If you’re planning to shop—and possibly plunk down hard-earned money—for a center-console fishing machine this year, consider the following. Here is my must-have list of five features you cannot do without on your new pride and joy.
1. Enough Power
Whenever I write a review for a center console with a nationally advertised price that includes a power package that’s inadequate, I add the advice: Don’t do it! Underpowering a center console is the worst mistake a boat-buyer can make. Not only will it struggle to get on plane, but the helmsman will have a hard time maintaining a safe speed in rough water. You also will get hammered when you trade it in or try to resell it. Go online and find a review of a boat with the engine package you are considering or ask the dealer. If the top speed is around 40 mph, it’s a dog. In my experience, the magic minimum top speed number for most center consoles today is around 50 mph.
2. Tall Gunwales
I used to fish with a friend of mine in the Florida Keys who had a popular 25-foot offshore boat that only had a rear interior gunwale height of 22 inches. In seas above 2 feet, my knees were sore as hell from bumping against the side of the boat by the end of the day. And at least once, I felt like I might fall in. For safety and comfort, there should be a minimum height of 26 inches with more toward the bow. Toe rails increase safety when stretching to gaff or net a fish.
3. A Real-Deal Livewell
Tiny livewells serve as a dead giveaway that a boat wasn’t designed by someone who fishes. The primary livewell should hold a minimum of 20 gallons and 30-plus gallons would be better. Secondary baitwells can be smaller since they are mostly used to be a convenience to cut the distance for anglers at the opposite end of the boat. Livewells should be round or oval, and should have strong recirculating pumps. Pumps that reside within a sea chest are the gold standard for offshore center consoles to prevent air from entering the line when running. The lids should be clear and have a hydraulic dam or friction hinges to prevent banging shut. Aquarium-style livewells with clear sides for bait monitoring are also a plus.
4. 360-Degrees of Fishability
One of the primary reasons for owning a center console instead of a dual-console boat or express is the ability to fight a fish or cast from any location around the boat. Any obstruction such as fixed seating on the perimeter can hinder an angler. Fold-down stern benches or flip up-jumpseats add seating without taking up space. Large consoles are currently the rage to offer enough real estate for large electronics displays and roomy head compartments, but when they limit walkaround space, it becomes a problem. There should be at least 20 inches in between the gunwale and the console for comfortable transit fore and aft.
5. Adequate Rod Storage
A good indicator if a center console is designed as a serious fishing machine or not is its number of rod holders. If a boat has more cupholders than rod holders, it’s a day boat. On smaller center consoles, there should be a minimum of three gunwale holders per side and at least four in the stern with storage racks under the gunwale. T-tops should have at least four rocket launchers and if they are high above the deck, there should be some sort of step-up to help access them.
A Must-Have Future Feature
OK, I said I would list five must-haves, but here’s one to seriously consider as center-console fishing boats evolve in years ahead. I predict that in the near future, most new center consoles capable of heading offshore will be equipped with gyro-stabilizers. The prices and sizes keep getting smaller as evidenced by the Seakeeper 1, which weighs 365 pounds, costs $15,900 and is designed for boats as small as 23 feet. The boost in comfort and safety is impressive.