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Benzo

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First impressions of the Lowcountry

South Carolina, commonly known to us sportsman as the “lowcountry”; is a part of the world rich in history, good food, great fishing, and that good ole’ southern hospitality of the true south. I had an opportunity to make my first visit to the lowcountry this early Fall. This was a great opportunity to live all the great things I had always read and heard about via old writings, bayside discussions, and social media. I spent a couple days in Beaufort and then in Charleston, taking part in some flood tide and lowtide fishing, cast and blasting, and without a doubt the best southern food this foodie has ever tasted.

The floodtide was a completely new experience itself. I witnessed the giant tides flush into the spartina marsh and fill in the once dry fields of spartina grass teaming with fiddler crabs and snails.

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As the water rose, redfish began to snake their way into the grass, subtlety pushing over blades of grass like ninjas, sneaking into clearings and tailing on fiddler crabs.

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And as the tide rose up and covered up the tails of redfish, it marked time to stow away the fly rods and replace it with a shotgun in hand. Shooting birds out of a flats skiff was a definite first and definitely won’t be the last. Rather then be stealthy, the name to this game is to make your presence known, flushing marsh hens (clapper rails for those curious about what they actually are) out of the grass, allowing us to take the shot. This is a practice rich in history to itself.

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The cast and blast experience in the lowcountry was greatly complimented with some of the most beautiful coastal scenes I had ever witnessed.

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Special thanks to my hosts for making my first visit really special:
Capt. Owen Plair (http://www.redfishbeaufort.com/)
Will Abbot (http://www.floodtideco.com/)
Andy and Connie Villacres
Len and Jeannie Villacres

I will be back very soon…
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Tarpon Tested Gear Review: Echo Prime 11wt Fly Rod, Nautilus NV G10 Fly Reel, Cortland Tropic Plus Fly Line

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Technologies in Tarpon fishing have come a long way as demands in this fishery have changed since the days of the old Great Equalizer.  Tarpon are without a doubt becoming more and more demanding of that perfect presentation.  So there comes the give and take compromise between a fly rod labelled as a casting stick or a fish fighting stick.  Finding that happy medium between the two is what makes a tarpon stick the best one in your hands.  It is true that in most cases it is the indian, not the arrow, but it helps if the bow and arrow are fine tuned to make it easier for the indian to shoot/cast it into the wind, into a side wind, or lay down a presentation soft down wind.

Most tarpon fisherman I know who chase these fish with a fly rod prefer a 1 piece rod.  There are many choices on the Market today offered from companies such as G Loomis (2 models), Echo, Hardy, Clutch, Orvis, and Biscayne Rod.  There isn’t a best 11wt or 12wt rod, but rather one that fits you best.  Choosing the right one for you means going out and casting each one before deciding on which one works for you.  I am not on any pro-staff for either one of the aforementioned companies but I do fish rods in different weights from these companies mentioned.  The opinions of this reviewer are completely unbiased.

Today I review one of the new comers to the 1pc market; the Echo Prime 11wt.  The Prime is the least expensive off all the 1pc fly rods but don’t let the price tag or lack of brand exposure fool you.  This 11wt is truly an awesome tarpon stick.  It is the second best casting 1pc 11wt I have fished thus far.  While not as fast as the Hardy Pro-Axis 1pc or G Loomis NRX Pro-1; the Echo Prime 11wt is fast enough to punch through all but the extremely windy days.  It’s got a softer tip, which actually allows it to load fast for quick casts when fishing in the mud and fish float up unexpectedly.  One remarkable thing about the 11 Prime is how smooth it casts and how tight the loops you can form with it with minimal effort.  Weight and swing weight-wise,  the Echo Prime feels very comparable to the Crosscurrent Pro-1, perhaps a tad bit lighter.  The action on this rod is comparable to the older Sage RPLX-i.  When the steel sinks into meat and a tarpon is attached, that is where this rod out-shines most.  It is virtually indestructible, even at high stick angles.  Another good remark I’d like to mention on this rod is the use of ceramic guides for the stripper guides, but one thing I’d like to see changed are the cheap clunky oversized snake guides.  I feel the Echo Prime lineup of rods could benefit from lighter better quality snake guides.  I’d gladly pay another $60 for this rod with that.

Because the Prime has a slightly slower tip then the faster Hardy 11 Pro-Axis 1pc that I am all very familiar with, I went ahead and paired it up with the lightest 5″ fly reel on the market.  This would be the Nautilus NV G10.  Pairing up with a lighter reel with any rod gives it a faster perceived feel.  I’d wouldn’t even be afraid to go as far as dropping down to a NV11/12 or CCFx2 1012 to give this rod a faster feel.  Yet, I’m a fan of chasing a tarpon down basically on plane so a 5″ reel is what I prefer on all my tarpon rods.  The Nautilus NV Monster G10 sits on a NV Monster frame but has a larger diameter spool, reducing the need for excessive backing.  I was able to fit 100yards of gel spun with 150 yards of 30lb dacron with an 11wt Cortland fly line.  Without line and backing, the G10 weighs in at 9.9oz, making it truly the lightest fly reel in it’s class.  The drag on the G10, as with all the NV lineup is completely sealed from the elements and uses carbon fiber and cork disks to apply the brakes.  Most important to a tarpon reel, the drag is smooth and an absolute zero startup inertia.  I have fished straight 60lb butt section to a fly and pulled on some very big tarpon with drag cranked down on the Nautilus NV Monster and it has proved more then strong enough to handle the extreme pressures.  Obviously, this isn’t common practice in tarpon fishing, but I just wanted to see how the reel would hold up.  Strength, light weight, and good looks; I would go on to say the Nautilus NV Monster and NV G1o are my preferred go to tarpon reels.

My fly line of choice with the Echo 11 Prime and Nautilus NV-G10 setup was the Cortland Saltwater and Cortland Tropic Plus Saltwater and Tropic Plus 9′ Intermediate tip lines.  Unlike most other popular saltwater lines on the market that are oversized in grain weight, these Cortland Tropic Plus lines are true to grain weight and feature a 7-27-7 WF taper.  It is not necessary to fish an extremely long leader with the Cortland lines.  The Cortland Tropic Plus has a soft enough presentation so that longer leaders are not necessary (The purpose of longer leaders is to allow the fly to lay down a softer presentation).  On the calmest of days, I am fishing a 14ft leader maximum but have been able to get away with a 10ft to 11ft leader on windier days.  The Tropic Plus 9′ intermediate tip really allows for great control on your presentations to fickle FL Keys oceanside tarpon when the chop is up and current is strong.

Those with a more aggressive casting stroke who have a heavy push may prefer a rod like the G Loomis Crosscurrent Pro-1 but this Echo/Nautilus/Cortland setup would definitely be preferable for those who enjoy casting a rod with a softer tip, and those who can throw tighter loops without having to push hard.  Enjoy your time on the water and may you all have a great remainder of the Tarpon Season.

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From 12 weight to 12 gauge

There are those experiences in life that can’t be completely explained simply with words. These experiences are only truly taken in by being there. Whether from the bow of a flats skiff or behind a palm from in a duck blind, you take a step back and watch nature take it’s course, then become part of nature’s scene; be it watching a big laid up tarpon creep up on your fly cross-eyed about to slurp it or watching a flock of ducks with wings spread and landing gear deployed swooping down on a spread of decoys. The moments lead up to climax as you strip set steel into a dragon’s mouth or pull the trigger on your 12 gauge as a duck is directly down the sight atop your gun barrel. 2013’s end made way for a new type of inevitable obsession. The sport of hunting fowl that had passed me in childhood has come to my reality today. The crossroad I had taken at an early age to pursue Fly Fishing rather then hunting had finally merged into the same road. Admittedly, there are a few influential people in my life that helped encourage this final push. This is the beginning, the first pursuit all over again as I spent some afternoons at the trap/skeet field honing my shot, learned to distinguish between the different types of waterfowl, read up on regulations, and researched the type of gear used to travel down this path. As with most things you become passionate about, the more you learn, the less you realize you actually know. The journey down the road to become a better hunter or fisherman is always most exciting when you are just starting out. The new road ahead is clear… 12 weights and 12 gauges.

The few photos shared below from my most recent duck hunt can only partially describe the experience.

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Mosquito Lagoon Fish Camp

Winter time brings about that gypsy soul in some fisherman, urging us to travel and fish outside of our realm through the cooler season. While northerners are migrating south to get away from the cold, some of us southerners travel north to find something different and some of us do it to get away from the northerners. While many options are open for catching redfish in the winter time, I always find the fishery in the Mosquito Lagoon to be one of the most intriguing ones. The tailing redfish are always willing to bite a well place presentation and the giant trout that lay up in the shallows are an added wild card to crank the difficulty up a few levels. So with a couple boxes of flies, a few spools of leader, a hand full of fly rods, and a Yeti cooler filled with beverages in the back of the Jeep; Capt. Jeremy Alderman and I drove north to meet with our buddy Capt. Willy Le, who was currently testing the new Maverick Mirage HPX-S in the Lagoon. We decided to use Mosquito Lagoon Fish Camp as our home base for the weekend and put the HPX-S through it’s paces in the Mosquito Lagoon; meeting with slick clam mornings, wind chopped lagoon afternoons, and weary fish in shallow water.

The amenities at Mosquito Lagoon Fish Camp were all you could ask for… clean, rustic feel, very scenic, and conveniently located.

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R&D is always better discussed under the moon and stars.

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After all the theories and a list consisting of “let’s try this tomorrow”… The next morning comes and the dawn’s blue and orange hues fill the skies that were once filled with stars.

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Bronze tails fill the void between the glassy waters and blue skies, beckoning to be casted to.

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And when the bite get’s “tough”… the “secret” fly comes out of the box.

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A day of poling, catching, filming, and mischief comes to an end but plans for the next outing are in planning stages.

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Stay tuned for another of Capt. Willy Le’s productions highlighting some of our fishing and what we put the HPX-S through.  For more information regarding our home base visit http://mosquitolagoonfishcamp.com  

Heat of the Summer Doldrums

The summer heat isn’t the only cause for anglers perspiring at the thought of our National Parks right now.  The recent National Park closures have sparked some heat among us fisherman who really enjoy this great resource we have in South FL. Times like these leave me reflecting on the great memories raising Hell in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks this past summer. Law Enforcement is now patrolling the boundary line entering the ENP from the Keys but I can’t help but feel tempted to cross over and pole some of my favorite flats until the blue lights chase us.

Fall is approaching now as we are adorned by NE winds following the last few storms of the year.  As the season takes a shift, so does our fishery.  The park closures have kept man out of the glades and there is no telling what we will find when the gates open up once more.  I, for one am anxious to get back to my slices of heaven… Everglades and Biscayne National Park.

 

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Sneak Peak… New Maverick Mirage HPX-S

There is something brewing at Maverick Boat Company. With the revamping of the classic 17 Mirage HPX-V, the HPX-Micro retired to be replaced with a completely new concept. It was time to build a shallow water skiff to much better meet the demands of anglers in today’s market. Introducing, the Maverick Mirage HPX-S.

The HPX-S was redesigned from scratch and implements the latest in space aged material and construction technology that Maverick offers. This is a whole new breed of skiff, as evident by the evolved lines and chines. The new HPX-S has a target draft of less then 6 inches. Speculation suggests the “S” designation either stands for “shallow” or “sub 6″. In today’s world of power choices, it seems a 60 or 70hp motor suits this type of skiff best for holeshot, load carrying capability, and speed; therefore the new HPX-S will carry a 60hp or 70hp max rating. There is much more bow entry on the HPX-S, making for a soft smooth ride when tabs go down and the entry is used to dampen the ride in a big chop. This is the classic sharp entry to near flat deadrise rear design that is very popular in Florida waters; yet this bow’s V is designed much like that of the HPX-V Mirage. At a total length 17ft 8inches, the extra length will allow for a better ride quality in bigger waters as well as help the skiff glide well when pushing from the poling platform. The fact that there are no sponsons will also allow the HPX-S to be very agile on the pole as well as allow the skiff to run with much more bow lift. The slightly rounded transom edges also help in reducing the pressure waves usually sent off when spinning a skiff. To deck configuration has also been updated to reflect the top of the rest of the Mirage fleet with huge bow storage, gas tank against the rear bulkhead, center livewell aft, and 2 side storage compartments aft. It will be very exciting to see the test performance results in the coming weeks as this skiff is set out to be an extremely versatile shallow water technical poling skiff.

Summary of Tech. Specs
LOA: 17’8″
Beam: 74″
Draft: <6"
Max HP: 60hp or 70hp
Hull Weight: 268lbs

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Stay tuned… more to come shortly.

Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2 Review: Chapter 2 – Making it mine

I made the choice to downsize my skiff this year so in the midst of selling my 18 HPX, I researched several v bottom poling skiffs in the 16ft to 17ft range. It really didn’t take long to make up my mind on which skiff would fit my needs. I spend most of my winters and summers poling for redfish and snook in the shallows; tarpon seasons running big open bodies of water to either sit on a wind chopped ocean or pole down laid up poons in backcountry basins; and some months stalking weary bonefish and permit on the flats when conditions get snotty. This required a skiff that is able to pole in less then a foot of water, move around quietly, and handle like a sports car on the pole while producing the least amount of pressure wake possible; all while being seaworthy enough to get there and back safely and comfortably when conditions get rough. Was there one perfect do it all technical poling skiff to get this job done?

After having tested the new Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2, it did not take me long to spec one out. It took an even shorter amount of time to get those ideas on paper and get in line to have one built to my specs. The first concern of mine was power. If I was still guiding, I would have opted for a 4 stroke motor; likely a Suzuki DF90, seeing it was the lightest in it’s class. But along came the opportunity to pick up a sought after Yamaha 90TLR 2 stroke (due to ridiculous tree hugging EPA laws, these simple 2 stroke carb’d motors are no longer brought to the states). This was the lightest 90hp motor I could put on this skiff so it was the choice motor. I needed some decent speed and load carrying capability but also needed the skiff to pole light when I arrived at my destination. With speeds into the mid 40s, the ability to spin a 13.5″ wheel, and less then 300lbs of motor on the transom, the Yamaha 90TLR was the perfect candidate. What I will lack in 4 stroke fuel efficiency, I will gain when the throttle is backed off and the push pole becomes the means of mobility.

The folks at Maverick Boat Co. welcomed my needs to personalize the skiff. I opted for a 2 tone white nonskid deck with whisper grey hull and slicks. The skiff is adorned with black powder-coated aluminum platforms and grab rails, as well as a black Edson steering wheel.  To keep the skiff light, I chose to go with a light weight Odyssey PC925 battery for cranking/house and house it in the center console. I went with the old reliable plastic Stiffy push pole holders to hold my Stiffy Guide push pole in place. I preferred the the plastic holders over the popular aluminum ones because the plastic holders have a little bit of give and thus are less stressful to a bouncing push pole or stumbling foot. Personally, I think they give a nice vintage look. Speaking of vintage, I kept my old black aluminum Pro-Trim cage ready casting platform to give a little extra height to the angler on the bow.  A Tibor push pole caddy and custom SeaDeck from Castaway Customs (http://castawaycustoms.com) finishes off the last bits of bling on this skiff.  The idea is to be as minimalistic as possible, keeping the skiff very light and balanced.

The HPX-VII sits on a dry launch specific AmeraTrail trailer with every option available: port side walk-board, dual rollers on rear crossmember, negative 20 degree torsion axle, upgraded wheels, and the works.  I wanted the skiff to sit low into the trailer like a glove.

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A long road of shallow flats that lies ahead is filled with endless possibilities. If the fish swim it, I’ll pole it.

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Stay tuned for the next chapter…

2013 Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2 Review Chapter 1

The Maverick Mirage line have certainly made their mark in the world of technical poling skiffs. Even with all the advancements in technology, it is hard to image how you could improve an already proven skiff design. But alas, as times are changing, so are demands of anglers. Even old reliable could use a facelift from time to time. The Mirage 17 HPX has gone through it’s evolution, each time raising the bar; Mirage, Mirage II, Mirage HP, Mirage HPX-V, and this year; Maverick introduces the Mirage HPX-V2.

 

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I had the opportunity to take a couple of weeks testing the new Maverick 17 Mirage HPX-V2 hull #1 earlier this last winter.  I ran the skiff through it’s paces stalking snook in the shallow back bays in the Everglades, gliding over the expansive grass flats of Florida Bay stalking tailing and floating redfish, and sneaking up on weary bonefish on the wind blown flats of Biscayne Bay.  Again, the new Mirage proves to be an extremely versatile poling skiff.  Like with others in the Mirage line, this new Mirage was exceptionally quiet… in fact, it may even be the quietest mirage ever produced.  The ride quality exceeds what you would expect from the previous Mirages.  Once you lay the hammer down on the throttle and get it trimmed just right, the little Mirage finds itself on the running pad softly gliding over the chop crest to crest, rather then riding through each crease in the water.  The V selectively breaks only what chop it needs to, in order to keep you dry and comfortable.  This particular new skiff was lighter, faster, drier, and rode slightly softer then previous 17 Mirages, which were already soft riding dry skiffs to begin with.  Construction was solid and we felt absolutely safe and planted while crossing big waters.  Speeds with the Yamaha F70 were in the upper 30s to low 40s depending on load with a Powertech NRS16 3 blade propeller.  I personally desired more power then the F70 as I found the F70 to be a bit of a slouch when the skiff was loaded heavy.  Yet still, the F70 powered 17 Mirage was able to push into the upper 30s with a heavy load.  Running a fairly light fishing load, I documented speeds up to 42.4mph.  With the light motor, poling draft is somewhere in the 7″ to 8″ range.  Poling dynamics were extremely impressive.  With a slightly lightened hull, the new Mirage spins on a dime and pushes with ease, gliding along nicely when you give it a push.  Being able to maneuver quickly is a big plus when fishing tarpon in the backcountry.

One can only speculate on what the reasons are for the bar raising performance.  Perhaps doing away with all holes and cheese graters which may have in the previous generation potentially created drag towards the back of the hull.  Perhaps it is the difference in weight distribution.  Or perhaps it is the larger spray rails.

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Here are some of the physical changes I was able to note:

Front deck space was extended about a foot, moving the front bulkhead of the skiff a foot aft.  Larger deck space was nice when fishing 2 anglers on the bow and also made it nice to kick up your feet when sitting on a Yeti cooler forward of the center console.

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Bigger and longer spray rails made for an extra dry ride.

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Front deck space in front of forward hatch is still large enough to accommodate a large Pro-Trim sized casting platform.  (bonefish size may vary).

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Like the 18 Mirage HPX-V; the Rear hatch configuration has completely changed, featuring storage on the sides and a center livewell.  Rear bulkhead as been brought forward slightly improving balance on the pole and being able to fit a full cushion atop a clear deck in front of the hatches.  There is no more need to lift the cushion up to access storage.  Like with the 18 HPX, the cushion folds down flush under the rear bulkhead.  On a personal note, if I had one, I would do away with the removable cushion and opt for a permanently mounted cushion like the custom one I had on my previous skiff.

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Rod gunnels are finished throughout now, giving the option to easily install OEM Maverick carpet or optional custom seadeck.  The old foam injected rod holders have gone the way of the do-do bird as more durable plastic injected rod holders are being used in today’s Mirages.  The LED lighting also provides for very impressive cockpit lighting.  Switch panel (not pictured) is also lighted.

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Wiring in the console has been cleaned up, making for a very clean look and ease of troubleshooting.  The old raw fiberglass inside the bilge and console have now been coated with awlgrip for easier cleaning and aesthetically providing for a smoother more finished look.

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The single center livewell replaces role of both the side crustacean well and side release well found on previous generation 17 HPX-Vs.  As time goes on, the need for a release well during bonefish tournaments as well as other Keys tournaments is becoming obsolete.  More and more tournaments today are favoring measure and release for scoring, thus eliminating additional stress from weighing in your tournament catch.  The mainstream redfish tournaments still Impliment the same catch and weight in methods, but with most of those anglers using artificial lures anyways, the center livewell can be large enough to accomodate a pair of tournament sized redfish.  The center livewell also makes for better balance and is much more ergonomic.  Whether fishing crabs and shrimp or a well full of mullet or whitebait, this livewell setup was generally preferred over the previous set up by most anglers I’ve spoken to.

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Deeper gasketed gutters throughout makes for drier compartments.  Drainage has also been improved to flow faster.

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Larger and deeper storage underneath the front deck.  Whether storing a small cooler or downsized casting bucket, the increase in storage depth is a big plus.  Fuel cell is now mounted behind the front storage right up against the bulkhead.

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Deeper gutters on the rear hatches as well with smaller diameter and lighter aluminum frame poling platform.

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Rear hatches are sized to be able to store the popular average size Simms or Patagonia tackle bags with room to spare.

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Options are limitless as any good idea can be implemented by Maverick to build you your dream skiff.

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To partially quote myself in the past; “The last time I was this impressed …” Well you know how the rest of that goes.  The next chapter is around the corner… stay tuned.

Many faces of Tarpon.

The only regret I have about tarpon fishing with light tackle and fly is that I did not really get into this sport sooner. It was maybe only a few years ago that I started chasing tarpon on a flyrod, but after that first fish that tracked my fly, crossed his eyes, slurped the fly, and took off into an incredible aerial display as flyline zipped through my fingers; I was absolutely hooked. From that day forward, I lived, dreamed, and talked about tarpon fishing to no end. The many days dedicated to tarpon fishing, be it bageled or successful was well spent as learning about these incredible fish has been quite a journey on it’s own. Perhaps it is the humanlike characteristics or the way a serene bay can erupt with a hooked tarpon that draws so many anglers to chase the silver king.

This season’s journey has brought us through rain storms, cloudy days, sunny days, frustrating days, and a few epic days mixed in. I think all that there is to write has been written in previous write ups I have done, so until the inspiration to write a lenghty piece hits me again, I leave you all with the images from this year that will always stick in my mind.

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For Sale: 2011 Maverick Mirage 18 HPX-V

2011 Maverick Mirage 18 HPX-V
– Mercury Optimax 115 ProXs (less then 200hrs) with Mercury throttle and SmartCraft gauge
– 35 Gallon Fuel Tank
– 2 tone custom Whisper Grey nonskid and deck with Ice Blue Slicks
– Custom Seadeck poling platform pad and Tarpon design Under-gunnel pads
– 2012 updated wiring schedule from Maverick
– Custom Permanently mounted cushion (color matched deck with black piping)
– Stiffy Push Pole Holders
– Motor Bracket for Power Pole mount
– two 12volt batteries in console (one for cranking one for trolling motor)
– Garmin 546 GPS
– Stereo System by Shallow Water Customs
– Minnkota 55lb Thurst iPilot Trolling motor with capability to mount on bow or transom
– Full equipped Livewell with recirc, raw water, high speed pickup, and bubbler
– Custom Dry Launch Ameritrail Trailer (Never dunked in Saltwater and no rust at all on hub or axles)
– negative 20 degree torsion axle
– Port side walk-board
– Carpeted side support bunks
– Dual rollers on rear axle

Performance features include a 7.5in draft. Top speed in mid 50s and cruise around 40mph. Very fuel efficient (between 5mpg to 9mpg depending on cruising speed).

The 18 HPX-V has proved itself to be the best all around skiff for fishing in Florida. It has the ability to travel long distances and through rough water safely and comfortably. You can carry a ton of bait or a few fly rods on a given day…heck even both. The skiff excels in being able to stalk weary bonefish on the shallow flats one minute, then net some bait and go fish a nearshore wreck the next. Versatility is what the 18 HPX-V was built for. Skiff is what in tip top shape… 9.5 out of 10 rating. Must see to believe. She is ready to fish.

SOLD

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