Ron Heisler grew up as a freshwater boater in South Carolina. Bass fishing was the thing, and he fished competitively for a time. “I bought a bass boat in 1995 and fished competitively for 10 or 12 years, and for fun after that,” says Heisler, a Rock Hill, South Carolina, small business owner.
In 2005 he and his wife, Brandy, and their infant son, Nicholas, moved to Lake Wylie and bought a deckboat. “We used it for outings and to cruise the lake with family and friends,” says the entrepreneur.
And then Heisler got hooked on saltwater fishing. A business partner took him offshore in a 28-foot Kevlacat power catamaran a few times, and that was all it took. “I just found it more exciting than freshwater fishing,” he says. “And I had a friend, Ronnie Foster, a charter captain with 40 years’ experience, who took me out for a long weekend one summer. We went bottom fishing, and it was great fun.”
SPECIFICATIONS LOA: 37 feet, 6 inches BEAM: 13 feet DRAFT: 2 feet, 10 inches WEIGHT: 20,000 pounds HULL TYPE: modified-vee PROPULSION: twin diesels to 540 hp TANKAGE: 400 gallons fuel, 100 gallons water BUILDER: Cabo Yachts
That led Heisler to buy his first saltwater fishing boat — a 23-foot Key West center console with twin 125-hp Suzukis. “I would trailer it to Charleston, and with the right weather we’d go out 70 miles for wahoo and dolphin,” he says. “Then I had back surgery. I couldn’t do the center console anymore.”
Here he was, boatless and “hooked on that blue water,” as he puts it. “I wanted to catch those fish and do it with my son. I wanted to boat as a family, too.”
He found the right boat in a 2005 Cabo 35 Express, a twin-engine express fisherman with upscale accommodations. Heisler purchased her through Bluewater Yacht Sales in Hampton, Virginia, in 2015 for about $250,000 (blue wateryachtsales.com). “The boat is awesome,” he says. “We bought Nicholas an electric reel — he catches more fish than we do.”
In the spring they go after wahoo and dolphin. Later in the season, the kingfish come around. “We go off … and start looking for temperature breaks and water clarity weed lines,” Heisler says.
Power comes from twin 540-hp Cummins diesels. “Loaded down, it cruises 25 knots and uses around 30 gallons an hour,” he says. “We’re playing with the props to see if we can do better.” Electronics include a Navionics system with a fishfinder and radar. A Garmin GPS links to the autopilot.
Going from a 23-foot center console to a 35-foot Cabo was a big step, Heisler admits, but he had good support throughout the buy. “[Bluewater’s] Jud Black understood that I was new to a boat this size,” he says. “He explained everything to me — during the walkthrough, the engine survey and the test ride. I felt such a comfort level that when I left, I knew that was the boat I was going to buy.”
Heisler’s friend Jack Banks owned the flybridge version of the Cabo 35. “I picked his brain,” he says. “And one thing he pointed out to me — if you’re fishing with your son, buy an express so you’re on the same level with him, not up on a flybridge. So he helped us choose an express.”
Heisler, whose wife is a teacher, keeps the boat at Tiger Point Marina in Fernandina Beach, Florida (Amelia Island), where it’s ready for fishing, cruising or just hanging out. “We have a condo down there for weekends and vacations, so we can spend time boating, fishing and enjoying the island,” he says. “We went down one weekend, and the weather was not favorable offshore. So we just fired the boat up, rode up the St. Mary’s River and docked, walked around town, had dinner and cruised back to Amelia Island.”
As for Nicholas, he wants to be a charter captain. The 11-year-old is learning about knots, how to run the boat, looking out for traffic and scanning the gauges. “He loves the fishing,” says Heisler. “But he’s also learning that taking care of the fishing gear and washing down the boat are part of a day of fishing.”
The Cabo 35 has been a perfect fit from the start. “The first day out, we got caught in a terrible thunderstorm,” Heisler recalls. “And there we were, sitting in the cabin with the rain pouring down, safe and warm, listening to the radio. It wasn’t like that in the center console.” The rain stopped, and the fishing resumed.
“This boat has exceeded my expectations,” Heisler says. “I am so glad I bought it, and we look forward to the fishing adventures to come.”
The Cabo 35 Express rides a modified-vee hull with a wide (13 feet) beam for its 34-foot, 6-inch waterline length and a shallow draft of less than 3 feet. Its design was changed over the years, including refining the hull shape to enhance heavy-weather performance.
Above the waterline, the profile shows a tall bow with a broken sheer leading to a roomy cockpit. Standard fishing gear includes a transom door, two in-deck fishboxes, a bait and tackle center, and washdowns. Many boats were outfitted with towers, an upper helm station and outriggers.
A large swept-back windshield protects the starboard-side helm station, which has a bench seat, as well as an L-shaped lounge to port. Interior layouts also changed during the boat’s production run. A centerline berth forward was replaced with a V-berth or offset double berth. The L-shaped galley, with basic gear, is to port, with a lounge/dinette that converts to a berth placed to starboard.
Propulsion choices also evolved. Early models came with standard 375-hp Caterpillar diesels, and later versions featured 540-hp Cummins power plants, giving the boat a cruising speed of about 30 mph.
Cabo Yachts, founded in Adelanto, California, in 1991, established a reputation for quality, well-engineered fishing boats. The Cabo 35 Express was one of its most popular models. The boat could be outfitted for tournament fishing, and the cabin accommodations were roomy and upscale. Introduced in 1993, the boat enjoyed a 15-year production run. Cabo was sold to a private equity firm in 2013 and is no longer building boats.
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.