Bay boats might be the fastest growing segment in the fishing boat market, but not all are as well-crafted or as versatile as the first offering from Barker Boatworks, a new, albeit seasoned, builder. The 26 Calibogue Bay is one sleek fishing machine, and after taking one out for a spin, it left a lasting first impression.
The first thing that strikes you about this boat is its size. With the beam exceeding 9 feet and a massive bow deck and cockpit, the 26-footer appears much larger than its actual specifications. The hull’s aggressive twin steps — designed to lift and aerate the bottom for better performance — are another significant design feature that immediately jumps at you.
Despite its substantial dimensions and heft, inshore enthusiasts don’t need to worry about the Barker’s draft. Redfish and other shallow-water game fish, however, should fret. To help flats and bay pursuits, options include a bow-mount trolling motor and single or twin Power-Pole anchoring systems like those on the test boat. The pair of Blades was ingeniously rigged with rod/cup holder combos. In addition, there are plenty of places to stow tackle on board. Vertical rod racks straddle both sides of the console, a rocket launcher is mounted on the leaning post, and there’s horizontal rod storage in the covering boards. Combine all that with the lockable storage in the bow and anglers have more than enough room to carry an array of tackle.
The console is enormous and easily accommodates a 19-inch Garmin touch multifunction display, plus gauges, digital switches and LED battery monitors, all arranged for easy viewing and reach. A pair of Uflex paddle controls on the steering column enable adjustments to the trim and jack plate while underway and without taking your hands off the wheel. The acrylic windshield is high enough to be effective without hindering the line of sight, and twin angled footrests optimize the comfort level for the helmsman and a companion.
The cushioned console forward seat for two lifts to reveal a roomy step-down head compartment with quick access to pumps, battery switches and wiring panels, in addition to an optional Thetford portable head. The wire traces are impeccably organized and labeled. In fact, everywhere you look, examples of meticulous craftsmanship and top quality components are evident.
Moving forward, large insulated fish boxes frame the dry-storage compartment along the centerline on the bow casting deck. Molded receptacle rings for buckets come standard, along with heavy-duty hardware and gas-assist struts, and Barker covers the inside of all hatch lids with closed-cell foam inserts to deaden sound and ensure waterproof integrity. A 15-gallon pitch-bait well with acrylic lid is conveniently located just aft of the anchor locker. The lid has friction hinges, so it won’t snag a cast net.
On the stern casting deck, a folding bench seat makes a comfortable perch for long runs to the fishing grounds. The bottom cushion lifts to reveal a nestled storage compartment, which in turn lifts to access the bilge. A larger 45-gallon livewell, also with acrylic lid and friction hinges, carries an additional supply of bait or keeps trophy redfish alive until reaching the tournament weigh-in.
Our jaunt on Sarasota Bay allowed us to truly test the mettle of the 26 Calibogue. An approaching squall line had stacked the water into confused whitecaps. But it didn’t matter. The Barker ran on top and gobbled the chop faster than a high school football team at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and we stayed dry regardless of the compass heading. As a factory-direct custom builder, Barker can rig the boat with one of several engine makes and models. Our test boat was powered with a 300 hp Mercury Verado Pro, which produced a top speed of nearly 61 mph and forced us to steady ourselves during takeoff from the hole-shot torque. Dialing back to 4,000 rpm, we burned just under 14 gph doing almost 38 mph, according to the GPS.
By definition, bay boats are designed to cross large expanses of open water and fish in fairly shallow depths. The Barker 26 aces that assignment, and it also affords you the opportunity to chase dolphin or sailfish offshore when the weather settles. No matter what the float plan calls for, this boat is sure to prove a top performer.