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Ultimate fishing machine

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Fishability.

You won't find this word in Webster's New World Dictionary. But Steve Ellis knew what it meant when Larry Mastry asked him to build a new boat.

"He wanted something functional," Ellis recalled. "He didn't want something just for show."

Mastry, of Mastry's Bait & Tackle in St. Petersburg, is one of Tampa Bay's top tournament anglers. Cousin Jay Mastry, an equally prolific fisherman, is also well-known in the tarpon and kingfish circles. Both men had owned and run a variety of boats over the years, but both men were looking for a vessel specifically built for their brand of fishing.

"I need to be able to reach over and touch the water," Larry Mastry said. "I also need to be able to cast and throw a net."

A catamaran, with its wide beam and stable deck, seemed an ideal choice. But many of the cats on the market weren't fisher-friendly, Mastry said.

"I looked around and most of the catamarans I saw looked like floating shoe boxes," Ellis said. "But when I called the manufacturers, they said they all had waiting lists for boats. They couldn't sell enough of them."

So Ellis set out to build his own boat, and the result is the Calcutta 263. First, Ellis started with the hull. Mastry, and others like him, needed a boat long enough to run in slop and wide enough to support a tournament crew anchored in a chum slick.

A 26-foot centerline and an 8-foot beam was long and wide enough to keep three anglers from tripping over each other during the heat of battle. Ellis commissioned Glen Henderson, a local sailboat builder, to design the sponsons and give the boat some visual appeal.

Then Ellis began working on the gunwales and deck, two areas the Mastrys were very particular about.

"The wider the gunwales, the more rod holders you can have," explained Larry Mastry, a tarpon fisherman who has been known to use as many as 12 rods at a time. "A wide gunwale also allows you to be able to sit or stand anywhere on the boat."

The Calcutta's gunwales are 10 inches at their narrowest point. They also drop toward the stern, which makes it easier for a tournament angler to gaff a fish.

But sometimes, tarpon anglers need to bring their catch in the boat. Many boaters wish they had an open transom to help when loading at the dock. Ernst Peebles, a local marine biologist and consultant, gave Ellis some advice.

"He said why don't you make it like a pickup truck," Ellis said. "Build it so you can just drop the gate."

When the transom is down, the open stern enables an angler to get closer to the motor when fighting a fish that wants to run around the boat. But if the water gets rough, the transom can be raised.

Larry Mastry also wanted a boat that was easy to work on. Tournament anglers typically have more electronics than the space shuttle, but this gadgetry often breaks down.

"So you need a console that is easily accessible," Mastry said. "You have to be able to get in there and work on your electronics."

Ellis also made the top of the console as stable as the foredeck in case a customer ever installs a tower.

With a single Mercury 200XL Optimax Bluewater engine, the Calcutta 263 is cable of running at 40 mph. But the boat also has a relatively shallow draft (12 inches), which makes it versatile enough to run on the flats.

Calcutta Marine's Palmetto factory only produces one boat a month. Ellis said he has no problem selling the $50,000 boats, but he said he is not sure if he wants to increase production.

"We don't want the quality to suffer," he said. "That can happen when you start mass-producing boats."

Mastry said he can't go out on the water these days without somebody stopping him and asking him about his boat.

"They ask me what it is," Mastry said, "and I just say, "The ultimate fishing machine.' "

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