From beefy center consoles to tricked-out express and flybridge battlewagons, sportfishing boats have come a long way. How well do you know them?
Take a look at old fishing photos. Typically, since men were the dominant gender in the fishing game, fishing boats were rudimentary at best. The hulls were wood or fiberglass (or aluminum — remember Striker?), bench seats were bare fiberglass or wood, there was a gin pole with block and tackle for hauling the catch over the side gunwale, and the electronics were sparse. Men were tough: They didn’t need fine furnishings or creature comforts (or didn’t think they did). A bunk with a foam mattress was high living for overnight canyon trips.
On many boats, a single engine was all there was to get the boat out and back. Lose it and the tow home could be a long one.
Today’s sportfishing boats are drastically different — better — than yesteryear’s battlewagons. From 35-footers to beasts of 70 feet and larger, fishing boats’ comfort levels are more akin to fine hotel rooms, with galleys equipped to make full meals and mezzanine seating for watching the battle. Hauling a fish aboard is easier thanks to transom doors, baits live longer in aspirated wells and power plants can get you there and back in record time.
Makings of a Sportfisher
The bottom line for any sportfishing boat is to raise fish. To accomplish that successfully and on a regular basis, many components must be finely tuned and work well together. And nowhere is that more critical than in the cockpit.
It’s no accident that the same boats win tournaments time after time or return to the marina with a catch that was “limited out.” Good preparation yields good results. During the fish dance, cockpits are the workplace. If things go wrong, not only does an angler risk losing the fish, but crew are at risk of getting hurt. In a well-thought-out cockpit, everything has its place.
Center to the equation is the fighting chair. Properly mounted to the boat deck (yes, I have seen several pulled out), the chair should be easy to enter and exit, it should swing around to follow the fish, and include adjustments for the backrest angle and the foot rest (used to push against, not to relax). An offset chair stem allows the chair’s swing to reach farther out, corner to corner.
No need for a chair? Then put in a center “rocket launcher” rod-holder system. It’s great for holding spare rods or for trolling a few at the same time.
Storage for gear such as gaffs, harpoons, rods, hoses, mops and more is paramount. Nobody wants this stuff in the way when a fish is on and the mad scramble of clearing lines begins. This is a fishing crew’s office, where business is conducted, and either won or lost.
Sportfishing yacht crewmembers know that time is of the essence when reels are screaming and lines are peeling. Having tools and tackle at one’s fingertips is essential. Many sportfishing boat manufacturers build in tackle centers in or near the cockpit, and they can include several drawers with variously sized compartments for lures, leaders, and hooks, a sink and a cutting board for bait prep. Some center-console builders include dedicated space for a tackle box and/or a cooler with tie-downs.
Bigger sportfishing boats have in-deck fishboxes that can include recycled sea water and drains. Nobody’s putting an 80-pound tuna in a sandwich cooler. Add in an ice machine, and anglers can dress and chill the catch at sea without having to rush back to the dock before fish begin to spoil.
Flare is that little component of a hull’s design that can make or break the ride. Older sportfishing boats may have had it, but builders nowadays make it much more pronounced in cases where rough inlets or seas are the norm. Basically, flare is the angle where a boat’s vertical side of the hull protrudes outward horizontally to meet the foredeck.
Pronounced flare parts the sea well as it throws the water to the side, and it adds tremendous buoyancy to the bow, keeping it up and minimizing the chances of stuffing the pointy end into the sea. Flare can be found on large and small boats. For example, the Mag Bay 33 features bow flare, far forward and up high. Conversely, very significant flare can be found on the hull of custom sportfishing yachts like Jarrett Bay and Buddy Davis, as well as many others.
Catching ’Em First
Before reeling them in and chilling them, anglers must catch the elusive prey first. When it comes to bait, most notable fishing authorities will agree that “fresh is best!” And the way to keep them alive and kicking is with recirculating baitwells, which can be an add-on (nice for center consoles) or customized into the transom or behind the fighting chair. Add in a window to keep an eye on the critters and a light for night viewing.
There are also bait tubes (or tuna tubes) that allow for a rigged bait to stay alive as sea water rushes through the tube. The tube prevents tangling with other baits within the livewell.
Additional features such as fresh- or saltwater washdowns, built-in coolers, control stations in the cockpit or remote control steering have changed the game.
More Than Fishing
Sportfishing boats today are a totally different breed than 20 years ago. First, there’s a need for speed. It’s not uncommon to see a center console equipped with three or four outboards — with significant horsepower. In the tournament circuit, big money is at stake, so getting out first and back before the deadline is crucial. Also, if the first drop doesn’t produce, a boat and crew may need to run miles to the next honey hole to fill the boxes.
The bigger sportfishing machines feature engine rooms that pack heavy metal. It’s not uncommon to see twin V-12 MTU or MAN engines, producing up to 2600 hp each, in a 70-foot Viking, or a twin turbo CAT C32 setup in a 70-foot Hatteras. That’s plenty of horses to get these platforms, some weighing more than 135,000 pounds, moving.
Transiting to and from the fishing grounds can be a lengthy process. Comfort for the captain is essential, but what about others? Many sportfishers today have added seating capacity around and close to the helm. Crew can stretch out on flybridge settees or padded bench seats around the helm. Add in a wet bar with a refrigerator and a table, and the flybridge becomes the focal point.
Steady As She Goes
One area of significant improvement has been in the stability of sportfishing boats. Not by nature of a hull design change, so much, but by gyro. Not to get too scientific, but the rotation of a gyro (size and speed vary for size and type of boat) can counterbalance the snap-roll effect of the ocean on a hull. Basically, it’s a fully contained roll-axis-dampening machine that’s mounted on the centerline in the engine room. A spinning gyro can reduce rolling significantly, which reduces feelings of discomfort, fatigue and seasickness. Leaders in the gyro stabilization field are Veem and Seakeeper.
At a Glance
So who buys sportfishing boats, and why? For the most part, it’s people, men and women alike, who enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the reward of the catch. They are thrill-seeking, risk-taking people who many times are the same way in life. Many are corporate types and business owners who are serious during the day as well as when they fish. Their competitive juices flow during tournaments and calcuttas. Not only can they win big money, but bragging rights are many times priceless.
An owner with a large sportfisher will typically have a captain and a deckhand who will do everything on board, even transport the boat to the next tournament location. There, the owner will catch up with his boat, fish the event and then depart while the captain heads to the next tourney location.
For The Hull Of It
It takes more than just raw horsepower to get an object moving through water. It’s also about how a boat slices through the water and gets up out of it that counts. Hull designs are key to optimal fuel efficiency and speed maximization. Modified- to deep-V hulls tend to get the best results but also tend to rock more. A sharper entry at the bow cuts the waves and allows a boat to maintain a good running speed. Decreasing the deadrise astern provides more stability but with a flatter running surface. Lifting strakes and chines do help to lift a hull out of the water; plus, they reduce drag and knock down spray.
Today’s sportfishing machines are all about comfort. Some of the cooler features we’ve seen recently include:
- Plush salons with leather couches, stereos, satellite TV
- Fine woods, window treatments, carpeting, furnishings and well-placed lighting
- Full berths in private staterooms
- Heads with hot showers
- Air conditioning
Sportfishing yachts don’t feature hotplates and stained sinks anymore. Most sportfishers have galleys where the chef (or chef du jour) can cook the tuna caught today for dinner tonight, while still fishing. Full-sized side-by-side refrigerator/freezers or drawers, a microwave oven, a multiple-burner stove, granite counters and other appliances are pretty much de rigueur on high-end sportfishing boats. Many can accommodate china, crystal, and plenty of stores in large cabinets and pantries.
Appealing to All
Today’s sportfishing models aren’t just fish-raising machines; they try to appeal to the rest of the family and get used outside of fishing — maybe even more. Mikelson Yachts markets some of its models as “luxury sportfishers.” It even builds a long-range cruising sportfisher. Builders know they need to appeal to the masses, and that includes the non-anglers.
The marketing materials from builders such as Maritimo Yachts and Riviera Yachts are revealing. They both use terms such as “luxury motoryacht,” “gourmet galley” and more, because they have moved beyond their fishing roots into the family yacht space. Both are built in Australia, so they can handle the seas, and even their more cruise-centric models are capable as fishing platforms.
Electronics have come a long way from RDF (Radio Direction Finder) and LORAN. Multifunction chartplotters at helms that could be found on luxury yachts allow the captain and crew to view charts, radar, sonar, video, TV, systems info and more, singularly or in combination. Anyone who gets lost or hits something with a full electronics package in front of him is probably at fault.
5 (+1) Coolest Features
Adding to the evolution are some cool new features on some battlewagons:
- Fishing rod shower lockers
- Bow thruster control buttons in the gear shifters
- Bow baitwells for casting from foredeck
- Underwater lights to attract baitfish
- Pod-style helm station with single-lever controls
- Some diehard fishing fanatics believe that painting a school of baitfish on the bottom of the hull can attract big game. Not sure if that’s been scientifically proven, but if it works, that’s great. And if it doesn’t work, no one will know until the vessel is hauled.
One sportfishing brand making a comeback is Bertram Yachts. Best known for its iconic 31-footer, Bertram essentially shut down several years ago but has been resurrected and is producing a new 35-footer. Keep an eye out for a new model, around 60 feet.
Adding to its game, Tiara Yachts is back into the flybridge fishing game with 39- and 48-foot convertibles. These are added to the builder’s series of express models, tried and true through many years.
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