TIERRA VERDE — Doug Hemmer would love to have two boats: one to work the flats and another to run offshore. But like most folks, the hard-working fishing guide doesn't have the money to support two vessels.
"That's why I always wanted a bay boat," the charter captain said. "It is the perfect fishing boat for this area."
There was a time when Hemmer would have thought twice about making a long run across the open water of Tampa Bay on a choppy day.
Big, deep-draft boats do well in rough seas, but they can't get into the skinny water where the redfish roam.
"The area that you could fish was definitely limited by the type of boat you had," Hemmer said. "But I don't worry about that anymore. Now I go anywhere I want. And I get there fast."
Hemmer, a pro staffer for Skeeter, just got a new SX240, the ultimate bay boat, which will be making its local debut this weekend at the Tampa Bay Boat Show in Tampa.
"It is the most versatile boat that I have ever run," said Hemmer, who has been fishing local waters for more than 40 years. "It opens up a lot of options for the average fisherman."
The bay boat, a multipurpose center-console watercraft, is by a large margin the hottest selling class of boat on the west coast of Florida. It gives anglers the best of two worlds. Small, light and affordable, these fishing machines can run in shallow water yet still handle 2- to 3-foot swells on a trip out to the artificial reefs.
Skeeter, a 60-year-old company based in Kilgore, Texas, made its reputation building fiberglass boats for freshwater anglers. An industry innovator, Skeeter developed the first vee-bottom bass boat. It also introduced the first full-length rod box, now a standard item on most fishing boats. The bass boat builder had an early appreciation of power, being the first to put a 150-horsepower engine on the stern of a skiff.
That high-horse tradition continues today with the Yamaha F300XCA, which provides more than enough power to get the nearly 3,000-pound hull, and four full-grown anglers, up out of the hole and on a plane fast.
But Skeeter isn't the only manufacturer putting its money in bay boats. Stop by the Tampa Bay Boat Show this weekend and you'll find plenty of options for the average angler, from flats skiffs to deep-vee, twin-engine fishing machines, the vehicles of choice for kingfish tournament anglers.
But don't bother looking around the show for Hemmer. He will be off the beach fishing this weekend's Fall Suncoast Kingfish Classic, now in its 22nd year, as the big schools of king mackerel head south for the winter.
This local season opener pays out $10,000 for the largest kingfish, which isn't quite enough for a new Skeeter SX240, but more than enough for a down payment. Fans can swing by Gators Cafe and Saloon on John's Pass for the weigh-in from 4-5 p.m. Sunday. For information, go to suncoastkingfishclassic.com.