Different Strokes

I have to admit my outboard motor is getting old. Ten years to some may not be old at all but in the fishing guide profession it’s basically 10 lifetimes. Most guides get a new motor annually.

My old 175 Mercury Optimax has been reliable and, knock on wood, has never left me stranded. Even when it’s been ailing, my motor always makes it back to the dock. Of course I am meticulous about maintaining it. I like an outboard I am so familiar with I can tell either by sound or slight performance changes when to have it looked at. I even have it fixed when nothing’s wrong with it.

Case in point: after much deliberation I finally paid a small fortune for progressive sun glasses (much to the prompting of my wife). On my first trip out with these solid gold optical wonders I was deliriously happy with just how well I could see, close up as well as at a distance. While I probably shouldn’t say this, I was seeing things that I hadn’t seen clearly for years. Needless to say, I was a happy guide. 

After about a half day of fishing, my clients were satisfied and decided they had enough fish, so we headed back to the boat ramp. As we did, I noticed my smart gauge (a small LED screen that gives you anything and everything on how your motor is performing) had an indicator I’d never seen before. My mind flashed red—it was on the water pressure portion of my motor, so I started praying I would make it back to the dock before “The Mercury Guardian Feature” shut my motor down to an idle (This protects your motor from major damage in the event of a malfunction like lack of oil or water pressure drop etc. etc.).

Luckily we made it back. I cleaned my client’s fish, sent them on their way, and called my mechanic.

“Bring it over” he said, “and I’ll take a look.”

“I need it back today” I said. “I have trips the next two days.”

He just laughed. “Better get here quick and drop it off and I’ll call you.”

I told him I was on my way.

I dropped the boat off and waited on pins and needles until he finally called me. 

You say there’s a warning indicator?” he said.

“Yes, and it’s on the water pressure screen of the LED.”

“I’ve checked the motor out from prop to top and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it” he said.

“Well, I ain’t makin’ this up” I replied, a little heated.

“Why don’t you come over here and show me what you talking about?”

Upon arriving, I jumped up in the boat. He turned the water on for the motor muffs and, immediately, there it was—a little round circle with a squiggly line through it.

“Who’s your boat mechanic now?” I hammered at him.

“Wow” he said, “that indicator is going to cost you a $100 and I can’t even fix it!” he said.


“That indicator has been there since Moby Dick was a minnow” he said. “It’s supposed to be there. It tells you water is moving through your cooling system. You’ve been stuck so many times by hooks it has affected your brain!” he said. “Oh, and nice glasses, I guess you’re making good money to be able to afford those?”

Oh man I thought. I took the new sunglasses off, put the old ones on and it was like a magic disappearing act. Now you see it, now you don’t.

“Now you don’t know you do?” the mechanic said to me, chuckling. The point here is my motor is in good shape but probably, for appearance sake, I should consider a new one. 

I am a research NUT. I enjoy researching fishing equipment especially.  So, moving forward, I began asking every angler I saw about his or her boat motor. I got an earful from those who love their outboards. Strangely enough though, there was a defining division between these folks. They all were parked in one of two camps: those who were two stroke engine fans and those who love four stroke engines. God forbid the two groups will ever agree as to which is truly better (if there is such a thing). For those who are not sure of the differences between the two types of motors, let me shine a little light on the subject, for I am honestly considering both to re-power my Haynie. 

The old and formidable two stroke engine has been around for many years and has been a mainstay for many guides and recreational anglers. “Stroke” refers to the full travel of the piston in the cylinder in either direction (up or down). A two stroke engine completes its power stroke with two strokes—1 up, 1 down, and one revolution of the crank shaft which in turn powers the lower unit gear case.

A four stoke requires four strokes—1 up, 1 down, 1 up, 1 down—to complete its power stroke. This in simple terms is the mechanical difference between the two.

However, most see the requirement to add two stroke oil to the gas of the two stroke engine as the REAL difference. It requires this oil to lubricate where the four stroke has oil in its crank case, much like a normal automobile engine. 

A four stroke has more moving parts, although that today is debatable as the new two strokes have compressors added to the outside of the engine to highly compress the fuel to improve performance and mileage and meet EPA requirements. Hence the ‘fewer moving parts’ debate is slowly slipping away.

My big issue with four strokes is the weight difference as compared to a same-HP two stroke. Another is that throttle response and hole shot are better with the two stroke, mostly because of the power stroke difference between the two, although four stroke manufacturers are addressing this as well, and it is getting better.

Noise is in the ears of the beholder. You can read the tests where each engine has been compared and, overall, the four stroke has a slight edge, but the truth is—to me—the engines just sound different. The two stroke has a higher pitch sound where the four stroke a lower pitch sound and individuals hear this noise differently. Living on the water next to a boat ramp, I get to hear many engines every day. The beauty of a four stroke is, when it is idling, it so quiet I have reached to start the motor only to find out it’s already running. But when powered up, especially observing from a distance, it seems to me louder than a comparable two stroke.

Comparing the two types on paper is like trying hit a moving target. Each manufacturer claims their specs are the best and, as with most data, it changes almost annually.

The two stroke oil one must buy is expensive, but a four stroke requires an oil change on average of about every 100 hours (it can be different for each manufacturer) plus you need an oil filter as well, so almost a wash between the two.

The emissions challenge seems to go to the four stroke camp but not by much. As a matter of fact, some two strokes are actually a bit better than their four stroke counterpart. 

Five years ago in the circles I travel, the four stroke seemed to have the edge in reliability. But recent improvements in two stroke technology has negated most of that. It’s been mostly nickel and dime kinds of things like sensors and warning indicators, etc. Yet today both are solid and reliable. Overall maintenance is more expensive on the four stroke as it has more moving parts internally to the engine, but as improvements are being made I can see this in the not too distant future coming in line with the best two strokes.

Longevity is anyone’s guess and it depends on how an outboard is run and maintained. If you’re the type who goes full throttle every time you touch the throttle then your engine will likely suffer regardless of its manufacturing type. In my experience four strokes survive long storage better than two strokes and this is mostly due to the inherent differences in their fuel requirements, including the ethanol that is now in almost all our fuel.  

Where is the future? It’s hard for me to believe the two stroke technology can compete in the distant future with four stroke technology but some manufacturers are betting IT will and THEY will.

In talking with representatives from Bombardier, they are very convincing in the belief their two stroke will not miss a beat today or in the distant future. Yet I see other manufacturers putting more and more emphasis on their four stroke research.

As to which manufacturer, I don’t think there is enough difference between the major players like Yamaha, Mercury, Bombardier (Evinrude), and Suzuki to make a claim one way or the other. 

More important than the motor type or manufacturer is getting a good mechanic or dealer who will shoot you straight and who knows their stuff about your motor. Most don’t consider this but it is to me THE most important thing to consider when purchasing an outboard.

Lastly, if you don’t remember anything about this article, remember this: whatever you choose before you plunk down the thousands it takes to purchase one of these technological wonders, please find a boat as close to the one you have, or will buy, with the same kind of motor you are considering and beg for a test drive. 

Testing an outboard on a totally different hull will tell you very little about the motor and I will also tell you motors of the same horsepower but different manufacturer matter greatly as well. For example, a 150 Suzuki will likely perform very differently than a 150 Mercury.

That goes two fold for the differences between a 150 four stroke and a 150 two stroke, so take the time and energy to test these water-wonders out. It is worth the effort. 

Which will get my vote for my re-power? Much like the upcoming election I’ve see no clear choice as yet, so if you’ve had some experience lately in this area, please send me a note as the input would be much appreciated. After looking at the prices of the new motors I must say 10 years doesn’t seem that old and my old Mercury is looking better each day.


May is the best time to break out the hard body lures like super spooks, Tsunami Pro Super minnow or Rapala Saltwater X-rapps. Insects by now are in full swing and hard bodied lures or top water poppers simulate bait fish that often seek the many insects which frequently visit water surfaces close to salt water grasses.

Copano Bay — Shell Bank Reef is good for trout using croaker or mud minnows free lined. On high tide the shallow edge close to Turtle Pen is a good place for reds using finger mullet or top water lures in bone and red/white colors. Redfish Point is a good place for black drum using peeled shrimp under a silent cork or on a light fish finder rig.

Aransas Bay — Grass Island Reef is holding trout with croaker or live shrimp the preferred bait. Scotch Tom Reef is good for reds and black drum using finger mullet for reds and live shrimp for black drum on a light Carolina rig. The north side of Mud Island is a good spot for reds using mud minnows or finger mullet free lined. Wades here are productive on bait or lures in the sand holes.

St Charles Bay — Some black drum may be found at the back of Cavasso Creek and some keeper flounder. Use live shrimp on a light Carolina rig. Drifts across Cow Chip are good for reds using Berkley Gulp jerk shads in root beer gold and camo colors. East Pocket is good for reds on high tide using cut mullets on a light Carolina rig.

Carlos Bay — Both sides of Cedar Reef are a good bet for reds and black drum using live shrimp on a fish finder rig. Wades close to Cedar Point are good for reds and trout using super spooks and top water poppers in bone and pink/chrome colors.

Mesquite Bay – The shoreline of Bludworth Island is good for black drum using fresh peeled shrimp on a light Carolina rig. Roddy Island close to the ICW is a good place for reds and trout using mud minnows free lined. Beldon Dugout is a good place for reds using finger mullet on a light Carolina rig.

Ayers Bay — The pocket close to Ayers Island is a good place for sheepshead using cut squid and small kahle hooks under a rattle cork. If the wind allows, Ayers Reef is a good place for reds and some trout using finger mullet on a very light Carolina rig. Lot of shell here so try not to reel, leaving the bait alone until a fish hits it.


Location: Fulton Beach Road: Wades around the many piers in this area can be very productive for trout. I like casting camo and new penny soft plastics or pink and white and silver/blue hard bodied lures here. Topwaters on calm days can be good here as well.

Contact Capt. Mac Gable at
Mac Attack Guide Service,
512-809-2681, 361-790-9601



Email Capt. Mac Gable at captmac@macattackguideservice.com 

Return to CONTENTS Page

Roy Neves: