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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

Northeast light tackle anglers passionately pursue their sport in a variety of ways, from creeping into skinny water in the back bays for schoolie bass, weakfish and summer flounder, to plowing through nasty inlets and running 20 miles down the beach to track down a wolf pack of hungry linesiders hammering a terrified pod of bunker.

Add in a fishery that can start in mid-April and go until well past Thanksgiving and you get the picture—no one type or style of boat can do it all.

Flat bottomed and modified-vee skiffs are superior in the back parts of the bay, but start to lose their edge in windswept open waters or when approaching a confused inlet. Center consoles are always a fan favorite for 360-degree fishability. But when the north wind is honking, you probably wish you had the weather protection of a full cuddy or walkaround with a hardtop and full canvas enclosure. We are going to look at the pros and cons of each of these types of Northeast fishing platforms, with the practical size limitations for our discussion being outboard-powered vessels from 17 to 25 feet in length. So sit back and enjoy the ride as we take a closer look at boats that get it done in our home waters.

Before we take a closer look at the different styles and layouts of proven northeast fishing craft, let’s discuss some of the common core values that they should all share to make it happen. Although we plan to discuss many of these topics in greater detail in future Fisherman articles over the summer, the following is a brief summary to get you thinking about some of the requisite items that you need to properly accessorize your preferred fishing platform.

Rodholders- You never seem to have enough of them onboard. Ranging from flush-mount models in the gunwales; to horizontal racks down under; to vertical mounts on the transom or console sides; to rocket launchers in the leaning post or T-top/hardtop. If your mission is fishin’, the rod and reel is your tool of the trade. Big boat or small, you need to have the room somewhere onboard to rack them in an organized fashion where they are ready for immediate deployment, but out from underfoot.

Tackle Storage- Just like you need multiple rods and reels for the many different opportunities that might suddenly present themselves, the same goes for the tackle that you need onboard to make it happen. You might have a fluke drifting trip planned for the day, but when a swarm of frenzied gulls signals chopper blues feeding down below or a pod of bunker is chased up to the surface by a swarm of hungry stripers, you will be reaching for surface plugs, bucktails, jigs or a snagging treble a split second later. If you don’t have it stowed neatly within arm’s reach, or can’t find it quick enough from a confused bucket of jumbled rigs, that’s another swing and a miss and a frustrating lost opportunity. Organized tackle is an absolute requirement for any sized Northeast light tackle fishing boat.

Livewells- Tossing a frisky live bait to a foraging gamefish is one of the most time-proven methods for rod-bending action. Whether it’s a peanut or full grown bunker, snapper bluefish, killifish, porgy or an expensive spot, if you have ‘em, you want to keep them alive and kicking for as long as possible. While more and more light tackle fishing boats from 17 to 25 feet feature standard recirculating livewells tucked away somewhere onboard, yours might not. But worry-not, this shortcoming doesn’t have to be a game-breaker. Portable and semi-permanent polyethylene bait tanks are readily available at reasonable costs. A few tweaks to the plumbing of your onboard raw water washdown pump and you are in business. Don’t have a saltwater pump? Best advice is to buy one and install it pronto, since it is also a great tool for cleaning up the cockpit after a hot bite.

Fishbox Storage- If you intend to keep your catch in prime condition for dinner, the freezer or your neighbor’s BBQ, you have to care for it from the get-go. The icy brine of a roomy built-in fishbox takes care of business, but what if your 17-foot back-bay skiff isn’t so equipped? Once again, creative solutions abound and you can always add a portable cooler or roll-up insulated fish bag to solve this problem, just add the appropriate amount of ice and try to keep it out of the center of the cockpit.

This class of boat has always been the easiest way to get on the water when you are starting out on a budget, or just want to simplify things and downsize to minimize your fishing costs. Purchase a suitable 17- to 19-foot flat bottom or moderate deadrise open skiff or center console, strap a 60- to 90-horse outboard onto the transom, add a couple of 12-gallon portable tanks, a handheld GPS and VHF and you are ready to go fishing.

Smaller light tackle boats like these sip fuel though a very thin straw, so you can be out all day long for 15 gallons or less, depending on how far you need to travel to get to the promised land. These skiffs and smaller center consoles can sneak into some very skinny water, where you can enjoy unique fishing action that rarely gets tapped by the crowd. They are easily trailerable, can be kept in your driveway and can follow the fishing action east or west, north or south.

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