Generally speaking, when it comes to fishboats I can’t stand fashion plates. I don’t want to worry about chipping the beautiful gel coat, getting a hook stuck in some fancy-shmancy seat cushion fabrics, or spraying fish blood across an expensive Berber carpet. I’d rather have a plain-Jane boat I can mess up with chum, bloodworm splatters, and flying scales, then hose off at the end of the day without stressing over how much damage I’ve done. So you may be surprised to find out that one of my favorite boats ever is the Chris-Craft Catalina 26, which I spent a day on fishing in Florida, prior to writing the full review Chris-Craft Catalina 26: Classy Casting.
Yes, this boat is a fashion plate. There’s teak all over the place, the seat vinyls are buttery-soft (and stitched with double-piping), and the hullsides have multi-color gel coat. What sets the Catalina 26 apart from other gold-plated fishboat wannabes, however, is the fact that Chris-Craft actually took the time and effort necessary to give it some heavy-duty fishing teeth. Yes, the Catalina actually can swing rods and troll lines with the best of ‘em. The foredeck has a toe-kick, a pair of good-sized macerated fishboxes live in the deck, and built-in fishing accessories include a multi-tray tacklebox, a 24-gallon livewell, rodboxes, flush-mount gunwale rodholders, fresh and raw water washdowns, coaming bolsters, and T-top rocket launchers. Surprise!
It gets better: the boat also performs like a champ. With the 300-hp Mercury on our test platform we hit 50-mph, and cruised in the mid-30s while getting a better-than-average 2.2 mpg. Nice. Outfit the boat with a 350-hp powerplant, and top speed jumps up to a reported 53.2 while cruise hovers right around 40-mph.
And, it gets better still: the boat is built with cutting-edge construction techniques, and feels incredibly solid underfoot. The liner is integrated with the stringer grid, all voids below deck level are pumped full of sound-deadening foam, and strakes, the keel, and the transom are reinforced with unidirectional tri-axial and quad-axial fiberglass and/or Kevlar. Hatches are RTM molded so they’re light but strong, and are fully finished on both sides.
Would I feel bad about ripping up a Catalina’s cushions with a wild swing of the gaff? Yes. Would I shudder after bleeding out a tuna across this boat’s teak? You betcha. If I fished one for a season, would it be a devaluation nightmare? In all likelihood. But I could fish it as hard as any other 26-footer, and catch just as well as on any other boat. Kudos, Chris-Craft, for putting together a serious fishing machine. Even if you did make it look all pretty and stuff.
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