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Florida Sportsman Boat Buyers Guide 2024

15 different boats, 15 different waters. Where do you start?

Florida Sportsman Boat Buyers Guide 2024

Caymas 28 HB is epitome of the modern hybrid inshore-offshore boat. (Photo courtesy of Caymas)

Florida, a state renowned for its diverse habitats and fisheries, offers a captivating blend of marine environments, from the tranquil to the treacherous, that beckon a wide variety of boat styles. From distant reefs and wrecks miles over the horizon to coastal salt marshes and flats of low energy shorelines, Florida boaters enjoy a mosaic of ecosystems that host an incredible array of marine life. The diversity of boat styles available to Sunshine State anglers reflects the complexity of our waterways—there is a place for every boat in Florida.

SKEETER SX 241

Red Alert: Bay Boat Fishing is Catching on in Florida’s Gulf Coast

Skeeter fishing boat
Skeeter SX 241. (Photo courtesy of Skeeter)
  • DESTINATION: Pensacola
  • TARGET SPECIES: Redfish, Red Snapper
  • SEASON: June-November
  • HAZARDS: Gulf Chop, Strong Currents at Bridges
  • ESSENTIALS: Speed, Range, Tackle Storage, Livewell Capacity, Shallow-Water Anchor

No place in Florida has more convenient access to this desirable duo of saltwater fishes. Redfish (aka red drum) use the inshore bays in the Pensacola area as nursery zones, but when they grow up, they don’t go far! Big bulls to 20 pounds or more are commonly caught around the Pensacola Bay Bridge, also known as the 3-Mile Bridge. Same for the pass and adjacent emerald green sandbars along the Gulf of Mexico. Just a mile or two offshore, red snapper are abundant on the artificial reefs, a popular range to fish when the season opens (mid-June, most years).

boat console
Space for large multifunction screens is a useful feature on modern bay boats like the Skeeter SX241. (Photo courtesy of Skeeter)

To get the most out of this combo, a bay boat in the 24-foot range, like the new Skeeter SX241, is a great choice. Rear deck flip-up backrest for passengers adds comfort and security for long runs on open water. Same may be said for the bolsters which Skeeter adds to the leaning post on the SX241. A cooler slide beneath the leaning post, which itself has storage compartments, is another good feature, leaving the forward and in-floor insulated fish boxes free for snapper catches. Skeeter installs Humminbird or Garmin electronics systems, both of which offer side-imaging capabilities, which come in very handy when looking for schooling redfish around the bridges or red snapper on the reefs. Ambient cockpit lighting is standard, a nice touch when night-fishing for redfish.

Skeeter bait tanks
Twin livewells and twin stake anchors flank flip-up backrest for crew seating aft. (Photo courtesy of Skeeter)

The SX241 has a good-size anchor compartment, and you’ll want a couple hundred feet of rode for the 60-foot reefs, but most anglers these days will be spot-locking with a bow-mount trolling motor. Fuel capacity on this new model from Skeeter is 75 gallons, an appropriate step up from the smaller siblings. While you may not need to run far to catch redfish and red snapper in the Pensacola area, it’s nice to know that, in a boat like this, you can.—Jeff Weakley

Skeeter SX 241 Specs

  • LOA: 24'1"
  • Beam: 8'5"
  • Draft: 15"
  • Weight: 2,925 lbs. (w/o power)
  • Fuel: 75 gal.
  • Max HP: 300 HP
  • Base Price: $87,630 (w/Yamaha VF250XB)

EXCEL BAY PRO 220 ELITE

Open the Doors to Unexplored Shallows Along the Big Bend

fishing boat turning
Excel Bay Pro 220 Elite. (Photo courtesy of Excel Boats)
  • DESTINATION: Big Bend
  • TARGET SPECIES: Redfish, Seatrout, Snapper, Grouper, Tripletail
  • SEASON: December-May
  • HAZARDS: Oyster Bars, Grassflats, Gulf Chop, Remote Access, Fog
  • ESSENTIALS: Aluminum Hull, Trolling Motor, Shallow-Water-Anchor, GPS, EVA Marine Flooring

If you’ve spent any time fishing out of Florida’s Big Bend, then you know the region is home to miles of undeveloped shoreline cracked by a web of ultra-shallow tidal creeks. Charts don’t show half the possibilities. Google Earth is not to be trusted either. Here, stained water conceals oyster-laden and rocky shallows that chew up fiberglass hulls on the regular. And then there’s Gulf chop that develops on breezy days. Having the right skiff is critical and the aluminum option is growing in popularity.

Excel Boats has deep roots in Arkansas flooded-timber duck hunting and their aluminum bay boats are true crossbreeds by definition. An extremely tough .160-gauge hull is standard on all Excel models “Built one weld at a time,” to exceed industry standards.

Combining performance, functionality and craftsmanship, the 14-degree pad hull with lifting strakes and reverse chines is further strengthened by longitudinal ribs running the full length of the hull. An updated front deck allows improved fishability and the 94-inch beam offers plenty of space to walk around the new console design accommodating a 12-inch fishfinder, Bluetooth stereo head unit, accessory switches, and compact gauge cluster. Additional features include twin flip-up transom jump seats, two water-resistant front lockers that store 12 fishing rods, 27-gallon livewell in the transom, 16-gallon livewell fore of the console, and 48-quart bow cooler.

Quiet, fast and tough enough to bounce off an oyster bar, these hulls are simple and affordable to operate, efficient and easily customizable.—Steve Dougherty

Excel Bay Pro 220 Elite Specs

  • LOA: 22'3"
  • Beam: 94"
  • Draft: N/A
  • Weight: 2,020 (loaded)
  • Fuel: 30 gal.
  • Max HP: 200 HP
  • BASE Price: $53,000 (w/engine & trailer)

ROBALO R270

A Versatile Package That Takes Each Role Serious.

Robalo fishing boat
The R270 offers ample seating and an array of fishing and family friendly amenities. (Photo courtesy of Robalo Boats)
  • DESTINATION: Tampa Bay
  • TARGET SPECIES: Tarpon, Red Snapper, Redfish, Sandar, Shelling
  • SEASON: Year-Round
  • HAZARDS: Extensive Shallows But Channels Are Well-Marked
  • ESSENTIALS: Livewell, Tackle Storage, Seating

Throughout Florida there are a host of open water estuaries that at times feel like oceans themselves. Perfectly suited for anglers who want to navigate offshore beyond the Sunshine Skyway bridge but need a trailerable boat, the R270 features Robalo’s legendary HydroLift hull design that transfers hydrodynamic pressure from the sharp keel to the wider strake surfaces to increase stability and efficiency.

Given Robalo’s resourcefulness in utilizing interior space for maximum use, its standard fiberglass hardtop’s powder-coated frame bears 6 rod holders, an electronics box, tri-color map lights, LED spreader lights and two JL Audio speakers. In a departure from most center consoles, the helm and controls are located on the starboard-side to give the operator plenty of elbow room. The helm seats are set in a lean-to bolster arrangement.

Recommended


fishing boat
Robalo has a reputation for quality construction and sea-worthy hull designs. (Photo courtesy of Robalo Boats)

The euro transom provides a latching door and an expansive integrated platform with a swim ladder that can be accessed from the water. Standard salt and freshwater washdowns are also accessible from the platform through the walk-thru transom door flanked by a large fold down bench seat.

Knowing the bow area is as useful to fishermen and cruisers alike, Robalo has equipped the R270 with deep lounge seating on both port and starboard sides, along with removable backrests, a forward-facing seat in front of the console, and an additional cushioned seat between the lounges.

A drop-in table completes the area. Alternatively, the cushions can be removed to create a casting platform. You’ll also find forward entry into a nicely finished console interior featuring a head with sink and shower. It’s as large a space inside as you’ll find on any boat this size.—Steve Dougherty

boat at sunset
Robalo 270. (Photo courtesy of Robalo Boats)

Robalo 270 Specs

  • LOA: 27'6"
  • Beam: 9'6"
  • Draft: 21"
  • Weight: 7,000 lbs. (dry weight)
  • Fuel: 180 gal.
  • Max HP: 500 HP
  • BASE Price: $174,495

GRADY-WHITE 281 CE

Tarpon Time off the Beaches of SW Florida

boat and swimmer
Innovative side door swim platform hinges out with the touch of a button. (Photo courtesy of Grady-White)
  • DESTINATION: Sanibel
  • TARGET SPECIES: Tarpon
  • SEASON: March-July
  • HAZARDS: Navigate With Caution After Hurricane Ian
  • ESSENTIALS: Seaworthy Hull, Nonskid Deck, Trolling Motor, Livewell Capacity, Casting Platform

Sanibel, situated between Charlotte Harbor and Estero Bay, stretches from east to west, as opposed to the typical north-south orientation of most other barrier islands in Florida. It stands out as one of the best locations for intercepting migrating tarpon in the entire Gulf of Mexico. In fact, the first tarpon was caught on rod and reel in 1885 just across the bay from Sanibel. However, the preferred platform for tarpon fishing has evolved significantly since that legendary catch.

Drawing on the success of Grady-White’s 251 Coastal Explorer, the new 281 CE is brimming with features inspired by customer feedback. It builds upon Grady’s reputation for safety and seaworthiness, with its smooth-riding, continuously variable SeaV2 hull, sporting a 16-degree deadrise at the transom for outstanding stability as tarpon anglers drift with the tide.

boat at sunset
Grady-White 281 CE. (Photo courtesy of Grady-White)

In these storied waters, anglers find threadfin herring to be a favorite bait for tarpon. Collect choice 6-inch baits near bridges and channel markers and place them in the 281 CE’s 38-gallon livewell in the leaning post. Like all Grady-White livewells, this one features a full-column distribution plenum to evenly circulate fresh seawater. A second 18-gallon livewell can also double as a fish box, although many tarpon anglers prefer using it for pass crabs and hand-pick shrimp.

With bait secured, anglers head to the beach to search for tarpon on the surface. Then it’s time to remove the bow cushions, lower the cocktail table, and drop a crescent-shaped insert that extends from the table to the double console seat, transforming the entire bow into an expansive casting platform. Another noteworthy feature, made possible by the new Yamaha digital integrated electric steering, is the absence of hydraulic lines protruding from the engines and the elimination of the need for a splashwell. So, in effect, there’s two platforms to safely cast from in the stern.

front deck on boat
Forward dining table lowers to create a massive casting deck or lounger with cushions. (Photo courtesy of Grady-White)

Grady-White can pre-rig the 281 CE for a bow trolling motor, complete with a swivel bracket, and three batteries for a 36V motor, which is essential for tarpon fishing. When the tide begins to slack, it’s the perfect time to take the family to the sandbar. Shelling is a popular pastime on Sanibel and with the push of a button, the port-side gunnel extends to reveal a unique swim platform. Other family-friendly features include an 18-gallon freshwater system, a Bluetooth stereo with a waterproof touchscreen and six speakers, 12V and USB ports at the helm, and an electric-flush head in the console.—Steve Dougherty

Grady-White 281 CE Specs

  • LOA: 27'7"
  • Beam: 9'4"
  • Draft: 19"
  • Weight: 5,650 lbs. (w/o engines)
  • Fuel: 160 gal.
  • Max HP: 600 HP
  • Base Price: $336,600 (w/twin Yamaha F300)

REGULATOR 30XO

Crossover Delivers Comfort and Convenience to Fishing Families

fishing boat
Offshore-capable Regulator 30XO slips into a mangrove cut where anglers may fish for snapper or stock up on live baits. (Photo courtesy of Regulator Marine)
  • DESTINATION: Florida Keys
  • TARGET Species: Snapper, Grouper, Mahi, Tarpon
  • SEASON: May-August
  • HAZARDS: Shallow Sandbars & Grassflats, Bridge Clearance
  • ESSENTIALS: Deep-V Hull, Range, Elevation for Spotting Fish

Last year at the Miami International Boat Show, Regulator debuted its latest entry into the crossover market, the 30XO. This is a much larger, heavier platform than the 24- to 28-foot hulls which comprise the current crossover market, and yet it’s equipped with the type of inshore features and options which would make for a good day in Florida Bay, the backcountry of the Florida Keys. A key example: optional twin Power-Poles on the transom for secure anchoring while sight-fishing tarpon, casting to island points for snook or managing a castnet load of pilchards. Twin livewells are standard, handy for segregating baits or for keeping catches alive. Gemlux outriggers and base mounts are options that can be installed for offshore trolling. Outrigger poles also allow the attachment of aft-mounted shade systems for more comfort at the sanbar.

man driving boat
The console view is helpful when navigating shallows. (Photo courtesy of Regulator Marine)

The factory half-tower option would be appreciated by any fisherman on the hunt for baitfish or inshore ledges and rockpiles that might hold fish or lobster. The Regulator MyHelm interface, through Garmin electronics, allows easy remote control over Power Poles, jack plates, lighting and other systems up top or at the primary helm station. The boat comes standard with twin 16-inch Garmin plotter/sonar units and the half tower option includes a 9-inch unit.

The twin engine aspect of this crossover suggests long-range Bahamas expeditions across the Gulf Stream or distant runs to the Dry Tortugas. Passengers find secure seating on folding seats aft and on a very large forward settee (218 quarts of storage beneath it). Removable cushions and back rests provide a nice option as well, in the bow, for days when the seas are relatively mild—that definition, of course, is a bit broader with 9,000 pounds of boat under you.—Jeff Weakley

Regulator 30XO Specs

  • LOA: 30'7"
  • Beam: 10'2"
  • Draft: 21"
  • Weight: 9,525 lbs. (w/power)
  • Fuel: 222 gal.
  • Max HP: 600 HP
  • Base Price: $370,995 (w/twin Yamaha F300)

DUSKY 242

Successful Reef Fishing in the Keys Often Starts in the Shallows

fishing from boat
The deck pad adds to the conventional seating options which include leaning post and folding aft bench. (Photo courtesy of Dusky)
  • DESTINATION: Florida Keys
  • TARGET Species: Mutton, Lane & Yellowtail Snapper
  • SEASON: May-July HAZARDS: Strong Current, Shoal Water
  • ESSENTIALS: Full Transom Cockpit Aft, Casting Deck Forward, Fish Boxes, Deep-V Hull, Rod Storage

Boats blending attributes of flats skiffs and offshore boats are appreciated by reef fishermen in many parts of Florida. Access to shallow water for castnetting live bait is valuable, as is a flush, wide foredeck from which to throw the net. Mike Brown, owner of Dusky Boats in Dania, Florida, spends a lot of days on his company’s 242 model, a good example of the small hybrid center console. He fishes these days mostly in Islamorada, often joined by his mother, 80. Together, they enjoy reef fishing, bridge fishing, or just all-around “dinner fishing,” as he likes to say.

boat steering wheel
Dusky 242 helm station. (Photo courtesy of Dusky)

The 242 features a modified offshore running surface with reduced freeboard to match a bayboat profile, while maintaining the seaworthiness of the classic Dusky 25. “It’s a deep-V with a 20-degree deadrise at the stern, allowing me to navigate both inshore and offshore waters with versatility,” said Brown. “We’ll do a Rhodan GPS trolling motor on this boat, and it holds the spot great on wrecks for mutton fishing.”

Dusky, a factory direct boat company, offers a wide range of customization on its models. On the 242, Brown uses a 40-gallon livewell forward, close where he can empty the castnet and immediately get pilchards in clean, circulating ocean water.

boat seat
Dusky 242 folding aft bench. (Photo courtesy of Dusky)

“We can also add another 60-gallon livewell to the leaning post seat, if a customer wants,” Brown said. “I like having the back of the boat open; I can lower the seat and have more fishing space, just like a regular center console. I have kingfish rodholders on the top, and with flatlines on the gunnels, I can run four rods if we’re trolling.”—Jeff Weakley

Dusky 242 Specs

  • LOA: 24'2"
  • Beam: 7'8"
  • Draft: 12"
  • Weight: 4,600 lbs. (rigged)
  • Fuel: 100 gal.
  • Max HP: 350 HP
  • Base Price: $79,400 (w/Suzuki DF300AP)

SHALLOW SPORT 25 X3

For Keys Lobster Divers and Crab Trappers, Sometimes One Hull Isn’t Enough

lobster divers
Low gunnels on the 25 X3 are much appreciated by lobster divers.
  • DESTINATION: Islamorada
  • TARGET SPECIES: Shellfish
  • SEASON: August 6-March 31(Lobster), October 15-May 1 (Stone Crab)
  • HAZARDS: Shoals, Jellyfish, Crab Claws, Dive Safety Considerations
  • ESSENTIALS: Stability, Storage Capacity, Livewell, Elevated Helm, Shallow-Water Anchor

For some, there’s more to fishing than just rods and reels. Many Florida residents and visitors love to get in the water for lobster and scallop seasons. Others enjoy setting traps for delicious stone crabs or blue crabs. A boat with moderately low freeboard and a hull shape enabling comfortable bay and coastal access in all conditions is an asset for this side of fishing. That’s a pretty apt description of the Shallow Sport 25 X3.

Captain Sara Stanczyk, in Islamorada, has been running a Yamaha-powered X3 for almost two years now. She fishes out of Bud ‘N’ Mary’s Marina—and odds are pretty good you’ve seen her and her husband, Capt. Nick Stanczyk, on social media. “I take lobster charters, and it’s nice to have a deck that’s almost to water level—it’s easy to get in and out of,” Sara said. “Same for days when we take kids to the sandbar. I also like the low work platform for pulling our stone crab traps.”

fishing boat
A tri-catamaran hull design delivers soft ride in the chop and stability at rest. (Photo by Jeff Weakley)

The boat has an elevated helm station, a raised console that speaks to the builder’s heritage: Texas-based Shallow Sport, under the Hudson family, developed the first raised console on a flats boat in the mid 1980s. “I’m five-one,” Sara said with a chuckle, “so I like the elevated helm—and it’s good for looking for new lobster spots.”

In the X3 series, the Shallow Sport design team also carries forward its unique use of tunnels and inverted chines to provide lift for shallow-water hole shot, as well as general comfort and utility. At 9 feet wide and sitting on a triple sponsons, the 25 X3—like its larger siblings, the 27 and 32—provides a rock-steady platform where multiple anglers (or divers, or trap pullers) can stand on one side, steady in a beam chop.

snorkel diver
In mid-October, Capt. Sara Stanczyk goes for a splash off Islamorada, looking for lobsters and stone crabs.

Speaking of triple sponsons—the center is slightly forward of the outboard sponsons. On plane, it effectively serves as a centerline keel, meeting the water first and mitigating some of the “pulling” effect of a traditional twin-hull cat design. The X3 steers much like a monohull.

Stanczyk’s boat is outfitted with multiple livewells, rod-length below-deck hatches and topside storage for lithium batteries she uses to power her 36V Rhodan GPS Anchor trolling motor. “Originally it had a 60-inch shaft, but since we spend a lot of time offshore, we went with a 72-inch shaft. It’s a multi-purpose boat; we’ve even had it out swordfishing!”—Jeff Weakley

Shallow Sport 25 X3 Specs

  • LOA: 25'5"
  • Beam: 9'
  • Draft: 5" (on plane)
  • Weight: 2,500 LBS. (dry weight)
  • Fuel: 60 gal.
  • Max HP: 250 HP
  • Base Price: $120,667 (w/Yamaha F250XCB)

CONTENDER 44ST

Spring Sailfishing with Capt. Quinton Dieterle

offshore fishing boat
The 44ST Contender One with bow pointed into the wind and kites aloft out the stern in Miami. (Photo by Brian Hall)
  • DESTINATION: Miami
  • TARGET SPECIES: Sailfish
  • SEASON: March-May
  • HAZARDS: Small Craft Advisories, Yield To Freighters & Cruise Ships, Weekend Boat Traffic, Sharks
  • ESSENTIALS: Seaworthy Hull, Livewell Seachest, Speed, Range, Gap Tower, Electric Reel Outlets

Miami is renowned for its exceptional sailfishing opportunities during the spring season, and Captain Quinton “Q” Dieterle, with over three decades of experience in these local waters, and the Contender One tournament team attribute much of their success to the incredible vessel they operate.

Contender One boasts a potent combination of triple 425-horsepower Yamaha outboard engines, perfectly complementing Contender’s double-stepped hull design. This synergy ensures optimal lift with minimal resistance, resulting in impressive attributes such as speed, fuel efficiency, seakeeping prowess, and a smooth, comfortable ride.

fishing rods on boat
Capt. “Q” at the helm of the Contender factory team boat. (Photo by Hayden Dobbins)

“For the size of the boat, the speed you get is pretty amazing and the ride you get is totally amazing,” said Dieterle. “There was one tournament where we heard the VHF light up with releases. Fishing was slow where we were sitting, so we ran from Miami all the way down to Conch Reef. It was blowing 20 out of the east, but we were able to go 60 mph the whole time.”

This is high-energy, run-and-gun fishing at its finest—quickly release a few fish and then reset in the same depth you got those bites. It requires keen observation; if you spot a sailfish free-jumping out of the water (a flopper), the strategy is to race a quarter-mile or so ahead of it, deploy a picket fence of live bait, and patiently wait for the fish to approach, hopefully with other sailfish swimming alongside.

Participating in tournament sailfishing necessitates a well-equipped vessel, finely tailored for the task. Key additions include 12V power outlets located mid-ship on each side to power electric reels used for kite fishing. In the center of the cockpit, a pedestal rocket launcher facilitates the management of multiple kite lines while maintaining unrestricted 360-degree fishability.

back of fishing boat
Signature Contender styling and performance highlight the flagship 44ST. (Photo by Brian Hall)

Across South Florida’s demanding sailfish tournament circuit, one aspect stands out as supremely critical—live bait. Contender One is equipped with two 55-gallon transom livewells and a cavernous 110-gallon in-floor livewell located aft, complemented by a second 40-gallon livewell in the foredeck. As Dieterle highlights, this setup enables the separation of bait by species, such as sardines, goggle-eyes, and threadfin herring. “Much quicker than having to dip through 400 baits to find the one you want.” By maintaining an optimal ratio of approximately one fish per 1.5 gallons of water, the crew ensures that their live baits remain as lively as possible.

offshore fishing
Tournament fishing from the Contender 44ST. (Photo by Brian Hall)

The helm on the 44ST features a generously sized 56-inch-wide dash panel designed to accommodate the width and height requirements of Garmin’s GPSMap 8624, with its 24-inch touchscreen display. Step down into the console from the port-side door, and the spacious layout provides an impressive 6 feet and 4 inches of headroom. Notably, it is equipped with head, vanity, sink, and teak flooring.

The Contender 44ST was meticulously engineered with one objective in mind—to serve as an exceptional offshore fishing vessel. While it may not boast an array of fancy accoutrements, it excels in fulfilling its intended purpose.—Steve Dougherty

Contender 44ST Specs

  • LOA: 43'10"
  • Beam: 12"
  • Draft: 27"
  • Weight: 22,300 lbs. (ready to fish)
  • Fuel: 600 gal.
  • Max HP: 2,000 HP
  • Base Price: $865,000

SAILFISH 312 CC

VIP Admission to South Florida’s Winter Kingfish Convention

fishing at sunset
Sailfish 312 CC trolling the reef edge off Fort Lauderdale. (Photo courtesy of Sailfish Boats)
  • DESTINATION: Fort Lauderdale
  • TARGET SPECIES: Kingfish
  • SEASON: December-May
  • HAZARDS: Small Craft Advisories, Port Security Zones, Commercial & Cruise Ship Traffic
  • ESSENTIALS: Insulated Fish Boxes, Nonskid Deck, Livewell Capacity, Transom Access, High Freeboard

The waters off Broward County are a kind of meeting point for two distinct populations of king mackerel: the Atlantic stock and Gulf of Mexico stock. In the winter, these fish overlap as they follow favorable water temps and forage supplies. It’s common to catch 10- to 20-pounders; the biggest fish show up as spawning season begins in April, with many topping 40 pounds. Both populations are stable. Extensive artificial reefs along the Broward coast provide excellent habitat in waters from 60 to 200 feet deep, ideal range for kings. Slow-trolling live goggle-eyes, herring or pilchards is a top local tactic, but conventional trolling rigs featuring ballyhoo or bonito strips behind skirts are also productive. A spoon behind a planer is a time-proven rig.

offshore fishing
Kingfish are a prime target (above, below) off Fort Lauderdale . (Photo courtesy of Sailfish Boats)
fishing from boat
Photo courtesy of Sailfish Boats

Peak kingfish season is also cold front season, and when northwest to northeast winds blow against the north-flowing Gulf Stream, big seas develop. If you’re unable to “pick your days,” a 30-foot center console with deep vee entry is a good choice to keep you on the water and comfortable through the winter season. The Sailfish 312 CC, for example, features the company’s proven Variable Degree Stepped hull, offering not only a smooth ride in choppy seas but also stability when trolling.

The 312CC also offers an extended transom deck with access door, making it easy to reach rods around the engines in the (likely) event of multiple hookups. Three-sided windshield and hardtop offers excellent weather protection—though many days will be like those in the photos, with crisp blue skies, gentle rollers and the familiar “Gold Coast” ever visible to the west. Excellent fishery to bring friends or family down from the chill northern states. Grilled kingfish steaks or deep-fried fingers are classic menu items here, but the crème de la crème is smoked kingfish made into dip.—Jeff Weakley

Sailfish 312 CC Specs

  • LOA: 30'6"
  • Beam: 9'9"
  • Draft: 22"
  • Weight: 10,725 lbs.
  • Fuel: 265 gal.
  • Max HP: 800 HP
  • Base Price: $304,439 (w/twin Yamaha F300)

BLACKFIN 400 CC

Long-Range Comfort to the Islands in the ‘Stream

fishing boat offshore
Seating and storage are ample on the wave-crushing 400 CC. (Photo courtesy of Blackfin)
  • DESTINATION: The Bahamas
  • TARGET Species: Tuna, Mahi, Wahoo, Sandbars, Swimming Pigs
  • SEASON: Year-Round (Watch Tropics In Summer)
  • HAZARDS: Rough Seas, Shallow Water, Remote Areas Might Lack Aids To Navigation
  • ESSENTIALS: Stepped Hull, Console w/Head & Berth

Cruising to The Bahamas, whether for lunch or a long weekend, involves crossing long stretches of open ocean and then navigating hidden reefs and shoals, where reliable aids to navigation might be entirely absent. Brave souls have made the crossing in Jet Skis, but you’ll be much better off in a seaworthy center conosle to comfortably accommodate passengers, safety equipment, fishing tackle, dive gear, and more.

The 400CC, the largest center console in the Blackfin lineup, serves as a splendid tribute to the brand’s 50th anniversary. Designed for both indulgent cruising and fishing, this super center console is the ideal vessel for island-hopping.

It boasts six helm seats arranged in two rows beneath the massive hardtop providing necessary shade from the intense tropical sun. The second-row seating backs up to a massive leaning post rigging station featuring dedicated mounts for pliers, knives, lures, and leader spools. Lift up the lid to reveal a grill, sink, and cutting board. Below, there are three drawers and two slide-out YETI coolers.

fishing boat console
Photo by Steve Dougherty

Rod holders abound—7 rounding each stern corner of the massive hardtop, 12 in the gunnels, including cup/rod holder combos. Gemlux base mounts and carbon fiber outriggers are standard equipment.The cockpit is clearly designed for fun fishing and entertaining, featuring a standard removable, wrap-around seat atop the 70-gallon transom livewell, which is lined with another 6 rod holders.

The cabin allows the option to anchor overnight in a protected harbor, providing 6 feet, 5 inches of headroom, a double berth, a compact galley, and a head with shower. Notably, the 400CC employs a bank of lithium-ion batteries and an inverter system to power the onboard electrics, including air conditioning, without the need for a generator.

A massive presence on the water, the double-stepped Michael Peters hull with quad 400-horsepower Mercury 5.7L V10 outboards propels the 400CC to a top speed of just over 70 mph. A medium load, cruising at 45 mph, burning 0.63 mpg, provides a range of 269 miles with the 475-gallon tank. The 400CC is equipped with a range of standard features including a Lewmar bow thruster, 24-inch Garmin multifunction displays, and windlass anchor. JL Stereo package includes 10 speakers, 4 subwoofers, and 3 amps. The Zipwake trim system is perfect for crossing open water, providing dynamic control over your vessel to optimize performance, comfort, and fuel efficiency.

While this vessel is fully equipped to meet the demands of serious anglers, the builder has outfitted it to elevate other aspects of your on-water experiences.—Steve Dougherty

Blackfin 400 CC Specs

  • LOA: 42'8"
  • Beam: 12'
  • Draft: 32" (engines up)
  • Weight: 20,000 LBS. (dry weight)
  • Fuel: 475 gal.
  • Max HP: 1,600
  • BASE Price: $1,100,000

HEWES REDFISHER 21

Cross Over from South Florida Salt to Freshwater Canals for Silver Kings and Peacock Bass

fishing boat sunset
Hewes Redfisher 21. (Photo courtesy of Hewes Boats)
  • DESTINATION: Palm Beach Canals
  • TARGET SPECIES: Peacock Bass, Largemouth Bass, Knifefish, Tarpon, Snook
  • SEASON: Winter-Spring
  • HAZARDS: Bridge Clearance, Boat Wakes
  • ESSENTIALS: Stability, Rod Storage, Trailerability

The term “crossover boat” in recent years has come to refer to an offshore-inshore capable ride. But how about a salt-fresh “crossover?” That could easily be used to describe the Hewes Redfisher 21. The boat proves as adept at supporting technical bass fishing as it does the diversity of inshore saltwater fisheries.

Captain Johnny Stabile of South Florida Fishing Charters runs trips in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties. He likes the beamy, under-gunnel rod storage of the Redfisher. “I can fit 8 rods, maybe 10, in the under-gunnel rodholders. When we’re bass fishing, or fishing for exotics, I like to keep the rods tucked out of the way; we have a lot of low bridges to run under on these canals.”

fishing rod storage
Under-gunnel rod rack space is a huge plus on this boat, keep topsides low and uncluttered. (Photo courtesy of Hewes Boats)

Most of his bass fishing is done with artificials, but Stabile also fishes the winter and spring tarpon run in Miami. “I’ll keep the center well loaded with live shrimp on the tarpon trips, but as we get later in the season, I’ll bring some secondary baits such as mullet or whitebait, and keep them separated from the shrimp, in the second well.” He’ll use a livewell some days on the fresh water, as a release well for peacock bass photo ops with customers.

The Redfisher 21—like its smaller siblings, the 16 and 18—is capable of pushpole propulsion, but Stabile chose to leave off a poling platform, to keep the profile as low as possible; again, for clearance under bridges in suburban Palm Beach fisheries such as the Lake Ida chain. “I have a trolling motor on the bow, and twin 36-volt Dakota Lithium batteries which I mounted in the forward hatch; this boat has an obscene amount of storage. I use the console for tackle storage.”

How does it ride? “It has a deep entry and Carolina flare—when I’m running out off the beach, nobody gets wet. And I like that it’s beamy—some nights tarpon fishing in Miami, we get a lot of yacht traffic around the bridges. It’s an 8'6" beam; you can safely take the wakes on your beam.”—Jeff Weakley

Hewes Redfisher 21 Specs

  • LOA: 21'6"
  • Beam: 8'6"
  • Draft: 14"
  • Weight: 2,850 lbs. (approximately. w/engine)
  • Fuel: 50 gal.
  • Max HP: 350 HP
  • Base Price: $90,186 (w/Yamaha VF250XA)

STINGRAY 269 DC

For Potluck Trolling in Southeast Florida, There’s No Need to Compromise

fishing boat
Stingray 269 CD (Photo courtesy of Stingray Boats)
  • DESTINATION: Stuart
  • TARGET Species: Mahi, Blackfin Tuna
  • SEASON: April-September
  • HAZARDS: Outgoing Tide & East Wind At Inlet Mouth, Afternoon Storms, Excessive Heat
  • ESSENTIALS: Rodholders, Tackle Storage, Fish Boxes, Navigational Electronics, Outriggers

The dual console configuration opens up cockpit space aft of the helm, and weather protection is optimized by the full windscreen. Forward, there’s secure space for seating passengers who may wish to enjoy the open air.

The boatbuilding industry in the last 10 years has taken this basic design principle and applied it to larger and larger hulls. The 269DC from Stingray, built in South Carolina but here photographed in Stuart, Florida, is a mid-size DC exhibiting quite a few comfort features: standup head compartment; freshwater sink; bow and stern showers; teak cockpit table. It’s also reasonably well equipped for fishing, with rodholders, insulated fish box and livewell aft, and optional upgrades including hardtop and outriggers. Stingray offers 9-or 12-inch Garmin plotter/sonar options with Airmar B150M CHIRP transducer, suitable for most coastal and deep wreck fishing. The ZipWake interceptor-based dynamic trim control system is standard.

fishing boat
The Stingray 269DC has a classic layout and here expanded on a vessel of offshore specs. (Photo courtesy of Stingray Boats)

In a hard-charging fishing community like Stuart, boats like this find their way to the docks of both new boat owners as well as lifelong anglers. Some of the latter may be transitioning into years when hosting family and other guests for a cruise to the sandbar or a quick spin for ocean breezes will take priority over intense technical angling. The dual console platform might not be the first choice of a tournament billfish angler or the owner who wants to run to The Bahamas for yellowfin tuna, but at the end of the day, it’s not surprising to see a couple bull dolphin and mutton snappers emerge from the holds of comfortable day-cruisers like the 269DC.—Jeff Weakley

boat console
Many boaters like the enclosed feel of a dual console like the Stingray 269DC. (Photo courtesy of Stingray Boats)

Stingray 269DC Specs

  • LOA: 27'11"
  • Beam: 8'5"
  • Draft: 18"
  • Weight: 6,400 lbs. (dry weight)
  • Fuel: 130 gal.
  • Max HP: 450 HP
  • Base Price: $189,251 (w/twin Yamaha F150XC)

PATHFINDER 2200 TRS

Same Day Snook and Sailfish? Just About Any Day for this Fort Pierce Boatbuilder

fishing boat
It’s a bit bigger than the old 2200, but retains the shallow water access. (Photo courtesy of Pathfinder Boats)
  • DESTINATION: Fort Pierce
  • TARGET SPECIES: Snook, Sailfish
  • SEASON: February-May (Sails), September-December (Snook)
  • HAZARDS: Sharks, Nor’easters
  • ESSENTIALS: Capacious Livewells, Trolling Motor, Shallow-Water Anchor

Fort Pierce is not only headquarters for Pathfinder Boats, but also a very fishy town where it’s easy to understand the appeal of the bay boat design. Within a 2-mile radius of the North Causeway boat ramps (free) are flats where big trout and reds creep; deep inlet and harbor where giant snook lurk; clear-water beaches where tarpon and cobia migrate; and always the alluring Atlantic, with sailfish, kingfish and snappers.

For anglers who like to do a bit of everything, Pathfinder recently reengineered its classic 22-footer to unveil the 2200 TRS. The aft deck has been redesigned to accommodate a center seat for passengers in lieu of the exposed corner flip-up seats. Not only does this offer a bit more protection from the elements, it also allowed the designers to plan twin livewells (one standard, one optional). The crew may also notice a slightly different ride; Pathfinder redesigned the running surface for better performance in choppy water. The boat is slightly longer than the previous model, and the deck layout includes some minor but noticeable touches such as a bit more fishing space behind the leaning post, and enough space forward of the console to add a compartment to hold a castnet bucket.

Pathfinder Boats
(Above) Below-deck rod storage, castnet compartment and massive forward hatch on new 2200 TRS. Forward cushion option in place (below). (Photo courtesy of Pathfinder Boats)
Pathfinder Boats
Photo courtesy of Pathfinder Boats

For staking down to fish mangrove points or docks in current, the 2200 TRS has been designed with a flat transom (no swim ladder in the way) to accommodate twin Power-Poles. Doubling up on that equipment to counter the twisting forces of wind or current was a trick bass fishermen learned years ago and saltwater anglers, and boatbuilders, are adopting.

TRS, in Pathfinder parlance, stands for Third Row Seat—the aft bench; leaning post; and Engel cooler seat forward of the console. Add optional full bow cushion and forward-facing backrests and it’s basically four rows.—Jeff Weakley

Pathfinder 2200 TRS Specs

  • LOA: 22'5"
  • Beam: 8'6"
  • Draft: 13"
  • Weight: 3,275 lbs. (w/power)
  • Fuel: 65 gal.
  • Max HP: 250 HP
  • BASE Price: $78,054 (w/Yamaha F150XC)

HELL’S BAY ELDORA

Shallow Water Success with Tiller in Hand

fishing skiff
The Eldora is the perfect platform for adventurous anglers looking to target gamefish where most other skiffs can’t go. (Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Hell’s Bay Boatworks)
  • DESTINATION: Mosquito Lagoon
  • TARGET SPECIES: Black Drum, Redfish, Seatrout
  • SEASON: October-February
  • HAZARDS: Shallow Water, Manatees
  • ESSENTIALS: Carbon Marine TillerPillar, Pushpole, EVA Marine Flooring

Perfection is a term open to interpretation. Your ideal skiff may boast an array of features, such as a trolling motor, GPS, plush seating and shallow-water anchor. But, there exists a distinct group of anglers who decidedly favor the elegance of a simple tiller skiff with basic interior layout—one that sips fuel and is easy to trailer and maintain. To some degree, there are times when less is more.

Enter the Eldora by Hell’s Bay Boatworks, a technical skiff stripped down to its bare elements. Much like all Hell’s Bay skiffs, the Eldora is fashioned from a Carbon innegra hull and constructed using vacuum-infused Core Cell. This sleek skiff, yet somehow also extravagant in the right eyes, offers only the necessities: bilge pump, removable fuel cell, four under gunnel aft-facing rod tubes, pushpole holder, poling platform, Bennett trim tabs, Livorsi LED running lights, single 12V Odyssey battery, and CMC Tilt & Trim. Capable of effortless poling and navigating treacherously shallow waters, the Eldora is exclusively available with a tiller and is delivered with a Ram-Lin trailer. SeaDek is standard in the cockpit and on the poling platform.

boat at sunset
Eldora by Hell’s Bay. (Photo courtesy of Hell’s Bay Boatworks)

It’s a craft engineered for venturing where others might hesitate. Perfectly suited for the shallows of the Mosquito Lagoon and Banana River, not far from the Hell’s Bay Boatworks factory in Titusville, Florida. At the Mosquito Lagoon’s pole and troll areas, anglers come face-to-face with redfish in the 25-inch range, but there are schools of fish that tip the scales at 20 to 30 pounds. Winter serves as the prime season for tailing red and black drum, and also for spotting seatrout basking in potholes on the flats.

Given a desire for shallow draft, the majority of micro skiffs feature flat-hull bottoms, a trait shared by the Eldora. It can lend access to waters previously reachable only by kayaks, but it’s not meant for crossing open expanses of choppy water. Don’t expect a backrest, livewell, cupholders, or even a stereo (don’t forget the Turtlebox). This is a specialized vessel for fly and light-tackle anglers, designed for those who possess the skills to navigate adeptly in a technical skiff. While it may seem tippy to the unexperienced, it is far from uncomfortable and completely stable at rest. Due to its compact size and slender beam, the Eldora is best suited for no more than two anglers—one on the poling platform and another at the bow.—Steve Dougherty

Hell’s Bay Eldora Specs

  • LOA: 16'4"
  • Beam: 69"
  • Draft: 3.5"
  • Weight: 350 lbs.
  • Fuel: 10 gal.
  • Max HP: 25 HP
  • Base Price: $37,000 (w Yamaha F25)

CAYMAS 28 HB

Creeks to Coastal Tide Lines with Capt. Terry Lacoss

fishing boat
Caymas 28 HB
  • DESTINATION: Amelia Island
  • TARGET Species: Redfish, Seatrout, Sheepshead, Kingfish, Cobia
  • SEASON: December-May
  • HAZARDS: Shallow Oyster Bars, Big Tide Swings, Submerged Jetty Rocks, Naval Submarine Traffic
  • ESSENTIALS: Trolling Motor, Shallow-Water Anchor, Fore & Aft Casting Deck

Terry Lacoss had just reeled in his second trout in consecutive casts. Twin Power-Pole shallow water anchors parked his Caymas 28 HB the perfect distance from a weathered dock on the Amelia River. Lacoss, a former golf pro and Amelia Island fishing guide since 1978, relies on the versatile design of his hybrid vessel, which grants him access to the salt marsh while ensuring a comfortable ride in choppier conditions outside the St. Marys Inlet.

“Let’s run to the jetties,” said Lacoss after catching another trout. “The tide is falling and there should be some bull reds schooled up.”

Caymas boasts a storied history of boat building, and the 28 HB was designed with dual personalities. Similar to the layout of a bass boat, the 28 HB is equipped with fore and aft casting platforms. Plush seating wraps the bow, with plug-in backrests ensuring the comfort of forward-facing mid-ship seats. The stern deck features a central folding jump seat that extends the aft deck space and conceals a removable 63-quart storage box.

With a single 400-horsepower Mercury 5.7L V10 outboard, the Michael Peters SVVT hull with 18.5-degree deadrise achieves a perfect balance between shallow draft capabilities and the ability to handle rough waters.

fishing boat
Caymas designed the 28 HB with the freeboard to head offshore, while providing massive deck space for unhindered casting inshore. (Photo by Steve Dougherty)

Bull reds lit up the sounder as the Power-Pole MOVE held Terry’s 4-month-old 28 HB in the swift outgoing tide along the submerged jetty rocks. Lacoss remarked, “If it were the right season, we’d have Cannon downriggers mounted in the stern rod holders, and we’d be slow-trolling for kingfish around the tide line.”

With a host of different species to target in Amelia Island, the 28 HB delivers necessary rod storage. Two lockers, port and starboard sides, are cleverly tucked beneath the wraparound forward seating, featuring hatches that open forward on gas-assist struts for easy access. Additional rods can be stowed under the gunnels, with eight more on the console sides and four in the leaning post. Above, six rod holders are positioned in the hardtop, including two angled kingfish rod holders.

At the console, the 28 HB accommodates two flush-mount 12-inch MFDs, 12V and USB charging ports, LED push-button switches, cupholders, Lenco trim tab indicators, and a Kicker stereo system. In the aft casting deck, twin compartments can function as 35-gallon livewells or dry storage areas, keeping water where it should be with gasket seals and recess with proper drainage.

The Caymas 28 HB perfectly complements the diverse fisheries of North Florida. It is a true hybrid, capable of effortlessly navigating creeks and marsh waters, while being ready to head offshore when the moment is just right.—Steve Dougherty

Caymas 28 HB Specs

  • LOA: 27'7"
  • Beam: 9'4"
  • Draft: 16" (engines up)
  • Weight: 4,300 (dry weight)
  • Fuel: 120 gal.
  • Max HP: 450 HP
  • BASE Price: $257,196

This package was  published in the December/January 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine




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