JIM HARNWELL provides some clarity on the types of boats most suitable for saltwater fishing…
While there’s plenty of outstanding fishing to be had from a range of land-based locations, the fact is a boat opens up a whole new world of angling opportunities.
Whether you’re soaking a bait in a river, casting lures in an estuary system, dropping jigs or soft plastics to snapper and kingfish on an inshore reef or trolling the offshore current edges for billfish, a boat allows you to experience the very best modern sportfishing has to offer.
When it comes to fishing, purpose-built boats are the key to maximising your on-water success. While some boats are marketed as being ‘all-rounders’, the fact of the matter is that no one boat can cover all fishing scenarios. Some models can cover a couple of different fishing options, but most Australian fishing boats are designed to do certain things well.
ESTUARY FISHING BOATS
As an example, a standard bass/bream/barra-style trailerboat usually measures around 3.70-5.00m in length, is powered by an outboard engine, features a side console, an open-plan deck and is built to provide maximum stability for anglers fishing in calm or sheltered waters. The vast majority of these boats are constructed from pressed aluminium with a limited range of models being built from fibreglass.
If you like fishing in rivers, estuaries and lakes for species such as bream, flathead, barramundi and mulloway, a bass/bream/barra-style boat is pretty much exactly what you need. While this style of boat can be used in open waters, during times of reasonable wind or swell the ride delivered by this type of boat is usually wet, bangy and, depending on the conditions, sometimes dangerous. These boats generally have a comparatively flat hull, which provides great lateral stability, but an inferior ride (compared to deep-v hulls) in choppy conditions.
A bass/bream/barra-style boat starts at the sub-$10,000 mark for a very basic product and can extend to around the $60,000 mark for a top-of-the-line fully decked-out sportfishing machine. Most anglers use outboards in the 15hp-100hp range for this style of boat, meaning fuel bills are generally insigificant.
INSHORE/OFFSHORE FISHING BOATS
If you want to head out into large bays and inshore waters, a boat around the 5.00-6.00m mark with a deep-v hull is the best option. There are many styles available, with the most popular including centre console and cuddy cabin configurations.
Again, these boats are generally trailerable, are outboard powered and can be constructed from either pressed alloy, plate aluminium or fibreglass. A deep-v hull allows the boat to ride more smoothly in swells and choppy conditions and the extra size and weight of these boats helps provide stability.
Such boats are suited to a wide range of fishing applications including bait fishing, trolling and jigging, but due to their size they are not nearly as effective at lure casting as the smaller and much more manaovrable bass/bream/barra boats.
The main benefit of inshore/offshore boats is they allow fishing in a range of environments, in reasonable comfort, via a relatively easy-to-tow package. If you opt for a cuddy cabin model, you have access to more shelter and storage options (compared to a centre console), making this style of boat a very popular choice for family anglers.
Today’s modern outboards are very fuel efficient, meaning average use needn’t incur large fuel bills. A base model vessel of this type starts at around $25,000, but you could easily spend upwards of $80,000-$110,000, depending on options, size and level of fit-out.
If you have a hankering to chase big fish in the open ocean, a larger version of the standard inshore/offshore vessel is generally what’s required. Out at sea, bigger is just about always better. Swells, chop and wind create sometimes very unpleasant conditions – this is when you need a boat that’s designed to take the rough stuff in its stride.
As far as trailer boats are concerned, you’re looking at a vessel from around 5.50m up to about 8.00m, generally outboard powered (increasingly by twin outboards) and constructed from fibreglass or plate aluminium.
Most of these larger sportfishing boats feature quite sizable cabins (used mainly for storage) with the centre cab design becoming increasingly popular. This design allows access to the bow, enhancing the vessel’s overall fishability, while also providing a decent cabin. As these boats are used in open waters, many anglers – especially those in the southern states – like to have shelter from spray and wind. The centre cab provides the best of both worlds in regard to access and shelter.
Larger offshore-capable boats are more than adequate for use in more sheltered waters and make for an outstanding family day (or even overnight) on the water. Due to their size and weight, however, they often require specialist tow vehicles (usually large 4WDs) and present storage issues, especially in metropolitan areas. A large, heavy boat requires a large engine(s) to power it and fuel bills for these big offshore sportfishers can be considerable, especially if travelling large distances offshore. Expect to pay anywhere from $45,000 to at least $180,000 for this style of boat.
The next step up is to go for what are commonly referred to as ‘gameboats’. Generally speaking, these are large (10m+) flybridge vessels powered by one or more inboard engines. These boats generally offer accommodation and other ‘liveaboard’ features (basic kitchenette, bathroom, etc) and, depending on the size and model, can be extremely luxurious.
A well set-up 10-15m gameboat can be used for extended liveaboard cruises, allowing lucky owners to experience often amazing fishing in fairly remote locations. The downside of this style of boat is the cost – you are looking at least $200,000 for a very basic model right up to many millions of dollars for a state-of-the-art gamefisher. You then need to include the cost of mooring, fuel and sometimes very expensive maintenance costs.
There are Australian-built boats available to suit just about all fishing requirements. Unfortunately, no one boat can cover all the bases – which is why most super-keen anglers are forever dreaming about getting a new boat that’s either bigger (or smaller) than their current one!