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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Thank the bass boys
As saltwater anglers chased more lucrative purses like the largemouth crowd before them, they wanted boat innovations. Behold the bay boat.
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published September 7, 2007
TIERRA VERDE - Steve Mathews gunned the engine of his new Skeeter bay boat and zipped across a shallow sand flat.
"Inshore in the morning, offshore in the afternoon," Mathews said as we found our way back to the channel. "You don't need two boats anymore."
Mathews, a Skeeter sales representative, has sold everything from lures to sunglasses because it has allowed him to spend time on the water doing "R and D."
"I love to fish," he said. "I guess I am lucky that my job lets me out here on the water."
When Mathews called to say a legendary bass boat manufacturer had come out with a line of saltwater fishing boats, I remained skeptical.
"All I am asking is that you go for a ride," he said. "We might even catch a few fish."
Bass boat legacy
The inshore flats explosion of the early 1990s benefited from advancements made on the freshwater tournament trail. Nearly three decades before professional bass fishing became a big-money spectator sport, anglers saw the advantage of having a sport-specific boat designed and built to suit their unique needs.
In 1948, Holmes Thurman of Marshall, Texas, built his first bass boat. Thirteen feet long and made of molded marine plywood, this flat-bottomed craft was narrow and fast. The boat's many devotees liked the sleek design and started calling it Skeeter because the needle-nose bow shape reminded them of the scourge of those East Texas swamps.
Skeeter would go on to be an industry innovator, as it was one of the earliest manufacturers to use fiberglass, and in 1975, introducing the first vee-bottomed bass boat. This raised the bar several notches, and it wasn't long before the company set another performance standard when it unveiled the first 150-horsepower-rated bass boat, which soon became a standard on the growing bass circuit.
Evolution of the flats boat
Anglers had long fished the shallow waters of the Gulf Coast in flat-bottomed skiffs that allowed them to navigate through the shallow oyster bars and grass flats and into the mangrove habitat that was home to redfish, snook and trout.
In the early days, a serious inshore angler had to practically build his own boat out of plywood if he wanted to fish water shallower than 1 foot. Most mass-production, fiberglass boats had deep drafts and were designed primarily for offshore use.
But by the 1980s, manufacturers could no longer ignore the lucrative inshore markets. Numerous companies designed and built boats specifically for the shallow-water angler.
These high-tech skiffs could carry big engines that enabled them to pop up on a plane and run through 8 inches of water. With the motor off and in the "up" position, the new flats boats were still light enough to pole across a shallow grass flat without spooking fish.
It wasn't long before everybody had to have a flats boat.
Inshore tournament trail
As flats fishing became more popular, forward-thinking entrepreneurs looked for way to exploit the newfound interest in this age-old fishery.
If the freshwater bass fishermen had a top-dollar tournament trail, why couldn't saltwater flats anglers?
The success of the Southern Kingfish Association had proved that saltwater anglers could sustain their own version of the pro bass circuit. The well-paying, high-profile, king mackerel tournaments also helped create a market for big, fast sea-going center consoles.
Industry heavyweights such as Ranger and Yamaha embraced the concept and threw marketing dollars behind this new endeavor. Anglers, some professional fishing guides, others just weekend warriors, welcomed the chance to fish for the same kind of purses their freshwater brethren had enjoyed for years.
Long runs, rough bays
Today, you will find national-level professional redfish tournaments from Texas to Florida. There are two major circuits (Forrest L. Wood Redfish Series and the Oberto Redfish Cup), and both compete for advertising dollars, television time and angler loyalties.
Fish a Florida tournament and the craft of choice is the traditional flats boat. Homegrown anglers know that the shallow-draft flats boat is the most practical for pursuing the fickle schools of redfish that inhabit our coastal water.
But anglers in the northern Gulf of Mexico may fish shallow water in the morning and have to run 50 miles across an open bay to find fish in the afternoon.
"To really be competitive on the tournament trail, you almost need to have two boats," said C.A. Richardson, a St. Petersburg-based pro who fishes for Team Ranger. "You need one boat that can handle the rough water and another lightweight skiff that can get you into the skinny stuff."
Enter the bay boat. The boats, typically less than 23 feet in length and powered by a single engine, offer the best of both worlds. With a deeper vee hull and higher gunnels than a traditional flats boat, a bay boat offers the best of both worlds.
"I love my boat because it lets me still fish inside for trout, reds and snook, but on a nice day, I could run offshore to the artificial reefs and catch some mackerel," said Mathews, who spent some time on the redfish tournament trail. "The great thing about this is it does a little of everything."
With a 60-gallon gas tank and 19 inches of freeboard inside, Skeeter's ZX22V feels bigger than it is.
"I've run home across the bay on some rough days, and this boat just ate up the chop," Mathews said. "Any boat can run good when it is flat, but the only way you will find out how it really handles is take it out when the wind kicks up."
But while bay boats such as Skeeter's new ZX22V might be a saltwater angler's dream, the power, high freeboard and dry ride make it an outstanding utility boat.
The open-cockpit design stows a variety of gear - including dry bags, water toys and extra ice boxes - all the ingredients necessary for a day of family fun on the water.
Skeeter isn't the only company capitalizing on the burgeoning bay boat market. Ranger, Hydra-Sports, Triton, Pathfinder, Sea Hunt and Sea Pro all make quality bay boats. Even Yellowfin, maker of the high-end center consoles popular with anglers on the professional kingfish circuit, is getting into the game.
"I have had a lot of boats," Mathews said. "I really think that bay boats are the wave of the future."
Skeeter ZX22V Bay Boat
Length overall: 22 feet 6.5 inches
Length on trailer: 29 feet
Beam: 8 feet 5 inches
Width on trailer: 8 feet 6 inches
Shaft length: 25 inches
Draft: 14 to 18 inches
Weight: 2,200 pounds
Fuel capacity: 60 gallons
Maximum horsepower: 250
Price as tested: $48,000
Web site: www.skeeterboats.com
Local dealer: Maximo Marine, 3701 50th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, (727) 867-7718, www.maximomarine.com.
Tampa Boat Show
See the latest bay boats and hundreds of other models this weekend.
Where: Tampa Convention Center, 333 S. Franklin Street
When: Today, Saturday and Sunday; doors open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sunday when the show ends at 6 p.m.
Price: $9 for adults; $5 for junior boaters (13-15); free for kids 12 and under
Information: Call (954) 441-3220 or visit online at www.tampaboatshow.com.