Words & Images: Kosta Linardos
Regular readers of Hooked Up will have seen the many reviews we’ve done on Sportsman’s Masters series of boats. Hooked Up runs a Masters 207 as our company boat and we have reviewed the larger 227 and 247. They are exceptional bay boats that offer outstanding fishing versatility and a perfectly executed fishing platform. They’ve dramatically grown in popularity since the first models landed here about four years ago, thanks to some clever marketing (Hooked Up) and the fact these boats answered the call for many anglers desperate to find a balance between a boat that can handle some rough conditions in the bay and light offshore work with a vessel capable of navigating rivers and estuaries.
Where in the past Aussie anglers may have opted for a runabout and a tinny, the import of American bay boats has provided an all-in-one solution. What makes a good bay boat? It needs a moderate 15 degree deadrise to enable a shallow draft (13” for the Tournament) and a great hull design to handle rougher conditions, and from a hull perspective that’s what both the Masters and Tournament series offer. Whether it’s barra anglers in Darwin wanting to head offshore, Vic bream and cod anglers using the one boat for snapper, tuna, bream and EPs or NSW anglers switching between mulloway, kings and marlin, these boats do offer something no other boats can, and that’s versatility.
It’s not just the hull, although important, but the deck and the fishing platform itself. Like the Masters, the Tournament series first and foremost offers a layout designed purely for fishing, with some accommodation for seating and leisure. Rod lockers, multiple large storage hatches for tackle, dead fish and safety gear are perfectly executed to provide a luxurious fishing layout. Three huge live wells that can all double as coolers and a highly functional console and helm mean you’re not left wanting for anything in these boats. But what really sets both the Masters and Tournament series apart and makes them a bay boat as opposed to just another centre console is freeboard, or lack thereof it. Freeboard gets in the way of casting and sports fishermen cast – they cast all day long – so the main difference between a Masters and Tournament is freeboard, and the Tournament has less. You can think of the Masters series as a boat designed for the lure angler who occasionally wants to troll and baitfish, and the Tournament for the fly angler who also wants to cast lures and occasionally troll. While you could also baitfish, jig and do all kinds of fishing from a Tournament, especially one that’s 23.4 ft in length, you’d opt for this model purely for that extra-low freeboard and casting space.
Now that you understand why the Tournament series exists in the Sportsman line-up, let’s go into some specifics about the 234. The model I tested was fitted with a T-Top and while that may seem counterproductive for this style of boat, the front casting platform is large enough that you can still fly or lure cast without the T-Top impeding you in most scenarios. It’s a good design that offers shade for the console and helm seat, which is a great feature in any climate. The deck layout is clean with nothing to catch your fly line on and is a joy to cast from.
A big reason as to why it’s such a great casting platform is the Tournament’s stability at rest – it really is one of the most stable boats you will ever fish from. This is thanks to a great hull design that manages to find that compromise between stable and soft. The stability is also aided by the fact this is a big boat with a healthy dry weight of 1.2 tonne and an 8.5ft beam. Once you add an engine, fill the 265-litre fuel tank and fill the twin 75 litre wells, you’ve got a heavy boat that can punch through chop and slop, and keep you stable at rest and while underway.
The 234 we tested was powered by a Yamaha SHO 250, which got it on the plane with ease and comfortably pushed through the rev range to 85km/h at wide-open throttle. 250hp is a great match for the 234 and I wouldn’t go for anything less. For the style of fishing the boat is designed for, speed is advantageous and it’s a fun boat to drive.
A boat like this redefines what anglers once thought they could do in an estuary, lake or river system. Yes, at 23.4 ft it’s a long boat, but it can float in a puddle and this allows you to fish in comfort, with multiple anglers in a small system. It also provides a great platform you can load to the gunnels with gear for a trip away on remote islands or traversing waters into smaller systems.