By Capt. Adam Peeples
While sportfish captains in the Northern Gulf of Mexico and beyond have using fuel bladders to extend the limits of their range for some time, up until a few years ago it was not a common sight at billfish tournaments to see a center console loaded for bear, packing 200 gallons or more of extra fuel on the deck.
Legendary captain and angler Dr. JJ Tabor and his team shattered all preconceived notions of what a center console can accomplish by winning the 2015 Blue Marlin Grand Championship out of Orange Beach, Alabama. Carrying an extra 150-gallons of fuel in a bladder on the deck, Tabor and his team caught the winning blue marlin while making an 800-mile round trip aboard his 42 Freeman.
Tabor and company hooked the fish on the final morning of the tournament, ultimately putting the winning blue marlin on the deck around 11 a.m. At that point, they were around 300-miles from Orange Beach and had to make the weigh-in no later than 6:30 pm for the fish to count. With the speed that only a high-performance center console can provide, Dr. Tabor and his team were able to make the weigh-in and win the tournament, even with a stop for extra fuel on the way home.
This signature win demonstrated to the tournament scene and everyone watching that center console crews were no longer in these major marlin tournaments just for the wahoo and tuna calcuttas. With the ability to hold extra fuel and the speed of an outboard-powered center console, crews such as Tabor’s may now even hold a slight advantage over the larger, slower sportfish boats given the right conditions.
While rigging a fuel bladder on the deck of a center console may sound simple enough, there are many unique safety precautions that should be adhered to in order to transport and use gasoline safely aboard an open fishing boat. The obvious difference between transporting diesel in a bladder versus gasoline is the extremely volatile nature of gasoline. With a much lower flash point than diesel, gasoline vapors always have a very high chance of ignition with even the smallest of sparks.
A fuel bladder filled with gasoline sitting in the sun on the deck of a center console is a potential fireball waiting to happen. Aside from the obvious rule of no smoking on the boat, care should be taken that there is no exposed wiring or any other potential spark producer on or near the boat while carrying gasoline on the deck. In addition to the fire hazard of gasoline, a 250-gallon bladder weighs in around 1500-pounds.
Securing the Bladders on Deck
This extra weight must be secured properly to ensure it does not slide around on the deck. Care must also be taken to ensure that your vessel is not overloaded with the extra weight of fuel in addition to all the gear and crew on board. A center console at or above load capacity could experience a catastrophic event in moderate or heavy seas if the bladder were to shift hard to one side.
Tabor recommends using a series of 2” nylon ratchet straps to form a cradle for the bladder, thus ensuring it does not shift while underway in rough seas. Dr. Tabor credits the stability and load carrying ability of his Freeman 42LR to safely transport his crew, gear, and 250-gallons of extra fuel to the fishing grounds.
Fuel Transfer Considerations
Transferring fuel from the bladder to the main tank is another step that must be taken with safety in mind. Most crews use a transfer pump to lift the gas from the bladder into the main fuel tanks. Care must be taken to ensure that the transfer pump is designed for gasoline and not for diesel. The internal design of gasoline transfer pumps is different than that of diesel pumps and using an incorrect and/or cheap transfer pump could lead to an accident.
After burning off enough fuel in the tanks to make room for the fuel in the bladder, the transfer pump can then empty the bladder into the main tanks. The empty bladder can then be safely stowed out of the way. In addition, it is recommended to only transport a fuel bladder on the deck when it is full. Although some crews may be tempted to run a direct line from the bladder to their outboard fuel lines and let the motors drain the bladder while underway, a half-empty bladder is much more prone to shifting and sliding on the deck. Unlike the main fuel tanks in center consoles, there are no baffles to prevent the fuel from sloshing around inside the bladder.
The success of Dr. Tabor and other center console crews on the blue marlin tournament circuit has made it clear that high-performance center consoles are fully capable of competing with the sportfishing yacht crews who have traditionally dominated these competitions. Modern center console boats have the capability of making over 1000-mile journeys with the extended range fuel bladders provide. “Going long” is no longer a shortcoming of the center console crew.
This extended range, coupled with the ability to cruise at high speeds for long distances will often give the center console crew more time with baits in the water. They can get to the marlin grounds first and be the last to leave (not to mention the fact that speed and range gives the opportunity to tournament fish in areas that are out of reach to others). These advantages alone will likely lead to more center console tournament wins in the future.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.
By Capt. Adam Peeples
When I head offshore for a day of fishing my wife, Cadence, almost always says, “I hope you catch a big one today!” Catching a big fish is probably every captain and angler’s goal on any given fishing trip. We obsess over gear, baits, weather, moon phase, lucky shirts and hats – the list goes on. One thing that often gets overlooked, however, is the actual battle of man versus fish.
When it comes to your average charter customers or other inexperienced anglers that I take offshore, one common theme emerges: most have never realized how much work is involved in catching a large game fish. Fighting a fish in a stand-up harness from a center console has its own unique challenges – complete with advantages and disadvantages. Obviously, it would be preferred that everyone who straps into a stand-up harness has prior experience, but we all must start somewhere.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of putting many rookies into the harness for their first battle with a swordfish, marlin or tuna. I always start the same way: by explaining the entire process, from hookup to endgame, to the angler. Ideally, this conversation takes place prior to fishing, as I believe this allows their brain to process the information and better prepare them for the ensuing battle. One point of emphasis is the physicality of fighting big game fish in a stand-up harness.
As my operation is based in Fort Walton/Destin, Florida many of my clients are on vacation. I make a point to stress the importance of staying well hydrated the day before the trip. I also ask them to please refrain from hitting the local watering holes too hard the night before. Preparing for what could be an hour plus battle in a standup harness is like getting ready for a 5k run. Showing up dehydrated and hungover is a sure-fire cause for the angler to end up “tapping out”, failing to finish the fight.
After we have thoroughly discussed the details of the fight, I like to get the angler fitted into the harness on the boat. Prior to fishing, I will strap the angler into a rod and put some pressure on the rig so they can feel what it will be like to have 20 or more pounds of drag pulling on them during the fight. This process will also help to identify any uncomfortable points on the harness that may need to be adjusted.
This is also a great time to teach the technique involved with a stand-up harness. Five minutes of practice in the harness pays dividends for the angler when they have an angry fish on the other end of the line. Proper technique in the harness will keep the angler in better shape for longer fight times and could be the difference between the angler catching the fish or calling it quits beforehand.
Safety is critical when someone is strapped into a harness with a fish. Keeping a hook knife attached to the harness is a must. Also, someone on the boat is always tasked with spotter duty. The spotter will shadow the angler, provide water if needed, and in the event the angler loses their balance, they are there to make sure the person strapped in doesn’t fall overboard.
Ensuring the angler understands how to easily unclip from the harness is another critical safety precaution. There are many stand-up harness options available. My personal preference is a harness without closed d-ring style lug clips – which could become a safety issue with getting someone out of the harness. The angler should be able to unclip from the harness lugs quickly and easily.
Once we achieve a hookup, the strategy of fighting the fish from a center console will vary depending on the species. In most situations, I like to position my angler near the stern on either the port or starboard side.
My goal as the captain is to keep the line near a 45-degree angle away from the motors. From this position, I can easily motor forward in a slight turn to help the angler gain line or make a slight turn away from the fish to help the angler stay tight if needed. I typically fight fish on the port side of my boat, as it is the side nearest the helm and allows me a good line of sight on both the angler and fish.
Fighting a marlin from a center console requires a lot of boat driving, and I will move the angler around often during the fight. A swordfish or tuna requires a little less boat driving, and I can generally keep the angler in the same position throughout the fight.
Fighting fish from a stand-up harness on a center console is an effective way to land virtually all big game species. When used with proper technique, a stand-up harness allows the angler the ability to stay in the fight for the long haul. As with all big game fishing tactics, practice and preparation are key to success.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.