No bull about this shark
  |  First Published: March 2009

My 3.8m tinny with its 15hp two-stroke outboard has seen a lot of impoundment use over the years, with the odd stint into bay or estuary waters, but as our fishing horizons grew ever larger the craft just seemed to be getting smaller.

The little tinny was fine for shorts stints but it was just too small for two adults in extended use situations, especially with the necessary gear for a full day on the water.

The idea of replacing the rig with a more stable punt style outfit had been simmering for a fair while but it came to a rapid boil when I took the TABS P420 saltwater punt for a run on the Tweed River on a windy day with plenty of chop.

Ticking the positives

The P420, or Bullshark as TABS Boats call it, took me by surprise.

Firstly, it was a definite departure from the run of plate alloy TABS rigs I was familiar with as it was constructed from pressed alloy in lieu of plate. While the straight sides of the P420 certainly made it look as though it was a plate rig and I also found that the customary TABS ride quality had not diminished at all.

Mentally, I ticked off the desirable points as I drove, fished, or photographed the P420 on the Tweed River.

Number one point was that the craft was right sized for the wife and I. First tick. And we could still tow it with a four cylinder sedan if necessary.

The stability was brilliant. Tick again. We could fly cast anywhere at any time in this four person rig and the large forward casting platform would also be good.

The P420 also featured sufficient storage capability for our needs. Beneath the 38cm high forward casting platform there were three compartments; the anchor resting in a carpet-lined well, while two large side opening compartments allowed access to an under platform compartment that could swallow up safety gear, spare clothing bags and an ice box. There were also dedicated flat under floor areas on which to fit the electric motor's deep cycle battery plus an extra tote tank of fuel. More ticks.

The Bullshark also has a central fore/aft situated live well for the catch, another huge bonus.

The cockpit was well set out. Standard are four variable seating positions with a pair of strong pedestal seats able to be moved as required. All floor areas were carpeted throughout with two off-floor shelved and carpeted storage compartments in the stern for the battery and fuel tank. There was also a 1800mm long side pocket to port and a pair of rod holders set in the 27cm wide decks atop the gunwales. More ticks again all round.

Most impressive Ride

All of these things seemed like small change compared to the P420 Bullshark's ride and handling. Powered by a 25hp two-stroke outboard the rig was scooting along with three aboard at 40km/h, ironing out the short river chop and pressure waves in a manner that eliminated jarring and pounding while keeping us dry at the same time. Turning sharply and heading back over our wash was just so much fun, as the P420 was like a go-kart on the water.

I've seen my fair share of punt style rigs but this craft really impressed me. Especially considering the price tag – the rig as tested was around the $12,500 mark, which included the boat, motor and trailer – a very sharp price indeed.

Reflecting on these positives, I took up the invitation to visit the TABS factory after leaving the water as I was keen to have an in-depth look at the Bullshark's construction.

P420: a saltwater punt

I was informed that these punt style craft of 3.85, 4.00 and 4.20m respectively were the company's first departure from plate to pressed alloy boats. TABS were keen to go head to head with other manufacturers within this very competitive market segment.

Stepping up to the mark TABS designed what they referred to as a saltwater punt with several distinct factors.

First was a very heavy-duty standard of construction to guarantee as much hull rigidity as possible. This makes perfect sense; if the craft was to be used away from the sheltered waters in which we usually see most punt style rigs it needed to be able to take a bit of punishment.

Secondly, a high and well formed bow with plenty of rake to keep wave impact to a minimum was also a special design feature and one, I might add, that worked very well.

A generous freeboard of 60cm was designed to provide enhanced sea keeping ability and, along with the special bow treatment, as dry a ride as possible.

Stability was ensured thanks to a 1.87m beam combined with no less than 12 longitudinal bottom pressings and a small outer reversed chine and I noted that even with two people on one side the hull hardly leaned, which was a huge improvement on the 3.8m tinny back home.

The Bullshark's hull has only a small amount of vee section at the stern to ensure maximum stability at rest plus ease of powering by an electric motor.

Lastly, the craft's high transom is equipped with an engine well, another feature enhancing sea keeping ability and a feature not always seen on craft of this size.

During my tour of the factory I was impressed with the P420's construction, which involved no less than nine cross ribs slotted to fit into the twelve pressings within the 2.5mm sheet alloy bottom with its 6mm thick and 50mm high central keel.

Heavy-duty construction was also evident within the very solid framework of the live well and forward casting deck area, plus the framework associated with the aft lockers.

Surveying other Bullshark hulls in varying stages of completion revealed continuous welds throughout, not merely tacks. Which, of course, explained the lack of vibration I'd noticed with the test rig.

Lowrance got the nod

Given my penchant to be fishing at the back of the big dams at times of low or nil light, I wanted a GPS unit to facilitate the run home.

The logical move was to purchase a sounder GPS combination so we chose the Lowrance LMS-522c IGPS for the job. The old craft had been set up with an X87 black and white unit but the definition of that LMS-522c in bright daylight certainly makes the outlay worthwhile.

I find the unit is particularly user-friendly with the option of full sonar and full GPS or joint sonar and GPS operation as an alternative.

I run mine in auto sensitivity mode but usually reduce sensitivity a little if impoundment fishing, which is a two touch operation. Fishing for whiting I would not alter the sensitivity one iota but dams are a different matter as they always seem to have lots of suspended matter in the water column, which can interfere with readings.

Installation of the GPS was rather special. TABS had supplied a cake, a sort of mini console, which my marine mechanic son, Scott, mounted on the starboard gunwale at just the right distance ahead of the skipper's seat. This allowed easy access to the bank of switches he set up for various functions within the craft, such as the bilge pump, master sounder, electric motor switches, and running lights. The sounder was attached to the cake but not directly, as you will see.

Snakes alive

After the excellent run we had with the 44lb thrust bow mount Watersnake on our old faithful craft, we stuck with the brand. For the Bullshark we ordered a foot control operated 54lb thrust bow mount SWDR54/48lb motor (with dedicated quick release bracket). It was installed on the mounting pad on the P420 Bullshark's port bow. The 54 Watersnake operates from a single 12V battery, which fitted my requirements exactly.

The 54lb thrust bow mount is a real goer, pushing the hull at 6.6km/h at full throttle. There is instant, quiet response to operator input courtesy of the power wheel speed activator on the foot control unit. It also features dual tabs each side to activate the turning mechanism. A gentle touch brings instant turning, which is again very user-friendly.

I found that after very little practice I could use the set up without even a glance downwards; which is handy when fly or lure casting.

The Watersnake's three blade propeller is of a weedless design. The flexible shaft is easy to deploy and lift thanks to good balance plus there's an adjustable collar that will see just the right amount of the shaft in the water for best results. In all, the Watersnake is trouble free and user-friendly.

parting with cash

Taking stock of just what the completed rig offered I noted a beamy and smooth riding craft with every attribute Denise and I needed as a worthwhile upgrade to old faithful.

The Bullshark offered levels of comfort that were out of sight of the old rig. A vastly improved ride, storage aplenty, a 65L live well, bow mount bracket for an electric motor, a forward casting platform, plus variable seating to suit fishing or travelling circumstances. In all it was a package that would literally expand our horizons and give us room to really enjoy ourselves on the water.

The TABS impressed me with its sweet ride, great freeboard, rock like stability and above all ample workroom. After looking at the impressively strong construction of the craft at the TABS factory, the cheque book was opened and an order placed for a Bullshark P420 to come home powered by a 25hp outboard.

For information on dealers stocking these craft best give TABS boats a ring on (07) 55946333 or fax (07) 55947188.

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