Its not the sort of phone call you expect. Scooter McGee got a phone call from a friend of his who had a fishing report. The middle late summer weather and steady Southeasterly flow had pushed blue water clear up to the Mansfield Pass and the kingfish were on the prowl. Everyone was running their flats and bay boats out one or two miles off the East Cut and latching into the toothy speedsters on drifted ribbonfish and trolled Rapalas. Scooters son, then-16 year old Mason was out there, and hed shown off a big king hed landed.
"He was out there in our 16-foot tunnel hull," Scooter said, shaking his head at the memory.
Fortunately, Mason wasnt alone on the Big Briny when he made his jaunt in the Little Boat That Could, so there were other boats around if something happened. Most of that company consisted of other bay and flats center console boats. Over the years, the numbers of the "mosquito fleet" has grown as more anglers are deciding to test the limits of both their equipment and seamanship by running into the near Gulf---and sometimes further out---for greater fishing opportunities.
Old Practice, New Technologies
There is nothing new about running a relatively small (under 25 feet) bay boat out into the Gulf of Mexico when there are offshore species in close and conditions permit. Texas anglers have been doing it for years. Dargel Boats owner/builder Cleve Ford recounted once coming upon an oil and gas rig in Federal Waters and encountering three fishermen in a 12-foot jonboat, but that is an extreme example. If the days are calm enough, many an angler and his buddies will venture out a few miles to load the cooler with something other than the usual spotted suspects.
"A lot of fishermen these days are looking for a versatile boat that can run both shallow and go offshore," said Jeff Dean, also with Dargel. "Fishermen want to be able to make quick runs out jetty passes and fish these spots, and make a quick run back home.
Dean also added that other species such as kingfish and migrating schools of tarpon---a species that has made a significant comeback along the Texas Coast in recent years---make the need for a boat that can handle reasonable seas (1 to 3 foot ideally, 2 to 4 if necessary and 4-6 if the weather suddenly comes up), while still capable of running shallow in Texas bays and backwaters if offshore conditions force a change of plans. Hull designs such as Dargels HDX KAT and the Blue Wave Pure Bay are examples of modern bay boats that accommodate these needs.
"The new boats and new technology have changed things tremendously," said Penn Reels Mark Davis, longtime host of Penns Big Water Adventures. "Anglers who used to be able to go offshore 20 days a year can now go 80, 100 days a year offshore."
Though there is no such thing as a true shallow/offshore hybrid, there are qualities in certain center console designs that lend them to dual-purpose us, added Davis. Wider beams mean more water displacement, which translates into a more stable and safer fishing platform. But perhaps the biggest difference both Ford, Dean, and Davis all state, is the technology in outboards.
Sipping Instead of Guzzling
Davis uses a 24 foot Blue Wave Pure Bay powered by a Suzuki 250 four-stroke outboard. The boat is outfitted with a gas tank with 85-gallon capacity, and Davis has found it to be more than adequate for offshore use, as a recent trip for tapings in Port Mansfield proved.
"We ran out of the jetties and 18 miles offshore three days in a row," Davis said, "all on one tank of gas."
Four stroke technology and a lighter payload due the single motor nature of a smaller center console translates to better fuel economy. Ford stated that he and his crew have been able to venture and troll as far as the deep sea canyons 52 miles offshore in a 25 HDX KAT with 300 Suzuki four stroke on 120 gallons of gas, a sketchy feat in a large offshore boat with double or triple outboards. The heavier payload of more motors powering a larger boat means gas guzzling, not sipping.
That sort of fuel economy translates to decent range for bay boats outfitted with more typical 25 or 30 gallon tanks and outfitted with reliable motors. The key word, of course is reliable.
"I wouldnt even dream of making a run offshore if I didnt have absolute faith in my outboard," added Dean. Even then, both Dean and Ford advise to leave the engine on idle and running, even while anchored over structure or drifting for pelagic. The most potential for trouble with an outboard is when turning it on or off, Ford says.
Plan, Plan, and Then Plan Some More
The biggest issue for any angler thinking of making plans to make a jaunt offshore should always be safety. Besides obvious precautions such as making sure the gas tank is full, the outboard is in tip-top working order, PFDs and other safety equipment are on board, anglers should take extra precautions to ensure a safe trip.
"No matter how long you are going to be out, you should file a float plan with someone," said Ford. "Let someone know where you plan on fishing and an appointed time they should expect you back. If you end up overdue, then someone knows where to start looking for you."
Davis adds that an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) device should always be on board every boat heading offshore. There are different types, ranging from those that are manually activated to others that will set off if submerged for more than a few seconds. Once tripped off, an EPIRB will transmit a signal that will allow rescue personnel to make a fix on your location and home in. Watch for a Saltwater column on EPIRBs in a future issue of TF&G.
The key to being part of the Mosquito Fleet is to come buzzing back home after every trip, not getting swatted.