I am often asked the question, “What boat I should get?”. The answer is not an easy one. What are your needs? What kind of fishing tops your list? Nearshore (25 miles out to flats) or inshore fishing–no one boat can do a good job at both. Flats fishermen need to have a shallow draft boat to fish the mangrove islands and shallow flats and a trolling motor to guide you through the no motor zones and miles of mangrove shoreline. Nearshore fishermen need a boat with a deeper dead rise or the newer step hull design making for a more comfortable ride and handling of ruff seas.
In the last few years, a new breed of boat has entered the market. Bay boats area compromise between a flats and offshore boat. I look at them as a large flats boat–too big for real skinny water fishing and not good enough for deep offshore fishing. They are good enough for the average inshore or nearshore fisherman.
In my case, as a charter boat captain, I decided it would best to own two boats–a 25-foot Pathfinder TRS and an 18-foot Hewes Redfisher. I choose the 25-footer over the larger models for one reason. It would allow me to fish offshore and yet, on windy days, fish the mid-water flats of Tampa Bay and for grouper around the ships channel inside the Skyway Bridge. The 18 Hewes, with it’s nine-inch draft, would get me into any backcountry fishing I would want to do during the extreme low winter tides.
Before buying a boat, you need to take into consideration your needs. Many boat companies now offer most options from the factory. I choose Maverick Boat Group for two reasons. One, I had the misfortune of having 26-footer sink on me 35 miles offshore in a no name storm in 1987. Having being adrift for more than 25 hours in the Gulf of Mexico, hanging on to a cooler, I had made up my mind my next boat would be unsinkable. Two, their construction and resale value are tops.
Let’s start on some options you should take into consideration if fishing is your thing.
· A T-top or Bimini top? I prefer T-top on the bigger boat. It allows you to fish and fight your fish around the entire boat with nothing in your way. Bimini tops work great on smaller boat when weight and size are a problem.
· A recirculating live bait well is a must unless you are a diehard artificial fisherman. The bigger the better in this case. I look for an oval 30 to 40 gallon well as a must. Live greenbacks require a lot of oxygen during summer months. Don’t get caught short here. Some boat manufactures offer two wells to make up for size–this will do.
· A trolling motor is a must if you intend on fishing the mangrove shorelines and for tarpon fishing along the beaches. Trolling motors allow for a stealth approach. A polling platform and push pole is a
nice feature. I will take the trolling motor first.
A Power Pole is another must have item on both boats. It is one of those “don’t leave home without it” deals.
· On the bigger boat, a ship-to-shore radio is a must. On the small boat, a handheld will do. Remember your cell phone doesn’t work well offshore–your radio could be your lifeline. A handheld GPS works great for the small boat. A combination depth sounder and GPS are ideal for the average boater. They cut down on space and are very dependable. Don’t be cheap here. Look for the brand name and spend a few extra dollars–it will pay off in the long run.
· An EPIRB is a must for all offshore fishermen.
· The more rod holders the better. Most manufacturers will add them at the factory.
· The boat trailer is another area not to go cheap on. Your boat costs a lot of money and it’s safety and yours depend on it. I look for a local manufacturer where I can take it in for service and repairs.
When buying a new boat, take time to list the items you need. Review it with the dealer and find out what other options are available. Remember, it is better to wait a few extra weeks and get your boat rigged right the first time around. The wait is worthwhile, and those goodies can be added into the financing at the time of purchase.
Good fishing and tight lines.