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Contender 31 Review

A trusted off-shore center-console is converted into an able-bodied walk-around.

October 26, 2001
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This hull no longer needs to prove itself. Many professional fishing guides and hard-core owners around the world agree that the Contender 31 sits at the top of the list of best offshore 31-foot outboard fishing boats. These boats are fast, virtually as strong as steel and set up perfectly for the most demanding angler. So what’s with this “Fish-Around” business? It’s Contender’s answer to the adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

Performance
With twin 250 Yamahas, we burned up Biscayne Bay at 56 mph which, surprisingly, fits right in the same niche as other Contenders with the same power. I say “surprisingly” because the cabin adds several hundred pounds to the displacement of this 31. According to Contender president Joe Neber, “The reason the boat performs so well, and maybe even better than our other 31s, is because yes, we added weight, but we also redistributed it.

Consequently, this boat seems better balanced than anything I’ve ever run.” Expect about 1 1/2 mpg at cruise.
The Contender Fish-Around does everything just a bit better than the competition. The boat leans over into a turn and carves gracefully – though turn too hard and it will grab. We headed out into deep water offshore where seas were running 6 feet. At that point, the solid construction let us know by the deadened sound and cushioned landing that this boat can take it when it launches off waves and touches down deep-V-stern first.

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Fishing
How often can you say of a boat, “They built this exactly right”? Walking forward around the cabin, the space for your feet, the room to pass and the height of the rail all fit perfectly.

People use these boats to go way offshore. Running in 6-foot seas was remarkably smooth at prudent speeds, though the boat could also fly in the same conditions. Those speeds, however, will beat the passengers long before they beat the boat. Once out at the fishing grounds, whether trolling or drifting, the 9-foot, 4-inch beam comes into play, softening the rolls better than other competitive “performance” fishing boats that Contender sells against.

Expect to drift directly beam-to the wind, which makes kite-fishing easier – especially when you control the boat’s drift with a sea anchor. And in the process, the recessed bow rail and broad gunwales forward make for a virtually perfect fishing platform.

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If you’re as lazy as I am, you’ll particularly appreciate the fact that no boat comes better fitted out for fishing straight from the factory than a Contender. A 40-gallon above-deck live baitwell, two 56-gallon insulated fish boxes and a bait-rigging station all combine with enough rod storage (both in- and under gunwale and molded-in holders on console sides) for a full team of anglers to assure that the most demanding professional captain will have little to customize when outfitting.

I believe my favorite aspect of this Fish-Around has to be that it offers real living space below without demanding one be a contortionist to make use of it. At the same time, the boat allows you to work a fish all the way to the bow comfortably, just the way you can on the open-bow model. That’s my kind of compromise – when you can have the best of both worlds.

Design and Construction
The 31 Fish-Around’s reconfigured weight distribution has resulted in a superbly balanced boat in all conditions, without any negative aspects – just like the open-bow model. Klegecell-cored topsides and decks with the solid bi- and tri-axial fiberglass bottom maintain a low center of gravity for a more stable ride. You’ll also find the standard Contender console has tons of room for even the biggest electronics displays, a special holder for cell phones, heat-shrink tubing covered connections and loads of other small attentions to detail that make a merely good boat a world-class one. After all, only a performance-boat company with complete confidence in its product would dare to offer a full, 10-year warranty on every hull.

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Certainly there are other center-console boats on the market with sleeping accommodations below, either in the bow or under the console. To date, not one of them has quarters I’d actually call livable. And, of course, you can always get an express or walk-around if you want belowdecks comfort. But you’ll never sell a devoted center-console owner on a walk-around. The Fish-Around is very different, though. Its head is large enough to handle adults comfortably and headroom throughout easily accommodated my 6-foot, 4-inch frame with room to spare. You’ll find the double berth plenty large enough to stretch out on whether seated or lying down. The galley’s small but functional. You can even opt for air conditioning. But you still get virtually as much working deck space as on a regular center-console.

I realize that offshore fishermen are notoriously change-averse. Converting a hard-core, center-console owner over to something like this Fish-Around won’t be easy – unless you can convince them to go out on one. Then it’s as good as a done deal.

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