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Reviewed: Formula 15

Not many boats can troll for marlin in the morning and popper fish for whiting in the afternoon. This little beauty can. Jim Harnwell reports. Pics by Scott Thomas.

THERE’S no such thing as the perfect fishing boat. Most, if not all, specialist fishing boats are designed to do one or two things really well. Take, for example, Kaj “Bushy” Busch’s previous boat, a Skeeter i-Class, a hard-core US-made tournament boat designed to go fast over calm water and provide an ultra stable platform for casting lures in estuary and impoundment situations. With a 225 Evinrude E-TEC HO on the back, this low-slung Yankee fishing machine went like a cut snake – speeds of more than 60 knots were achievable – and it boasted acres of usable fishing room over its flat carpeted decks. But while the Skeeter excelled as a specialist flatwater sportfisher, it couldn’t handle offshore conditions, which meant Bushy couldn’t get out and chase snapper or kings unless it was flat calm. For offshore sort of work a craft like the Fishing World Stabi-craft 659 Super Cab is ideal. But the Stabi is a really crap estuary fishing boat. I know this because I’ve tried to catch bream on lures out of it. It’s way too big, it draws too much water, it’s noisy, the cabin catches the wind…it just doesn’t work as a bream spinning boat.

The above demonstrates that very few boats work well as fishing platforms in both offshore and inshore situations. Bushy’s new boat, a Formula 15 centre console powered by an E-TEC 90, is rare in that it does cater for inshore and (sensible) offshore fishing. As such, it’s a fascinating little vessel that demands close attention from anyone interested in maximising fishing opportunities while minimising the costs associated with doing what you want out on the water.

The Formula 15 isn’t a new boat. It’s based on the classic Haines Hunter 445SF, a legendary sportfishing boat of the 1970s and ’80s. When they were first built, the 445s revolutionised sport and game fishing in this country by allowing anglers to venture offshore in a safe, seaworthy boat that didn’t cost the earth and which was easy to power, tow and handle.   

There are original 445s still around but they are getting on a bit. Victorian boat builder Adrian Clancy bought the 445 moulds about a decade ago and reinvigorated the hull, relaunching it under the Formula brand back in 2002.

Bushy had been considering offloading the Skeeter for some time when he spotted the Formula 15 at a boat show. While he regarded the Skeeter as an outstanding example of US tournament fishing technology, he missed his offshore fishing – especially for snapper and sand flathead, two species he enjoys catching and eating. He also wanted to revisit gamefishing opportunities, mainly involving black marlin on inshore grounds he’s discovered in his home waters on the NSW Far South Coast.

The Skeeter was also a very heavy boat to tow, a problem for Bushy as he likes to take off on long trips down the coast or inland to his beloved trout lakes. The weight and size of the Skeeter was making these expeditions prohibitively expensive due to high fuel costs associated with towing. The Skeeter also required constant maintenance. These boats are designed for freshwater use in the giant US lakes which are home to the largemouth bass fishery on which a flourishing tournament scene is based. The extensive electrical and computer componentry integral to the big Skeeter’s manufacture had difficulty coping with the salty environments of the coastal estuaries and rivers Bushy fished for bream, EPs and flathead.

Bushy was faced with a problem many fishos who like both inshore and offshore work will no doubt understand. The ideal is to buy two boats, one for game and reef fishing and the other for estuary and impoundments. This is obviously dependant on having the disposable money and space to buy, run, maintain and store two boats. Not many of us, including Bushy, are in that position.

Finding a boat that can do both offshore and estuary work, that’s easy to tow, cheap to run and requires minimal maintenance is the dream for many boat fishos. A couple of days spent fishing out of Bushy’s Formula 15 leads me to think this boat may well be the answer to many anglers’ prayers.

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Have boat will fish – a common scene on Bushy’s home waters these days.

The Formula 15 is a very stable and dry riding boat in offshore and inshore conditions. We drove out across the Merimbula bar to some snapper reefs a couple of miles offshore and had no problems fishing two up. Stability at rest was excellent for what is essentially a small, deep vee centre console. After we finished bait fishing for reds, we set the boat up with Bushy’s home designed outriggers and trolled a couple 24kg outfits for an early season billfish. The stand-up rods were situated in well-placed stainless steel rod holders. In my view, the entire ’rigger system readily accentuated the versatility of this boat – there was absolutely no reason the Formula couldn’t work as a mini-gameboat. You could easily set up single or twin downriggers as well.

A scarcity of bait meant our marlin plans were sadly unrealised but with an icebox full of snapper and an appointment with a range of estuary fish including silver trevally, bream, flathead, tailor and whiting we pulled in the lines and headed in.

A low swell of half to 1m had seen the boat retain an even keel when fighting and netting the snapper and when slow trolling the livies. I was interested to see how it would perform at speed. Bushy gunned it on the way back to the ramp with the hull cutting sharply across the bumpy little sea. The compact E-TEC 90 easily pushed the hull to just over 34 knots at a fast cruise of 5000rpm with about another 1200rpm to spare. No spray came on board as we ran across the light onshore wind and easterly swell. Bushy said he’s taken the boat out in bigger seas with NE winds of up to 20 knots and recorded a safe, dry ride into, with and across the prevailing conditions. It has to be said here that this is only a 15-foot boat. No matter how well it rides and performs, it’s not designed for long range offshore trips in heavy swells and strong winds. The Formula 15 will perform much better offshore than most similar sized sportfishing boats but it’s not designed for serious bluewater work.

The Formula 15 continued to impress in the estuaries. Bushy stowed his ’rigger poles and game rods and dragged an 80lb Minn Kota electric out of the boot of his Honda MDX 4WD. The big electric slid onto a custom-designed platform at the bow with the stainless railings cleverly unlocking and sliding back to allow unimpeded access.

Three heavy duty batteries are located amidships with a power outlet on the console allowing easy recharge. The batteries are separated with two deep cycle units providing power for the electrics and a single battery dedicated to cranking the engine. If needed, all three batteries can be switched together to provide power for the E-TEC if the crank battery is low or dead.

The 90 litre fuel tank is also located amidships, underneath the console. Bushy feels the weight of the fuel and batteries at the centreline of the boat greatly improves hull performance and stability.

Stability and shallow water access proved to be outstanding attributes of the Formula 15. A solid 16 hours of lure fishing in Merimbula and Pambula lakes, plus extensive travels around the massive Mallacoota estuary system, proved this little ’glass boat equals and possibly even betters the stability features of many popular punt-style tinnies. Decent sized reverse chines on the Formula’s hull obviously help provide stability – these sort of chines are common on bigger offshore boats such as the popular Noble Super Vee range of plate alloy sportfishers and definitely help deep-vee hulls from dipping or lurching when stationary.

I can honestly say the Formula 15 is one of the most stable 15-foot boats I’ve been in, both offshore and in estuary situations. Bushy himself couldn’t stop saying how happy he was with the hull and how it had exceeded his expectations in regards to performance and general fishability. A requirement of any decent estuary sportfishing boat is to be able to access shallow water. We floated easily in water less than 30cm deep while casting poppers for whiting.

The layout of the Formula is basic yet functional. Storage is available in side pockets and in hatches under the bow and in the floor beneath the transom. Seats in front and behind of the console lift up to reveal yet more storage. The console itself features a Perspex windshield edged with stainless railings. A Furuno sounder and GPS under are mounted atop the console with the E-TEC’s gauges beneath. A control unit for the outboard is mounted on the starboard side of the console.

Because he does lots of highway miles, Bushy opted for a high quality tandem axle Ezy Tow trailer to mount the Formula on. This drive-on trailer is custom designed for the hull and provides for easy one-man operation.

A self-confessed revhead, Bushy considered fitting a 115hp E-TEC to his Formula but is now glad he went for the 90, which is the max rated HP. Performance from this compact three-cylinder 1.3l DI two-stroke is exemplary, both at high and low speeds, with excellent economy from the frugal yet powerful new-age donk.

The boat itself looks stylish and sleek with blue and white gelcoat, gleaming stainless rails and recessed cleats. It looks the goods both on the water and on its trailer. Bushy sure scored himself a winner!

FORMULA 15 CC

Length: 4.45m hull only
Beam: 2.06m
Deadrise: 20 degrees
Fuel: 90 litres
Weight: (hull dry) 450kg
Tow weight: 1050kg
Power: Max. 90hp
Price: Hull only from $17,700
Contact: Formula Power Boats. 03 9850 9280, www.formulaboats.com.au

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