.  SlideTrax also allows for easy positioning of bungee lines.

Superior Stability and Tracking

Located at the stern of a boat is a built-in drain plug – useful if you happen to get water inside the hull of the boat.

The Tarpon is extremely stable in the water and highly maneuverable. The flare of the hull on the Tarpon the boat to comfortable leaned from edge to edge. Extremely stable, you can easily hang your legs off to one side and fish or paddle the kayak at the same time without ever worrying about the boat tipping over. The Tarpon 100 is highly responsive and paddles on track with ease.

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At the front of the wilderness systems tarpon 120, there is a neat little rubber piece where you can slide in your kayak paddle underneath if you’re not using it or if your fishing and you need to get it out of the way but you don’t want it to fall in the river. That comes in very handy for kayakers, I love it and it’s fairly quite useful and stable considering it’s just a piece of plastic.

I have had no problems with the front hatch leaking although some users have stated there is an issue. I have been through class 2, class 3 rapids with it and the water has actually come over the bow at some times and actually looked like I was sinking however the scupper holes emptied it out.

I wanted to point out some highlights of the hatch (which opens to one side left to right). Some of the lids on the front hatches have had some reviews about them leaking. However, the reason they leak is if you look under the hatch you can see on the joint of the hatch a small plastic piece that connects the hatch to the boat there is a small ream where the joint goes in. In some of the boats the plastic on both sides doesn’t connect perfectly it’s like they drill straight through it. If you see one like that you should avoid it since it will leak however you can definitely repair this issue by using some type of glue or sealant on that area. I have never had much water come in and I have been in downpours have water come over the top and it’s really held up well – the lids tend to do a good job. You do have to make sure the lid string is pulled inside of it and does not fall out.

The foot pieces work really well, sometimes dependent on what you’re doing the piece is very easy to push in so it will slide up very easily. There is a bungee cord in the center of the kayak I have anywhere from a little small box with baits into a bigger one you can just strap it in and you will not have to worry about it rolling up.

The two little side accessory spaces have molded-in rubber and have good spacing. However, if you flip the kayak over anything that’s in there is going to come out. So if it goes into the kayak it goes strapped in, that’s the only way you make sure you’re keeping it!

The center hatch I have had no problems with it leaking however the design does show a little bit of indent around it where it looks like water can get trapped. I have not had problems with water getting inside however it does get trapped around it so if it’s just sitting there when you open it water is going to get in it. Other than that it’s conveniently located and the hatch clicks down tight and has given me no problems.

The seats on these are very comfortable I am a bigger guy and I was a little concerned about the seat however I have spent up to 12 hours in one day inside the kayak and it does really well without issues. I have not done a lot of adjusting with it. I have raised the back up you can pull the front chord to raise it up if you’re trying to rest a little but other than that you would be fine with keeping it in the down position.

The back has plenty of storage space which would come in handy if you decide to do some overnight trips in it. It has a handle in the back as well for easy carrying.

The wilderness systems tarpon 120 tracks great and I have no problems turning it. When I have to maneuver around rocks and shoals it turns very quickly for me without issue.

It comes in a few colors however I recommend one that is really bright and stands out since it would be safest to have something that is easy to see and spot.

What I don’t like about this kayak is the space under the seat. It has scupper holes however I have never seen a mount. If you are going through any rapids or shoals and water is coming into the kayak you are going to be basically sitting in a puddle of water underneath you. You can use one of the sponges and when it fills up you can stick one of your sponges down there and sponge it out not too big of a deal.

If you’re not doing any kind of white water kayaking where water will be coming in you really don’t need the scupper plugs out. It works great with the plugs in and stays really dry, you might get a couple of drops from your paddle but it’s nothing significant.

With a mount you’re going to get wet, if you’re a big guy when you hit waves the water comes in a little bit, of course, it runs right out. The front retains a little bit of water but it’s nothing major.

Features and Specifications

Tarpon 120 Specifications

  • Length: 12′ 3″
  • Width: 30″
  • Capacity: 350 lbs.
  • Deck Height: 13.75″
  • Weight: 64 lbs.
  • Cockpit Length: 52″
  • Cockpit Width: 20″

Tarpon 120 Features

  • Storage Pockets for Gear
  • Side Carry Handles
  • Front and Rear Comfort Carry Handles
  • Paddle Holder
  • 8” Midship Hatch
  • Large Bow Hatch
  • Adjustable Foot Braces
  • SlideTrax
  • Phase 3 Sit-on-Top Seating
  • Rudder Compatible
  • Large Tankwell

Our Conclusion

Overall the wilderness systems tarpon 120 is an awesome kayak to fish out of. We would highly recommend this for any type of fishing kayaker and it’s definitively one of the most stand-out models out there.

Other kayaks you might love to check are below;

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Wilderness Systems Kayaks Official Website



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About Julian Thompson

cb787c59d2808e1f609076e790ca977e?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: Certified Kayaking Instructor (AKA)
Education: American Kayak Association
Lives In: Denver Colorado

I am a kayaking expert/instructor who has been fishing for over 15 years. Fishing is my passion, but kayaking keeps me on the water. I love to share my knowledge of techniques and tips with others. I live in Colorado with my wife and two kids and own a small kayak rental business On Grand Lake where I rent and instruct.

2 thoughts on “Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120”

  1. Great review – thank you for posting it. I am looking for a kayak to use in the very shall rivers and deep lakes of Indiana. I won’t be fishing but I love the sit on top Kayak approach.

  2. I love these boats. Over the years I’ve owned at least 15 Tarpon 120 and Tarpon 140’s and without exception, every single one of them has leaked at the Orbix hatch. Quite a bit I might add. My friends that have them have leaky hatches as well. The earliest model with the Tupperware style lid is the only one that didn’t leak. That said, it’s never bothered any of us; after all it is a water sport. That’s what dry bags and boxes are for. You must have found the only one on earth that doesn’t have leaky hatches.

    As a side, the latest Orbix hatches used since around 2017-2018 are crap compared to the older ones. These are easily identified by the “pierced ears” in front of the latches that I guess are supposed to allow you to put a lock there; as if a thief wouldn’t just twist it off. Those hatches will likely not last, at least not the way we use them. I’d fully expect the hinges to break. The older 120 and 140’s are definitely one of, if not the, best rotoscoped-molded polyethylene kayaks on the planet. The last two or three years, starting when Wilderness Systems was bought out, were seriously lacking in quality and workmanship. The new 2020 model is a complete joke; especially at that price point.

    Anyone looking for a great all around sit on top should find themselves a used one because as I said, they’re probably the best there is. Making a kayak the best at anything will compromise everything else. These boats strike the best balance you’ll find being good at fishing, touring, and camping… just stay away from the new ones. “Preconditioned” kayaks float just as good as new, cost less, and you’ll enjoy the carefree use not worrying about those first scuffs and scratches.

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