WHEN a full time fishing guide fits out his own boat from scratch you can be sure there’s a heap of practical knowledge behind the designs and decisions.
Kerry Bailey from Blackout Sportfishing in Cairns has recently started his own charter business, filling a strong demand from anglers to fish offshore when possible or inshore when forced by weather conditions, at an affordable price. Until recently, sportfishermen who wanted to fish offshore had to fork out big dollars for gameboats, which leaves the average wage earner feeling cold.
Kerry carries up to three anglers on day trips out from Cairns and surrounding areas, offering a top notch sportfishing experience on wrecks and reefs. Kerry has been a professional net and line fisherman, among numerous other jobs, before entering the guiding business in 1998. He worked for three different guiding companies in Cairns before taking the big jump into his own business. All this experience has been poured into the fitout of his Midrange Bajcraft.
The 6m centre console has 5mm plate hull and 3mm sides, a beam of 2.4m and overall length of 6.4m. It handled the very poor conditions we experienced out from the mouth of the Daintree River with ease and was quite dry for an open boat. Its ride was soft and it was very stable on the plane, when trolling and at rest. The paint job, which is Kerry's own work, is excellent and the all black sides really stand out.
One boarding Blackout the first thing I noticed was that Kerry had run the carpet halfway up the sides instead of the standard, i.e. to where the floor meets the sides. This is because punters (especially kids) have a tendency to kick the sides when sitting on the centre seat, which makes a lot of noise and disturbs the fish. The top edge of the turned up carpet is sealed with Sicaflex so it won't peal off over time. The carpet used is not the standard boat flooring but a fine weave Flotex carpet which Kerry has found excellent. Blood and muck easily washes off and it is soft and sure underfoot.
Blackout has a small centre mounted canopy, but will soon have two. Kerry built the first canopy, which allows lure casting, and has two mounting locations, one over the centre console and the second over the motor. The canopy slides onto two heavy-duty sleeves and has a pair of tie down cords at the front. Above the helm, when the cover is mounted in the central position, is the VHF radio, in perfect position for use but out of the way and the weather. Kerry is currently building a much larger canopy for trips when casting isn’t a priority and anglers would like more shade.
The livebait tank is another unusual design, having a long, tall profile across the front of the transom. The opening is about 12cm wide and 90cm long, which reduces the light on the fish when it’s opened, thus minimising stress on the bait. The lid height also makes it easier to get at the bait. The livebait tank is self-circulating when underway and has multiple water entry points. It then circulates water using a bilge pump when at rest. The numerous filler points maximize oxygenation of the water, and it sure works. We caught a stack of sardines (one of the hardest baits to keep alive) at about 7am and they were still going strong when we pulled out of the water after 3pm.
Kerry carries two monofilament cast nets, a 1” and a 3/4”, and uses whichever will not quite mesh the bait he is chasing. This minimizes damage to the livebaits and makes it far quicker to just shake them down and get them out of the net and into the tank.
Rod holders! Did someone say rod holders? I have never seen so many rod holders in a boat. In total there are 20, and all are through the gunwale welded aluminium tubes so there’s no chance of them letting go. Each holder has a square piece of rubber compound glued around the base so the reels won't scratch the paintwork. They also raise the height enough so that water doesn't flow down inside the hull through the holes. At the stern the rod holders are at every angle imaginable. I fished out of Blackout for a day, trolling, floating livebaits, fishing livebaits on the bottom and lure casting, and every time I wanted to put my rod down there was a holder in the perfect position and at the perfect angle for what I had in mind.
Two of the rod holders near the nose are used to store reef anchors, one of which is stainless steel. I thought the stainless reef pick would be hard to pull off but Kerry has had it for seven years and finds it comes off easier than a gal one, simply by getting right over the top and jiggling it.
Another unusual piece of stainless is the anchor chain. Kerry finds gal chain rusts quickly when used daily and then leaves rust marks everywhere. He got some stainless chain cheaply off a trawler operator who was upsizing his tackle and has found it fantastic. It’s also a lot less noisy than gal chain.
There are seven rod storage holders across the back of the large bait board. The bait board has sheaths at the back and on the sides to store knives and pliers, and four short tubes for the gaff, pliers, hook removers and cutters. Even with all this rod storage, Kerry is looking at ways to store more rods out of the way as he takes 10 to 20 rods on a typical charter.
Blackout has a forward casting platform with a small bench seat running longways down the middle, and another larger bench seat in front of the centre console which holds a large esky with two compartments. The compartment at the front is for food and drinks and the larger back section is for fish and bait. The console is set well back for a more comfortable ride in rough conditions. There is a step-through transom with slide-out door on the port side. This gives access to the duckboard, which has a fold-down ladder on the port side for getting in and out of the water or boarding when on the trailer.
At the nose, on top of the standard forward casting platform, is another small raised platform used to store a large lead weight. Instead of an electric motor, which Kerry is still debating about fitting, he uses two 14kg blocks of lead on heavy cord to hold the boat in position when luring. He finds this much quieter and quicker than using an anchor. We used this system in the Daintree and I was very impressed. It allows you to easily hold a position for however long you want. Using an electric requires continual adjustment to hold position in even the slightest wind or current. Noise on approach is minimized by the four-stroke Suzuki, which is super quiet.
The 115hp Suzuki four-stroke is a magnificent machine with a stack of grunt, yet it’s super quiet – especially at idle. We went over to Snapper Island at the mouth of the Daintree in pretty bad conditions, which in a two-stroke would have required continual adjustment of revs to hold the semi-planing speed. Not so with the four-stroke Suzuki. The extra torque of the four-stroke meant Kerry didn't have to touch the throttle as we went through the widely varying swell conditions.
Boy, was it economical! We went from the Daintree ferry 6km to the mouth, then across the few kilometres to Snapper, then made a run a few kilometres out to see if we could get to some wrecks but it was too rough. We trolled around for hours, nailing two nice Spaniards (well, technically one and a half – the best Spano was taken off amidships by a bigger monster). We then spent a couple of hours luring and live baiting the Daintree. All up we spent nine hours on the water, with six of that underway, usually at idle, but we only used 25 litres of fuel.
Kerry leaves little to chance, carrying a hand-held GPS along with a chart plotter. His sounder is backed up with a spare one, and I can understand that decision. I have been out on two trips in the past six months, one where the sounder packed it in just on dark, right out wide, at the reef. That stuffed the fishing but at least the chart plotter got us home safely. On another trip I was 2km from my destination when my GPS packed it in. We were heading for a wreck, so that was the end of that trip.
Kerry is fortunate in that he has the skills to do most of the work himself, which has saved him a packet, but his ideas are also excellent and I rate Blackout one of the best fit-outs I have seen.
For further information contact Kerry Baily on (07) 4057 6543 or 0427 710 022
1) Wherever you want to put a rod there’s a holder. Note the rubber compound base around the anchor holder in the foreground. The canopy offers protection but is small enough for using a rod in comfort. The tie down (top left) is removed when stationary. When underway it ties to the bowrail.
2) The step-through transom has a slide-out gate. The rod is in one of three rear quarter holders and the other two are out of sight over the stern, offering another two angles to place the rod at. Note the rubber compound base plate under the reel.
3) The alloy centre console, which Kerry built, has a GPS, a chart plotter, sounder, liquid dampened compass, two six switch panels, a screwed close glove box under the GPS to access the wiring, standard Suzuki instrumentation, a mid-level glove box and a hinged perspex cover over the storage shelf. The storage shelf is used to house the VHF radio when the removable canopy is no being used.
4) Kerry has a float, with a bull ring permanently attached to his anchor line, for removing the anchor in deep water. Note the three rod/anchor holders. The anchor well is lined with the same carpet as the floor to reduce noise and unsightly dings.
5) The bait board has seven rod storage holders across the back. It also has sheaths at the back and on the sides to store knives and pliers and four short tubes for the gaff, pliers, hook removers and cutters. The rear two holes also act as drains, while the front two double as rod holders.
6) The large upright livebait tank has a tinted perspex lid to reduce light, and multiple water feeders to maximize oxygenation.
7) The radio is mounted above the helm for easy access while being out of the way.Reads: 3080