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Boat Sense


The Fisherman Magazine's monthly "Boat Sense" feature for May spotlights northeast inshore fishing boats and what makes each layout unique in its singular focus to gets rods bending.

By Capt. John N. Raguso

With a boat you can keep on the trailer in the driveway, you won’t need to incur the usual operating costs like summer dockage and winter storage, plus when you have a mechanical hiccup, you can always drive to your favorite boat repair shop for a quick fix. That’s the good news.

While this level of purity and getting back to the basic angling roots is a great thing and brings out the adventurous spirit, smaller skiffs typically don’t like to operate in choppy windswept open bays or inlets due to lower freeboard, flatter running bottoms and the usual lack of weather protection.

Going out into the ocean through an inlet is doable, but you really have to watch the current table and prevailing winds. A calm inlet can turn nasty in a few hours and it’s a lonely, disconcerting and potentially dangerous feeling if you are on the outside looking in. As long as you realize their limitations, smaller skiffs and center consoles can be a lot of fun, catch plenty of fish and are easy to own and operate.

Center consoles have come a long way since I started running them back in the mid-70s. This layout is the undisputed king of light tackle 360-degree fishability. My first boat was a center console and my last three boats have been center consoles, with an equal mix of cuddies and walkarounds in between. Bottom line, I know firsthand the plusses and minuses of the CC deck plan. Most modern center consoles in the 20- to 25-foot range have many of the mandatory light tackle features built right in, like rodholders, insulated fishboxes, livewells and tackle storage. And if they don’t, it’s usually a snap to add them. Many center consoles in this class now feature an enclosed head area, which is a real treat and allows you to fish from sunup to sundown in remote areas without having to detour to make a pit-stop.

Having a T-top, canvas and a rocket launcher overhead allows the crew to enjoy some welcome protection from the elements and extended fishing time on those cold, windy and nasty days. The old bugaboo that “there’s nowhere to sit” on a center console is a past memory with the latest flexible fore and aft bench seating arrangements offered by most boat builders, which can be easily field-adaptable and retrofit to older craft. Center consoles from 20 to 25 feet can be powered by either one motor or two (It’s always a good idea to have a backup.) and fuel capacity is not usually an issue for pursuing inshore gamefish—you can run all day long without refueling.

The downside to center consoles are felt when blasting through a snarly inlet, inundated by a passing summer squall or when making a 20-mile run down the beach in early December to hook up just one more striper before calling it quits for the season. The CC equation is simple, you trade off a little bit of weather comfort for a more efficient fishing platform. Some folks are cool with this exchange, while others gravitate towards our next and last category of Northeast light-tackle fishing machine: walkarounds and cuddies.

I have owned more walkaround and flush deck cuddy cabin fish boats than any other type and they can catch ‘em up with any layout—just with less usable operating space forward. It is the bow area that these cabin craft trade off the ability to walk an active gamefish in a circular 360-degree dance down to just half of that area in the aft end of the vessel. The good news is that this quid-pro-quo creates a welcome barrier against wind, spray, weather and bitter chill. Add a hardtop and a four-sided clear canvas enclosure and you are in business and bending rods, even on some “marginally fishable” days, as long as you can get safely to and from the fishing grounds.

Walkarounds and cuddies also create dry storage space down below, which is conducive to having an enclosed head, a place to get out of the sun, and the potential for added rod and tackle storage. If your boat is on the longer size of the 17- to 25-foot equation, you should still have a nice sized fishing cockpit where a quartet of anglers can do their thing, whether it’s drifting for bottom fish, casting to a school of blues or trolling wire along the beach. Seating arrangements on cuddies and walkarounds are usually good to go, with aft bench seats or corner jump seats, a pair of cushioned swivel chairs at the captain and crew locations, plus a pair of aft-facing box seats abaft of the helm seating typically used for either fishbox or tackle storage. Just be advised that all of these positions might not be weather-protected, based on each boat’s layout.

The downsides of cabin craft are obvious. It’s harder to get up forward and the possibility of fishing up there depends on a variety of variables, like wind, waves, boat traffic, the age and athleticism of your crew and where you are in the waterway. Similar-sized cuddies and walkarounds also tend to weigh a bit more than their open skiff and center console counterparts, are slower and have more of a tendency to catch the wind, both when drifting and during critical dockside maneuvers. Still, these minor inconveniences do nothing to tarnish the fish-catching reputation of cabin craft—they can still bring it!

Hopefully, we have shed some light on the nuances of the different types of northeast light tackle fishing boats and what makes each layout unique in its singular focus to bend the rods.

If you have any questions or comments, reach out to me at www.marceejay.com.

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