There are a dozen rod holders in the side storage racks and rocket launcher, so if you're not into fishing this craft will be wasted on you.
This Aussie fishing boat has a big boat feel and is a giant leap forward for thrifty fishos.
Arriving at the vast open gravel car park, in a Mafioso style tinted hire-car, for a brief moment I imagine myself in a Hollywood film, the ransom drop-off. Then, as I approach two big boats behind two big American utes, I think drug runners!
But a more familiar reality greets me in the form of Paul Junginger, from Evolution Boats, who explains that our Patterson Lakes meeting place is the biggest trailerboat access point on Port Phillip and on the weekend the vast car park fills up with hundreds of vehicles, mostly towing fishing boats. This spot isn't all that far from Paul's Bayswater-based boat building business where he now builds two models ' the Evolution 550 and the Evolution 650 ' both with the primary objective of landing fish.
It doesn't take us long to get down to the serious business of boating and a short run through the 8-knot zone has us out onto the bay where the conditions are less than testing. It soon becomes clear that Paul 'Junga' Junginger and his helper Lee Reyner are passionate about two things, fishing and Evolution boats.
Paul worked for Streaker boats for many years before he set up shop with the objective of building the ultimate fishing weapons. The 550 is designed as a mid-range platform and his decades of fishing and boatbuilding experience ensure that all the important issues have been considered. Deck space is a key element of this craft and the aft area is so vast (for a short length vessel) it can deliver the 'fishability' of much larger craft.
The Evolution's combings are flat, useful and feature integral grab holds and the insides are padded all around the cockpit with toe room underneath. The non-slip deck is "extreme non-slip" and the forward walkway is a decent width. The 550's stainless work includes a hefty rocket launcher styled rod rack and a multitude of rod positions including a snapper rack. The bait table even has a bait tray and more snapper rod holders. It seems that on Port Phillip the more rods out the better.
The twin-batteries are elevated and protected from a swamping situation, and useful storage is sited all around the cockpit, behind the seats and under the floor. Every space has a predetermined purpose from extinguisher stowage, to a multitude of tackle trays and drinks stowage. There are a dozen rod holders in the side storage racks and rocket launcher, so if you're not into fishing this craft will be wasted on you.
The onboard electronics go way beyond what's considered standard for a boat of this size and go right down to under combing cockpit lights and the rocket launcher mounted cockpit floods.
The helm features a Lowrance fish finder, CD player, 27 Meg and VHF Radios and controls for the saltwater deckwash and the all chain 'Stressfree' anchor winch. With 150lt of fuel and a 50lt icebox the Evolution 550 is certainly a big little boat, suited to a long day out.
The vessel's wide beam helps to explain how the Evolution managed to fit so much into its 5.5m hull length and once up and running across Port Phillip the 21-degree deadrise hull carved through the chop and softened the ride.
The hull's deep-vee, running plank, fine entry and reversed strake design is conventional until you get to the engine pod, which is essentially part of the waterline length.
This may enhance the tendency for the hull to porpoise at certain speeds. With experience a skipper should be able to steer this tendency out, which is only noticeable on some tacks. Trim tabs will help balance the ride, although fitting tabs might require a slight change to the berley bucket design.
The 150hp Evinrude E-TEC spinning a 17in-prop purrs across the rev range and power the Evolution out to a decent 38 Knots. The boat has some sweet cruise speeds in the mid to low 20s and that's where she handles best in the conditions. The helm position offers good visibility over the toughened-glass windscreen and the instrumentation is more than generous.
The boat gets extra strength and buoyancy from the use of encapsulated foam throughout the hull and this also makes the cockpit feel very solid underfoot. Build quality across the vessel is second to none and there's about twice the amount of 316 stainless steel per inch compared to your average runabout.
BIG BOAT FEEL
Standing back and looking at the 550 I realise that this is a big boat for its waterline. We used a 4.9m tinny as a photo boat but the changeover felt like a move from a runabout to a gameboat and I guess that's what Evolution Boats are aiming for ' a big boat feel from a small waterline. This is achieved through a combination of beam, engine pod, clever fit-out and the modest cuddy cabin.
At the ramp this boat will grab the attention of every boat fisherman, but they'll have to come up with the $65,000 if they want one. Then there's the 650, which has twice the range and a bigger price tag, and she's really one's for the boys!
WORDS + PHOTOS:ANDREW RICHARDSON