By Adam Quandt
Builders aim to please the entire family with a new generation of fishing boats.
Fishing around the country marked its highest number of participants since 2007 in 2018, leading to a reason for increased optimism across many manufacturers within the segment. The trend is only gaining popularity as fishing participation featured its 11th straight year of upward movement in 2018.
“Fishing is what I consider a long-cycle trend,” said Kevin Riem vice president and general manager of Crownline Boats, which recently launched a new fishing boat brand, Finseeker. “It’s a long-lasting trend that’s consistently been expanding and we expect it to continue expanding in the future.”
According to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s (RBFF) 2019 Special Report on Fishing, 49.4 million people headed out to the country’s waterways in pursuit of fish across the country throughout 2018.
The report said that fishing participation added 300,000 participants in 2018. “In 2018, participants spent a collective 883 million days fishing, averaging 17.9 annual fishing days per person,” the RBFF report stated.
Saltwater fishing specifically, came in as the second most popular segment of fishing, — behind freshwater — engaging 4.3% of the U.S. population, or 12.8 million people. However, saltwater fishing’s participation rate dropped 1.8% from 2017 to 2018, though the RBFF said, “the big picture still indicates growth.”
The South Atlantic region led in participation for the saltwater segment, with 35% of participants living within the region.
Despite participation still being male-heavy, female fishing participation growth is continuing an upward trend, with females making up 31.9% of all saltwater fishing participation.
RBFF’s annual report also indicated that 1.2 million people participated in saltwater fishing for the first time in 2018.
Within age demographics, participants ages 45-54 years old led the saltwater segment, making up 16.7% of participants. The participation rate for overall fishing in those 13 to 17 years of age has continued a five-year trend of growth at an average rate of 4% over the last three years. All in all, the margin between age groups is slim, making for a wide range of ages participating in saltwater fishing, indicating that trends of fishing becoming a family event are continuing.
Despite a sense of optimism in fishing participation, some boatbuilders have seen a slow in retail demand within the saltwater fishing boat market, especially in boats less than 25 feet in length.
MasterCraft president and CEO Terry McNew recently said that the company’s NauticStar brand — with a core market in saltwater fishing boats — faced a slowing in demand for smaller center console boats.
“In response NauticStar has pulled back production on smaller boats to ensure wholesale shipments align with retail demand,” McNew said during the company’s fourth quarter financial announcement.
McNew also said that NauticStar is in the process of developing new, larger models to meet growing demand for larger fishing boats.
“While the saltwater fishing market has experienced a slowdown this past year, further exacerbated by poor weather this selling season, we are bullish about the NauticStar brand and its long-term prospects,” McNew added.
Boatbuilders with models geared toward the saltwater fishing segment have quickly adapted over the last few years to turn smaller, center console fishing workhorses into large luxurious family boats. However, despite the change to an all-around boat with amenities for the whole family, fishing boats of today still pack all of the necessities to tackle some serious angling.
“Everything that we are doing with our new brand is being done with a family boat in mind,” Riem said of Finseeker’s new line. “We aren’t just taking a long-time fishing brand and slapping a few family-interested accessories on.”
Finseeker launched with two center console models — the 220CC and 230CC — ready to appeal to both the serious fisherman and the rest of the family, with features such as lounge seating around the bow, a fully enclosed pilothouse, bench seating in the cockpit and more.
“People are always pushing the envelope on unique designs and that’s what we want with Finseeker,” Riem said. “We’re pushing for a luxury crossover boat, that’s a family boat first, with a high level of fishability.”
Similar to NauticStar, Riem said that Finseeker will be launching larger models as the brand’s lines grow.
“When the line is complete, it will feature 11 different models across a wide size range,” Riem said. “We want to learn as we continue to really hone in on the perfect family fishing boat as we make it to our larger, flagship models.”
Though on the smaller side for center console boats, NauticStar’s 251 Hybrid offers consumers a strong mix of fishability along with a multitude of accessories to turn the vessel into the ultimate family boat.
Since its return to the industry, Blackfin Boats has put a large emphasis on center console fishing boats designed to appeal to both the serious angler and the entire family.
Flip out transom seating, to reversible lounge seats allowing vision no matter where the action (or sun) is, covered rod storage, a tackle rigging station, a full-beam swim platform and boarding ladder, a pantographic door in the console allowing for more room when opening, all fall into the wide variety of features found in today’s Blackfin models to appeal to both anglers and the entire family.
Aside from comfort and fishability features, boatbuilders also aim to appeal as a family boat by continuously upgrading safety features.
In the new Finseeker models, the builder machined in custom rails in the the break of the boat to enhance safety onboard. “Parents want to have their kids safe if they’re taking them out on the family fishing boat,” Riem said.
Both Blackfin, Finseeker and many other builders are changing the complete design when it comes to the bow of the boat to enhance not just the ride comfort, but safety as the boat faces rough seas.
“Our Carolina flare adds fuel storage, which leads to better fishability,” Riem said. “But it also adds a safety function in the boats ability to remain safe and dry when in the harshest conditions.”
Builders continue to change gears on the traditional saltwater fishing boat to be inclusive of the family. This means that trends of bigger boats, more features for both the serious angler and the entire family to enjoy in one vessel and enhanced safety designs and features will only continue forward for the saltwater market.
“At the end of the day, there’s always something hot in fishing,” Riem said. “Whether it’s heading out fishing by yourself, a group of friends or the whole family, we need to provide boats that can do it all.”