Things couldn’t have been better for Scott Deal this past Labor Day Weekend. Not only was he immersed in his passion for fly-fishing, he was teaching his 23-year-old daughter Elliott the art of poling his Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-S skiff. For Deal, that’s what it’s all about — family, fishing and boats.
Deal, 54, is co-founder and president of Maverick Boat Co., the builder of Maverick, Hewes, Pathfinder and Cobia powerboats. He is also a leading advocate in the fight to protect the nation’s fisheries and recently worked with Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris to produce a report aimed at preserving the interests of recreational anglers. In 2006, Deal was given the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida’s first lifetime achievement award for his involvement in such initiatives as the successful Ban the Nets campaign.
Deal grew up fishing, hunting and exploring the fresh waters of central Florida. Ultimately, salt water became his life after he moved to the Florida Keys fresh out of Princeton University. In 1984, Deal and his brother bought the mold for an 18-foot Maverick and he has spent the past three decades building the company — and fishing hard. He also has become a strong advocate in Washington, D.C., for boaters and anglers.
In addition to Elliott, Deal and his wife, Susan, have three other children ages 19 to 25. He lives in Vero Beach, Florida, and keeps the HPX-S poling skiff and a 23 HPS Pathfinder bay boat behind his home.?
Q: How do the Hewes, Pathfinder and Maverick brands differ?
A: We used to build two styles of Mavericks. The Mirage is really the first true technical poling skiff ever built. It was designed first and foremost to be pushed around with a big pole. It was not a modified runabout with a flats boat deck; it was designed from the get-go to be a poling skiff. It was narrow, had a shallow draft and created no hull-slapping noises when poling. And then we had the Master Angler series, which were big, beamy backcountry-style boats — 17s and 18s and 21s.
When we came out with the Pathfinders, the Maverick customers decided to try the bay boat. It would float in the same water, they could stand up and do a little offshore fishing, and it was more family-friendly. With a Pathfinder, you could get into the same skinny water as you could a Hewes Redfisher or a Maverick Master Angler and still go catch sailfish and use it for water sports. We really crushed our own Magnum flats boat market when we came out with the Pathfinders.
So we turned the Mavericks into a more narrowly defined poling skiff, which are the HPXs — vacuum-infused carbon fiber and Kevlar boats built super-light and technical. We build the 16- and 18-foot Hewes Redfishers to fill that backcountry-style flats boat niche where the guy doesn’t want a bay boat and wants to do a bunch of bass fishing and backcountry saltwater fishing. They are beamier and more stable and carry more horsepower, and do a little better in big water than an HPX.
We continued on with Pathfinder, which caught a lot of attention. We have the Pathfinder 22, 23, 24 and 26. They are much evolved from what we first came out with, which was a very Spartan utilitarian boat. Now they are anything but Spartan.
Q: How would you describe your boats to someone who is unfamiliar with them?
A: I think we build attractive boats. Each one of them performs a specific function. They are fishing-oriented but with degrees of commitment to the fishing. An HPX is much more of a hardcore fishing boat than a 34 Cobia. There are no creature comforts in an HPX, and there are in a Cobia center console. But the same guy who fishes on the HPX can fish on the Cobia 34 or 25 or 29 because although they are less hardcore, they have the critical design elements a serious angler needs. Our boats are purpose-built for fishing. They all can satisfy the needs of the hardcore tournament angler, and some of them will satisfy the needs of a family guy, as well.
Q: How big do you think the Cobia center consoles are going to get?
A: Unless we make some changes here at our boatbuilding facility, I don’t think we can get much bigger than our 344. We are contemplating some changes, but right now we can’t go much bigger. The market is definitely getting bigger. I know guys who are building 42- and 45-foot center consoles, and it is insane. Ten or 15 years ago people would have laughed if you told them there would be center consoles that big.
Our 34 is a big boat. It has a lot of features in it — pop-up tables and flip-down seats and big live wells and a berth. I assume guys coming out of a 65-foot multimillion-dollar sportfishing boat that costs thousands and thousands to maintain will believe that a 42-foot quad outboard center console of $800,000 is completely reasonable, price-wise.
Q: What’s a good example of one of your boats with all the bells and whistles?
A: How about the 26 Pathfinder? First of all, it is an enormous bay boat. Years ago no one would have considered a bay boat of this size. But it can still be operated with a trolling motor in fairly shallow water, in the 15-inch range. And yet people want to go offshore in it. We do quite a few of them that are rigged to the nines. Starting at the stern they have two big live wells, two Power-Poles so the boat won’t swing in the current. They have a lower helm station with a 12- to 15-inch MFD and GPS charting. They have sonar with side vision and probably a high-tech CHIRP transducer. Those will be integrated with their engine controls so they can display their operating parameters on the screen.
They have a second station in a half tower. And remember we are talking about a 26-foot boat. The tower will have rod holders and a smaller MFD with the same functions as the one downstairs. At the upper helm, they have remote controls for the Power-Poles and a remote for the GPS-controlled bow trolling motor, which they can use to virtual-anchor over a spot. Both of the leading trolling motor companies offer this feature. You hit a button and the trolling motor will keep you on top of a wreck or ahead of a bridge piling. You can program course lines you want to follow and integrate it with the GPS. It’s insane!
Q: What are some of the strategies you employ when designing a boat?
A: Any time you are designing a boat, you need to stick a flag in one or two design elements that are critical to that boat — and do those first and have everything else work around those. Often, to me, it is the live well system, whether it is the size of the live well or the plumbing of the live well. You get that all figured out first and then fill in the rest of the hatches and the storage and other elements.
Q: What are the some of the characteristics that you are proud of in your boats?
A: Our commitment to access and rigging, and the details that make long-term ownership of a boat pleasurable. These factors are lost on some people when they are buying a boat, but as time goes by they realize the value they are getting. I think our deck layouts and our fishability are pretty strong. Even our family fishing boats can be fished in tournaments. We have been able to blend enough comfort into some of our boats without throwing out the baby with the bath water from a fishing standpoint. For that, I’m proud.
Q: Can you tell us about any new boats that are on the horizon?
A: We are always looking at new boats. We will have a new 277 Cobia. We are working on a new iteration of the 26 Pathfinder and a new iteration of the 18 HPS vee hull. And we have plans to reintroduce the 21 Hewes Redfisher. We have a new-boat conveyor belt that is constantly running.
Q: Why have you taken an active role in the health of our fisheries and the environment?
A: If you are involved in an industry that is solely dependent on a public resource, I think you owe it to yourself to be involved in the stewardship of that resource — not just for the personal financial aspects of it, but so that your legacy will continue on and your children and their children will have the opportunities that you had. It is incumbent upon everybody to do something. They don’t have to do exactly what I do, but they have to do something to help care for and steward this resource that is so important to our business and our ethos as boaters and anglers and sportsmen.
Q: Did you do any saltwater fishing when you were a youngster?
A: My dad would take us places and fish salt water. He was a god-awful fisherman, though; all he caught was catfish. I am dead serious. He had this special rig he had invented. He would take a half-ounce lead sinker and an 18-inch leader up from the sinker, and he would tie a stick on about 2 inches below the hook — his theory being the sinker would sit on the bottom and the stick would float and that way the catfish wouldn’t find it because it wasn’t right on the bottom. Well, that didn’t fool the catfish at all. So we caught lots of hard-head catfish. Never caught any game fish.
Q: How did you break into the boatbuilding business?
A: I did well in the Florida territory [after college as a salesman] with Xerox, but that can sometimes be a negative. After a particularly blowout year, they chopped up the territory, and mine became too small to make a living, so I quit that job and planned to go work with my father and brother in Orlando. My dad had a marine construction business — dredging, principally, and that did not excite me too much.
I took my Maverick to Fort Pierce, Florida, where the Maverick factory was, to have it restored. The boat was beat. And in the course of having it restored I learned more about the boat business. I expected much higher levels of industrial operations. This was basically a boat repair shop that made boats when they got an order. At the time, they were not building Mavericks; the molds were in storage. A doctor, an eye surgeon, owned the molds, and, in fact, he still lives in Fort Pierce. I asked, “What does it cost to buy a set of molds to get into the boat business?” It wasn’t very much. It was less than the cost of an actual boat. I said to my brother, “We could buy the molds and build our own boat. Who knows, it might lead somewhere.” We bought the tooling for the 18 Maverick for $12,000 in 1984. We started production in 1985. It was like a Forrest Gump type of serendipity in the way things worked out. If somebody wanted to seriously talk about buying a Maverick, I would hook up the boat and drive to them and take them out. We started doing boat shows. It was my primary job. My brother ran the books, and I was the field rep. I was trained well by Xerox about how to sell things, and I sold a lot of boats.
Q: How has today’s boat buyer changed since you started in the business?
A: People are more multifaceted in how they do things, and they want more utility out of the things they buy. Even though I might be a hardcore fishing guy — and tomorrow I am going to leave at 4 in the morning and go tuna fish on the east side of the Gulf Stream — I might also take some people out who are not that hardcore. So I need to have a flexible design. The market for the ultimate hardcore fishing boat has gotten to be very small and is shrinking, so it’s wise to evolve in the same direction as the customer.
November 2014 issue