Capt. Chris Wittman – Hell’s Bay Estero Review

South Florida offers some of the most diverse fisheries in the country and it’s this diversity that attracts so many anglers to the Sunshine State. You can target tailing redfish, bonefish and permit on shallow flats, snook and tarpon in the passes and along beaches and everything from bottom fish to pelagic on the numerous costal reefs and wrecks. One of the challenges that comes with fishing such a variety of habitats is finding a boat that can do all of these things well, thus the ever-growing demand in the bay boat market. As a guide in Southwest Florida for nearly 20 years, I have had the opportunity to run almost every well known bay boat out there. While versatility is what they are designed for it seems none of them excel in these diverse applications but are rather mediocre in all of them, ultimately sacrificing one quality or another in order to be “versatile.” When the crew at Hell’s Bay offered to let me put the Estero through its paces in real world conditions guiding on my home waters, I was skeptical that this boat would be any different than the others. Knowing Hell’s Bay’s rich history of skiff innovation and my affection for the smell of fresh fiberglass I figured testing the Estero was a great idea.

At first glance the Estero appears larger and roomier than other bay boats, yet still carries the classic lines of a Hells Bay. It looks like a Marquesa on steroids. The interior layout is spacious and uncluttered. Operating the boat felt natural, the location of controls and features were second nature, meaning I could keep my eyes on the water in search of fish instead of searching for switches. At almost 25 feet I wasn’t surprised at how stable the boat is or how well it handles rough water. What I didn’t expect was how light the boat felt floating high in the water, how effortlessly it got on its running pad in less than its length and how nimbly it maneuvered and carved through turns. Moving from the bow to stern with a loaded cast-net around clients was no problem on the wide walkable gunnels. The cavernous rear live-well is able to keep a pile of bait frisky and using the front pitch-well I was able to keep my tarpon and permit crabs separate from the bait fish.

But it was the first time I came off plane, powered down and dropped the trolling motor to set up on a school of approaching Tarpon that I was really blown away. The hull was dead silent. It had no hull slap and no pressure wake, a characteristic I have come to expect from Hell’s Bay’s skiffs but did not expect out of a boat of this size. The stealthiness of the Estero is what truly sets it apart from other boats in its class.

Over the course of two weeks I was able to really get a feel of everything the Estero had to offer. The Estero easily navigated through the shallow backcountry flats catching bait, pursuing tarpon in the bays of Pine Island Sound, along the beaches of the barrier islands and covering miles of open water fishing for Permit on coastal reefs. Not only did the Estero perform well beyond my expectations, it proved to be excellent in a wide variety of scenarios making the Estero a truly versatile all-­purpose boat, but most of all this boat is just strait up fun to fish!

Thanks to the crew at Hell’s Bay for letting me fish this awesome boat and changing my opinion of how a bay boat should perform. I didn’t want to give this one back!