SETTING UP FOR SPORT-FISHING BOATS
Managing editor for NZ Fishing News, Grant Dixon and daughter Miah Dixon hadn’t planned to buy a new boat, it just kind of happened that way…
We had been looking after Terry Williams-King’s FC500cc (Centre Console) while he was seconded to a new position across the ditch last winter. I had the chance to buy the boat earlier this year and was getting a valuation from Max and Ross Christensen at FC Boats when they suggested I consider ‘going new’.
“We can probably put together something for you that will be close to what you will pay for Terry’s boat,” they said. They hadn’t accounted for my addiction to boat bling.
Like Topsy, the boat grew from a billy-basic rig into an exceptionally well-appointed FC 535cc Centre Console.
The one thing Tackle Tester doesn’t lack is bling. I have reviewed many centre consoles and FC Boats in the past, so I had lots of features I wanted on board. I probably have Matt Watson to thank for the growing build cost – having reviewed several of his centre consoles, there were plenty of neat features and add-ons I gleaned from his experience in setting up boats for sport-fishing.
So what sort of boat did I really want? We are blessed at NZ Fishing Media with access to some great project boats, so the bigger trailer boat requirements were already taken care of.
What we had enjoyed about It’s Five O’clock Somewhere was its versatility, especially when it came to launching off the beach at Waipu Cove, our favourite fishing haunt, with either a tractor or Ford Ranger 4×4. Terry had caught at least five Marlin out of the boat, so it had proven blue water capabilities for its size.
Miah and I like to target snapper, with lures and baits, and she is also getting into kingfish on top-water gear, so a stable casting platform was essential, as is space for gearing up for diving. For working room, it is hard to go past the centre console configuration.
With all this in mind, Tackle Tester was soon a reality and it was not long before Max called to say they hull was underway and he needed to confirm the features as the plan was to have it ready for the Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show in mid-May.
The boat was a collaboration between the design, build and fit-out teams and Miah and I as the owners. The FC guys proved a great bunch to work with, taking a personal interest in the project.
The first thing to be organised was the trailer. Voyager produce a FC Boats custom ‘low loader’ trailer which makes launching and retrieving off the beach an easy task, so ticked that box.
Terry’s boat had been powered by a Mercury 60hp FourStroke. We upgraded to the CT (Command Thrust) model which features a heavier gearbox, which enables us to carry heavier loads. The 70-litre underfloor fuel tank, coupled with the Mercury’s economy, gives us plenty of range should we decide to fish wide. The engine is monitored via Mercury’s Vessel View 4 which is connected to the sounder screen. There are no analogue gauges on the helm console – everything is done electronically.
Heading the electronics lineup is a Simrad NSS 12 Evo3 sounder/plotter with Structure Scan HD and Chirp, through a 600kW transducer, optimised for shallow water (< 100m) use. A Simrad VHF provides one of several forms of communication and the Fusion marine stereo provides us with great sounds. The SavWinch drum anchoring system is controlled from the helm station. I have an aversion to using the ‘armstrong’ method to raise the ground tackle these days, as has my crew! We have the smallest available unit on board but by using Kevlar rope and 6mm chain, I have over 75 metres of rode at my disposal. We have added a set of rod clips to the facing edge of the baitboard. These serve as a temporary rod holder, preventing the gear from sliding when using both hands to bait up or change a lure – simple but effective. While we don’t plan to do a lot of game fishing from the boat, we have a set of 15-foot Reel Rods collapsible two-piece riggers which can be run either off the gunwale or the bimini top. These are quite stiff and produce a crisp release. The rod holders have been angled to run a four-lure spread. Provision has also been made to run a dredge pole from the starboard gunwale, tied back to the pop-up cleat a little further forward. When it comes to practical marine bling, it is hard to go past Railblaza product. On Tackle Tester for us one of the most practical items is the ScreenGrabba which is customised to hold (and charge!) cell phones. Having had one on Terry’s boat and seen its obvious advantages – especially for soft-baiting - a Mercury MotorGuide RipTide Xi5 electric motor was another ‘must have’. We also use it to hold us over a school of fish once we have located them while on the drift. Now it will be my turn to be ‘that guy’ who anchors in the middle of a popular drift, except they won’t be any conventional ground tackle involved! Live-baiting plays a big part in the way we fish today and to this end we have the unique FC Boats livebait tank set into the transom. This floods automatically and a venturi pickup gives it flow when underway, controlled by a valve.
Hi-Tech Plastics made us up a set of removable tuna tubes that sit on the opposite side of the swimstep to the dive ladder. Undo a couple of bolts and the fitting to the 1500GPH pump and you have an uncluttered transom. A removable bait board also helps to create clear fishing space across the transom.
Several StowPods are fitted around the boat to hold all those little items such as lures, drinks and rigs; action camera mounts; and a baitboard set on the foredeck. Raiblaza’s unique Starport fixing system allows product to be mixed and matched, and shifted to where it is needed. What we have on Tackle Tester is just a small sample of the extensive range, which is ideal for smaller craft and kayaks especially.
Care of the catch is important. An IceyTek 82-litre bin with a fitted squab doubles as cold storage and a helm seat. A JHC (John Hewinson Canvas) insulated ‘kingfish’ bag is carried and brought out when needed for the odd bigger fish we keep. We also use a JHC #5 sea anchor for drift fishing, run off either the starboard forward or stern pop-up cleats.
There is minimum protection from the elements. The bimini top can be unbolted and left ashore if more casting space is required. A clear screen clips around the top to give some protection to the driver at least.
There is no shortage of storage. Shelving under each gunwale and appropriate Nacsan holders provide places for gaffs, tagpoles, boat hooks, dive flags and the like.
There is an illuminated dry storage compartment in the bow secured with a hatch, with space for the berley pot underneath it.
There is further dry storage behind three hatches in the transom, with the washdown system taking up some space on the starboard side. These areas are a perfect size to accommodate conventional tackle trays.
There is more storage under the forward seat and in the centre console. The batteries are secured on a raised shelf as high up as practical. Access to the back of the electronics is via a waterproof hatch – good should any servicing be required.
Another feature is the Hella Marine LED lighting. There is a floodlight for the cockpit, red under-gunwale lights that illuminate the floor, blue lighting in the forward storage locker and a Sea Hawk 470 combination floodlight/spotlight facing forward. We do plenty of dawn and dusk trips, often launching through the surf, so being able to see what’s coming is quite important. Being LED, the lights don’t put too great of a demand on the batteries when the motor is not running.
There is no shortage of rod holders – something like 25 if you count the two for the gunwale-mounted Reel Rods riggers and the ones for the two Scotty downrigger bases port and starboard – and these are strategically placed around the boat, including 10 around the sides of the bimini frame.
The vessel features two coverings, both of which are quite unique.
The gunwales, coamings and foredeck are coated in a spray-on, two-pot polymer which provides a rubber-like surface applied over grit for grip. It is a product FC Boats uses extensively and is very hard-wearing and easily cleaned.
The floor and swim step are covered in SeaDek. We have used this product before on our project boats and have found it hard-wearing, comfortable and ‘grippy’ underfoot. SeaDek can be customised to individual craft, right down to including the vessel or the manufacturer’s name and even a fish measure. It is a closed cell foam EVA product that is applied with a 3M peel and stick adhesive.
There are customised hand-holds on the bimini struts and beside the forward seat. There is a bow rail on just the port side, designed for holding the boat steady when beach launching with a bit of swell running.
To finish the boat off we had the hull wrapped by Glenn Kipling and his Brave Design team. Glenn accessed the design, one of Marine Graphics Inc out of Australia, as well as printing and applying it. Wraps don’t add to the boat’s performance, but they are a great way to ‘pimp your ride,’ individualising it to each owner.
As you can appreciate, we have put Tackle Tester together to mix and match our fishing – trolling and jigging for trout one time, snapper straylining or lure fishing the next, with a bit of game fishing thrown in. I guess you might call it ‘plug and play’.
Like most boat owners, we are proud of our rig and can’t wait for more settled weather to coincide with the opportunity to put it through its paces – there is a lot of tackle to be tested out there.
The helm station, featuring the Simrad NSS12 EVO 3 sounder plotter and VHF, Fusion stereo, Mercury Vessel View 4, Railblaza Screen Grabba and SavWinch control.
The MotorGuide Xi5 electric motor produces 55lb of thrust through a 12-volt system, and is a handy tool especially for soft-baiting and topwater fishing.
We have made good use of available spaces. The snapper and kingfish lip gaffs are safely secured by Nacsan holders alongside the centre console. There are more holders for gaff and tagpoles and boat hooks in the cockpit shelving.
There is Hella Marine lighting throughout the boat, including a SeaHawk 470 spotlight/floodlight facing forward and under-gunwale red lighting illuminating the deck.
A shot of the bow area which has plenty of practical Railblaza product fixed via the Star Port system. There is dry storage in the locker, which is illuminated internally with Hella LED lighting strips.
Reel Rods retractable riggers can be deployed off the bimini top or the gunwales. The Scotty downriggers port and starboard are fixed to removable bases that slot into appropriately placed rodholders.
There is plenty of watertight storage across the transom. Conventional tackle boxes slot in their perfectly. SeaDek features throughout the boat.
The self-flooding livebait tank is a feature of many FC Boats models and doesn’t require a pump to aerate/circulate the water.
A rubber rod rack has been screwed on the leading edge of the baitboard. When baiting up or changing lures, lean the rod against it to prevent it sliding onto the cockpit floor.
The twin start and house batteries are located well up off the cockpit floor for safety and ease of access.
The SavWinch drum winch system is operated from the helm, making deploying and retrieving the ground tackle a flick of the finger.
The removeable Railblaza Stow Pods make a good repository for tackle that is changed out during the day. When washing the boat later on, rinse the tackle with the hose and allow to drip fry before putting back in the tackle box.
The transom with dive step on one side and the Hi-Tech Plastics tuna tubes on the other.
The 60HP Mercury CT (Command Thrust) gives us plenty of grunt ‘out of the hole’ and holds the boat nicely on the plane at lower revs.
Beach launching is easy with the Ford Ranger Extreme R and purpose-built Voyager trailer.
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