Avenger AV-26 Bay Boat Review

Louisiana-born and South Carolina-built, this skiff packs plenty of big-boat features.

Avenger Av-26 Bay Boat
This Avenger AV-26 lacks the second station of my test boat, but illustrates the profile and running attitude of this Louisiana-born 26-footer.Courtesy of Avenger

Some boats come with a more unusual pedigree than others. The story of the new Avenger AV-26 starts in the 1980s in south Louisiana; 35 years later, it's about a researched and redesigned bay boat constructed in South Carolina.

Venice Marina owners Bill and Mike Butler bought the Avenger molds from their previous builder. The 23- and 25-foot hulls became popular with Louisiana guides because the charter guys could fish them offshore and inshore.

After negotiations with Carolina Composites, builders of Pioneer and Bulls Bay boats, the Butlers sold Avenger to the South Carolina company. The new 26 inaugurates a line that should soon include a 24 and a 22.

I laid eyes on the new hull in mid-December at a remote boat ramp near Georgetown, South Carolina. The normally rowdy weather that time of year had settled substantially into a sunny, almost warm midweek afternoon.

Capt. Rod Thomas of Capt. Ponytail Guide Service loaded my gear aboard his new, ­customized 26. As we idled toward Winyah Bay, I began a walk-through from bow to stern.

Avenger AV-26 bay boat foredeck
Avenger added loads of storage, including four hatches at the bow for drinks, rods and gear. More storage lies beneath the ­center console and in the cockpit sole aft.Courtesy of Avenger
First Impressions

I noticed at once the ample fore and aft decks, and the tremendous amount of storage. At the bow, a 65-gallon main locker holds tackle and safety gear. Just aft of that, inside the step up to the bow, Avenger placed a 24-gallon insulated and gasketed drink cooler.

Abaft that, in the sole, lies another 65-gallon insulated fish box. To port and starboard, bow hatches feature lockable rod storage. Additional storage includes space beneath the console and a 45-gallon in-sole locker aft of the leaning post.

Though we planned to cast some artificials, the twin 27-gallon livewells aft offered room to pamper two different bait species. The 12-gallon well beneath the forward console seat could keep plenty of shrimp happy.

Thomas had timed our trip to take advantage of an early-afternoon outgoing tide to fish for trout at the bay jetties. He buried the throttle and the Avenger leaped to plane without squatting, normally a common characteristic of smaller boats powered by today’s larger, heavier four-strokes.

At the north jetty, he shut down the Yamaha F300 and deployed the Minn Kota i-Pilot trolling motor. Thomas has equipped this original prototype with everything he needs for ­charter and tournament fishing, including extra gunwale rod holders, Optimus power steering and a second station above a canvas T-top, a perch that helps him spot fish.

Capt. Rod Thomas and trout aboard Avenger
Capt. Rod Thomas of Ponytail Guide Service poses with a South Carolina seatrout on the aft deck of his new, customized Avenger AV-26.Chris Woodward
Tackling Trout

Thomas needed no elevation, though, to position us near the trout. Using the Minn Kota’s Spot-Lock feature, he kept the stern facing the jetty and within casting distance of the rocks.

Anglers who use conventional anchors, however, will like the double-­anchor locker at the bow. Avenger provides grooves for hanging two Danforth-style anchors, plus an extra‑large hold for rode.

Thomas and I had plenty of room on the aft deck to cast and fight fish. The trout bite turned on, and we quickly hooked a half-dozen just by bouncing jig heads and shad tails off the bottom.

Avenger designed a setback for the outboard and jack plate that eliminates the splashwell in favor of additional flotation aft, to accommodate the big four-stroke. This innovation results in a perfectly flat platform and a unique, stylish curve along the back of the ­transom bulkhead.

Occasionally, another boat’s wake rocked the Avenger, but I barely noticed the shift. I could easily step to the deck to leader and release the trout. Coaming bolsters above the port and starboard undergunwale recessed rod storage made it easy on the knees to lean overboard.

Thomas filled the port livewell, which he had plumbed to recirculate. We kept a few of the larger trout on board for photos.

Capt. Rod Thomas and bluefish on Avenger foredeck
Capt. Rod Thomas swings aboard a bluefish while working along a jetty with his trolling motor. He added the optional bow rod holders at the factory.Chris Woodward
Fast and Flat

I would have enjoyed staying through the tide and taking advantage of the continuous bite. But shortened daylight hours and a long drive home prompted me to test the Avenger’s performance.

In the bay’s protected waters, Thomas and I made repeated runs with and against the tidal current. With the engine tucked in and the jack plate down, the 26 planed in a lightning-­quick 3.3 seconds. With the F300 turning a Yamaha Saltwater Series II 15¼-by-19-inch prop, we reached 30 mph in 6.1 seconds.

We found a top speed of 52.7 mph at 5,800 rpm with the engine trimmed out. Because of its superstructure, Thomas’ 26 loses a few miles per hour on the top end. Factory testing showed a differently propped 26, minus the ­second station and load, ran 57.8 mph.

Unfortunately, a malfunctioning gauge kept us from sampling the fuel efficiency at any speed, and neither the factory nor Yamaha could provide mpg or gph numbers. The weight of the second station didn’t appear to alter the boat’s handling, however. The optional Optimus power steering made tight turns totally effortless; even in ever-smaller circles, the bay boat barely bled off speed.

As with virtually all single-outboard boats, the 26 exhibited a little more lean in starboard turns — though that still felt quite minimal and eminently comfortable to me. The 26 backs easily in both directions. And when accelerating from cruise, the 300 offers effective midrange punch to this package.

At speed, the boat tends to run slightly bow down, which means tabs are only necessary to even an off-kilter load. Trim out the engine about a third of the way to raise the bow a tad.

With no seas to speak of, I ran the bay boat in tight circles to simulate heavy chop. Blasting back through the confused wakes, the AV-26 remained dry and steady.

Avenger AV-26 aft deck
The Avenger’s transom design creates a flat fishing surface while integrating aft seating and twin 27-gallon livewells.Courtesy of Avenger
Design Tinkering

When Carolina Composites bought the Avenger molds, the company decided to update the original design in several ways, says Henry Sikes, director of marketing and sales. While the engineers left the running surface the same, they filled in the notch at the waterline aft and extended the transom 14 inches. They also changed the deck layout to include more boxes while leaving ample floor space for walking.

The company uses a reverse ­shoebox-cap design to marry the deck with the hull. The one-piece deck, which includes a gunwale all the way around, fits inside the hull rather than overlapping at a bolted and bonded edge, as on most two-piece boats. Carolina Composites also added more flair in the bow to create a broader foredeck, and created radii to the sides of the boat so the hull is not flat along its length. A radius is stronger than a flat surface.

Available with a single 250- to 400-horsepower outboard of any brand, this new 26 appears to blend the best of the past with the knowledge and technology of the present. The new combination should appeal not only to Louisiana Gulf anglers but to anyone who likes to challenge ­saltwater boundaries.

PERFORMANCE

POWER Yamaha F300; LOAD Two adults, 60 gal. fuel, tackle, gear; TOP SPEED 52.7 mph @ 5,800 rpm; TIME TO 30 MPH 6.1 sec.; BEST MPG N/A (malfunctioning gauge)

HULL

LOA 26 ft. 2 in.; BEAM 8 ft. 6 in.; DEADRISE 15 deg.; DRY WEIGHT 3,100 lb. (w/o engine); DRAFT 14 in.; FUEL 89 gal.; MAX POWER 400 hp

MSRP $73,025 (base boat w/ Yamaha F300)

Avenger Bay Boats, Walterboro, South Carolina, 843-538-6604, avengerbayboats.com