THE RIGHT RIDE

A VEN­ER­A­BLE DE­SIGN THAT’S NEARLY 60 YEARS OLD, THE CEN­TER CON­SOLE RE­LI­ABLY TAKES AN­GLERS TO WHER­EVER THE FISH ARE

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS -

Cen­ter con­soles have evolved to meet the de­mands of an­glers fish­ing a great va­ri­ety of waters — from bays and near-shore spots to those stretch­ing to the hori­zon. By GARY RE­ICH

It’s a late Oc­to­ber morn­ing, and we’re on the hunt for false al­ba­core with a weather-be­damned at­ti­tude. “Hold on tight, it’s about to get nau­ti­cal!” the cap­tain shouts as we punch our way through a 4-foot chop at the mouth of Barden In­let in North Carolina. A stiff west wind stirs up a long fetch, and an out­go­ing tide piles on the pain. It’s a day when most recre­ational boats stay home.

We play in the snot, so to speak, weav­ing our way through foam­ing curlers while duck­ing blobs of blow­ing spin­drift. The Jones Brothers 23 cen­ter con­sole de­liv­ers us to thick pods of feed­ing false al­ba­core just off­shore and then keeps us in the game for the rest of the day.

Much like an ar­ti­san wood­worker might rely on a fine hand planer, an­glers have trusted cen­ter con­soles as the tool to get the job done for 60 years. The cen­ter con­sole is the go-to fish­ing craft for a ma­jor­ity of coastal and off­shore fish­er­men. Pick­ing one of th­ese rugged boats can be chal­leng­ing. You could belly up to a bar in any num­ber of fish­ing ports and get an abun­dance of opin­ions, or you could ask fish­ing pros who guide clients for a liv­ing.

That’s what we did.

Bay Boats

Capt. Jay Withers started fish­ing for bass and crap­pie with his grand­par­ents in south­west­ern Ohio at age 3. To­day he guides clients around the Char­lotte Har­bor, North Carolina, area for snook, red­fish, speck­led trout and tar­pon. His weapon of choice is a 2017 Pathfinder 2500 Hy­brid with a Yamaha F300 4-stroke.

This bay boat has a stepped hull with mod­er­ate dead­rise and an open deck plan that’s great for fly and light-tackle fish­ing. It’s Withers’ sec­ond Pathfinder. “I started out in an 18-foot flats boat but got my first Pathfinder in 2004,” he says. “There are a cou­ple of fea­tures I re­ally like about this boat. First is the huge, el­e­vated for­ward cast­ing deck. It’s as big as a dance floor, with plenty of room for cast­ing. Lots of boats are dif­fi­cult to cast from be­cause their cast­ing decks are set well be­neath the gun­wales. That might be good for some fish­eries, but not the ones I par­tic­i­pate in.”

Withers says the sec­ond fea­ture he likes

is stowage. “The Pathfinder has an end­less amount of stowage lock­ers, cub­bies, live wells and other hid­den spa­ces that swal­low up a mas­sive amount of bait, tackle and gear,” he says. “You can never have too much stowage space on a fish­ing boat. Oth­er­wise, you tend to leave stuff be­hind.”

Capt. Eric Davis, a pro guide who also runs a Pathfinder 2500 Hy­brid, says he ap­pre­ci­ates the boat’s rugged sea­wor­thi­ness. “One day we went off­shore when we knew we’d have had to get back about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. — be­fore the winds were fore­casted to get crank­ing,” Davis says. “The wind came up early, and we were 15 miles out. It got re­ally choppy, re­ally quick, so we started to head back. Within 30 min­utes, things were re­ally bad; we should not have been out there in a bay boat. In the end, the boat did fine, and we got back safe. The 2500 Hy­brid has a great bal­ance be­tween dead­rise and deep-vee but still keeps with the bay boat theme.”

Power Cats

Among guides who have to cover many miles over un­pre­dictable seas, cen­ter con­sole power cats are gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity. Free­man Boat­works is a South Carolina builder cater­ing to this mar­ket with lots of horse­power, sea­keep­ing qual­i­ties and fish­ing lay­outs.

Capt. James Chap­pell, who op­er­ates Catchalottafish Char­ters in Is­lam­orada, Florida, runs a 34VH Free­man with twin Yamaha F300s. He guides in the Gulf of Mex­ico and At­lantic for tuna and bill­fish, as well as for wreck species such as grouper and snap­per.

Chap­pell has run a num­ber of boats in his nearly 20-year char­ter ca­reer, and he says the 34VH runs well in the rough stuff. “With my Free­man, I rarely miss trips on poor-weather days that I would have oth­er­wise can­celed 100 per­cent of the time in all of the mono­hull boats I’ve owned,” he says. “The sta­bil­ity and smooth ride of the Free­man makes rough days seem not so rough. The boat doesn’t lean in a drift. It just goes up and down. And you never get in a side­ways roll in this boat, as the cat de­sign makes it so buoy­ant. The beam is also ridicu­lous for a boat my size.”

Ex­tra beam and twin hulls mean not just en­hanced sta­bil­ity, but also deck space and ca­pac­ity for ex­tra horse­power. “You could fit most mono­hulls of sim­i­lar-size boats in­side my deck,” Chap­pell says. “My boat does nearly 60 miles per hour with a tower, a cou­ple of coats of bot­tom paint and a de­cent load of fuel and an­glers. Stowage for tackle and gear also is in­cred­i­ble. I’ve got a huge, 50-gal­lon live well, 800-quart cof­fin-style cooler and four enor­mous, in-deck stowage lock­ers. I’m never wish­ing I had more fish, tackle or gear stowage.”

North Carolina Sk­iffs

The waters around Cape Look­out, North Carolina, play host each fall to one of the most epic meet­ings of preda­tors and prey along the East Coast. As mas­sive schools of bait are flushed out of the sounds, hordes of hun­gry false al­ba­core, red­fish and sharks await. It’s a free-for-all for an­glers with fly and light tackle.

The near-shore waters around Cape Look­out are no­to­ri­ously un­pre­dictable, and the wind blows more of­ten than it doesn’t. Jones Brothers Ma­rine in More­head City, North Carolina, builds a lineup of skiff-style cen­ter con­soles that are up to the task.

Un­like heavy, deep-vee cen­ter con­soles with ag­gres­sive tran­som dead­rises, the Cape Fish­er­man boats that Don­nie and Rob Jones build have a rel­a­tively shal­low dead­rise, nar­row beam, light dis­place­ment and mod­er­ate en­try. They run like a dream in the bumpy, con­fused seas I fish each fall.

Capt. Sarah Gard­ner and her hus­band, Capt. Brian Hors­ley, use a pair of Cape Fish­er­man 23s year-round to guide clients off the Outer Banks. “All the Jones Brothers Ma­rine hulls are the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of dead­rise, length and width,” Gard­ner says. “They all have about 12 to 14 de­grees of dead­rise at the tran­som. Th­ese hulls slice through chop and don’t bang like wider boats. My boat also doesn’t roll when sit­ting still. My Cape Fish­er­man 23 is very trim-tab sen­si­tive, so I can re­ally tweak them for a bet­ter ride in tough con­di­tions, or to com­pen­sate for large an­glers.”

Hors­ley says this style of boat is a good choice for fish­ing. “The deck is clean, with no hard­ware or in­te­rior com­po­nents for lines to tan­gle on,” he says. “The lack of a raised cast­ing deck — like many bay boats have — pro­vides my an­glers with a much safer feel. Plus, she’s got good rod stowage un­der the gun­wale and around the con­sole.”

Hors­ley also likes the way the Cape Fish­er­man rides. “The boat is nim­ble and lets me ma­neu­ver quickly to put my clients in the best po­si­tions on break­ing fish,” he says.

Built For Speed

Capt. Art Sapp fishes the mi­gra­tions, which means he might drop bait on wrecks off Key

West, Florida, one month and then kite­fish in the Ba­hamas the next. To run those dis­tances in com­fort and at speed re­quires a spe­cial­ized hull. Sapp trusts his Seavee 390Z to do the job.

The 390Z can be tipped with four 400-hp out­boards that de­liver a top speed as high as 76 mph. The base en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tion, a rack of three 350-hp out­boards, pro­vides a low60-mph top end. A dou­ble-stepped hull is to thank for some of this per­for­mance. The steps ven­ti­late the deep-vee hull, mean­ing there’s less drag. An ag­gres­sive 22.5-de­gree tran­som dead­rise smooths out the bumps and re­duces bang­ing in a sea.

“Back when we fished a lot of wa­hoo tour­na­ments in the Ba­hamas, I made some Gulf Stream cross­ings in 30-plus-knot winds,” says Sapp. “I was ab­so­lutely shocked at how well the 390Z per­formed in those con­di­tions.

“I be­lieve there is a com­bi­na­tion of rea­sons for the boat to per­form so well,” he con­tin­ues. “The fact that the boat is not ul­tra-light, like so many other cen­ter con­soles, def­i­nitely helps. She has plenty of bow flare, as well as a sub­stan­tial dead­rise. The bot­tom fea­ture that Seavee calls speed rails al­lows the boat to track ex­tremely true and straight.”

Folks who fish live bait know the im­por­tance of well-en­gi­neered live well space. Al­though the 390Z can ac­com­mo­date as many as three live wells, Sapp says it’s all for naught if the boat pul­ver­izes the bait on a run. “The ride is a very im­por­tant part of keep­ing our bait alive and wrig­gling,” he says. “We fish in some very rough oceans, and our bait is still phe­nom­e­nal at the end of the day. Part of the rea­son our bait stays so strong is the Seavee’s ride. It also helps our clients sur­vive some of those bumpier days.”

Leg­endary Ride

Bay and skiff-style boats have their place, but pro guides who fish in the ocean, such as Capt. Corey Gam­mill, of­ten need deeper boats with a more ro­bust dis­po­si­tion. Gam­mill’s Reg­u­la­tor 26 is a Lou Codega de­sign that off­shore an­glers praise.

“I love the ver­sa­til­ity of my boat,” says Gam­mill, who runs fly and light-tackle char­ters out of Nan­tucket, Mas­sachusetts. “I can take it 20 miles off­shore and not worry if the wind pipes up. Or I can po­si­tion it ac­cu­rately to fish the rips in shal­lower waters around the is­lands. We fish for a num­ber of species, and that re­quires a ver­sa­tile plat­form.”

Gam­mill’s Reg­u­la­tor 26 has a pair of Yamaha F250s. “It can han­dle just about any­thing,” he says. “When the wind pipes up, all I have to do is point her nose into the waves, and we can keep on fish­ing. She can take big wa­ter very well. I have lots of clients that now re­turn, year after year, be­cause they were used to get­ting beat up on other char­ter boats that didn’t han­dle the con­di­tions around here so well. It can be ex­haust­ing get­ting beat up like that.”

Like Gard­ner and Hors­ley, Gam­mill ex­tols the virtues of a smartly de­signed for­ward cast­ing area. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to have a safe and se­cure plat­form to cast from,” he says. “You can’t get by with raised decks around here. The Reg­u­la­tor 26 has a great for­ward cast­ing area.”

Though the 26 is no longer in pro­duc­tion, the com­pany to­day builds a Reg­u­la­tor 25 that de­signer Codega says “is in many ways bet­ter than the orig­i­nal.”

Ver­sa­til­ity, sea­wor­thi­ness and per­for­mance are just some of the rea­sons for the pop­u­lar­ity of cen­ter con­soles. The Pathfinder 2500 Hy­brid is shown here.

34VH FREE­MAN

SEAVEE 390Z

REG­U­LA­TOR 25

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