It’s always nice to have options. Especially when the barometer is steady and the water is as slick as glass as far as you can see. And you know there are some big mutton snapper on a certain patch reef a few miles offshore.
Scenarios like this are when inshore anglers really appreciate the range, versatility and comfort of a bay boat. Those same traits are also why many professional guides prefer the bay-boat style when fishing with clients. One such pro is Capt. Scott Owens, who operates his charter service in Brunswick, Georgia, where huge tidal swings and runs across deep open bays is the norm.
“I own two Hell’s Bay skiffs and a 27-foot Hell’s Bay offshore center console. But during the summer months when I’m running bigger groups, the boat I mainly use is my 25 Shearwater TE with a Yamaha 250 four-stroke,” he says. “The species we’re targeting dictates the boat more than anything. With the Shearwater bay, I can fish four anglers inshore throwing artificials or live bait with popping corks. I run the trolling motor and use the Power-Pole to get into position. I can also go offshore an average of seven miles to fish behind the shrimp boats or on the shoals for sharks, tarpon and tripletail while keeping my clients comfortable.”
The cost of operation is another reason why Owens appreciates his bay boat. With four anglers and a full tank, he’s averaging between 3 and 3.5 miles per gallon. And with 89 octane, nonethanol gas selling at $4.85 a gallon at his local marina at press time, the Shearwater is much more cost-efficient to operate than his offshore center console.
Capt. Glyn Austin is another guide who likes the flexibility his bay boat provides. Austin fishes the Sebastian and Cape Canaveral areas of Florida, and has been running Shoalwater catamaran bay boats for the past four years. Built in Port O’Connor, Texas, his latest is the 23 Cat with a half-tower and 150 hp Evinrude E-TEC outboard.
“I use a bay boat for the versatility,” Austin says. “It allows me to get into shallow water to fish the flats and mangrove shorelines for snook, reds, trout, and pompano. On nice days, I can fish the inlet or nearshore spots.”
“This is a lightweight boat, so that allows me to get by with the 150 hp engine,” he adds. “I get good fuel economy in the midrange, yet it still runs in the mid-40s. It has an 8-foot-8-inch beam that’s very stable, and the cat hull floats shallow, which lets me fish inside all winter on low tides. With a normal load and three anglers, I have a draft of nine to 10 inches. If you opt for the bigger engine, expect to add another inch to the draft.”
In spring, Austin targets migrating cobia off the beach or works nearshore wrecks and reefs up to five miles out in depths to 50 feet. He drifts or uses the anchor mode of his Minn Kota iPilot trolling motor to also catch flounder and big jack crevalle. During the summer months, live-baiting tarpon, king mackerel and little tunny around bait pods is the usual game plan. He does keep an eye on the wind and weather, however. If gusts increase to more than 15 knots and blow up a chop, he heads back in.
“First-time customers always look at the low freeboard with a little trepidation,” Austin says. “Once they fish in the boat, though, the stability and dry ride is what impresses them the most.”
The raised-console and half-tower configuration provide still more flexibility. A 23-gallon livewell on the transom is standard on the 23 Cat. The raised platforms shift the fuel tank for additional dry storage inside the console and raised deck. An optional 40-gallon livewell can then be added to the aft platform.
Room with a View
Storage and increased capacity are two of the reasons Capt. Bink Grimes loves his 24 TRS Pathfinder. Grimes — a 15-year-veteran Matagorda, Texas, guide and outdoor writer (with frequent contributions to SWS) — says he can easily fish up to four anglers on his boat, although three are optimal. Ample rod storage is another plus.
“When they bring 100 rods, like some customers do, you can get ’em out of the way,” Grimes explains. “I also have lots of dry storage for life jackets and other gear.”
Grimes does run out to some shallow oil and gas rigs as far as four miles offshore, but not often. “You can certainly use it offshore; it’ll handle it. But our fish are typically in on the beach, so we just don’t need to run out much.” Instead, he’ll work the beach troughs throwing topwater plugs on top of the bars. Another common practice is drifting across the flats or the shell reefs scattered in East and West Matagorda bays.
“In Texas, people used to want to wade-fish 80 percent of the time. Now only 20 percent do. It’s definitely changed. Today, more people prefer to stay in the boat. I’m also getting more groups who split the cost of the charter, so the bigger bay boat gives me the room, features and comfort I need. That V-bottom eats up a chop when we’re fishing the open bays. And in summer, when we’re throwing live shrimp or croakers, the overdone livewell system keeps the water cool and the bait frisky. My Pathfinder is a Cadillac.”
Personally, I’d say Range Rover is a more accurate description for Grimes’ and other bay boats. So, will one boat do it all? No, it won’t. But for coastal anglers who like variety in their fishing without breaking the budget, a bay boat comes pretty darn close.