One Crazy Fast Bream Boat!

REVIEWED: Skeeter FX20 & E-TEC 250 H.O.
Do you really need to travel at 100kph to catch a bream? Jim Harnwell finds out.

IF you went back in time to, say, the mid-1990s and told a keen bream spinner that one day he’d be blasting around inches from the water in a souped up weapon of a boat with a 250hp engine howling at full noise behind him, he’d have said you were totally nuts.

And he would have been right. That is, until the serious competition scene started in this country. Before the comp scene came along a decade or so ago, most estuary boats were basic tinnies of less than 4m powered by 15 and 25hp outboards. You were up there as Mr Fancy Pants if you had a floor in your boat, let alone casting decks and rod lockers. High-powered donks in the 150-250hp class were restricted to offshore sportfishing boats of 6m plus.

Anyone with the slightest interest in lure fishing for bream, bass and barra now realises that the scene has radically changed.

Your standard estuary sportfishing rig is now between 4.3 and 5m with engines from 50 to 115hp being the norm. The serious guys – most of whom are dedicated competition anglers – opt for what can only be described as “extreme” boats, most of which are fibreglass and imported from the US, fitted with large and powerful DI two-stroke and four-stroke outboards in the 115-250hp class.

It needs to be highlighted that the guys driving these boats are at the pointy end of the sport. They’re the high-end niche of modern estuary and impoundment fishing. But the boats these guys use, and the innovative ways they rig them up, has definitely influenced how the rest of us fish. So it was interesting for Boat Fishing to spend time with a competition champ in what is probably the ultimate example of a specialist go-fast bream/bass boat.

Ballina-based Michael Starkey runs Frogleys Offshore, a successful tackle company which distributes Fuji, Gamakatsu, Megabass, Atomic and various other cool products. He’s also a very well known tournament angler, with many wins, including honours in the prestigious Mega Bucks comp, under his belt.

Starkey, like many of the gun comp fishos, is a fan of Skeeter boats. Skeeter is a US company credited with building the first ever “bass boat” back in 1948. That first boat was a 16 foot plywood model and Starkey’s new Skeeter, the FX20, is lauded as the company’s highest performance hull so far. Take it as read that the glossy state-of-the-art FX20 is a far cry from Skeeter’s humble plywood beginnings.

Michael Starkey has owned a procession of Skeeters over the years and his new baby, the first and so far only FX20 in Australia, is an impressive bit of kit.

But do you really need a boat like this to catch a bream? Well, no, obviously not. You can catch big bream in a kayak or a 3.5m dinghy. But if you want to win bream comps, then the ability to get to the best spots before everyone else is paramount. That’s why blokes like Michael Starkey invest the big bucks into these ultra specialised boats. The whole comp mindset may be alien to the majority of anglers out there – it certainly is to me – but after spending time with Michael Starkey, talking with him about how comps are structured and watching him fish, I can see that the sort of focused fishing he does demands a boat designed specifically to achieve certain outcomes.

Most Australian anglers tend to go for boats that suit a range of fishing applications. You might fish for bream one day and then go a few miles offshore the next to chase kingies or snapper. A boat that does that sort of thing is probably not designed to excel in either type of fishing but it gets the job done. But if you really get into a particular style of fishing – heavy tackle for big marlin or bream comps, for example – you need a boat designed to be the best possible platform for that specific type of fishing. The Skeeter FX20 reviewed here is purpose designed for comp fishing. You wouldn’t even look at this boat unless you were obsessed with fishing bream and bass comps.

Skeeter is owned by Yamaha in America and this particular boat was designed to be mated with Yammie’s new 250 VMax SHO four-stroke, which from all reports is an impressive example of modern four-stroke technology.

Michael’s FX20 is fitted with a 250 H.O. Evinrude E-TEC, which is a DI two-stroke, and ran at more than 120kph during our test runs. That’s about 74mph or almost 64 knots. Our speed runs down the Richmond River definitely rank up there as exhilarating, albeit scary. If you look closely at the pic above, you’ll see my face was distorted by the speed at which we were travelling and I can tell you now that the roar of the wind in my ears was deafening. The engine was still new during our test runs and Michael reckons he should get 130kph (80mph) when the big V6 donk loosens up.

I spent a bit of time behind the wheel and have to say that while driving the boat was a thrill, it was also nerve wracking. As we fanged along, I couldn’t help feeling worried about hitting a submerged log or running aground on a shallow sandbank. Roaring along at 90kph my mind was filled with images of the carnage that would result if I hit something at high speed.

While not wanting to be a spoilsport or wowser, it needs to be said that these sort of high performance boats aren’t designed to be used by entry level boaties. In my view, you would need to be an accomplished driver, with finely attuned awareness of boating safety, if you planned on owning one of these weapons. Michael Starkey is highly experienced and skilled at driving at speed and I have to say that I was relieved (he probably was as well!) when he took the wheel again.

Despite the extreme speeds, the ride and tracking was actually very predictable, due no doubt to the FX20’s hull design and the sheer weight and size of the boat. Despite my comments above, the fact is that you’d have to do something really stupid to lose control of this boat, even at high speed – the wide, flat hull meant it rode like it was on rails. We encountered only typical river chop during our test day – the Skeeter simply ate that. Talking with Michael and his colleague Jay, it seems that these hulls actually perform well in significant chop (like you’d encounter in a bay). However, to get the most out of the hull you need to really fang it. With a bit of acceleration, the boat rides “over” the chop, not through it.

The FX20 is rated to a maximum 250hp while the next model up, the FX21, can handle a massive 300hp. Crazy stuff! I noted fuel use by the E-TEC of about 100 litres per hour at max speed on Michael’s boat, which is not too bad considering you are covering serious amounts of water very fast. At idle the big E-TEC sipped only 700ml per hour.

The E-TEC (Michael likes the instant acceleration of modern DI two-strokes) is fitted to a jack plate, which allows the driver to maximise performance and ride. Also at the stern are twin Power Pole shallow water anchors. These odd looking hydraulic contraptions, which are an optional extra on Skeeters, allow the boat to be “anchored” in mud or sand. Michael is a flats specialist and says the power poles allow him to more effectively target bream in shallow waters.

Michael’s boat is fitted with a Humminbird 998CX SI sounder/GPS with side and down scanning at the helm with a smaller Humminbird up at the bow just aft of the 36-volt Minn Kota Max 101 electric motor. As you’d expect from a comp boat, the FX20 boasts vast amounts of storage space, with multiple rod lockers, room for tackle and safety gear and huge plumbed fish wells.

An interesting point is that the entire boat can be locked down, just like a car, via a remote control. This has obvious security benefits considering the amount of expensive tackle the average comp fisho carries around.

A flash stereo with iPod docking capability provides the vibes (musical ones, not fish catching ones) while out on the water.

The boat was fitted on a custom Easytow trailer and came in at well over two tonnes tow weight – this is one heavy bream boat.

From a fishing perspective, the Skeeter is a basically just one big flat deck. While roaring along at 60+ knots is fun, we definitely spent more time under electric power fishing our Megabass lipless minnows, Atomic Hardz, blades and crankbaits and jigging our Atomic Guzzlers.

After spending a day in the Skeeter with Michael I began to understand just how purpose designed these boats actually are. As mentioned above, Aussie fishos are used to boats that allow you to do various things – fish, ski, socialise and so on. An FX20 gets you to where you want to go super fast and then provides an ultra stable platform to fish from when you’re there. That’s pretty much it. They are VERY specialised boats.

And they ain’t cheap either – this boat as reviewed is worth more than $100,000 (but it does feature a liot of bling; a stock standard model would be significantly less).

But if you’re a serious competition angler like Michael Starkey, then a tricked up Skeeter FX20 like this is probably the perfect boat and well worth the investment.

Skeeter FX20
LOA: 20’2” (6.15m)
Beam: 95” (2.41m)
Weight: (Dry) 1850lbs (825kg)
Power: Max 250hp
Price: As tested, about $100,000
Contact: Skeeter Australia,, 02 9753 3837

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