Vol. 8 No. 28 - April 2, 2008

reel time

From the March 26, 2008 Issue

Hell’s Bay Boat Works survives and thrives

Reel time

Captain Bryon Chamberlin prepares to release a nice redfish
from his new Hell's Bay Professional 17.8.

The perfect boat, that’s all I wanted. Actually, I had a perfectly functional boat at the time, a 17-foot Action Craft Bay Runner. I had fished the boat for close to 12 years, even having it completely remodeled with custom gel coat, new hinges, a new outboard engine and twin air switches that operated trolling motors.

The only problem was that I was spending most of my time fly fishing in shallow water. My boat ran like a charm, handled beautify in a chop, but poled like a scow. It also had a persistent hull slap which created just enough noise to alert spooky snook, redfish, bonefish and tarpon that I was closing in with my fly. I first experienced the pleasures of a silent, light and easy to pole skiff when I fished with Captain Dale Perez in the Keys in 1999. That day on the water made me realize that there were boats far better suited for the kind of fishing I was doing. I did my research, talked to fellow anglers, and rode in a number of boats.

I was ready to make a purchase, picked out a skiff just like Perez’s and made a call to the company owner that I knew from the Florida Conservation Association. I didn’t get a call back, and as they say it was a blessing in disguise. While I was waiting for a call, I heard of a boat company, Hell’s Bay that had been formed by Hal Chitham, Flip Pallot and Chris Morejohn. I heard great things about the extensive research (consulting with Keys guides) that was conducted by the owners and knew that there was decades of experience reflected in the boat’s design. I traveled to Titusville to see the operation and try one of the boats. I was fortunate enough to be joined by my good friend Captain Rodney Smith and to get a plant tour and boat test with Pallot. It may not have been love at first sight, but it wasn’t far from it, so four months later I took possession of my new Guide 18.

Since that day in 2000, I have never looked back and still consider my boat to be one of the finest skiffs ever built. Two years later, the company was sold, and it wasn’t long before it began having financial troubles. In 2005, Hell’s Bay went into bankruptcy and the assets went on the auction block. Like many other satisfied owners, I was incredulous. How could such a successful company with so many satisfied customers have gone out of business? The answer was an absentee owner/manager who, in the end, took deposits for boats that were never built.

Things were looking bleak for the company when Chris Peterson, an avid angler and entrepreneur, attempted to buy the company from the bank. After unsuccessful talks, he attended the auction and bought the company for considerably less than he had offered in earlier negotiations. He then convinced key craftsmen and even the office manager to return, and the business was re-born.

I met Peterson at the Miami Boat Show in February and he related that after successful treatments for lymphoma he had felt the need to reinvent himself. Things fell perfectly into place when he received a tip from his accountant about the pending sale of the company. Peterson is a hands-on manager and has a passion for the business. After talking to him, I knew I had made the right decision when I suggested that my friend Captain Bryon Chamberlin buy a Hell’s Bay boat. Chamberlin had fished in my Guide 18 over the years and, after trying a number of boats, settled on a Hell’s Bay 17.8 Professional as his first choice.

A week ago Sunday I poled Chamberlin, who is recovering from surgery, on his new 17.8 Professional. I was immediately impressed with the fit and finish of the boat and it handled and poled true to the Hell’s Bay legend. While fishing the west side of Sarasota Bay, Chamberlin landed two keeper trout, a Spanish mackerel, numerous ladyfish, a 28 inch redfish and a four pound pompano. Not a bad morning of fly fishing.

Chamberlin was convinced that after driving and poling his skiff, I would be in the market for a new boat. There’s no doubt that I was impressed with the boat and many of the new innovations instituted by Peterson, but as a testament to the devotion owners have for their boats, I’m still happy with my Hell’s Bay. But that doesn’t mean I won’t have it back in the Hell’s Bay shop soon to be refurbished and fitted with some of those new innovations! Check out the Hell’s Bay web site at www.hellsbayboatworks.com

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