A 22-foot bay boat ranks high on my list of favorite inshore-fishing platforms. By happy coincidence, that’s what I own. But my appreciation for this particular conveyance goes beyond mere emotion. This boat size and style offer efficiencies I don’t always find on larger or smaller models.
When I boarded Wellcraft‘s new tournament-edition 221 Fisherman, I instantly saw several key amenities: loads of storage and fish-box space and three livewells, two of which hold 34 gallons each (with fill and drain controls and timers). This vessel is the smaller of two bay boats the company introduced in late 2015, after a five-year lull under new ownership.
The 221 floated calmly at the Sebastian Yacht Club docks on Florida’s sunny central east coast. Capt. Glyn Austin and I had lucked into a truly spectacular February day for boating, but heavy recent rains created a thick freshwater lens — bad for fishing.
Austin worked the throttle for the bright, color-matched Evinrude E-Tec G2 250 H.O. and spun us away from the dock to the Indian River, heading north. We faced a slack midmorning tide, so we chose to gather performance numbers before fishing.
Austin offered a caveat before we started: This first hull had served as a prototype and undergone months of rigorous on-water testing. Its four-blade Evinrude RX4 15-by-20-inch prop had suffered several dings, which definitely affected its capabilities.
(When boat companies use real-world testing on new vessels, they also discover ways to tweak design and performance. Wellcraft’s current production 221s carry those improvements — a testament to the company’s desire to deliver quality and value.)
Fully rigged to fish and topped off with 52 gallons of fuel, the 221 planed in about 4 seconds and reached 30 mph at the 7.5-second mark, with the engine trimmed in and tabs up.
Austin then buried the throttle, raised the jack plate and trimmed out the engine. The tachometer touched 5,530 rpm, though the engine can turn 6,000. We reached 49 mph, attaining 2.3 mpg.
Backing off to 3,500 rpm and below, Austin and I watched the fuel-consumption numbers fluctuate on the Evinrude ICON digital gauge. At 3,100 rpm and still on plane, we saw 4.4 mpg at 26.4 mph.
Riffles forming behind the channel buoys signaled a flowing tide. Austin lowered the Minn Kota trolling motor and moved us to select positions along a spoil-island bank, intermittently using the Spot-Lock feature to hold us off the beach. We cast weighted jerkbaits and worked them slowly, but found no trout-takers.
At first I joined Austin at the bow to cast, where I found we each had plenty of room. The foredeck, which rises fairly high above the sole at about 22 inches, comes with a step-up that houses a 14-gallon livewell for small baits such as shrimp.
As we paralleled the bank, I moved aft. The back deck rises almost 19 inches from the sole; its breadth is ample and steady. To accommodate raising the outboard, Wellcraft included a fairly deep splashwell aft, so I took care to avoid a wrong step.
Visibility and casting proved easy. The optional hardtop centers well over the console and doesn’t hinder anglers.
Finding no activity around the spoil islands, we stowed our rods and headed to Sebastian Inlet. The 221 features loads of vertical rod storage, including three holders on each side of the console, four across the leaning-post rocket launcher, four along the back of the hardtop, and four in the gunwales (including two at the bow).
Wellcraft added horizontal holders beneath the slender gunwales port and starboard. Anglers can stow four rods up to 9 feet long per side, two facing forward and two aft. Wellcraft also placed mats on the inwales, where the reels rest, for cushioning and protection.
Running out of the inlet, we met sizable swells. Austin turned south, where a fleet of recreational boats had already set up their drifts, casting for pompano.
Mixed seas or short chop usually test a boat’s dryness and seakeeping. We didn’t exactly have those conditions, but the 221 handled the heavy swell and landed solidly when challenged by the occasional sharp peak.
Although the bay boat drifted steadily, I opted to cast while standing on the main deck. I greatly appreciated the Wellcraft’s 20-plus-inch gunwale height, which actually makes this vessel a bit of a hybrid. It floats in 14 inches of water, but its sides rise to a comfortable level for rough seas.
Austin kept the trolling motor in the water as we drifted, repositioning us when necessary. We found a trove of bluefish that hacked at our jigs mercilessly. The action was fun on light tackle, but visions of a tasty pompano heightened my expectations.
As Austin rerigged repeatedly, I poked around the boat a bit more. Had we needed to anchor, even in deep water, we could have stowed plenty of rode in the cavernous locker at the bow. Wellcraft opted not to install a hanger inside that locker because anglers often use nontraditional anchors that come in odd shapes.
I found all hatches finished inside and out; most featured hydraulic-assist rams. Trolling-motor batteries actually stow beneath a plate inside the center bow storage locker. At each of the deck’s four corners, Wellcraft placed a padded knickknack shelf or catch-all for phones, lures, pliers and other items anglers like to keep handy.
The black console face reduces glare, and its size permits two 12-inch electronics displays. The helm station also features a three-position footrest that accommodates any captain.
My test boat came with power-assist hydraulic steering, which made turns at speed dreamy. As I ran the boat back to port, I made numerous tight circles at 25 to 30 mph. The boat also backs easily in both directions.
On plane, I adjusted the jack plate up and down. The 221 favors a bow-down running attitude, so raising the jack plate yet tucking in the engine (and laying off the trim tabs) creates a very comfortable cruise.
Moving fore and aft aboard this 22-footer, I found ample space in all quarters. But if you prefer a little extra wiggle room, Austin pointed out that the 241 offers 8 more inches ahead of the console and 14½ inches more behind the leaning post.
Of course, I might be biased, but I think the 221 is the perfect size.