Welcome to the home of Bite Me Fishing, a charter and guide service specializing in light tackle inshore fishing based at Steinhatchee, Florida. I am currently taking only limited charters, so if you are interested in sport fishing in a great area, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specifics about my trips, click the “About” link above.
Capt. Rick Davidson
If I am not available, I recommend you contact my friend Capt. Tommy Thompson at http://www.saltwateranglersguide.com/.
Tides.Info: Tide Predictions for Steinhatchee River ent., Deadman Bay, Florida
I was fishing last weekend with my regular fishing partner, Capt. Tommy Thompson. It was a foggy morning, with little wind, and water temperatures in the low ’60s. Because I fish topwaters preferentially, and the because the conditions were perfect, I started fishing with my favorite lure, a nickel Heddon Super Spook Junior. Tommy was fishing with a Live Target scaled sardine. After the first hour and a half or so, Tommy had four upper slot trout to the boat (all released) and I had had two hits and misses on my topwater. Although I am accused of being stubborn, that was enough to get me to switch to a suspending lure, and within five minutes, I had brought this oversize redfish and a four pound trout to the boat.
In my years of fishing the Big Bend area, I have moved away from live or cut bait fishing in almost all situations, because of two reasons: I lack the patience to sit and wait for fish, and second, I believe that in most cases, artificials catch bigger fish. And I do love topwater fishing….the fish tracking down the plug, the explosive surface strikes that get your adrenaline flowing. But there are limitations to fishing topwaters. The most important is water temperature. In very warm water, and especially in very cold water, fish will not put forth the energy to blast the surface plugs that work well in more temperate waters. And at times, even when the water temperature is reasonable, they’re just not interested in topwaters. While this is extremely hard for me to accept, my stubbornness does have limits, and I will switch to something subsurface. This could include jigs, unweighted or weighted soft jerk baits, crankbaits, or suspending plugs. In this post I’ll stick to lipless suspending plugs, how to pick them, and how to fish them in relatively shallow water, less than four feet in depth. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you go to ten different captains you’ll get ten different lists of lures, so this list is specific to lures I use all the time. There are a number of suspending lures I’ve yet to try, like the family of Sebile lures, and hopefully I’ll get around to those soon.
One of the great things about fishing suspending lures is that we have a huge selection to choose from. My selection depends primarily on one factor, water depth. How I work them depends on another factor, water temperature. In general I use one of two types of suspending lures. One type will dive down to depths of 4 to 6 inches, and when left alone, will float slowly to the surface. This characteristic is similar to fishing a floating crankbait such as the Heddon Swimmin’ Image. The advantage to these lures is that they can be fished in very shallow water. Essentially they don’t sink, so I feel comfortable using them carefully over rocks in a foot or so of water. I’ll still occasionally get hung up, but if I work them carefully, it will be much less frequently than a sinking suspending lure.
Live Target makes a number of very realistic lures, and they come in a variety of bouyancies and diving depth. This 3.5 inch mullet is described as a floating twitchbait, and dives to a depth of 6 inches. When worked very slowly, it will work shallower than that. I usually work it with very small twitches and fairly slowly. It also comes in a larger size with the same characteristics. It is the perfect lure for very shallow fishing when a topwater just won’t do.
Other suspending lures sink at slightly different rates. My selection depends on the depth of the water I’m fishing, and where in the water column I want the lure to reside. Mirrolure makes a number of suspending lures, with a variety of sink rates. From left to right, I’ve shown a MirroMinnow, which looks like a large glass minnow. This lure sinks very slowly because of it’s slim profile, and I’ll use it in water from 2 to 3 feet in depth, especially when there are whitebait or glass minnows around. The middle lure is a Catch 2000; I use the regular and the Catch Junior, a slightly smaller plug. It sinks just a little faster than the MirroMinnow. Lastly, the Mirrodine and Mirrodine XL are listed as sinking to maximum depth of 2 feet but they will sink slowly beyond that depth when allowed to. A whitebait imitation, the Mirrodine is the newest addition to the line, including the very new Paul Brown Soft-dine, which is a soft plastic version of the Mirrodine with similar characteristics. I have caught many fish on all of these lures and select them based on the kind of bait around as well as the sink rate. I vary my lure action, from sharp twitches followed by no action and a slow fall, to a constant twitch/return method, primarily depending on water temperature; the colder the water, the slower I work the lure.
Rapala also makes a nice subsurface lure that is particularly good for a walking-the-dog approach but about a foot or two under the surface. The lure on the left is the X-Rap Subsurface Walker, which comes with a feather on the rear treble and a cigar shape that is very effective. The only limitation is that they come with freshwater hooks that need to be changed out. The lure on the right is another Live Target lure, the scaled sardine. This lure comes in three sizes and two types. Both types are described as twitch baits, but one is called a floater and the other a suspender. They are physically identical. The floater behaves like the mullet bait described above, but will only dive to about 4 inches and then float slowly to the surface, while the suspender will dive to 12 inches and slowly sink. These lures have been very productive recently; in fact, they are difficult to find in many locations. I use both types in the smallest 3 inch size.
Last but not least is the Paul Brown Corky Devil. I’ve written a blog post about this lure before (http://bitemefishing.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/time-to-pop-the-cork-for-winter-fishing/) and in spite of the multitude of other suspending plugs I use, it remains my go-to bait in the cold of winter. While it’s sink rate is a little faster than the other plugs noted here, it can be fished with care in shallow water. The crucial aspect of fishing a Corky Devil is to fish it as slow as possible, then slow that down by half. I rarely even give the lure a twitch, but just throw it out and raise the rod tip, reeling fast enough to keep it near the surface, and then letting it drop down again. In frigid water, fish will not chase a lure, so a lot of action is wasted. The advantage of the Paul Brown lures is that they are soft but durable plastic, so the fish is much less likely to spit out the plug than if it bites down on hard plastic. Tommy Thompson and I have been using these plugs for about fifteen years, before they were bought by Mirrolure and we had to order them over the phone and pay by check before they would be mailed to us. They are unbeatable when there are trout around in cold water.
Fishing suspending lures in very shallow water can be challenging but you will learn how to keep the lure in the middle of the water column and off the bottom. When you figure that out, get ready for some great shallow-water fishing. These plugs will produce a lot of action.
I’ve known Jerry McBride for a number of years now. He has worked at Florida Sportsman Magazine as an editor, and at DOA Lures for a period of time. Jerry now is a freelance writer and does kayak tours in his home area of Jensen Beach. Over the past years, I have to say that I have never seen anyone catch as many large trout as Jerry, and he does pretty well with snook, redfish and pompano as well. He’s a committed conservationist, releasing all the big fish he catches, and does whatever he can to protect the fragile waterways in the Indian River Lagoon. He probably catches 15 or so 30 inch trout a year; in my fifteen years fishing at Steinhatchee the largest trout I’ve ever caught was 28 inches. He makes great pies, too. So I was really pleased to have him come up for a visit to kayak the Steinhatchee area and show us how it’s done. We postponed the trip, waiting for some decent weather, and lucked out, finding several good days.
On day one, we fished the afternoon high tide from my boat, scouting locations for kayaking. We fished a number of locations around rocks and oyster bars; Jerry’s first fish was a 30 inch redfish, followed by a 26 inch trout. He was using a suspending Live Target sardine, and although I caught a few nice fish as well, he caught the largest ones. All the fish we caught (around 10 total) were over 18 inches, with a number over 20 inches.
On day two we were joined by Capt. Tommy Thompson. We used my Young Gulfshore 20 as a mothership for Jerry’s 13 foot Hobie kayak. While I was a little concerned about how it might fit, it actually fit perfectly into the cockpit, and sat firmly in place while I ran on plane.
After unloading Jerry and the kayak, Tommy and I worked our way into an area where we intended to meet Jerry. The fishing on the severe low tide was tough, but as the tide moved in, Jerry found this nice upper-slot redfish.
We moved to the rocky area we had found the large trout the day before, but the big ones were nowhere to be found. We ended up with around ten or twelve fish, and while all were keepers, there was only one over 20 inches. While Jerry fishes from the kayak much of the time, when he sees a promising area he slides out and wade fishes the area, which is a very successful way to find fish.
On day three, with a quick-moving front heading our way, we decided to launch Jerry’s kayak from a shoreline while he explored some of the oyster bars near the river, which had given up some excellent fish recently. After a while I ran out in my boat to keep him company from a distance and to take pictures. It didn’t take him long to catch the big trout of the trip, measuring just under 30 inches.
A few casts later he scored a 24 incher, that looked like a baby after the large one. He worked his way further into the creek, to an area where I couldn’t follow him, and caught a 27 inch redfish and a number of trout, although none were as large as the one pictured. He is an expert at taking selfies and here are two of the fish he caught further up the creek.
The trip turned out very well, and Jerry will be able to get some stories written about winter trout fishing from a kayak in our area. I’ve fished with a lot of people over the years, and I am always amazed at Jerry’s knowledge of fish behavior, which he got in part by growing up and helping in his father’s fishery in Nebraska. He is confident about how fish locate themselves in current and tidal flow, and seems to know exactly where a fish is likely to be. He really is one of the best I have ever seen, and he’s a lot of fun to be around as well. I’m already waiting for a return trip.
After months of tannin-stained water and massive quantities of floating grass, the waters around Steinhatchee have returned to the clear productive state of normality. The fishing has been excellent, both offshore and inshore. Somewhat atypically, trout have been moving into the Steinhatchee River in the absence of a major cold snap, and not surprisingly, nobody has complained yet. Silver (sand) trout have been everywhere, including in the river and at one of the recent hotspots near the Bird Rack north of Steinhatchee. One captain with a large party wanting a fish fry brought in 160 pounds of silver trout. On a brief trip with Capt. Tommy Thompson and Doug Barrett, we took several nice trout on topwater plugs near Rock Point over mixed grass and sand potholes. The next week I took Tommy and old friend Capt. John Peyton out for another reconnoitering. While we didn’t find any redfish on our early drifts, we managed to find some excellent upper-slot fish using topwater plugs south of Dallus Creek, again in an area of potholes.
We moved offshore as the tide dropped and found some large Spanish mackerel, several nice flounder and a good number of silver trout with the occasional speckled trout. There were schools of white bait scattered over a quarter-mile square area being attacked by mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish. The fishing was so good that I convinced my son Sidney and his girlfriend, Lee Ferinden, to come out for a trip. Fishing has never been Sid’s cup of tea, but he was excited to give it a try after a number of years. Both he and Lee re-learned how to cast. Again, we couldn’t find any redfish in the early morning flood tide, but as we moved out we again found large schools of whitebait. Returning to an area west of the Bird Rack at Big Grass Island, we found silver and speckled trout, at times catching fish on every cast. We also came across some giant Spanish mackerel which somehow were unable to get their teeth through the 25 pound fluorocarbon leader. The largest was over 5.5 pounds and looked like a small kingfish coming to the boat.
As I mentioned, we had reports of some trout being caught in the river. We noticed several boats landing lots of small silver trout, but some nice speckled trout have made it into the river as well; Chase Norwood, the son of Sea Hag owner/operator Charlie Norwood nailed this gator trolling a Mirrolure in the river.
I really had a great time with Lee and Sid, and I was glad we managed to catch a few fish as well. While ordinarily I don’t keep fish, we ended up keeping around 20 pounds of trout and mackerel filets to grill. The water temperature throughout the day ranged from the low to the mid-60s. Water was clear just about everywhere and we could see the bottom over 10 foot creek beds. Unfortunately the floating grass continued to make plug fishing challenging, but that is improving as well.Looking forward to a long holiday weekend to get in some more water time. As the water temps continue to cool down, the trout fishing could improve dramatically as the larger fish begin to school. That will be “Corky time” for us, time to fish my favorite cold-water lure, the Paul Brown Corky Devil from Mirrolure. Can’t wait for that cold weather!
Fishing has been tough for the past few months due to the early summer heavy rains in upper Florida. We’ve had tannin-stained water pouring out of every river and darkening the usually crystal-clear Steinhatchee waters, interfering with both scalloping and fishing; in over 15 years of fishing out of this wonderful port, I have never seen this until last year, and now we’ve had it for two summers in a row. Some reports even found darkened water over 15 miles offshore. Last year the water finally cleared in November and we’ve been hoping for an earlier improvement this year. Most of the inshore guides have been taking some time off and doing boat repairs. Near the end of September, I took Capt. Tommy Thompson and master angler Doug Barrett out to take a look. We found continued tannin-stained water and a fair amount of floating grass. There were baitfish everywhere; large schools of mullet, glass minnows and whitebait. The water was variable depending on tide and location, but we found some excellent trout schooling and blasting schools of small menhaden as if they were jacks. We caught a number of keeper trout on topwater plugs, but couldn’t find any redfish. I also jumped a tarpon but on trout tackle that was over quickly.
After a few weeks I wanted to see how things were going prior to a charter so Tommy and I went out last Saturday. While I had hoped for continued clearing, the water was still dark and in some areas near shore very turbid. Further offshore the water cleared somewhat, but floating grass was still an issue. We tried several of our favorite redfish spots, and Tommy found this nice 6 pounder on a small Skitterwalk.
On Sunday I had a trip with Glen Maddox and Jan Barnett. Both have a lot of fishing experience, and Jan has a place at Steinhatchee. Glen is ordering a Young Gulfshore 20 like my new boat and wanted to see how the boat ran with my Merc 150 4 stroke, as well as learning his way around the shallows at Steinhatchee. We left the Sea Hag Marina at 7:30 and headed south initially to fish some rockpiles on a high flood tide. Fishing with spoons, we found nothing so we ran up to the north where Jan caught this fine upper-slot redfish on a gold spoon. At the time she hooked the fish, she saw three or four other fish so we continued along the shoreline and then came back, but with no results. That was the only redfish of the day, which was disappointing.
As the tide dropped we moved out to try some trout fishing. We tried briefly around the Bird Rack outside of Big Grass Island but moved further out to an area known as Doghead, north and west of the Bird Rack. We fished jigs on the bottom in 5 to 8 feet of water and immediately began catching a good mix of sand trout (to 15 inches), speckled trout, black sea bass and some small mangrove snappers. I briefly hooked a cobia when he swam by us. When the bite stopped we ran closer to the river and fished some spotty bottom areas where Jan got this nice 20 inch speck.
Really enjoyed fishing with Jan and Glen; it’s always easier when your party really are accomplished fishermen. Additionally, we had a great day weather-wise, with cool temps, light wind and water temperatures that started around 69 and made it up to the mid-70′s by 2 PM. While the fishing isn’t nearly back to normal, the inshore guides are finding good limits of trout. The redfish are scattered and not heavily schooling yet, although that should happen in the next six weeks or so, assuming we get continued clearing of the water and the water temperatures stay in a similar range. Larger trout will move in closer to shore with clearing water and increasing salinity. And if you’re looking for something to do on October 19, it’s time for the second annual Hatchtoberfest, a fund-raiser for breast cancer, being held at Roy’s Restaurant in Steinhatchee. Lots of events including the famous Steinhatchee mullet toss, live music, a pink pancake breakfast, a 3 mile run, a poker game for prizes, and local crafts. Should be a great time….
An event that I always look forward to is the annual meeting of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. As someone who started writing about fishing relatively late in life, I’ve greatly appreciated the educational aspect of the conference as well as making many friends among the really fine people that are members. I’ve also gotten an opportunity to visit places in Florida that I’ve rarely visited, if at all. Since I’ve been a member, we’ve had conferences at Homosassa, Punta Gorda, Tallahassee, Ocala, Naples, and Titusville. This year the conference was in Polk County at the Westgate River Ranch Resort, an actual dude ranch in central Florida, located on the Kissimmee River near Lake Wales. Even as a Florida native, I’ve never been to this area of the state. In spite of being about 25 miles or so from “civilization” (i.e. Lake Wales on one side and the Florida Turnpike on the other), the resort was comfortable and a great place to have a meeting. Not surprisingly, many of the activities at the ranch are directed toward outdoor activities, including riding, shooting, fishing and hunting.
Our first evening event was a trip to Bok Tower and the surrounding gardens. The tower was built by Edward Bok, an immigrant Dutch publisher, and was built on the highest piece of land in Florida. It was dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge. The tower is covered with painted ceramic plates and the surrounding gardens provide a beautiful and relaxing stroll.
The educational programs start with craft improvement seminars. This year, photographer Stuart Patterson gave a great talk about improving your outdoor photography, and guide and writer Rob Modys introduced many of us to the use of social media as a business opportunity. A fascinating session addressing writer’s block was given by an all-star panel: Sandy Huff. FOWA board member and freelance author with over 1700 published articles; Dorothy Zimmerman, communications director for Florida Sea Grant; and legendary television pioneer Mark Sosin, host of the longest running television program about marine fishing, Mark Sosin’s Saltwater Journal. After an update on Lake Okeechobee restoration efforts, FOWA member Jill Zima Borski presented her take on presenting yourself as an expert, teaching writing skills, and ghost writing. Good friends and well-known photographers Sam Root and Tommy Thompson did an outdoor session on lighting that was well-attended and instructive.
At every FOWA meeting, attendees are able to fish with a local guide. Not surprisingly, this is something I always look forward to. The resort has a marina with direct access to the Kissimmee River. We gathered at the marina on a beautiful morning. An interesting aspect of the trip was that many of the boats went through locks that control the water level in Lake Kissimmee, something we don’t see on the coasts.
Charles Wright and I got to fish with Arnie Lane (http://www.flwoutdoors.com/ap/bio.cfm?mid=151269), a professional bass angler on the FLW tour and one of the famous Lane Brothers. It was a tough time of year with pretty oppressive heat but we managed four or five fish, with Arnie nailing this really fine four pounder while Charles looked on from the front of the boat.
The break-out session Thursday afternoon provides an opportunity for sponsors to show their new products and for us to try them out. Hobie representatives Ingrid Niehaus and Frank Stapleton presented two of their new offerings, the Hobie Sport Mirage and the Pro Angler 14.
At the awards banquet, along with some excellent food (oysters, stone crab claws and shrimp as a warm-up), there were a number of presentations. FOWA provides scholarships each year to students who have shown an interest and productivity in outdoor writing or communications. This year we were shown an excellent film from the University of Miami team (http://waterlust.org/Waterlust.html). Patrick Rynne, from the team, submitted the film and took home a scholarship. Devon Caffaro from the UCF School of Journalism was also presented with a scholarship. Both are shown with FOWA president Ron Presley and Sea Grant Director of Communications Dorothy Zimmerman.
One of the true highlights of the conference was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Flip Pallot, long-time host of the award-winning television show “Walker’s Cay Chronicles”. Flip has been in outdoor communications for many years, and it was great to see him honored in this way. Watching two legends of fishing sharing stories was a great experience as Flip noted that Mark Sosin actually gave him his start in television many decades before. Flip with his wife Diane is shown with Ray Presley and FOWA Executive Director Tommy Thompson.
There were plenty of other activities….hiking, mechanical bull riding, kayak demonstrations and a Saturday night rodeo. Many took advantage of the skeet shooting range and there were several shooting competitions. Jill Borski took on some clays on the skeet range.
This year’s meeting was another great experience and as always, I learned a lot from the experts. If you are interested in learning about writing, or have done some writing, you can join FOWA as an associate member. I’d strongly recommend it, for both the enjoyment and educational aspects of the meetings. The next meeting will be located closer to home for me, in Homosassa/Crystal River next August. You can find out more on the FOWA website, http://www.fowa.org/.
In a previous post I reviewed the Lifeproof case for the iPhone 4S. Since that time I’ve upgraded to an iPhone 5, and have been using the Lifeproof Fre case with that phone; that case is nearly identical to the 4S case. Both cases were very good but suffered from the same problems that have dogged all waterproof phone cases. Simply stated, they have to be waterproof. That means a variety of approaches to seal all the access points for water. On the iPhone, that includes the speaker, charging and microphone ports, the headphone jack, the earpiece….lots of things to protect. In spite of cases developed by Otter Box, Incipio, and Griffin along with Lifeproof, all have suffered from problems with muffled sound, leaking, interference with the proximity sensor, noisy locking clips, irritating Newton’s rings and decreased sensitivity of the screen. Most of these problems relate to the fact that all these cases have required a full sized sealed screen protector. And some of the cases, like the Otter Box Armor, are huge. As someone who’s on the water a lot, I’ve come to depend on my Lifeproof case and the accessory Lifejacket that allows it to float (I learned that lesson the hard way). I was excited to hear that Lifeproof was releasing a new iPhone 5 case (also available for the Galaxy S3) that seemed to be a totally different approach to the multiple problems. When Lifeproof developed a case for the iPad last year, they decided to try a case that didn’t need a screen protector, that was sealed against the glass to prevent water intrusion. They called that the Nuud case. Apparently it worked, and now they have released the case for the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3. Like all the waterproof cases, it comes at a price ($10 more than the Fre, with a price of $89), but how much is peace of mind worth?
The case looks similar to the Fre case, and in fact is almost exactly the same size (important to me as it fits nicely in the Lifejacket I already had). Like their previous cases, the front and back of the case snap together, with an extended thin rubber O-ring that completely encircles the case where the two pieces fit together. The difference with this case is that there are two thin bands around the screen opening that seal directly against the glass. Thus, when you touch the screen with the Nuud case in place, you are actually touching the iPhone’s screen directly.
With this new and kind of daring screen change, a number of questions ran through my mind. First, was it actually waterproof? Would the lack of a screen protector be a problem in terms of avoiding scratches? How would the sound be? Would the proximity sensor cause problems? And probably the most important thing to me: would the screen be more visible on the water with Polarized lenses? Iphone screens, while they look very bright indoors, take a hike when exposed to direct light, and this is worsened by the use of screen protectors, especially when using Polarized glasses, which are necessary on the water.
Unboxing: The packaging is attractive and well-protected. Included in the package are the front and back halves of the case, an optional screen protector that can be applied after the case is installed, an adapter for using a standard headphone jack, a cleaning cloth, and a blue plastic dummy phone body. As you can see, the back half of the case is clear plastic and thicker than previous case backs. Also unlike the prior Lifeproof cases, the headphone jack sealing screw is attached to the case by a tether. With the prior cases, this piece was easily lost, and in fact the company provided an extra screw, assuming you would certainly lose one at some point.
A notice comes on the packaging that every case has been checked for water tightness at the factory. However, Lifeproof suggests a water test, which is done by closing the blue dummy phone in the case and then submerging in water for five to ten minutes. After drying the exterior and opening the case the inside should be perfectly dry. I did this twice and both times the inside of the case was dry. I installed the phone in the case and was ready to go. I chose not to install the optional screen protector. I am careful with my phone and although it is possible to scratch a glass iPhone screen, if you avoid keeping the phone in your pocket with keys and coins, scratching is unusual. Additionally, I really wanted to see what the screen looked like on the boat in bright sun, and I didn’t want the protector to interfere with the visibility of the screen. All the buttons (the power button, home button, mute and volume buttons) worked perfectly, as did the proximity sensor. Additionally, with no screen protector, the touchscreen was amazingly responsive. Finally, I was glad to find out that the case fit perfectly into the Lifejacket. I also used the phone for several calls, including trying the speakerphone and not only could I hear perfectly well, those I was speaking with noted no alteration or muffling of the sound.
On a charter a few days ago, I got to try it for the first time. There was definitely an improvement in the visibility of the screen. I have always found it very frustrating to not be able to clearly see the screen when lining up a picture or when answering emails or text messages. I would guess there is a 20% improvement in brightness. I always keep my screen at maximum brightness when on the water. The camera lens is covered with optical glass and the pictures I took were the usual iPhone 5 quality. This is a shot of one of our favorite redfish bars on a severe low tide.
I have been using Lifeproof cases since I got my first iPhone. The problems with screen visibility and audio quality were aptly dealt with by this new case. There have been a few situations on the web in which people noted some leaks when water testing the case. The same was true with prior versions. Strictly my opinion, but the cases and seals must be put on exactly as suggested. While there may be some problem cases, I have never had a leaking problem in any of my cases. I am less concerned about leaking, in part because I have Applecare+ which would replace the phone if it got wet. I do suggest doing the water test on the dummy phone just to make yourself feel better, but I’m confident that my phone will not leak. I have submerged it in water several times with no ill effects. Having said that, although some users have used the case extensively for taking underwater pictures, I do not use it in that manner. I have a small Panasonic Lumix camera that is totally waterproof and I am more comfortable using that for diving pictures. If you are looking for a slim waterproof case with excellent screen visibility, there really are no alternatives. I recommend the Nuud case for anyone who is around the water.
As I wrote in a previous post I recently changed my ride from a very reliable Action Craft flats boat to a custom-built Young Gulfshore 20. I’ve been using the boat now for several months and wanted to do my best to talk about the boat. Ordinarily when I’m doing a review I try and consider how I would change the product; that’s a problem here because there literally is nothing I would change about this boat. I decided to get one of these boats after spending some time in my friend Doug Barrett’s Gulfshore. I was not in the market for a bay boat; in fact, I wanted something that could run at least as shallow as my Action Craft but with more features and especially a more spacious and comfortable ride. The Gulfshore is 20 feet long, with a low freeboard and a tunnel hull. With trim tabs down and jack plate all the way up, I have taken off in around a foot and half of water. The balance of the boat is excellent. The 40 gallon gas tank is midship; trolling motor batteries in the front hatch help keep the bow down on takeoff. I decided on newly designed Mercury 150 four stroke, the lightest four stroke made. My home marina, the Sea Hag, is a Mercury warranty station and that made the decision easy, actually. Doug’s boat has an Etec 130, a modern two-stroke motor that drives the boat well. I expected more power with mine and in fact, I have to careful taking off to not overdo it because when the boat pops up on plane it will take off like a rocket if I use full throttle for takeoff. We’ve had a lot of floating grass recently, and tunnel hull boats have a tendency to collect grass while running and clog the intake ports, but one tremendous advantage of a jackplate is the ability to raise the lower the motor while running which has cleared the grass every time. The boat is very maneuverable, although running at high speed with the motor jacked up to the maximum can lead to some sliding around corners. I never run the boat with the motor jacked all the way up except for takeoff when needed. The boat seems to cruise best with the jackplate at around 2 or 3 inches up. The ride is, without being too gushing, spectacular. With the recent spells of wind and rain, this is a very very dry boat that rides much better than my old flats boat. The boat is easily pushed by my 80 pound thrust iPilot trolling motor.
In terms of comfort, it’s hard to describe how much more comfortable it is to run a boat from the elevated helm station as opposed to sitting low behind a console or windshield. The helm station seat and back rest are based on my measurements. You can use the seat as a leaning post, sit on it with your back against the backrest which is attached to the poling platform, or flip the seat up and out of the way if you want to fish from the back of the boat. The cockpit space is huge compared to most center console boats, in spite of the fact that I ordered the front fishing platform extended back a foot and a half to provide more space to fish from the front. Essentially, it’s much easier to move around in than any center console boat I’ve ever owned.
This picture gives a good idea of the cockpit space. Notice the under gunnel rod holders, pop-up cleats, pop-down pushpole holders, and deck rodholders. The hatch layouts are very functional, with a large storage area which included the trolling motor batteries, a separate anchor lock, and three storage areas in the rear, all the same size. Under the feet of the driver is the livewell, with a dry storage area starboard that lifts out and provides access to seacocks. The port storage hatch covers an insulated box that can be used as a fishbox, or sealed for additional dry storage. Access to the bilge is via a pop-out cover directly in front of the motor, and access to the cranking battery and charger is through a small hatch directly under the helm station.
The helm station is extremely well laid out. The steering wheel is adjustable, trim tab and jackplate controls are front and center, along with the PowerPole controller. A very handy storage area is seen below the station, for storage of frequently used items, phones, and other items. I keep my binoculars in there. I also added a 12 volt charging port in the box, and that’s where the power on/off switch resides as well. Having a visual display for the level of the jack plate and the trim tabs is a great luxury I never had on my other boat. Because of the elevation I can also stay behind the helm station and using the iPilot remote, control the trolling motor so a client can fish the front of the boat without me in the way.
Some particular additions that I really love: the Garmin 740S is by far the best GPS I’ve ever had. With NMEA connections, I can see water temp, depth, water pressure and speed in the corners of the navigation screen. The touchscreen is excellent. I added an “emergency” ladder which is made by Bob’s and attached directly to their jack plate. This has been amazingly functional. Tommy Thompson got out of the boat to take some of these pics and easily climbed back in. It also provides an easy way into the boat when it’s stored on a rack. It is held in place by a pin; when the pin is pulled out an inch, the ladder slides down into the water.
There are a lot of other creature comforts that go with the boat, and some limitations. Like all boats, there are trade-offs. It’s a fishing boat, not a cruising powerboat, so it’s not made with a lot of built in seating. One passenger can ride up on the helm station with the captain, and two can sit on the cooler seat/backrest (depending on the size of their posteriors). Two rodholders on either side of the helm station make casting from the helm station challenging so I intend to keep almost all rods under the gunnels. There are two additional holders on the poling platform so there’s plenty of rod storage available. In summary, this is by far the most functional, most comfortable and best-riding shallow water fishing boat I’ve ever seen or ridden. The flexibility of the rigging, the custom options available, make it a once-in-a-lifetime boat and I am very fortunate to have one.