When I was younger, a boat had to have the right look and the side console missed the cut because it lacked the hard core, ‘serious fishing boat’ looks of a centre console.
As I got older, side consoles were more popular throughout our estuaries, but I had softened in my old age and was into comfortable cabins and hard tops.
So it was with low expectations that I picked up a 5m Southern Star Sportsfisher side console to put it through its paces. By the time the day was over, however, I was convinced this was one of the most practical layouts available. Nothing other than an open tiller steer layout gives you more fishing room.
I was a little surprised when the Sportsfisher on test weighed in at 550kg, at the heavy end of the range for a 5m boat. This extra weight gives the hull a very quiet and solid feel on the water.
The hull is rated to a maximum engine weight of 160kg. Most 70-90hp 2-strokes will come in under the 160kg limit but you could have trouble with a 4-stroke.
The test boat was powered by a 75hp outboard and we packed 200kg on board. I wondered if this was enough power but my concerns were blown away when I put the hammer down. The outboard jumped to life and, provided you had the motor trimmed right in, the boat was on the plane in seconds.
I found the trim range to be biased toward the bottom half of the gauge. Lifting the motor more than half the trim gauge saw the boat porpoising. I’m guessing it was set up for the livewell full of water and more gear forward. I would have liked to play with motor mount positioning, which I think would give it more trim range for the load we had on board.
Putting the boat through lock-to-lock turns flat out, it felt solid as a rock. Hitting solid waves at speed the spray was thrown wide and flat, making it almost impossible to get wet under all but the worst conditions.
Its stability was also impressive, not that of a rigid inflatable or cat hull, but well above many in its class. I was also impressed with its draft – the hull floated in less than 350mm of water fully laden.
At 2.29m, the beam is comparable if not a little beamier than other 5m boats. You’re not going to get much more width out of a 5m hull, no matter who builds it.
All up, from a performance point of view, I doubt you could find a better 5m fibreglass estuary or bay hull – it was that impressive.
When you look at the pedigree of Southern Star you start to see why it is such a good design.
Originally developed by Yamaha as part of their Southwind range and now owned by Southern Star, around $5 million was invested into the development of this and many other boats that now make up the Southern Star stable.
The hull has a 19 deadrise and a unique design that incorporates a ‘double chine’ rather than a chine and planing strake. At rest and at slow speeds the boat rides on the outer chine, giving maximum width and stability. Under power at speed in a straight line, the outer chine lifts out of the water but there is a second inner chine 300mm closer to the centreline that the boat rides on.
On this Sportsfisher model, the layout is built to a price, targeted at potential tinny buyers. It’s a compromise between a family and fishing boat, but it can still be tweaked to suit serious fishing.
The bow has a tried and proven layout seen on many sport fishing and tournament boats. There is a large forward casting platform with two large hatches and a livewell holding over 100L of water.
Differing from the upmarket Stealth model, there is also a fairly large self-draining anchor well with a side opening hinged lid, bowsprit and chain bollard. This arrangement makes anchoring easy and keeps ropes out of the way.
There is no provision in the hull mould for a bow mounted electric motor but it would be easy to fit the new Minn Kota quick release bracket on the bow.
The main difference between the more expensive Stealth and the Sportsfisher starts midship. The Sportsfisher has a starboard side moulded fibreglass console that houses electronics and engine gauges. The lower half of the console is open for storage or to stretch your legs out while seated.
Dash space is limited for flush-mounted electronics but there is a horizontal dash shelf with ample room to bracket mount larger sounders or a GPS.
The Sportsfisher comes standard with no feedback steering. Seating is via base plates and pedestal seats. The test boat came with two bases but I’m sure more could be added anywhere you wanted extra seating.
Internal freeboard is 600mm, which is well above knee height.
In its standard configuration, the side console lacks rod holders, bait board and a livebait tank, but these can easily be added later.
There is an 85L underfloor tank (with an upgrade option of 115L) and a rear mounted deck filler. There are side pockets, the port side fitted with a rod holder which can hold four rods over 2m.
The hull comes with recessed grabrails port and starboard, just forward of the transom, which could also be used for rail-mounted rod holders.
There are two semi-recessed rear bollards on the rear corners of the boat. If you’re worried about these catching lines, you could retrofit the countersunk pop-up bollards that come standard in the Stealth.
There are three storage cavities in the transom, accessed from the front. On the test boat they were covered with press studs and vinyl, but there’s an upgrade option of hatch doors.
The battery was located in the starboard side opening, which left plenty of room for more batteries or storage across the transom.
The hull is self draining through large side bungs just in front of the transom. Unscrewing these side bungs, which has to be done from the outside by leaning over the side, allowed some water to come into the boat at rest, but once you lift the nose up under power they drain the hull quickly. This bung design also makes it easy to wash the deck down after a hard fishing session. If you do a lot of bar crossing, these bungs could easily be replaced with scuppers.
The floor is covered with carpet held down by press studs, so you can remove it during the wash down.
Two moulded seats are positioned either side of the transom, which can be optioned with cushions for extra seating, but serve no real function for a two-up serious fishing team. They do, however, allow extra seating for the days when you take the family out.
A design variation that replaced these transom seats with watertight hatches for livebait would be a great improvement but would no doubt push the price up.
I was concerned the transom seemed low, but there is a motor well, and even if it did take water over the transom it’s not in the boat; it’s only in that motor well and would drain back out.
I’d still like to see more transom height if I was doing a lot off offshore work, especially if I had a few big fat mates on board.
To summarise, this is the ideal package for a sports minded angler that is on a budget and can’t afford, or doesn’t need the hard core fishing fit out of the Stealth model.
It would be prefect for those who like to throw slugs at mackerel in the bay, troll for a lizard in the estuaries and still slip offshore on a good day.
It has the ability to handle some bad weather yet still, with some tweaking, work the tournament circuit.
The package price of $30,000 compares favourably to what it would cost for a tournament fitted out pressed aluminium boat, which I think it outperforms easily.
Personally, given the lower transom height, I wouldn’t consider a heavier 4-stroke as an option, especially if you plan to go offshore.
I was very impressed with the performance of the package as tested with the 75hp outboard, which seemed like a perfect combination.
For more information contact Geelong Boating Centre on (03) 5241 6966 or visit www.southernstarmarine.com.au
1) At 550kg the Sportsfisher has a very quiet and solid feel on the water, and the ride is dry in all but the roughest conditions.
2) The lower half of the console is open for storage or to stretch your legs out while seated.
3) The three storage cavities in the transom are covered with press studs and vinyl, but there’s an upgrade option of hatch doors. The battery is located in the starboard side opening.
4) The bow has a large forward casting platform with two large hatches and a big livewell.
5) The Sportsfisher’s recessed grabrails can also be used for rail-mounted rod holders. If you’re worried about the rear bollards catching lines you can retrofit countersunk pop-up bollards.Reads: 1603