Why Build a GRP Fly Bridge.

If you can afford to buy a boat with all the features then this probably isn’t a job you need to do as its messy, smelly and bloody hard work. This is for the person whose budget is on the smaller side and where you have the time or can make the time, or just want to see if you can do it yourself. In my experience building a Fly Bridge was very time consuming and a real pain but hugely satisfying. I am pleased with the outcome.

I will try to explain why I needed a Fly Bridge, basically experience told us all we should have one. Now the new Merryfishers and Parker have cabins, but you cant see round easily and there's more windage. I will start at the beginning. Maybe it is just me but I like to ‘pigeon-hole’ most things to give me reference points and I believe many boat anglers I know or have met over the years fall into one of three categories. The thing we all have in common is we want to catch fish and enjoy the outdoor life. These are the three categories that I hope you will recognise.

1.       There are those that want to try Boat Fishing to catch more fish, but can’t afford a boat. This group will initially start on the beach or join a club or a group of mates that will book a charter boat. Charter boats are STILL the CHEAPEST way to fish from a boat trust me!

2.       Then there are those like me that want to have their own boat but had a restricted budget and still go on the occasional charter boat or beach trip.

3.       Then there are those that have done group 1, done Group 2 and are now in group 3 like me, taking out anglers in a 10 meter catamaran.

I wonder how many will go through the progression in the above order? I used to be in the first group starting down on the local beach (1 mile away) and then joined a works club. Within the club I wanted to do the lot and in the end I had, having been Secretary and ‘Boat Commodore’. I fished from the local beach’s and did well holding the Wessex Starry Smoothound Record for about 10 years and could include a double figure Cod on my beach PB list too. However I always wanted to get out further and catch bigger and better fish. As Boat Commodore I used to organise 2 charter boats a month to stage competitions for the British Telecom Club (Southampton Telephones Area Angling Club). We had our own freshwater section (we rented a 4 acre lake) and a beach and boat section. I was secretary for a while too but the Boat Commodore job became hard work and at times I was not far off ‘press-ganging’ anglers to come along when the weather looked iffy. I did have a small boat during this time, a Mayland 13, but I mainly did the Charter Boat trips.

I then moved into the second group, fishing more often from my own boat but still going on the occasional charter trip. My first ‘big’ boat was an old traditional ‘Aquastar 20’ built in Guernsey and bought locally for £1750, it was about 30 years old and had osmosis in the hull, but still sound. It was very slow and rolled like a pig, but it looked like a small charter boat. I loved it. To look at mainly and to sit on the mooring having a cup of tea; you could even steer by tiller while sat on the stern, occasionally that was the best thing since sliced bread only sometimes you felt like getting out and swimming to speed up the trip! I needed some speed.

My first ‘fast boat’ was a 2 year old 17’ Wilson Flyer with a 60HP Evinrude which incidentally literally fell to bits on its 10th anniversary. I bought it for £2225. I had her for 11 years, replacing the Evinrude with a 50hp 4 stroke Yamaha. In my opinion the Wilson is an excellent starter boat. I sold her for £3350. Not bad when she gave me 11 years of good fishing. I can remember the sale very well as it was an emotional moment when she left Ashlett Creek with her new owner steering her down the channel. It got to me with a lump in the throat, now don’t ask me why ‘cos I did not expect it or really understand it. I discovered during that time that the benefit of a fast boat is that you can get out and back, fast, so your options are massively improved. However in a 17’ ‘Dory’ you need good weather to feel really comfortable if you go any distance offshore and even then the ‘freeboard’ (gunnel height) is not that great for tall anglers like myself. By the way the main reason I sold her was because it was time and a failed attempt at pinching my boat from the moorings was I guess, a bit like having your house burgled.

After that I listened to other more experienced ‘dinghy’ owners and discovered one way to obtain a ‘good’ competitive angling boat, which is sturdier, more comfortable and can easily take on worse weather and sea conditions, was to buy ‘old’. Surprisingly I could still keep within my £2500 to £3400 budget. Basically you need to opt for a 25 year old ‘family cruiser’ type boat and throw out all the fancy bits. You then add all the necessary items to make it comfortable and practical for angling.

In my neck of the woods one of those typical boats used to be the 18’ Teal, as once owned by John Skeggs (Skipper Last Laugh) and Ray Barron (best boat angler in the world? probably). More recently it is the Shetland 570, a choice made some time ago, by Malcolm (Dink) Lemoignan, (Top Solent Dinghy Angler) seems to be the value angling boat. Dink has stayed with his Shetland 570 ‘Maestro’ for more than 5 years and since then many followed. I had mine for 7 years and Tommo for more. Now getting back to the point, I would have been completely satisfied but used to get cold and wet due to the lack of protection that would be offered by a ‘Fly Bridge’. I certainly used to get very cold in the winter. Out of interest Dink Lemoignan fitted a Wilson Flyer ‘Fly Bridge’ to his 570 and Tommo built his own from scratch, which gave me the impetus to ‘copy’.  

These types of boats seldom and rarely come with a ‘Fly Bridge’. I don’t actually know why we call it a ‘Fly Bridge’ as it is not really the same thing as found on a ‘Gin Palace’ where the boat can be driven from a second helm position. What we term a Fly Bridge is a protective screen with a top which will take most of the wind, rain and wash keeping the skipper and crew warmer and dryer but still enables an unrestricted view of what is in front of you if you look around the ‘Fly Bridge’, so it has similarities.

Therefore a Fly Bridge is a ‘nice to have’ addition fitted to a family cruiser type boat. During the summer it is not really necessary but it definitely is very nice to have in the winter when some argue the fishing is better. You can also benefit with a Fly Bridge when compared to steering from within a ‘Wheelhouse’ by being able to look around the screen so that you get perfect vision when navigating in the dark or rain. Sitting and steering from within a wheelhouse can be tricky in the dark, even with wipers fitted. Now we have the real problem as an ‘off-the-shelf’ product does not exist. So the next step is to consider building a customised mould for a GRP Fly Bridge as it must fit your chosen boat. Here I explain how I built mine, with all costs, labour hours, details and photographs included. You never know it may help someone you know one day.

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