Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Boat test: Scarab Tournament edition

The invitation came late in the afternoon, but I couldn't say no.

"I'm thinking about buying a new boat," my friend Larry Hoffman said over the phone. "I want to take it for a test ride."

I'm always up for a day on the water, especially when the kingfish are running. But as a self-admitted cheapskate, I had to ask, "How much do I have to pitch in for gas?"

"Nothing," he said. "It's on me."

How Hoffman had convinced the owners to let him take a 35-foot triple-engine Scarab fishing boat 20 miles offshore for the day was still a mystery.

Most "test rides" are up and down the Intracoastal Waterway. A customer seldom gets to know how a boat handles in extreme conditions, which is probably the most important factor to consider.

"I want to see how it handles," Hoffman said. "If I don't like it, we will just clean it up and take it back."

High winds, heavy seas

The weather report for that day called for 15-knot winds out of the south and 4-foot seas. Not the best day for catching king mackerel, but not the worst. Hoffman, a Treasure Island charter boat captain, often finds himself far from land in bad weather.

"Don't worry," he said as we left the dock. "It will be just like fishing a tournament."

The four fellow anglers didn't get the inside joke. I have fished several big-money tournaments with Hoffman over the years, but never on a day when the sun was shining and the skies were blue.

"The weather could be great all week long," he finally explained to the others. "Then the weekend rolls around, and it is cold, windy and raining. But you are going fishing, either way."

We had hoped to cruise offshore, catch some amberjack, then on the way in, pick up a few kings. But after 20 minutes of pounding through the waves, we decided to stick closer to home and fish the Egmont Shipping Channel.

Big baits, big boat

Catching baitfish off a buoy on a good day is an art, but add wind, waves and tide, and it can become a battle for survival.

Hoffman was used to maneuvering his lightweight Donzi, but the Scarab was bigger, heavier, and the controls were in the wrong place.

"Don't you guys know how to catch fish?" Hoffman barked as he struggled to keep his hapless crew over the baitfish circling below.

With its 9-foot 11-inch beam, the Scarab Tournament edition was surprisingly stable in the waist-high rollers. This allowed several anglers to soak Sabiki rigs at the same time, which theoretically should mean more bait, but in reality, it just meant more lines getting tangled.

"I think we have enough bait," Hoffman said after we stocked the well with several dozen cigar minnows and Spanish sardines. "We need to get offshore before we miss the bite."

Running hard and safe

Kingfishermen spend a lot of time going from spot to spot looking for fish. As a result, they like big, fast boats that can make headway regardless of the sea. Hoffman typically cruises about 38 mph and gets roughly 1.4 miles per gallon on gas.

The Scarab, with triple 250-horsepower Yamaha engines, goes about 1.2 miles for every gallon of gas. With fuel prices going through the roof, I had to ask: "Why would you buy a boat that burns more gas?"

Hoffman thought about it for a second, then responded, "Safety."

The Scarab weighs about 1,300 more pounds than his Donzi, which has a stepped hull and was originally designed for powerboat racing. The Scarab's deep-vee entry is better-suited for rough water.

"With triples, I can still have an engine go out and make it home at a decent hour," he said. "I can also take six passengers instead of four."

With charter prices rising, anglers want to fish in larger groups to help defer the individual cost. While he may spend a little more in fuel, Hoffman figures he will make it up with increased charters.

Quadruple hook-up

Slow trolling along the shipping channel, four rods out, we didn't have to wait long for our first strike. But before we could clear the rods to fight the fish, a second reel started screaming, then a third, then a fourth.

Multiple anglers fighting fish would never happen in a tournament (you never want to risk losing a big one) but it is the stuff of dreams on a charter.

Bait after bait produced kings. We kept a few for a midday fish fry.

"Make sure you clean up the deck," Hoffman told us. "We need to take this boat back."

This was a first for me: cleaning blood off the deck at the end of a test ride.

Zooming back in across the wave tops, Hoffman finally got the hang of this new rig.

"Now that I figured out how to run it the right way," he said. "I might just have to keep it."

In fact, he did.

Larry Hoffman charters out of Treasure Island, call (727) 709-9396.


Captainís Corner: Tips on targeting American Red Snapper

American Red Snapper (ARS) season opened a few days ago and some types of bottom are holding bigger schools of ARS then other bottom types. The hard bottom areas that most fishermen prefer are holding large schools of ARS, but the fish have yet to m...
Published: 06/18/18

Captainís Corner: Trout bite at its best

The trout bite has been the best Iíve seen all year. Fish up to 26 inches have been common recently. Fish are sitting on the flatsí deeper edges, where the water is deeper and cooler, and moves a little more swiftly. Live sardines and hard plastic ba...
Published: 06/16/18
Updated: 06/17/18

Captainís Corner: Fishing this month is all about diversity

This is the month of diverse opportunity. The choice of species is unlimited, as long as you have the bait. You can target snook and tarpon in the morning, then fish for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, snapper, sharks and cobia in the afternoon. The tarp...
Published: 06/15/18

Captainís Corner: When itís tarpon time, itís also shark time

Tarpon get most of the attention when talking about exciting fly action for large fish in our area. Baitfish are more prolific, and large tarpon follow their forage and populate most of our local waters. Following them are fish that consider tarpon t...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/14/18

Captainís Corner: This is your best time for tarpon fishing

Now is the best time to target tarpon. Silver kings are cruising the beaches on their yearly migration up and down the stateís west coast. This weekís strong new moon tides and the strong full moon tides in two weeks provide some of the best action f...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18

Captainís Corner: Turn attention to gag grouper and red snapper

Attention has turned to gag grouper and red snapper for many offshore fishermen. Red snapper can be best targeted in waters 105 feet and deeper, with some available in water as shallow as 60 feet. Although the snapper will be found on high profile st...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18

Captainís Corner: Pompano popping up at passes, along beach

Over the past few weeks, pompano have started to appear around the passes and along the beach. These tasty members of the jack family are one of the most difficult fish to find and keep track of. Just when you think youíve figured out a reliable time...
Published: 06/10/18
Updated: 06/11/18

Captainís Corner: Many fish now in their deep summer areas

Many fish have moved into their deep summer areas. This has been the pattern the past week. Snook are in their spawning areas waiting for the tide and moon to align. Iíve been leaving them alone and opting for the more steady action trout have been p...
Published: 06/08/18
Updated: 06/10/18

Captainís Corner: Pompano in the spotlight

Pompano are arriving at the locations where they will be found for the next six months. The most underutilized species in Tampa Bay, pompano are not only among the best to have for dinner, they fight great. Targeting pompano is pretty easy. You have ...
Published: 06/05/18
Updated: 06/07/18

Captainís Corner: Donít give up on tarpon just because of wind

Onshore winds have made it difficult to do much, if any, beach tarpon fishing, let alone any other fishing outside of the pass. But tarpon are still a possibility on the west winds, especially as we get further away from last weekís full moon; you ju...
Published: 06/05/18
Updated: 06/06/18