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How your boat makes your fishing better (or worse)

Go Big, or Go Small

The “perfect” boat truly is in the eyes of the fisherman.

Hydrasport with quad outboards

Horsepower is great, but slow and steady has its advantages

Many of my allotted hours on earth have been spent looking at boats. I never tire of tooling around the docks, studying the shapes and styles of anything that floats. Walking past boat displays at a recent show, the Ultimate Canyon Runner caught my attention. I paused, my mouth open with the same awe I reserve for a 300-pound mako grinning sinisterly on the scale. She was a massive center console with four 300-horsepower outboard motors, and rigged with a tuna tower and buggy top, outriggers, electronics, and enough rods and reels to open a tackle warehouse. My mind raced to fishing aboard her, and the places I could go once aboard, heading toward where the sky meets the sea. 

But I did a double take when I looked at the live well in the transom and noticed the ferocious flow of water coursing around the inner circumference. Hell-bent salmon would likely have a problem swimming against such velocity, much less a dozen Palm Beach goggle-eyes. It made me think back to another live well, in a wooden rowboat that my grandfather kept on a freshwater lake where I learned about pickerel, largemouth bass, and bluegills. I remembered the flaking, green-painted wood seats, and how the deck was always damp from the lake water challenging the plank and transom seams. But the live wells were a curious feature built into each hull side. One would be used for the catch of the day, and the opposite one for minnows. Instead of a pump, there were holes drilled through the bottom of the boat, and the natural flow of the lake water circulating inside kept everything happy and ready. The only optional equipment that the boat carried was a rusty coffee can used as a bailer. Admittedly that old relic may be at the other end of the spectrum compared to that muscular center console, but I caught a lot of fish on it, and in some ways I can consider it my ultimate fish boat.

I’ve had the great fortune to fish on hundreds of boats, and  enjoy many days catching billfish, tuna, and sharks in the deep, bonefish on the flats, muskies on northern lakes, striped bass, countless bottom species, and many more. I’ve appreciated each one to be sure, but my best fish stories always start with the boat, because it’s the platform that gets me out there in the first place. The boat is the common core that makes it happen, and the boat has the ability to turn old experiences into new ones.

Of course, I’ve caught loads of bluefish, casting to them, chumming day and night, trolling with green and yellow nylons, spoons, and umbrella rigs with wire line, in a whole lot of boats. Some I worked on, others were mine, and some belonged to friends. But one day this past summer, I borrowed a buddy’s kayak and experienced new thrills all over again. The blues were thick on this tide, and running about 2 to 3 pounds, the good-eating size that provided plenty of action on my light spinning tackle. Dodging the river traffic in the channel, I hooked up and eased my way toward the shallows, pedaling the kayak and pulling the fish with me. When I had the fish near the side of the kayak, I realized that I was going to learn something new, and wasn’t truly prepared for it. Bluefish of any size are brawlers, and don’t give up easily. I reached out to lift the fish into the kayak so I could release it. The fish wanted no part of me, and squirmed away back into the water. On my next pass, I was able to grab the short leader and hold the fish long enough to set it free. Being so close to the water and the fish changed my attitude, and I had a fabulous afternoon; I couldn’t wait to yap about it with my friends who had never fished from a kayak. It sure is fun.

The American Sportfishing Association recently announced that participation trends show younger, more diverse audiences are reluctant to take up fishing and boating, while older males are aging out of the sport. Whether it’s a matter of time, expense, or a lack of interest, this is a challenge because we need to teach more people the fun they can have by getting on the water any way they can. The more people who participate, the stronger the impact on conservation efforts and the nation’s economy. 

Most people learn about fishing through the patience of someone else. With me, it was my father and uncle, and their guidance and teaching were beyond valuable. I wish they were alive, so I could fish with them again. The next time you plan a fishing trip, find someone to take with you. Let them experience what you already know. Consider it a down payment on the future, just like releasing a fish to fight another day.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.