Gone are the days of throwing on whatever life jacket meets the current regulations, and sort of fits you. Today, it’s easy to find a PFD that's been ergonomically designed with whatever water-borne activity you love the most in mind. Kayak fishing PFDs need to be comfortable; they need to allow the torso to move through each stroke of the paddle, and of course, they need to keep you afloat should you happen to fall out of your yak.
The Ultra PFD Sportfish L50s is just one such model that promises to do all of this and more.
We decided to put the Sportfish L50s through its paces on a recent trip to Blue Rock Lake to find out if it meets the demands of the Aussie kayak angler.
Off-Water Impressions of the Sportfish L50s
The Ultra Sportfish L50s is clearly modelled on a classic fishing vest. The camo-green version we tested (it’s available in bright yellow too) worked nicely with the fishing kayak’s stealthy approach.
As a PFD / fishing vest hybrid, the Sportfish was packed with storage options. Four smaller pockets with Velcro tabs are perfect for storing additional tackle, a small bottle of sunscreen, or if you’ve still got them, those trusty film canisters for your additional lures or flies.
Three large pockets with heavy duty zips were great for storing anything from a pair of pliers to backup leader, or even a packed lunch.
The Jackets appears to be made to last: stitching looks solid and the ripstop fabric feels tough but malleable.
I’m about 80kg and 6 feet tall, so I was testing a medium-sized PFD. I had the shoulder straps adjusted in no time to fit my frame and I found the flexible mesh lining kept the straps from rubbing while allowing for ventilation and reducing weight – a winning feature that adds to the stealth look.
A solid zip and two large heavy-duty buckles secure the vest at the front allowing for additional fit adjustment. While the medium size vest fitted well over the shoulders and around the chest, I had to pull the straps almost completely tight leaving the long ends dangling in my lap unless I tucked them under the bottom of the PFD. It would be good to see loops for securing the straps around the side, but there is also a chance that a size small might have fitted me better, so this could largely come down to size selection.
The lanyard attachment point was great for a small torch or emergency whistle, and the bait knife holder was a great feature for keeping your gear handy if your knife has a clip to match. Just make sure your knife is always very secure (for obvious reasons)…
On-Water PFD Performance
We were also testing the Dream Catcher 4 fishing kayak that day, and sliding into the plush seat the first thing I noticed was just how well the PFD and kayak worked together. Sitting back in the seat, I quickly forgot that the jacket was there, able to focus on paddling and searching for spots that I thought fish might be lurking.
The side panels of the PFD fit close to the body allowing your arms to pass right next to your torso with each stroke, and the high back panel was smooth allowing the PFD to slide against the seat without catching and hindering movement.
In-water PFD Performance
We couldn’t test the Sportfish L50s without really testing it. Rolling the Dream Catcher 4, the Sportfish had me back to the surface quickly, and light kicking kept me bobbing next to the capsized yak. All those storage options make it a bit hard to re-enter the kayak at first, but it’s easy to remove a couple of items and place them in your kayak’s storage compartment before attempting a re-entry.
Final Impressions of the Ultra PFD Sportfish L50s
Having spent a full day on (and in) the water with the Sportfish PFD, I can honestly say that it succeeds in bridging the gap between fishing vest and life jacket. I’m reluctant to comment on the materials and lasting quality of the jacket. What I can say is that the stitching looks and feels solid. It was great to see the PFD dry out quickly ready for another paddle after lunch.
Perhaps the biggest tick for the Sportfish L50s is its on-water performance. The PFD paddles really well: it was super comfortable both sitting and standing in the Dream Catcher 4. My only issue was with the straps that would fall down in my lap if not tucked out of the way. But it's possible this could be a result of going one size too big.
Overall, the Ultra PFD Sportfish L50s fishing kayak PFD is a great choice for yak anglers targeting fresh water species on Australia’s lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, and I’m sure it would do the trick in the salt too. Stealthy, comfortable, packed with storage options and features; the Sportfish L50s is more than capable if you happen to end up in the drink and well deserving of the UItra PFD name.
Regulations and PFD Ratings
A quick note on those numbers that get everyone confused. In Australia, the current safety standard rating for PFDs is AS 4578. If you are buying a life jacket new, it needs to have this number. If it doesn’t, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere.
But what about types? In Australia, PFDs are categorised based on the type of activities they are best suited to and the amount of buoyancy they provide the wearer. Typically, life jackets are either Level 100, Level 50, or Level 50s. We've provided a brief description below, but if you're after a more detailed explanation check out our Life Jakets 101 guide.
Level 100: designed for use in open water. Features a buoyant collar designed to hold the head above the water, even if the wearer is unconscious. Not designed for use with personal watercraft, and not suited to kayak fishing.
Level 50: designed for use on partially smooth waters — think water-skiing and jet skiing. Level 50 PFDs do not feature a collar so should not be used in off-shore conditions.
Level 50s: the Ultra PFD Sportfish fits under this category. L50s models are designed for smooth water activities (i.e. kayak fishing) capable of helping you stay afloat while swimming.
A bit more about Ultra PFD
Designed in Australia and manufactured in Fiji, Ultra PFD produces life jackets to suit a huge range of possible on-water applications in Australia. The company is proud to be a driving force in the Fijian community employing around 200 – 250 locals in the Fiji Islands throughout the season. Part of the ‘Make it in Fiji’ initiative, the Fiji PFD Ltd. manufacturing facility produces safe and functional personal flotation devices for Australian on-water enthusiasts.
25mm heavy duty belts
Heavy duty side panels
Flexible mesh / adjustable shoulder straps
Heaps of storage options: 4 small pockets, 3 large cargo pockets
High back panel
Big front zip
Lanyard / accessory attachment point
Available in S, M, L, XL, 2XL,