Busman’s Holiday

A change of pace

December 2017 Feature Dan Armitage

I enjoyed a rare afternoon of bass fishing from a pontoon boat recently. Rare for several reasons: I rarely target bass, I never fish with fly tackle from a pontoon, and the trip took place in December. Oh, and someone else was doing the driving.

Allow me to explain.

For one, I live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. That means there are few fishing opportunities to enjoy from the deck of the family pontoon boat between, say, October and April. So it was rare to find myself angling off the deck of a late-model Sun Tracker on New Year’s Eve.

Even more surprising was that I had a six-weight fly rod in hand, flinging a frog-patterned cork popping bug from its bow. What’s more, I was doing so while someone else deftly maneuvered the 22-footer, putting me in position to cast to the edge of thick beds of lily pads – and keeping my backcasts over open water where they presented no threats to my fellow passengers. It wouldn’t have been the first time my wife and son had ducked Dad’s fly casting efforts, and they kept a wary eye on the barbed bug and the line it trailed as they cast their conventional outfits from the opposite end of the pontoon’s playpen.

Where we live, fly fishing is a spring and summer technique normally employed while wading streams for trout or walking the perimeters of ponds by foot, attempting to fool bass and sunfish feeding in the near-shore shallows using colorful combinations of cork, plastic, feathers and fur to mimic minnows, frogs and bugs.

Where I found myself flinging a fly around was Walt Disney World, aboard a charter pontoon floating atop Seven Seas Lagoon with Cinderella’s Castle as a backdrop. In fact, it was New Year’s Eve and to my recollection, I’ve never caught a fish on the final day of the year.

But here I was, targeting big, Florida-strain largemouth bass in a dense weed bed right below the Magic Kingdom monorail track between Disney’s Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village resorts. And someone else was running the boat, allowing me to fish. Anyone who has kids and a boat knows how rare that occasion can be.

But it was my vacation too, and when it dawned on me that the captain who came along with the boat would be responsible for running and positioning the craft, I packed a fly fishing outfit along with conventional rod and reel rigs. New Year’s Eve day found us schlepping our tackle through the “futuristic” lobby of the Contemporary Resort to the adjacent marina where Walt Disney World’s boat rental and charter fleet is docked.

The resort offers catch-and-release fishing for largemouth bass, from bass boats as well as pontoon models, and provides everything you need from bait and tackle to refreshments. Ten minutes after stepping aboard the pontoon boat we were watching bobbers dance to the tug and pull of golden shiners struggling below, the minnows made nervous by circling bass that routinely swam over and inhaled our live baits.

The fishing was fast, and when I asked our guide if it was okay to use fly tackle and artificials, he answered in the affirmative and motored the pontoon within casting distance of a submerged weed bed. What was interesting is that the charter pontoon boats don’t have electric trolling motors, so all the maneuvering has to be done via the outboard motor—no easy task if there’s a breeze or a fly fisherman working. They also keep the four-stroke outboards running during the entire trip, even when the boat is anchored or pegged in place with the Power Pole with which each pontoon is equipped.

For the balance of our four-hour charter, while my angling mates continued to catch bass on live shiners cast off each aft corner, I commanded the bow. Using the fence-rail as a leaning post and taking advantage of our captain’s skills to keep the boat’s transom into the breeze, I was able to false cast while keeping the line over the water. I had to employ a sidearm cast from time to time when the angle of the boat required, but for the most part I was surprised at how easy it was to fly fish off the boat, at least with someone else controlling the boat’s angle and pace.

I caught bass—not nearly as many as the minnow-soakers aboard—but every surface hit on my popping bug was a treat, hookups a highlight and when a fly-caught bass came to the meshed hoop for landing and release it netted a high five from our captain. I think he appreciated the break from overseeing the usual live bait tactics, being able to express his skills at boat handling, and the change of pace offered by someone trying to catch fish on the fly from the deck of his pontoon boat.

I know I did.

Dan’s Pick: Ranger Reata 200F 

One of my favorite boat brands now offers a series of pontoon models, and Ranger’s new-for-‘17 Reata model 200F would be a good choice as a platform for fly fishing. Because its fencing extends all the way to the bow, you can face either port or starboard, depending on if you are right- or left-handed, and cast while keeping the line out over the water, and lean on the rail as needed for support.

The new 20-footer from Ranger has a bow-mounted electric motor option for sneaking up to weed beds or silently working shorelines for shallow-holding fish, and the Reata fishing models, available in lengths from 20 to 25 feet, offer popular fishing amenities such as a Lowrance Hook 5 fish finder with GPS, an aerated livewell with timer, swivel fishing seats and a locking rod storage compartment. I look forward to testing the new Reata pontoon models this season, although I’ll probably use conventional fishing tackle if I do get the opportunity to wet a line during the review period.

Specifications

Length: 21' 11"

Beam: 8’ 6”

Deck length: 19' 10"

Deck width: 8’ 6”

Max HP: 90

Fuel capacity: 32 gal.

Pontoon log diameter: 24"

Max. persons capacity/weight: 10/1,375 lbs.

Max. persons/motor/gear weight: 1,950 lbs.

Approx. hull weight: 1,780 lbs.

Approx. package weight: 3,442 lbs.

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