Over the last couple of years, a handful of manufacturers have engaged in what might seem like a race to build the largest center console available. In the process, we’ve seen a proliferation of open fishing boats measuring over 50 and well into the 60-foot range. Throughout this period, Contender Boats has carefully and thoughtfully planned their next offering; perhaps not willing to engage in a race for merely the biggest boat, but determined to bring their ownership something worthy of the Contender brand. The result in 2019 is their largest offering to date, the immensely fishable 44ST.
If you’ve ever for a moment wondered why anyone might need a center console this large; for those fortunate enough to enjoy owning one, the benefits are many. For starters, the obvious comfortable ride associated with having this much boat under your feet is easy to get used to. The ride more commonly associated with a larger inboard powered sportfish boat is mighty convenient on those winter cold front days when the Gulf Stream says no but Sailfish tailing down sea like picket fences say you’ve got to go. The combination of a seaworthy boat that can take more punishment than most crews can withstand while providing 360-degree fishability that allows a crew to deploy multiple kites and maintain a spread capable of producing the numbers necessary for a trip to the winner’s circle is intoxicating. That is just a hint at what makes a 44-foot open boat such a smart choice.
The sheer amount of deck space you have to work with allows a large crew room to move about freely along with an impossible capacity for gear storage, fish holds, and live well volume. Beginning in the bow, the 44ST features a massive foredeck framed in by a clever forward seating design that makes too much sense not to have it. Both the port and starboard cap widths are recessed to allow the sofa sized bench seat backrests to fit within the gunwales. The deck area gained from this design is considerable. Beneath each seat you’ll find dry storage lockers and below the center deck, a mammoth sized 340-gallon compartment with a barn door sized hatch is large enough to store gear for extended voyages. Working aft from this compartment is another center lined hold along with a pair of 10-foot long outboard located lockers to port and starboard each long enough to store tons of gear and rods if required.
A king sized sun lounge at the forward console is split into three separate storage compartments below and the entire lounge lifts on powered pistons exposing another cavernous compartment below deck. The console interior offers a clean space trimmed in teak with a simple head and sink layout along with secure rod storage and access to helm electrical systems. The Helm design on the 44ST is among the easiest layouts I’ve worked behind from a visibility standpoint. Contender has perfected the use of a radius designed Strataglass windscreen which is crystal clear and uncluttered for maximum visibility. The helm face easily accommodates a pair of 24-inch Garmin display units with room to spare. A teak ladder back helmsman seat and two companion chairs by Release Marine mounted atop a helm station tackle center to rival one found on a full grown sportfish boat further contributed to the big boat vibe on this 44-footer. Behind the tackle station an extra wide rocket launcher finished in a Faux Teak custom paint job was a classy touch.
The cockpit on the 44ST is large enough for a pair of outboard located 440-quart insulated fish holds along with a below deck 110-gallon live well to fortify the pair of 55-gallon wells in the transom. All three bait tanks are supplied via sea chest by Hooker Bait Pumps. An access point to the pump space and sea chest along with other bilge systems lies between the cockpit fish boxes at center. The model we tested provided impressive speeds for a boat this large with a full gap tower. The triple 425 XTO Yamaha power topped us out at 67-MPH and without the optional Sea Keeper running would probably offer even a bit more top end. A day spent fishing on a boat as thoughtfully rigged and tournament capable for serious offshore duty as this Contender makes a strong argument for the reason why anyone needs a boat in this class.
Contender 44ST Specifications
Length: 43-feet 10-inches
Weight: 19,600-pounds (fish ready)
Maximum Horsepower: 2000
Base price: $665,980 with triple Yamaha XTO 425’s