Sit back and hook a big one downtown

On the Outdoors

January 07, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

It's January, and for Chesapeake Bay fishermen, a time for working over rods and reels, knocking ice off boat tarps and fidgeting around the house as the days slowly grow longer and the year warms toward catch-and-release rockfish season in April.

But wouldn't it be great to have a rod in hand and a big fish pulling hard on the end of the line?

At the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show, which opens Saturday at Baltimore's Convention Center, show-goers will get a chance to experience the fight of a big fish without the cost of a trip to the Caribbean and the expense of a hefty charter fee -- compliments of Charlie White and the Sportfishin' Simulator.

White, from Alberta, Canada, is the inventor of a machine that simulates catching and fighting a fish, combining three computers, sound equipment and video.

The computers are keyed to an audio track that is synchronized with a 90-second videotape that shows the fish taking the bait, running with it, fighting when the line is brought taut and running toward the fisherman. The line on the simulator rod held by the fisherman is attached to a spool that increases or decreases tension, and the angler must reel or give line depending on the situation.

White's simulator, which made its U.S. debut in Seattle at the International Sportsmen's Exposition, scores the skill level of anglers, with 5,000 a perfect score and 1,800 to 2,100 points a decent performance for novices.

While new to the United States, the simulator has been popular in western Canada, where some tackle shops have them and customers come in to play or to test new gear.

Other attractions at the show this year -- in addition to hundreds of boats on display and a complete selection of gear and accessories -- are weekend seminars on marine financing, personal watercraft performance, maintenance and safety, Coast Guard licensing and sessions on fishing for rockfish and bluefish.

But the real business of the show is enticing people to buy the new boats.

The fastest growth in the boating industry, according to statistics from the National Marine Manufacturers Association, revolves around personal watercraft, sales of which have increased 33 percent each year for the past several years. In 1995, 200,000 personal watercraft were sold, according to NMMA, up from 107,000 in 1993 and 142,000 in 1994.

But the bulk of the national market continues to be the 16-foot runabout, which is trailered to and from a ramp and costs about $10,000 new, including motor and trailer.

According to NMMA, more than 76 million people participated in recreational boating in 1994, and in Maryland 179,263 boats were registered in the state in 1994.

At the Baltimore show, serious shoppers might do well to go on weekday nights, when the crowds usually are smaller and sales people are less hurried. On weekdays, the show opens at 5 p.m.

But before arriving at the show, it's a good idea for a shopper to have an idea of what type of boat is suitable in terms of use and cost. Take the time to sit down and figure it out, and after getting to the show, pick up a floor plan of displays. Chart a course for shopping and try to stick to it.

Take along a pad and pencil and rate the boats, considering price, function and apparent quality of construction and equipment -- and then take a break before starting the process over again.

Go back through the list and cull it. Once it's cut down to fewer than a half-dozen prospects, go back to each and do a thorough inspection job. Check the quality of construction.

If a deck deflects when it's stepped on, look beneath it to see why. If the taping finish along the bulkheads is rough, peer into a chain locker or cockpit locker to see the quality of finish there. If the glasswork is rough or spiked with hardened fragments of fiberglass, it could indicate hurried construction.

Check the engine compartment to be certain spark plugs, oil and fuel filters are easily accessible for normal maintenance.

Check the position and accessibility of the stuffing box and through-hull fittings for sinks, bilge pumps, cockpit drains for accessibility and installation.

Inspect the hardware used on deck. If it is stainless, that's far better than aluminum if the boat is to be used in salt water.

Look at the deck layout to make sure you can move easily on it in rough water or while docking single-handed. Are the cleats well positioned? Is there a windshield that has to be climbed over or walk-through? A side deck that is too narrow to walk along? Can the dock lines be handled from the cockpit, if necessary?

If the boat has a cabin with bunks, stretch out on one to be certain it can accommodate you.

Once you have found a boat that seems to suit your needs and budget, start shopping again among the lenders at the show. Find the best rate and the best loan terms -- including provisions for early payoff without penalty.

Then, swallow hard and sign on the dotted line.

Boat show

What: Chesapeake Bay Boat Show

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

When: Jan. 13-21

Daily hours: Show opens at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays and at 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Admission: Adults $7; children 6 to 12, $3.

Parking: Free parking at Lot E, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, with free shuttle bus to show.

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