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February 11, 2014

Buying a Bay Boat

The Miami Boat Show is right around the corner, check out what to know for buying a bay boat.

Shallow Work

“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.