Our Stomping Grounds video series continues to unpack the nuances in boating cultures across America to find out how boaters use their boats and why they love them, while also exploring the history, science and nature behind their beloved local waterways. Tune in and watch as boating legends regale viewers with treasured boating tales that would otherwise be lost at sea.
In this episode, we visit Stuart, Florida, dubbed the “Sailfish Capital of the World”. Stuart is also the epicenter of Florida’s Treasure Coast, located on the southeastern coastline of Florida facing the Atlantic Ocean. The prospect of catching a shimmering silver and blue sailfish lures anglers here from all over the world who come for a chance to fight and catch this prized fish.
Above: Watch the full episode of Stomping Grounds 6 on YouTube above, as Boat Trader and host Ryan McVinney delve in to the culture around Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Stuart: The Sailfish Capital Of The World
Above: Ryan McVinney with Scott Fawcett aboard his Contender 31 center console boat. Photo by DeepSee Visuals for Boat Trader.
In part one, we meet with Captain Scott Fawcett of Off The Chain charter company, a well seasoned sportfish charter Captain who runs a 31-foot Contender center console boat. He shares his secrets and fishing tips on catching a sailfish using kite fishing rigs and techniques. With over 30 years of experience under his belt, it’s safe to say that we’re in capable hands. When it comes to sailfish, Scott seems to have the Midas touch.
Above: Ryan McVinney looking for sailfish on the horizon while fishing onboard Off The Chain Fishing’s Contender 31 center console boat. Photo by DeepSee Visuals for Boat Trader.
Captain Fawcett shows us in detail exactly how to kite fish by feeding live bait into the water using a typical kite fishing rig and certain specific sailfishing techniques and baits. Effectively, the kite acts as an extended version of an outrigger that keeps the bait further away from the boat and at the water’s surface. “It’s really just a great way to present these live baits naturally,” says Scott.
Above: Captain Scott Fawcett of Off The Chain Fishing rigging some bait while kite fishing off the coast of Stuart Florida. Photo by DeepSee Visuals for Boat Trader.
A lightweight fishing kite is attached to a line from a kite reel, which is often electric and has up to three release clips tied to it several feet away from one another. As the kite is deployed, lines from the main fishing rods are placed into these clips. The kite helps to suspend the frisky live baits at the end of these rods right at the top of the water column.
“An irresistible snack for a hungry sport fish,” Corks and weights are used to help identify and control the presentation. The line will break free from the release clip in one stroke, and the fight commences. The bait-by-kite technique proves to be extraordinarily effective, and Ryan McVinney successfully lands not only one but two shimmering sailfish on his first ever sailfish trip, one of which clocked in at over 6 feet long and 120 pounds. We can see why Contender center console boats are well suited for this type of fishing in these waters.
Above: Ryan McVinney holds a 6 foot long sailfish in his hands leaning over the gunnel onboard Off The Chain Fishing’s Contender 31 center console boat. Photo by DeepSee Visuals for Boat Trader.
Above: One of two sailfish caught onboard Off The Chain during filming of Stomping Grounds Treasure Coast. Photo by DeepSee Visuals for Boat Trader.
St. Lucie River: An Ecological Jewel
On the next leg of our trip, we meet with Chris Collins, founder of Deep See Visuals and the producer of Project Dreamboat, who has spent a lot of time watching other boaters make custom boats, fueling him with inspiration to recreate his perfect vessel. We find out more about how Chris and his father, Randy, restored their unusable 20-foot center console made by SeaCraft.
We met with them on the waterfront at Manatee Pocket, which has been dredged and made more accessible to manatees. Today, there is no sign of a manatee, but while Chris and his father Randy prepare the boats for our fishing trip, we are lucky enough to spot a dolphin drawing arches above water with its fins. Randy is a meticulous man, and if you leave handprints on his craft, it will not go unnoticed. He wipes down watermarks invisible to the human eye. But Randy’s attention to detail has made the SeaCraft 20 a modern marvel.
After wiping down the boat, followed by a thorough polish, we set off down the St. Lucie River, a 35-mile-long estuary linked to a coastal river system, to pursue snook, a native fish to Florida that runs into rivers or canals to find warm water. Fishing in St. Lucie, we observe Osprey, pelicans, dolphins, and several different fish species. Spanish moss lines the waterway, and the river is teeming with wildlife. St. Lucie Estuary is an “ecological jewel” of the Treasure Coast. It has two major forks, the North Fork and the South Fork, and is considered the most diverse estuarine environment in North America, with more than 4,000 plant and animal species. Along the way, a stop at the old Evinrude test facility uncovers some unique maritime history.
Indian Riverkeepers: Preserving Our Waterways
For proper education regarding the environmental challenges the St. Lucie River faces and how the community has banded together to protect this valuable resource, we meet with Indian Riverkeeper, Mike Connor. The Indian Riverkeeper organization works on behalf of the Indian River Lagoon, its watershed, and the communities whose life it enriches. The Indian River Lagoon connects land and sea as well as human communities and thus represents an important regional economic engine that provides significant benefits to Florida. It is also home to More than 2,100 species of plants and more than 2,200 species of animals, including 50 species that are threatened or endangered. Whether working with local authorities to create Lagoon-friendly fertilizer ordinances or patrolling the Lagoon for polluters, the Indian Riverkeeper organization and its volunteer network are ready to answer the call.
Father & Son Partnership: A First-Class Boat Restoration
Above: Ryan McVinney with Chris Collins onboard his restored and modified SeaCraft 20.
When Chris and Randy undertook the restoration of the SeaCraft, the craft was completely unusable. For over a decade, grit and determination have been needed to keep a major restoration project like this afloat. Due to work commitments and school, the restoration project was on hold for many years.
A Vintage SeaCraft With A Luxury-Inspired Interior
The boat looks and runs, unlike any other SeaCraft we have been on before. Looking at her, you would never guess that this SeaCraft (rechristened “Siccraft”) harkens back to 1984. The fishing boat’s interior reflects Chris and Randy’s desire to distinguish themselves from other SeaCrafts. Her interiors have been reimagined with a superyacht-like quality finish which can be seen in the polished teak, marine-grade buffed, and mirrored stainless steel hardware and the pecan and white diamond stitch pattern upholstery. Of course, the focus of the boat is still squarely on catching fish, and everything onboard has its purpose.
Randy is a cabinet maker by trade and crafted the woodwork by hand. Teak was painted with a clear coat, Awlgrip. After about ten coats, they lightly sanded it down to keep off glare and keep maintenance low. Teak is echoed throughout the boat, from the livewell, dashboard, and stereo system. “We didn’t plan for it to be that way, but like every creative process, it evolved organically,” says Randy.
Reworked From Transom To Bow
The process started by stripping the whole boat down. Chris and Randy worked on the stringers with flotation columns in the front, filled in the side drains, which moved the scupper drains up about two inches, in turn raising the deck height by two inches. Next they filled in the notched transom to prevent water from entering through the stern, as these boats were prone to doing. Then they added a T-top with an upper control station (half tower) to provide full 360-degree visibility from above. They also moved the helm forward four inches. Details such as the flush-mounted electronics give the boat a modern and sleek look.
Upgrading to a more powerful engine was also vital to give them the handling speed they needed for fishing now that the boat had a new layout. They upgraded the two-stroke motor to a four-stroke and mounted it on a custom transom bracket. The vessel still offers the excellent SeaCraft ride they fell in love with, but with better maneuverability and handling.
Not every owner relishes the prospect of a shiny new build when they have the option to restore a beloved classic. There is something intensely rewarding about restoration: the feat of rescuing something that has fallen into a state of disrepair and reimagining it with a new design and modern technology improvements. The SeaCraft restoration is infused with nostalgia and romance, and it is clear that it is a source of pride and interest for Chris and Randy. Chris’ baby boy was born in July 2022; he will be the third generation born into a family of boaters. Long may their boating adventures continue!
Sunny Sandbar Sundays
After a thirsty day of fishing, we’re ready for lunch. There is a floating restaurant nearby, and we cruise up in our boat and order burgers and hot dogs. But there are lots of boaters barbecuing on their boats. Sandbar parties are a great way to gather your crew together. We ended up chatting to the boat owners docked next to us. It’s clear that rafting up opens many options for interaction and talking with others. Dogs can be seen having as much fun as the locals, splashing around in the calm gin-clear water. As music blasts from the boat’s sound system, everybody enjoys a cold beverage, and locals take pride in their music playlists. Randy, in particular, has mastered the art of rock n’ roll. Locals here have a deep appreciation for family, community, and wildlife, and the deeply entrenched boating culture here ties these three elements together.
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