Ron “Pipp” Rhodes calls it a Golden Age: the 1960s and 1970s, when he was going out with his father and brothers, fishing along the New Jersey coast. “Fishing was my life as a youngster,” says the 75-year-old retired New York City policeman. “I grew up on Staten Island, and I started out by ferrying people to their moorings in a rowboat with a three-hp Evinrude, doing it for tips.”
Jobs on a party boat and at a marina followed. In 1971, when Rhodes was 28, he and his fellow anglers from the Staten Island Tuna Club competed in the United States Atlantic Tuna Tournament—and won it. “That was the height of my fishing career,” Rhodes says. “I tell my son that it was like winning the World Series.”
As with most serious anglers, Rhodes has owned a fleet of boats, 10 of them to date, all geared toward his passion for fishing. There was a 68-foot lapstrake Old Town that his father bought in 1947, followed by a couple of Staten Island-built boats. In later years, Rhodes, his father and brother combined their resources to buy a 30-foot Olsen Sea Skiff built in Keyport, New Jersey, as well as a 36-foot custom walkaround and a 34-foot Striker. By 2013, he was on the water in a 1977 Pacemaker Wahoo 26, a center console with a single gas inboard. “My oldest brother had one, and I always wanted one, too,” Rhodes says. Now looking forward to his seventh season with Pipp, Rhodes says she’s the perfect boat for the kind of fishing he likes to do. “At my age, I just want to go out and drift around,” he says. “The Wahoo is a beamy boat with walkaround decks, so I can take it out and handle it myself.”
The boat was in excellent condition when he bought her, with upgrades from the former owner, who once worked at Pacemaker and was redoing boats as a hobby. Power comes from an 18-year-old 260-hp Crusader gas engine. Rhodes figures there are about 600 hours on the power plant. “I was a little concerned at first, but I’ve had no problems,” he says. “It’s a good engine, and they seem to last forever.” Inboard power was a selling point for Rhodes. “It’s more work, a little more complicated, but outboards take up a lot of room when you’re trolling.”
Rhodes doesn’t invite bad weather, but he says the Wahoo handles the normal stuff easily. “You trim the bow down just a bit and it doesn’t pound,” he says of his rough-water experiences. “And it’s good in a following sea. We have to come across Sandy Hook Bay to go home, and in the afternoon, that southerly breeze comes up at 15 to 20 knots, making a good two- to three-foot chop. But even so, we can cross the bay at pretty much full cruise.”
He starts each fishing season by chasing striped bass, then moves on to fluke during the summer, going back to the stripers in the autumn and hauling out for the winter. “We do a lot of striped bass,” says Rhodes, who fishes with his son. “We troll off Sandy Hook, along the New Jersey shore, near the Ambrose Channel, and this boat is perfect for that. I can be at the console and just sit there and fish. Or, I can put a chair in the stern and fish there. If I want to go up front and cast, I can do that, too.”
Sometimes, he has great fishing days, such as the one he spent in a fluke tournament with about 50 boats in New York Harbor. “We were in third place after the first day,” he says. “The second day, I knew I had the winner, but the fish got away. That was a very memorable fishing trip.” Rhodes puts 100 to 150 hours a year on the Pacemaker Wahoo 26, and says the boat is “holding up pretty good. It still shows well. When other people see it they don’t always know what it is. To me, it looks like a $100,000 center console.”
The Pacemaker Wahoo 26 is a husky-looking, no-nonsense fishing boat with high freeboard, a modest sheer and a broad, rounded transom. Power comes from a single gas inboard with conventional running gear.
The boat has an all-fiberglass, modified deep-V hull with a hard-chine bottom and lifting strakes. The wide gunwales (equipped with eight rod holders) surround a deep, walkaround deck with low handrails forward. Rod stowage compartments with locking doors are under the gunwales on both sides of the cockpit. The bow has a raised casting platform with an in-deck locker. The engine box is just abaft amidships, providing a base for pedestal seats at the center console.
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue.