Jet ski fishing (or personal watercraft fishing) in America may just be the new growth market. Facing tough economic times, the boating industry could use this shot in the arm.
It was a foggy, rainy day back in 2006 and I remember being particularly anxious because my customers and I could hear a weird motor sound unlike a traditional boat in my immediate area.
We could not see a vessel but my radar was picking up a fast moving object, buzzing around us. If you have ever fished the New York Bight area, you will know that shipping channels and boat traffic is like the L.A. freeways at rush hour, except countless NYC Ferries cruise at 40 knots and little fishing boats without radar units are everywhere.
After several hours of near panic attacks, I heard the noise getting louder and louder and through the mist and fog, I saw a guy on a jet ski holding a fishing rod in his mouth. I couldn't believe it. At first, I thought the guy was nuts. In fact, I still do.
Jet ski fishing in Australia and New Zealand is very popular, we could all agree on that. In Japan, Suzuki Motor Corporation has begun selling personal watercraft outfitted specifically for fisherman. The personal watercrafts overseas are outfitted with rod holders, GPS units, coolers, fish finders and more.
Here in the states however, this trend has yet to really catch on but I have found a few guys utilizing this new fishing platform. In my assessment, fishing from a personal watercraft is going to grow much like kayak fishing has. I remember when the very first sets of fishing kayaks were released into the marketplace. At first, people said it would not grow and take off but it has beyond everyone's wildest dreams.
If you are like me, you are probably reading this and saying to yourself "Oh Great, now all we need is 20 jet ski fishermen buzzing around, running and gunning schools of fish."
I think that way at times but stepping back, I see some great attributes to fishing from a jet ski.
We all know money is tight and time is limited. In the charter business, one of my growing obstacles is that my group of anglers can't seem to get that third or fourth guy due to work and family commitments.
Charter anglers are experiencing tough times and nothing is more evident than the growing popularity of open boat charters. Finding groups of 4 or 6 has become really tough in the northeast. The result and truth is that individuals are linking together at the last minute to jump on an open boat.
Those who own boats experience additional issues including the cost of seasonal boat slips, the boat itself, insurance and fuel combined with less buddies chipping in and paying the overall bill. Jet ski fishing allows an angler to fish in so many ways while paying less for the overall vessel, maintenance, gear, insurance and tow vehicle. Plus it is a one angler game; if your friends can't go, the personal watercraft still sails.
Here in the states, I have found no one more in tune with jet ski fishing than a man from Virginia named Brian Lockwood (aka Jet Ski Brian).
Jet Ski Brian also owns a Grady White, but fishing from a jet ski has become more economical, easier and has become his chosen fishing platform.
When gas prices and other costs in 2002 began creeping up, his Grady White became too expensive to maintain and operate. Lockwood began researching personal watercraft manufacturers while fishing and spear fishing off of less than satisfactory vessels. Lockwood settled on the largest personal watercraft offered by Yamaha, their SUV 1200 because "it promised the best in size, stability and capacity."
Now, Jet Ski Brian has over 700 motor hours on his Yamaha.
"I can quickly trailer this vessel to a ramp or take it on long hauls and fish out of town destinations easily," he said. "The best part is that I can launch it from my dock, too."
The advantages are tremendous.
"I get pretty good fuel mileage, can operate in shallow back bay areas and I can even run offshore and target tuna and mahi mahi," he said. "In addition, it is easy to anchor or beach, no exposed propeller to damage, it handles rough seas very well, instant throttle response is magnificent and overall maneuverability is great, especially when spearfishing."
Jet Ski Brian's Grady White gets 1.1 miles per gallon cruising at 35 mph. His Jet Ski enjoys 4 to 5 mpg at the same speed. It is also capable of speeds up to 53 mph when sea conditions are ideal.
"There is no way I would have been able to fish as much without my jet ski," he said, noting gas prices hitting $4 a gallon last year.
His Yamaha holds 18 gallons and can easily carry an extra 12 gallons on long range trips of 80-120 miles from port.
Like any other consumer product on the market, there are disadvantages as well. Disadvantages such as exposure to the elements, the physical demand on long trips in rough seas, limited storage and overall range limitations are just a few. However, with proper planning and consolidation of gear, Lockwood can fish pretty much where ever he wants.
In outfitting his Yamaha, Jet Ski Brian employed the services of Albert Martin of Martin's Custom Structures. Together, they developed a fishing platform that carries up to ten rods or a combination of rods, gaff and net. This allows any jet-ski angler to troll, drift or dive.
Jet Ski Brian has since added a GPS/fish finder, VHF, navigation lights and an additional deep cycle gel battery to support the electronics. At age 45 and married, this guy is very safety conscious. Safety gear is a pre-requisite.
"I carry an additional hand-held GPS, hand-held VHF, Spot GPS tracker, flares, signal mirror, whistle, compass, personal strobe, first aid kit and dye pack," Lockwood said. "In the winter I also wear a Mustang Survival suit."
As the cost of boat ownership continues to rise, expect to see more jet ski's on the water. Once manufacturers here in the states jump on board with this style of fishing, innovative solutions and specialized platforms may just fit your fishing needs.
Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).