Many an avid offshore angler aboard a small center console has, in a moment of weather-induced weakness, considered picking up a hobby that doesn’t involve subjecting themselves to frigid temperatures, torrential rain, and salty ocean spray. But, if you do ever find yourself faced with such a quandary, it’s worth taking a look at a pilothouse boat before you trade in your rods for a bag of golf clubs. Pilothouse boats are great for braving the elements because they offer a fully enclosed helm with a relatively small footprint—meaning less of a compromise between fishability and comfortability. No one knows their way around a pilothouse better than Steiger Craft and, with their new 31’ models, they may have just struck the perfect balance.
As an angler, it’s almost laughable when a manufacturer takes one of their purpose-built pleasure crafts, bolt on a couple rod holders, add a dinky livewell, and then call it a fishing boat. Steiger takes the opposite approach. The Long Island-based builders start with a fishing boat and then add on all the creature comforts they can without compromising the vessel’s intended purpose—landing lunkers.
But what an angler is looking for in a boat will vary wildly depending on their preferences and the climate they’re fishing in. How can you build a boat that works just as well for someone jigging on the Bay as someone else who’s trolling in the Gulf? Steiger’s response was to build a stable platform that can be modified to fit the demands of fishermen from each end of either coast.
Steiger’s pilothouse boats are available in two trim packages: the Miami and the Chesapeake. The Miami models feature a removable Eisenglass sheet that separates the pilothouse from the aft cockpit. The Miami is intended for climates where you’re more likely to be cranking the AC than the heat. Plus, when you don’t need climate control, you can just roll up the barrier for open access to your lines.
On the Chesapeake models, the aft section of the pilothouse is walled off with solid fiberglass, a couple of windows, and a door. As the name would suggest, this design is tailored toward cooler climates that demand the extra insulation. But Steiger didn’t just evoke the name of the nation’s largest estuary because of its propensity for freezing fishermen. With the Chesapeake, Steiger took inspiration from the Bay’s workboats—adding (as an optional extra) a secondary control station in the cockpit. That means you can fettle with your outriggers while keeping a hand on the wheel.
Beyond the two pilothouse designs, Steiger’s list of optional extras is immense. By my calculations, the 31 can be configured with 380 trillion different combinations of features. On top of that, Steiger is known for going out of its way to fulfill customers’ special requests. It’s about as close as one can get to the experience of buying a custom fishing boat without forking over the GDP of a small developing nation.
The Steiger Craft 31
The 31 is Steiger Craft’s flagship pilothouse. As such, it retails in the quarter-to-half-a-million-dollar price range depending on how it’s specced. That hefty price tag comes with a lot of boat.
Along with its titular LOA, the 31 has a 10’ beam, 30” draft, and a 22-degree deadrise hull—weighing in at around 10,000 pounds. To move all that fiberglass, Steiger can fit the 31 with three different outboard setups: twin Mercury 300 hp Verados, twin 400 hp Verados, or twin Yamaha 300 hp NSB. With the 300s, Steiger claims that the 300-gallon fuel capacity gives the boat a range of over 400 miles.
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The pilothouse is perhaps the most customizable part of the boat. It can be outfitted with tackle stations, additional rod storage, and all but the largest flush-mounted MFDs. In terms of creature comforts there’s a lot to choose from too; with AC cooling, refrigerators, a foldable dinette table, and couches. Moving forward in the boat, there’s a fully enclosed head compartment and a v-berth cabin with amenities like a sink, coffee maker, and microwave.
So the 31 can get you to the canyons and back in relative comfort, but how does it fair when it comes time to get lines in the water? As it turns out, pretty well.
Either a windlass or drum roller (with up to 450’ of line capacity) can be mounted to the bow for easy anchoring. At the back, the cockpit can be fitted with a variety of seating and rod holder combinations as well as additional tackle stations and a central rod holder station. It features a 120-gallon in-deck fish locker and a 100-gallon live well (one of which can be swapped out for a SeaKeeper). Plus, under the gunnels there are separated trays for storing sinkers according to their weights. And, if you do opt for the Chesapeake model with the rear control station, there’s plenty of room to slap on additional MFDs for checking your chartplotter or fish finder while trolling.
The Steiger Craft 31 Fisherman
The perk of having so many options is that it allows the customer to decide where they want their boat to fall on the fishability-to-comfortability spectrum. But, what if you’re the kind of person that has pictures of their trophy tuna in their wallet instead of their kids’ school pictures? Well, Steiger has an answer.
The 31 Fisherman is a slightly revised model of the 31 for “the discerning fisherman”. Along with adding an extra 25 gallons to the fuel capacity, the Fisherman has an extra fish box, a slightly larger cabin, more spaces for storing tackle, and a $50,000-lighter price tag for the base model.
All those added features do come with some compromises though. The enclosed porcelain head is replaced with a humbler unit beneath one of the cushions on the v-berth, the dinette table is done away with, and the number of optional features is more than halved (though the Fisherman is available with the Miami or Chesapeake rear walls). Sure, you lose the microwave but, then again, fifty grand can buy a lot of cereal bars and trail mix.
To Each Their Own
The bottom line is that the Steiger 31 and the 31 Fisherman are purpose-built fishing machines that offer varying degrees of comfort. But, along with the price tag, that puts them in a gray area between the straight and simple center consoles and the cushy comfortable walkarounds. With regards to the latter extreme, the 31 is just not the sort of boat you invite your friends on to sip Dark and Stormies while one person absent-mindedly jigs a rod. So how does it hold up to the angling austerity of a purpose-built center console?
In terms of the LOA, it’s lacking a bit in the fish storage department. It would have been nice to see larger fish boxes on the aft deck that didn’t have to be removed to make space for the rocket launcher, rigging station, or SeaKeeper. Plus, the pilothouse and cabin cut the fishable deck space in half. But all things considered, it’s a remarkably capable fishing vessel. And, if a warm place to sit back while you’re running is enough to get your family onboard or keep you on the water for a couple of extra hours, those few tradeoffs might all be worthwhile.