This is not a one-day story. Having school bluefin tuna come close to shore is a rare event. So we allotted four days to make sure we gave it every opportunity and to further evaluate the versatility of a trailerable boat. Day One. The action had moved west. The best place to put in would be at a ramp in Stonington, Connecticut, 38 miles away. By boat, this would take well over an hour. By road, it took us about 45 minutes. But then we had to launch. That night we saw another benefit to having a small boat on a trailer. A transient slip at the Point Judith Marina costs $3 per foot, or $90 a day for the 2900 CC. Our four-day outing would have totaled $360. We parked our rig in front of our lodging for free. Most ramps have usage fees, but they're never much, and the ones we used cost nothing.
Day Two. We refueled the boat at a roadside gas station, taking on 22 gallons for about $71, and put in at dawn. Here we experienced one disadvantage of hauling your boat on a trailer-other people like to use ramps too. You have to wait in line for your turn, ultimately cutting into your time on the water. Did it cancel out the time saved on the road? Maybe.
We pointed the bow of the 204FX between the rock jetties and headed offshore in search of tuna. We zigzagged between inshore and off, looking for the telltale froth on the surface. A mile or so off Newport we found the bluefin. I hammered the throttle on the 204FX and blasted through the wind chop to get close, exposing another truth: Big boats are more comfortable than small ones.
We accumulated 89 miles on the GPS. We topped off the tank for the late afternoon run back to the ramp, taking on 14 gallons for $62 at a marina. Wait a minute, didn't I put 22 gallons in the boat this morning for $71? On land I paid $3.23 per gallon, while on the water I paid $4.43. That's a huge price discrepancy. Score one more for trailering. Day Three. We were joined by Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis, who brought an arsenal of pricey new Zero G fly rods to field-test. He's one of the most accomplished anglers on the planet, but the opportunity to tangle with a bluefin tuna had always eluded him. We chased schools of fish all over the coast, but failed to find any bluefin, connecting instead with several skipjacks. On the way home we bypassed the fuel dock and waited to top off at the Sunoco station in town.
Day Four. We were determined to find those bluefin. But the weather was determined to stop us. The forecast called for steady 15-to-20-mph winds in the morning and a small-craft advisory that evening. We're small, but we went out anyway.
For its diminutive size the 204FX is seaworthy, handling the increasing wind chop without any significant pounding. I could keep it on a comfortable course by holding the 150-hp Mercury OptiMax at 3200 rpm, or about 18 mph. Still, it's no 30-footer. We spent hours coming close but not connecting. We looked around and realized we were the only boat left. We decided to look for one last surface bust, and on the last shot of the day, Tom connected. "That's a bluefin," he said as he watched his line fly out of his reel. It felt as if the little tuna had more pulling power per pound than our Avalanche.
We had a 14-mile run back to the ramp. The seas churned up to closely spaced three-footers, and we had to take them head on. Did I wish, at this point, that I were at the helm of the 2900 CC? Absolutely. The 204FX handled the rough water, but we ran at a snail's pace. We made it to the inlet in one hour and 40 minutes, slightly wet and a little more weather-beaten. There's no doubt that in a bigger boat we would've fared better.
Waterway, Or the Highway?
You can buy a tow vehicle and reasonably outfitted 20' boat for several thousand dollars less than a well-appointed 30-footer. With the money you save, you could trailer your boat on several long-distance trips and save even more dough by cutting out slip rentals and avoiding the premium fuel prices at the dock. Combined, it'll be cheaper to fuel and operate the truck and the 20' boat than it would the 30-footer. Plus, you can save time and money by trailering a boat over land than going by sea. And the highway system, for the most part, isn't sensitive to weather.
But there are downsides to towing a small boat - you'll occasionally have to play in traffic. You'll also have to wait your turn at the boat ramp. And when the weather kicks up, your 20-footer will fare worse in rough seas. There are times where size does matter. But overall, buying a smaller boat and a tow vehicle can provide you with a lot more freedom than you'd ever expect. Yes, bigger can be better. But sometimes smaller is the way to go.