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Crossing the Lines

How to find the fishboat in your cruiser.

April 1, 2001

You’re at the boat show eyeballing a new center console. As visions of breaking fish dance in your head, your wife interrupts your reverie: “Where do I sit? And what about the kids?” And the classic: “You expect me to go to the bathroom in that?”

After such a scene, you have two choices: Walk to the exit and head homeward, or stroll over to a booth packed with cruisers. Yes, it seems as if your dreams of having a fishboat have been flushed down the drain.

But shouldn’t a family man be able to please the wife and kids and satisfy his own piscatorial cravings? Definitely. And we’ll show you how. There are some amazing new cruisers out there that can do double-duty. We’ve uncovered them and figured out how to rig them – or any other family-style boat – without breaking the bank. All you have to do is follow our lead and keep the kids from playing with the bait.

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ROOM TO SWING A CATFISH

Your first order of business: Buy the right boat. Some good examples of potential crossover fishboat/cruisers are the Bayliner 2855 Ciera, Maxum 2700 Suncruiser, Sea Ray 290 Sundancer, Rinker Fiesta Vee 270, Monterey 302 Cruiser, and Crownline 290. With a small amount of work and minimal wear on your charge card for accessories, any of these can serve as fish chasers.

When shopping, the most important feature is cockpit space. Large open cockpits will minimize chaos while fighting and landing a fish. Consider how many anglers you expect to have onboard. Each needs an absolute minimum of a 6′ circle. Does the boat you’re eyeing have enough room? Stand in the cockpit with your hands extended out to the sides. If you can turn in a circle without touching anything, you probably have adequate space. Do this in different spots in the cockpit to estimate the number of fishermen the boat will accommodate. Or bring aboard a couple of buddies and have them do the same. Try not to laugh.

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Once you determine that your arms can swing great wide circles, you need to check how your legs may be confined by the cockpit’s seating arrangement. We’ve found that L-shaped lounges are superior to fore- and aft-facing passenger seats. They provide ample seating room for the family and are less obtrusive to an angler following a large fish around the boat. Removable aft benches are a big plus. They provide everyday seating and can be stowed below to provide clear cockpit space for fishing-only days.

Aft benches that fold down also clear cockpit space. “They just pop down and out of the way,” says Greg Suess of his Chaparral Signature 270 Laura K that he fishes regularly out of Ocean City, Maryland. “The downside, though,” he admits, “is that folding down a seat still leaves it exposed to messes and the possibility of damage.” A sliding cooler or a mishandled gaff can tear upholstery. Some boaters snap a piece of heavy canvas over the lowered seat. It helps, but if possible, choose upholstery that can be removed and stowed below.

Fishing can quickly transform the cockpit into something resembling a slaughterhouse, so the cockpit sole bears serious thought. Because spilled fish blood can be a headache to remove from any material, discard carpeting in favor of a fiberglass liner. Even when not fishing, sandy traffic can quickly make carpeting look as if it had been treated with battery acid. Although a fiberglass sole will boost your purchase price by about $2,000, its ease of cleaning and maintenance will make it worthwhile – especially when resale time rolls around. If you must have carpeting, go for the snap-in kind. It’s usually a $400 to $500 option, but keep in mind that it can be lifted out and stowed.

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Errant pieces of chum, fish slime, and the like are unavoidable by-products and can quickly sour the mood – and stomach – of nonfishing passengers. Who wants to stretch out on a lounge that’s been spattered with glop? So spend the money, usually about $500, for a raw-water washdown. A periodic rinse will keep your boat looking clean and your passengers from turning green.

Another consideration is a swim platform. Having one allows for easy water access for the family, but it can make fishing tricky – you’ll need a long-handled gaff to land what you catch. This is one feature you’ll have to compromise on. But don’t talk yourself into an extended bolt-on swim platform. We have better ways for you to spend that money.

Avoid radar arches, as they interfere with casting. If your boat comes with one…well, make the best of it. How? It’s a good place to add some rocket launchers and spreader lights. Rocket launchers are a plus when kids are onboard because they help keep pointy things like gaffs and hooks on rigged rods away from small, curious fingers. Spreader lights provide cockpit illumination for occasional night trips. An arch that sweeps forward is less likely to interfere when casting or fighting a fish than an arch that is angled aft. Even if the arch is an option, don’t buy it. If you have to have radar, mount it on a mast, out of the way on the foredeck, for about $1,000 and up.

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THE JOYS OF CROSS-DRESSING

Now that your wife is happy with her new cruiser, here’s how to satisfy your own soul by turning it into a fisher without it looking like a floating garage sale of after-market doodads. Make as few permanent changes as possible. The boat is a cruiser first and foremost. It will not only look odd with too many fishy gadgets tacked on, but it will be harder to sell when you get the urge to upgrade. If you plan to do a lot of trolling, you’ll need outriggers, which must be bolted down. Beyond that, everything else should be able to be stowed away when not in use.

Few fisherman would argue the importance of good electronics such as depthfinders, chartplotters, and GPS. However, unlike your average center console, cruisers under 30′ typically have little space available at the helm. With this in mind, integrated GPS/chartplotter/fishfinders are the way to go. Good-quality units such as Lowrance’s LMS-350A Saltwater series and Si-Tex’s Profish II fishfinder/trackplotter, both of which retail for around $800, are compact and easy on the wallet. Unless your family doesn’t mind the flavor of dead fish in their sandwiches, a cooler – or two – dedicated to fish stowage will keep everyone smiling. Fortunately, most cruisers come with built-in coolers or refrigerators, so a place for the food is no problem. But what about your fish? Carry-on coolers are the key. Although 54-to-72-quart coolers are sufficient for smaller fish, if you plan on bringing back larger species like wahoo or tuna, go no smaller than 94 quarts. Even better, get two coolers – a small one for bait, a large one for the catch. Use nylon line, not stretchy bungee cords, to secure them. Putting them on the swim platform is one option, as it opens up the cockpit. But coolers there may get in the way while fighting a fish, and stowing your catch in even moderate seas can be tricky and wet.

Whether trolling or drift fishing, you must have a minimum of four rodholders. If flush-mount rodholders can’t be installed, go for add-ons. I like to use Perko’s removable clamp-on ($70) or flush-mounted ($80) holders. The removable models are nice in that they can be stowed. Don’t forget to secure rods out of the way when not fishing. Do this with a set of rod hangers such as Du-Bro Trac-A-Rod hangers ($21/set), which can be mounted against the sides of the V-berth. Fishing lends itself to lots of gear. Knives, pliers, hook removers, used rigs, and other assorted stuff can make a mess and are hazardous during family trips. Don’t despair, you can keep much of this gear close at hand with the help of Boat Mate’s cockpit organizer ($8), a U-shaped rack with cutouts for lures, knives, and pliers and a large center pocket perfect for leader spools. To this, add an Offshore Edge rig and hook rack (14″, $18; 20″, $30). Both gadgets attach to any smooth surface with suction cups for convenient placing or for removal when not in use.

Speaking of messes, a good way to make one is to prep baits on a cutting board placed on a seat, cooler top, or dinette table. A Fentress Bait Rigging Tray (small, $73; large, $80) that fits in a rodholder is a great portable rigging station. It has slots to hold knives and folds flat for stowage. For those who like to fish live bait, the lack of a built-in baitwell isn’t the end of the world. An Attwood Baitwell Pump ($30) can turn any bucket or cooler into a portable baitwell, ensuring feisty bait when you arrive at the fishing grounds. If you’re a hard-core bait fisherman, AquaWorld UltraTank systems ($230 to $340) offer complete livewell systems that will fit a variety of cockpits.

So everything sounds simple, right? You’ve picked out your fishboat/cruiser, customized it to your taste, and are now five miles off the beach on a bluebird day. Your wife is dozing in the sunshine, and the kids are chattering happily as you cruise along. Off the port bow you spot skittering baitfish and the boils of pursuing blues. You smile as you pop the boat into neutral, grab a rod out of a nearby holder, and wonder how you got it so good.

For more information on any of the gear listed in this story, contact: BoatU.S., 800/937-3300; Boater’s World, 800/682-2225; Finest Kind, 888/777-9789; Offshore Angler, 800/463-3746. ****

READY TO PLAY __

Sea Ray’s done the work of converting a cruiser into a fishboat for you by reworking its old 330 Express Cruiser into the 340 Amberjack. This is a big weekend cruiser with modest sleeping accommodations and no enclosed shower, but it does have a big 11′-by-6’5″ cockpit. There’s also a transom door, a 4′-deep livewell in the sole, a bait prep station, four rodholders, an optional live baitwell, and an aft bench seat that folds out of the way or an optional removable L-shaped lounge. Too bad the extended swim platform is standard and a raw-water washdown is extra. Family members will love the room and think it’s a great cruiser, and you can add on whatever you like to make it fishier and still keep them happy.

As a fishing cruiser, this is a much better choice than the 340 Sundancer. Plus, it’s more impressive at the dock. When seen from the stern, the 340 Amberjack’s 13’5″ beam makes it look like 40-footer, and from the side it could pass for a 36. That extra beam separates the engines enough so shift-lever-only maneuvers make you look like you know what you’re doing. The beam also makes a stable base for a tower. But that same width keeps the 340 Amberjack from making tight turns and gives a snap to its roll when drifting in rough seas. Otherwise, this is a no-compromise compromise boat. Contact Sea Ray at 800/772-6287, www.searay.com.

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