Southwest Florida Fishing Dreamboat

Tricked out for 24-hour livebait fishing, ease of maintenance.

Here’s another installment in our popular “One Man’s Dreamboat” series in which we spotlight highly individualized fishing boats that are designed or outfitted to meet the owner’s particular needs and fishing style. A dreamboat’s price is no object. We feature everything from home-rigged skiffs and cartoppers to brand-new boats with factory-installed equipment and dealer-installed accessories. The common link is that each dreamboat offers ideas that might well prove valuable to other boating anglers, and adaptable to their own fishing craft.

Charlotte Harbor is big-water flats fishing, where conditions can get downright snotty when the wind blows. Local anglers favor shallow-draft skiffs for accessing the flats and mangroves, and yet many choose boats with an eye for open-water running.

This is also a waterway where a bit of elevation can help when hunting redfish schools, tarpon or even cobia.

When fate impelled local angler Richard Strauss to restore a prize skiff, he approached the project with visions of a flush deck layout with a short tower. No corners would be cut; Strauss demanded first-class mechanical, electrical, fiberglass and paint work. No sweat there: As owner of Island Boatworks in Cape Coral, Strauss had the expertise and resources to implement his vision. He has decades of experience in almost every aspect of the design and manufacturing of boats and yachts of all sizes.

This Dreamboat started life as a 1995 18-foot production flats boat by Allseas (a Brunswick company). Strauss has actually owned the boat since 1996 and fished it heavily until a freak winter storm sunk the vessel at his dock. Since he’d always liked the dry, comfortable ride and the shallow-water performance, Strauss decided to give the old girl a second life.

Out came the power saws. The old cap and liner came out and the hull was stripped to the stringers.

Strauss showcased his work in various stages of completion at a few Florida Sportsman Fishing Shows. I dropped by his shop in October for a thorough inspection of the finished project. She is a really clean design, from the swept-back lines of the custom tower, to the glistening hardware, to the pastel yellow hull. I spent a full hour looking through the various onboard systems—everything was laid out to be functional, practical and serviceable.

Strauss didn’t want to ride in a tower that was simply bolted to the deck. He was able to work out a design to mount the tower solidly to the stringer system by passing the tower legs through oversize holes in the deck, then pinning the legs to sockets mounted below. A trim ring was caulked in place around the base of each leg, with the result being a watertight seal that allows the tower legs and the boat to move as the hull and deck work, in a heavy sea. After some mockup work, the nifty curved tower and instrument boxes were designed to suit Strauss, and the aluminum structure of the tower was sandblasted, coated with zinc chromate, coated with an epoxy primer, and then sprayed with white Awlgrip. The result is a glossy, durable, corrosion-resistant finish that can be easily repaired when the inevitable dings occur.

The deck of the boat isn’t entirely flush; there is a small well just forward of the tower which gives passengers on a bench seat a place to put their legs. Otherwise, the expansive deck space is broken only by flush hatches. Lots of flush hatches. Really lots—I counted 16 deck hatches on the 18-footer. There are three pop-up cleats and flush-mount hardware on all the hatch covers. Livebait fishing is big on Charlotte Harbor, so Strauss installed a 20-gallon livewell on the bow deck and a 38-gallon well on the aft deck. There are five dry storage lockers, two lockable rod lockers in the gunwales, two lockable hatches for access to the battery compartment, two wet storage lockers aft (perfect for nasty castnets) and a couple of others. The larger hatch covers on the rod lockers and the battery compartment are held open by stainless pneumatic gas struts. One nifty feature found under the bench seat is a glassed-in cooler by Frigid Rigid, guaranteeing that the ice on this rig will last all day.

Strauss set up the boat for night fishing, and nocturnal anglers need to be able to see what they’re doing without being night-blinded. The answer: red LED lights that illuminate the deck, white LED fixtures in the livewells, and blue LED lights that illuminate the rod lockers and the battery compartment. (Anybody who’s ever stood on their head in a small locker with a flashlight clenched in their teeth while trying to make a nighttime field repair will appreciate that last detail.) And speaking of LED lights, there are two underwater LED light fixtures by Abyss Technology mounted on the bottom of the hull near the stern port and starboard. These low-current but very bright lights are pointed straight down and really pull bait to the boat after dark.

Other onboard systems include:

• 24-volt Lenco Troll’n Tabs (a pair of trolling motors mounted on trim tabs port and starboard) which can be operated by either a foot control or by wireless remote
• Porta Products hydraulic jack plate (painted with yellow Awlgrip to match the hull, of course)
• Raw water wash-down system
• Bank of five Optima SpiraCell batteries with parallel switches (two for the 24-volt Lencos, one for starting, and two for house)
• Two on-board automatic battery chargers by ProMariner
• 2,000-watt Clarion marine stereo system which includes separate amps for a woofer and a subwoofer
• Rule 2,000 gph automatic bilge pump (finally someone installs a real pump on a flats boat!)
• A pair of 1,100 gph SHURflo pumps for the livewells
• ICOM VHF
• Garmin 2006C chartplotter/depth-finder
• Evinrude E-TEC 150-horsepower outboard

That’s a bunch of systems to squeeze into a small boat, but looking below-decks it’s apparent the entire system was professionally laid out in advance, a
practice that’s common on much larger boats, but often lacking on skiffs, where you may see a haphazard jungle of wiring and plumbing.

Everything on Strauss’ rig is bundled, labeled and secured and there is actually plenty of leftover room in the battery compartment. Access to the pumps and filters is through a hatch on the aft deck that’s plenty big enough to allow two-handed filter changes, pump swaps and all those other tedious jobs which go along with running a boat.

Hose connections below the waterline are double-clamped for safety, and thru-hull fittings and pipe fittings inside the hull are stainless rather than the more commonly seen bronze. In short, everything is first class.

Strauss is justifiably proud of his creation.

“I did it to see what could be done with an older but serviceable hull. This was approximately a $20,000, three-month project, and everything was done absolutely top-of-the-line. My crew really enjoyed being turned loose on this project, and it shows in the results.”

The boat handles nicely and fishes like a champ.

I’d say that Strauss hit a home run, but he might not agree. He just bought a fire-damaged 21-foot Hewes Redfisher from an insurance company and is in the planning stages of making it his next project. He says he has a few new ideas he wants to try. Stay tuned.

FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Dec. 2008