Taking the Plunge…or Not?

Taking the Plunge…or Not?
The latest addition to my fleet, a well-kept 22' Gulf Coast Vari Side.

As a young fishing guide many years ago, I was fortunate to have been associated with some very knowledgeable folks who to this day are still some of the greatest influences I have, both personally and professionally. Guys like Dickie Colburn, Johnnie Cormier, and Jim Leavelle have been my sounding board and sources of information on a myriad of topics from lure colors to life lessons. One day in particular stands out and the tale I am about to relate occurred at Dickie Colburn's kitchen table.

I was a young dad at the time and my guiding career was taking off just like I had hoped it would. Dickie offered this piece of advice and warning; "Son there will come a time when you will have to cut back on your fishing as Hunter (my son) gets older. You have to remember that those fish will always be there but Hunter will only be a kid once. If I ever find out that you skipped out on any of his games or school events to pull a trip, you and me are going to have problems." I remember it vividly and all I can say is "thank you" because he was 100% right.

As Hunter grew up we got heavily involved in select baseball and traveled constantly as I coached most of the time. My time on the water began to shrink just as Dickie told me it would but I wouldn't have it any other way. Before too long I made a choice to focus on guiding shallow water trips for redfish in the marshes of Sabine and Calcasieu. I got rid of my big bay boat and stayed with my small aluminum skiff because if I was only going to pull a limited number of trips, I was going to pull the ones I enjoyed the most and that was definitely the shallow water kind. For the last ten years or so I have been exclusively running the backwater and chasing baseball with a smile on my face. Hunter is now a junior and playing catcher for Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana and I travel to as many games as I can. This change of schedule has begun to open more fishing dates for me and I have decided to take the plunge and expand my "fleet" by adding another big boat. This will allow accommodating more anglers per trip and the ability to return to a twelve-month guiding schedule.

Taking the plunge on a bay boat took some soul searching, let me tell you. Easily, the toughest decision was whether to buy a new or used boat. Here is where I leaned on my friend Jim Leavelle and his no nonsense problem solving logic. In years past I could always count on Jim for straight answers and this time was no different. After much contemplation, I decided to find a solid used boat and update it to fit my style. Once I settled on a used boat I narrowed my search to boats with hulls that were built heavy and sturdy, had plenty of room, were more comfortable than fast, and had excellent round-the-boat fishability. I chose an ultra-clean 22-foot Gulf Coast Vari-Side with 4-stroke Yamaha power, a perfect combination for the guiding program I wanted to use it in.

As with any used equipment purchase, there are some things to be aware of and some things to be considered during the purchase. The rig had really low hours on it so I was concerned with the fuel system most of all. A quick check of the water separator filter confirmed there were some fuel quality issues but nothing that could not be corrected with some maintenance and attention to detail. Instead of running the suspect fuel on the test run, a portable tank was carried aboard and the motor performed perfectly as expected. I did eventually decide to have my injectors cleaned when the tank was cleaned, so I knew I had a fresh system all the way through. With my fuel system and motor now receiving a clean bill of health it was time to begin the process of checking the electrical system. A fresh bilge pump was installed and I updated the trolling motor and batteries.

With the main concerns on the boat now taken care of, the focus shifted to cosmetics. I must admit though, I nearly choked when the costs to replace and update all the hardware and fittings began to pile up. Swapping rusted latches and updating hardware is an easy way to improve the overall look on an older boat and mine shines now like brand new.

Compared to the investment on a new boat of the same caliber, I feel like I got a ton of bang for my buck. I know that many of TSFMag readers will be in this position this spring as they contemplate buying either new or used boats. There are plenty of great deals out there on boats of both kinds so don't rush the decision. Do your homework before opening the checkbook. For some people the thought of refurbishing an older boat is not so appealing while others can't even comprehend suffering the initial depreciation that will be incurred to own a new one. To each his own is all I can say; this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all situation.

Looking ahead to 2017 I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will be branching back out into the open waters of Sabine Lake much more and increasing the days I will be booking charters. My new website wakesndrakes.com is up and running and will have updates as well as reports posted on a regular basis. The opportunities to chase everything from redfish in shallow water to trout at the jetties will certainly make for an exciting year and one I'll be looking forward to. I'll also still be spending as much time as I can watching Hunter play baseball and just being a proud dad.