The morning dawned flat calm with a light fog on the water’s surface; I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful setting. As we idled out across the glassy bay on Florida’s Gulf coast to head for snook, trout and redfish in SeaCraft’s 20 Master Angler, I realized that today’s new breed of bay boats can be considered the SUVs of fishing. They offer a deadrise to smooth offshore seas but a draft to run in the shallows, making for great utility.
If you love the smoothness of a “heavy-boat” ride, then you’ll love this classic 20. Even launching off the waves created by snowbirds in their big cruisers running the Intracoastal Waterway at half-throttle, the stern-first landing is barely noticeable. Trim tabs on this SeaCraft do a good job of adjusting fore-and-aft angle but have relatively little effect side to side. I found most trim needs easily answered through engine trim.
The quiet OptiMax 150 didn’t even hint at smoke upon the morning’s cold start. Once out to open water, it lifted the SeaCraft onto plane quickly and with remarkably little bow rise. My hand-held GPS pegged top speed with the single outboard at 44 mph. A comfortable cruise speed seemed to be about 35 mph.
Trim the engine down and carve cruising-speed turns as tightly as you want. I was unable to break the rear end free. SeaCraft is using only Lenco electric trim tabs now. I’d opt for the Lenco tab-mounted trolling motors, too. Not only do they work great for chasing nearshore fish like tarpon, bluefish or stripers, they handle backcountry well. They also eliminate trolling-motor clutter on the bow or those ugly vertical motors on the transom. You’ll definitely need trolling motors if you like to pull live baits, since the 150 OptiMax moved us too fast at idle.
The foredeck isn’t as big as that on a flats skiff; nonetheless, it serves well as a casting platform for cast netting or fly casting and provides gunwales wide enough to walk on around the front half of the boat. The 20 remained quite level with an angler on the bow and me on the gunwale. I particularly like the simplicity of the baitwell with both a straight flow-through and a pump. Fishing from the stern or atop the baitwell or rigging hatches in each corner is acceptable if you don’t move around much.
Vertical rod storage on the console side isn’t standard, so you’ll probably want to add some to augment the three fly-rod-capable storage spots under each gunwale and the four gunwale-mounted tubes. I’d probably even add more rod holders in the bow walkaround area.
From stem to stern, you’ll find nothing sticking out to snag a line. The bow uses pop-up cleats and bow light; the stern cleats, located under the gunwale, feature large hawse holes – just like big boats – for the dock lines to pass through.
It’s hard to honestly refer to this as a center-console with the helm so far aft. But it sure makes for great fishing room forward and amidships. SeaCraft pulled a plug from a 30-year-old hull to make the mold for this boat. Fortunately, you won’t find a single change made to the original hull; it’s still the same classic 20 that proved itself so many years ago. Thanks to the experienced input of Lefty Kreh and Flip Pallot, the SeaCraft 20 serves as a monument to functionality. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a cleaner or simpler boat.
The small “button” seat (like that at a diner counter) replaces a leaning post to provide more room. After all, when the boat’s under way, most passengers stand alongside the console holding on to the windshield guardrail anyway.
The console even looks old-fashioned: It has an Edson aluminum destroyer wheel with a great “suicide knob.” Brushed-aluminum plating backs the waterproof, old-style push/ pull switches, and the chrome-bezeled gauges all have that classic look as well. Just add electronics.
Every hatch, molded with deep drainage gutters, has a gasket around the opening to make it quiet and dry. Forward of the console, a centerline box, much like those found in the popular professional guide boats in Key West, provides storage for fish, ice, equipment or tackle. Separated into two sections, the front box uses a third of the space. A large in-deck storage area forward of that will accommodate your anchor and line, cast net in a bucket, and the like.
The SeaCraft 20 consists of three parts – hull, liner and deck – all built with more desirable vinylester resins, bi- and triaxial as well as knitted fiberglass, and Airlite coring in the hull. You’ll find beefy stringers designed to provide strength while also tying the hull and liner together. The bottom also sports three distinct deadrises that make a transition to quite wide, flat chines aft for good roll stability. These same chines, however, keep you from using trim tabs to lean the weather side of the boat up very much in a beam-sea chop. Oh, well, everything’s a compromise.
I’m one of those who truly appreciate “old-fashioned” when it comes to boats. With its simple, traditional lines, I’d own a SeaCraft 20 in a heartbeat.