Among the best things to happen to saltwater fishing boats over the past years is the walk-around design, a development of the center console model that has dominated the 21- to 25-foot market for more than 15 years.
In the walk-around, designers took the dead space that existed in the center console boats between the casting deck forward of the steering station and made it into a small cabin.
Around the raised cabin roof is a recessed side deck that usually leads to a smaller casting platform well forward, hence the term walk-around.
Many manufacturers now produce walk-arounds, with the some of the best-known brands Mako, Boston Whaler, Grady White, Proline, Robalo and Wahoo.
In touring the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show at the Convention Center, several lesser-known brands of walk-arounds warranted inspection, and for prices between $19,000 and $25,000 they seemed to offer a lot of boat for the money.
The beauty of a walk-around is that not only does it provide a good fishing platform, but it also affords basic overnight accommodations for two to four people. The ability to overnight, of course, means that one can run from the upper Chesapeake Bay to Tangier or Pocomoke sounds on the lower bay for the weekend and fish both days for the cost of fuel and food.
Mako, Whaler, Robalo, Proline and Wahoo have refined or redesigned their walk-arounds for this year, and each is worth a close look. These are top-of-the-line fishing machines that can cost upward of $45,000 when rigged out, and if you want to go offshore or out in very rough weather, it would be money well spent.
The Chesapeake Bay fisherman who would just as soon leave the dirty weather fishing to someone else should take a look at the walk-arounds offered by Celebrity, Sea Sprite, Horizon and the 21-foot Laguna by Sea Ray.
Harrison Yacht Sales, Inc., of Grasonville, has a show model of the Laguna on display and selling for $21,000. It is well fitted out, the hull is well veed, the appearance of the boat will suit those who like a fast look, and a 150-horsepower Mercury should get you up and running easily.
If the Laguna has a drawback as a fishing boat, it is that the cockpit is almost too plush. But the bolsters are removable and careful handling of fish could keep the cockpit clean.
Celebrity has a 23-foot FishHawk walk-around with either
outboard power or inboard-outboard power, with the outboard boat show special going for under $26,000.
The FishHawk features sink, stove, aerated bait well, a pair of removable fish boxes, 116-gallon fuel tank and a slew of other standard features. But it is a comfortable and functional fishing machine, with room to move freely through the cockpit and along the transom.
On the FishHawk, the cabin is of secondary importance -- comfortable enough, but more a place to sleep after a long day of fishing than to entertain at dockside.
Sea Sprite's 2350 walk-around is an inboard-outboard model that will hold literally a ton of people and gear. It too is more fishing machine than show boat and its price and features fit roughly in with the SeaHawk.
Perhaps the best of the walk-arounds at the low end of this price range is the Angler 2200, a fishing boat with few frills, but with enough to beat the elements when necessary.
The Angler, built by Horizon and sold by Gootee's Marine in Church Creek on the Eastern Shore, has a large, open cockpit, enough of a side deck to allow easy passage and a foredeck with enough unobstructed flat area to provide good footing.
A 225-horsepower outboard would seem ideal, although the addition of a 9.9-horsepower outboard for trolling speeds would make good sense.
On a trip at the mouth of the Choptank last fall, a version of the 2200 performed very well both on the run to and from the fishing grounds and while drifting lee shore and open water.
Gootee's also has a boat new to the market on display, the May-Craft 2400, a cabin fishing boat with outboard power that has possibilities. An extended hardtop is standard, and the addition of drop curtains would provide plenty of shelter for a half-dozen or so fishermen.
But suppress the urge to visit the lender before checking out the boats.
Take the time to inspect the boats on display -- don't just walk aboard and check the spec sheets.
Open a locker or reach under a gunwale and check the finishing work of areas out of sight. Especially rough or jagged areas of fiberglass may mean inadequate attention to detail during construction.
Tap your toes for dead spots or soft areas in the deck. Ask about the stringer system, is it plywood? Has it been properly sealed so that it won't rot from the inside out?
Ask about or inspect the through-hulls and the hose or pipe fittings on each.
Compare the weights of similarly sized and outfitted boats. If one is much lighter than another, perhaps one is too lightly built to stand up to the conditions in which you want to fish.
Start with the Makos, Whalers, Grady Whites, Robalos, Prolines and Wahoos. Get a look at the top of the line and then work your way through the others.
Shop until you drop for the boat that suits your needs.
The Chesapeake Bay Boat Show runs through Sunday. On fTC weekdays the show opens at 5 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday it opens at 11 a.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children under 12. On Friday, children under 12 will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult.