A trailered boat can cut your fishing budget down, while opening up new opportunities.
My evolution into trailer boating began over 30 years ago in Southern California. Jim Hendricks, a friend and business associate, took me on a couple of offshore trips on his 21-foot Cabo skiff, powered by a single Suzuki two-stroke engine.
We trailered the Split Decision 20 miles, from his driveway to a ramp in Long Beach, and motored only a few miles offshore before setting our lines out. One trip resulted in a 200-pound mako, the other trip yielded a 125-pound striped marlin, both on 30-pound tackle. It was world-class, big fish, small boat fishing, and those memories still burn bright.
California is blessed with excellent saltwater fishing, but it doesn’t have the barrier islands, estuaries and natural harbors of the East Coast. Any slips in the few harbors there are the domain of rock stars and other millionaires, so trailer boating is the norm.
A few years later, I lucked into a 24-foot AquaSport Family Fisherman full cuddy cabin. The marina I kept it in was 9 miles from either Manasquan or Barnegat Inlets at the Jersey Shore, so an ocean trip always started out in a long bay ride. A decade after that, married with kids and work responsibilities, my AquaSport was sitting in the marina slip way too long. When it was time to upgrade, I downsized to the center console of my childhood dreams, a Boston Whaler Montauk 17. The perfect boat to raise your kids on, and over 15 years later, I never looked back.
To me, as a fisherman, boats have always been a means to an end – fishing. Downsizing to a trailer boat cut my fishing budget way down: no more slip fees, and the ability to fuel up at any gas station. I cut down on prep and maintenance time too. No more bottom painting, and the Spartan design of an open, center console makes the post-trip wash-down and cleanup relatively easy.
Boat ramps are relatively easy to find in most areas. Almost every marina has a private boat ramp, or they can point you to one nearby. Our region is peppered with municipal and public ramps, some even free; so when the fluke run is particularly good up on Nantucket Shoals or out at Montauk, or those black drum are booming on Delaware Bay, just hitch up and giddy up to that hot fishery. Trailer boating really expands your angling horizons and opportunities. There are all kinds of boat ramp deals out there too, from single, day use, to seasonal passes, to keeping your boat stored on the trailer at the marina.
If you choose a small and light enough boat that trailers easily, say a center console from 17 to 23 feet, you can fish the rivers, bays, sounds, inlet and nearshore waters for all of our core inshore species, like flounder, striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, blackfish – whatever’s in season. Choose a quality boat, motor and trailer too, the best you can afford. A modified hull or a “bayboat” design will handle Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern waters fine; just pick your weather days. Use common sense.
My go-to ramp is directly across from Barnegat Light, on the mainland side of Barnegat Bay at the Jersey Shore. I don’t have that long, often wet, choppy ride down to the fishing grounds anymore. I can cast for bluefish off the bay flats, drift for fluke in the inlet, or run a couple of miles outside, with the big boys, on nice days of course. Bunker chunking for stripers or casting Deadly Dicks for bonito are all within reach of me and my little boat with a lot of heart.
Downsizing to a trailer-able center console poses some challenges, but you learn to embrace them. It makes you a better fisherman. You’re certainly more in tune with the fishing and weather. You have to pare down your tackle to what works, yet you need to prepare for any possibilities that may pop up. Here’s where less is more becomes the mantra.
Stick to a couple of rods per angler. I compartmentalize my lures into smaller, hand-held tackle boxes. So if I’m targeting stripers in the bay and they’re hitting on Kettle Creek shads, I’ll bring that little box along. But I always carry my core box of pliers, knife, leader material, snaps, measuring tape, plus anything else I think I may need on that particular trip. A few assorted hooks and rubber core sinkers, just in case. And I’ll always take a couple of favorite metals and bucktails along, because you never know what’s out there.