OUR previous boat was the Haines Signature 485SF – the company’s largest selling sport fishing (SF) model. Having such a diverse range of fisheries surrounding us in Hervey Bay, it’s a challenge to find a boat that covers everything. The 485SF was a versatile boat with an emphasis on inshore fishing and the capability of running offshore when conditions allowed.
This time we were looking for a boat that was more suited to offshore work while still being capable of floating across shallow flats and running up larger rivers, creeks and impoundments. After previously owning three fibreglass boats I couldn’t imagine going with anything other than ’glass. Unfortunately, there aren’t many locally made specialist fibreglass fishing centre consoles. Initially I looked towards US “bay” style boats but found they mostly didn’t have enough freeboard for serious offshore work.
Next I looked at US centre consoles, of which there are many. But I just couldn’t find one with the right layout and storage options.
I spoke with The Haines Group and suggested there was an opportunity for an Australian fibreglass boat manufacturer to build a specialised sportfishing centre console to suit our local fishing styles and compete with the international imports. The logical choice of hull was the 543, a proven performer.
So the 543SF project began. We drew up the general deck design with the key features. Starting at the bow there is a deep anchor well large enough to carry at least 110m of rope with suitable chain and anchor. There is a custom-made electric motor plate which can be mounted on either the port or starboard side to suit your preference. Being right handed, I prefer mine on the starboard side so I’m not casting over the Minn Kota when it’s not deployed. We went with a Minn Kota Terrova iPilot 24 volt 80lb bow mount with 60-inch shaft.
The front casting deck is large enough to sleep two people comfortably, making it ideal for long range trips. I wanted at least one large dry storage compartment which caused some debate in relation to the definition of “dry”. John Haines Jnr said very few deck storage options can truly be classified as completely dry, however, the use of a deep hatch track and seal would provide sufficient waterproofing for most. We settled on having two split hatches towards the bow deep enough to house any items you would prefer to keep dry – safety gear, jackets, bedding, cooking gear etc. The hatches have been fitted with gas struts for ease of opening and to hold these up when open.
Next was a kill tank/live well. The one we had previously in our 485SF was fantastic so we elected to reproduce it again – only with a little more depth this time due to the increased height of the raised casting deck. This compartment has also been foam lined to improve insulation as both a live well or kill tank and will hold ice for day/overnight trips. It makes a fantastic live storage well for species such as bream, flathead, whiting and bass and will keep them in top condition until either released or dispatched for eating. It carries about 120 litres of water.
Next we have another large general storage compartment with two access hatches that are ideal for storing long items like gaffs, folding nets, lure retrievers, drogue, and tackle boxes. There’s a deep bilge sump below the floor with plumbing for the live well and deck wash system flush mounted into the port side.
A lot of thought and design has gone into the centre console. Anyone who’s fitted electronics in centre consoles previously will appreciate the hinged folding top section! With sounder screens getting larger every year the dash section will accommodate flush mounted screens in excess of 12-inches. I went with the Lowrance HDS Gen 2 Touch units with a Touch 9 as my GPS/charting unit and a Touch 12 for sonar/structure scan. Both units are networked so you can accurately mark bottom structure as a waypoint or split the screens as desired. I also added the new Sonar Hub with CHIRP transducer and saltwater Hydrowave unit.
I mounted a Lowrance Sonic Hub for playing a few tunes on the longer runs or overnight trips. There are two Lowrance LMF 400 gauges to read all the engine data and fuel management details via an interface to the engine. We also fitted the Suzuki Troll Mode system which allows the engine’s revs to be adjusted in 50rpm intervals simply by pressing the Troll Mode control switch from idle up to1200rpm. I also went with the new Lowrance Link 8 DSC VHF radio with a short whip antenna.
Everything on the console is ergonomically positioned for easy access. The Bennett trim tab switches are positioned just above the single binnacle control box so the boat can be easily trimmed while running. All the switches for lights, bilges, live wells, and deck wash are positioned across the dash directly in front of the steering wheel, which is also on an adjustable tilt helm. There is a Sterling Pro Mariner three bank (30 amp) battery charger mounted under the console, hard wired into the two Deka marine Intimidator 8A31 batteries for the 24 volt Minn-Kota system as well as the third Deka house battery to run all the other electronics. This makes charging all the batteries painless by just running a lead to the boat and plugging it into the Clipsal power plug on the side of the console. I also had a separate C-Tek MXS 5 maintenance charger hard wired into the Deka crank battery down the back.
There are three rod racks built into each side of the boat’s gunwales with individual tubes to protect rods up to 12 feet, making it ideal for both conventional and fly rods. Soft cushioned coamings have been fitted in the main cockpit area for added comfort when fishing heavier tackle and battling larger fish. Behind the console there’s a comfortable boat seat with storage built in under the cushion. There’s enough space underneath the seat to fit a larger cooler or tackle bags. There’s also a removable padded back rest with another four rod holders built into it.
The transom area features a small seat on each side which houses the main crank battery, charger and isolator switches on the port side with a plumbed live well on the starboard side.
The hull is rated up to 150hp with our choice of motor being the Suzuki DF140A. We couldn’t be happier with the performance and have propped the boat for midrange fuel economy by running a Suzuki stainless steel 3 x 13 7/8 x 21 R prop. This combination gets out of the hole well, while offering a cruising speed of about 20 knots and burning 15 litres per hour at 4000 RPM. This gives the boat great range with the underfloor 160 litre fuel tank. WOT at 6000 rpm produces 36 knots, burning 45 litres per hour.
The whole rig comes in at about 1800kgs sitting on a tandem axle Dunbier wide body Supa Rolla trailer with sexy alloy wheels.
We feel very privileged to be given the opportunity to work with The Haines Group and believe the 543SF will gain legend status around fishing circles in years to come. It has set a new benchmark with everyone who has had a run with us commenting on the ride quality and layout. You also have the flexibility of customising the whole package with a tiller steer, side console and our fully optioned centre console models all being available in a range of classy gel coat colours.