Twenty five years ago a lot of things were different. The country seemed friendlier, for some reason. It really did. But thinking back twenty five years ago, I very easily remember one thing that hasn't changed: the marina where I keep my boat. Back then it wasn't my boat in the local high & dry and wet dock marina. It was my friend Phil Plastic's, and me and his older brother Mike left that marina on Phil's 21' Mako so many times I long ago lost count. And the cleaning table on the side of the dock where I catch pinfish for everything from grouper to cobia to tarpon, has resulted in a lot of filets and a lot of fish steaks and more than a few cuts when I wasn't careful with my deadly-sharp filet knife. But for more than 25 years the Harborage Marina at Bayboro has been where I leave for fishing trips.
Deciding if you should put your boat in a high-and-dry requires a couple of different commitments. One is the cost. It costs me about $190 to keep a 21' Robalo Bayhunter there. But costs aside, there are major advantages to keeping your boat dry.
Is a High & Dry Right for me?
Let's assume it's going to cost you $200 a month to keep your boat where a lot of very serious anglers keep their boats. Assuming the average fishing craft is between 18' and 24', that two-hundred dollar figure should be fairly accurate. Is it worth it? If you're a serious angler who is on the water frequently, in my opinion you gotta be nuts to haul a boat around town that much. In fact, for the past five years I haven't had a trailer. Granted, I fish with a lot of other people. It's a little perk to owning half of The Online Fisherman. My partner is a guide - one of the very best there are, in fact - and lots of other people that I am friends with also have boats. And space. But my boat - the one I have fished the most over the past dozen years - is dry. And high.
The Pros and Cons of High and Dry Boating Life
Once I turned fifty or so, I stopped getting up early in the morning. Not completely, but somewhat. I will meet people at five am, "darkthirty" as we've called it all my life. But it's not quite the fun it used to be.
Now let's create a scenario: The dawn is more times than not the best time to fish. It always has been for me, anyway. What that means is that if I want to be on the water at dawn and my boat is on a trailer, I have to check everything to ensure safety, and leave the house at 3am. That doesn't mean a lot if I went to bed at 8:30 pm, after mommy tucked me in and my uncle's waking my butt up, but if it's my clock ringing and shaking the room at 3am and I have to load my stuff up, get some coffee in me and start my car, that's another story all together. Add responsibility for house, home, kids, wives, and personal issues, and it's just hard to get up that early.
How Far you Haul your Boat
If you fish in Tampa bay, you move your boat to get it into the bay. Let's assume there are three major regions we define: the upper bay, the middle bay around the Gandy, and the lower or south bay. The Harborage marina is in downtown Saint Petersburg, right up the street from Mastry's historical tackle shop.
There are two different parts of the Harborage. The first, and arguably the most important, is the wet marina. We are sailboat country, folks. You can talk fishing and catch fish, and you can think the water was made to fish, but there are a lot of "blow boats". Blow boats need a place to sleep most of the time. And the Harborage is one of the best in the bay.
Just like a fishing boat, there are monthly costs associated with keeping a sailboat there, but you are talking real estate. A slip for a 42' Out Island like the Morgan I spent a lot of my youth on costs around $75,000 for starters. That's before you're allowed to pay monthly fees. The Harborage Marina and the city of Saint Petersburg both seat their marinas in a small cove. Knowing the area like we do, we also know that if we went back in the time machine, these coves have been populated by people for at least 10 thousand years.
Getting back to costs and hassle: If you have a boat on a trailer, it weighs something. So let's say for the sake of argument that it costs extra gas to pull a boat. How much? 10 miles a gallon maybe? A local captain and friend of ours named Captain Steve Betz just answered a question on our forum about pulling boats, and said that he gets 7.5 mpg on the highway while trailering his boat. That's highway miles. When I first bought my boat gas was 89 cents a gallon. Filling those 30 thirst-quenching gallons into a truck was no big thing. At four dollars? It's a whole different story.
So, we talked about gas guzzling trucks, but we haven't even talked about trailer lights going out, tire problems, electrical problems. Should I go on? Yeah, you might not be spending more to tow the boat than it costs me to keep mine at the Harborage, but you also don't have the advantages of your boat waiting in the water for you ready to go, then at the end of a long day fishing, you pull up, secure your boat to the dock, hose it off, then walk away.
Obviously if you have been fishing from the same marina for twenty years, you get used to fishing the surrounding waters. The Harborage marina is a little more than six miles from the Skyway, and six miles from the Gandy. It literally sits inside the bay on top of the best fisheries (maybe) in all of Florida. When tarpon season is here, or the kingfish run in the spring and fall is here, or if you love to fish those incredible flats near the mouth of the bay, where the tidal flow is often fifty-percent stronger than it is 15 miles north where the Howard Frankland bridge sits, the waters surrounding the Harborage are exactly the place you want to be. So whether it's spring or summer, or the coldest days of winter, where the Harborage sits is prime fishing ground. And if you consider the costs and hassle of trailering your boat to good fishing waters X number of times per month, this marina might prove as helpful to you as it does to me and a lot of serious anglers in the bay.
The Harborage marina is open from 8am to 5pm, seven days a week (with 24 hour access to your boat by simply calling during business hours and letting them know you will be fishing tonight or early in the morning and to put your boat in the water). It offers gas, ice, and a very cool restaurant called Fish Tails. And we are talking about the high & dry side. The wet marina also has its own restaurant, and is a great place to have gatherings, as they will accommodate members with tables, help, and even food. All around the place is very friendly.
The way it works is what I love. First of all, the guys that run the dry side (say hi to them if you stop by) know anglers because they are anglers. One of them - a young guy I have liked for a long time because of his passion for our sport - named Aaron, has been
working on his boat, scraping, painting, rewiring and scraping again, for two years. That's passion. Call these guys and say that you are going fishing and the boat will be in the water when you get there, docked near the relatively inexpensive gas (by Marina standards, for sure) or out of the way, whichever better suits your needs.
24 hour security means that I have left rods on that boat, and a castnet, and had them drop the boat in the water before they closed the lift and gotten onto the deck, tired but ready to catch fish, at 3am.
We had our first annual TOF tarpon school kick off here, and that day jumped tarpon on boats that had never done it before. The staff was helpful, excellent to work with, and made the whole experience great. We will be talking about the hands-on tarpon school again once the spring approaches, so we are likely to experience the marina as a group once again as we use the great facilities for teaching and learning.
So there's obviously good reasons why my beloved Robalo has lived our entire relationship together at The Harborage marina. She's always easy to clean, easy to launch, and easy to land (the guys even water your engine for you. No charge). I am at the point where I tip the hell out of them anytime I have a few bucks, and they love lunch from the restaurant. A dozen shrimp each and they are happy guys. But the people at the Harborage make the experience worth every dime, and the tips are completely optional. They will take care of your boat and make it easier to fish. And easier is good.
One last thing: Have you ever had to do work on your boat? Imagine the ease of having the Harborage put it on one of the back-lot racks for you - and then lift it back to storage or onto the water when you are done. So many perks and such a great marina. Visit their website www.harboragemarina.com and then stop by to see if your boat would like to live there in high and dry comfort.
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