We’ve all seen the reality TV shows set in Alaska, replete with eccentric, hard-bitten men and women in an epic struggle to survive in a beautiful – yet completely unforgiving – environment.
Like all so-called reality programming, they are but a kernel of truth wrapped in a truckload of exaggeration. But don’t kid yourself: Making your living on the waters of Alaska is nothing to be trifled with, even in the extreme southeastern part of the state. It’s there that Mercury Pro Team member Capt. Rob Endsley calls home in the warmer months, working as a charter captain some 100 days out of the year.
Endsley, 51, is the owner of Prince of Wales Sportfishing, which operates four boats out of Craig, Alaska, a small town on Prince of Wales Island, about 700 miles north-northwest of Seattle, Washington, and 200 miles south of the Alaskan capital of Juneau. Day after day in the summer he guides clients from all over the world on the nearshore and offshore waters west of Craig in search of king salmon, halibut, silver salmon, lingcod and a variety of other saltwater species.
Endsley’s boat, the Polar Bear, is a 28-foot North River Boats Seahawk Offshore heavy-gauge aluminum Alaska-style fishing boat with twin Mercury V6 225hp FourStroke outboards, plus a 15hp FourStroke ProKicker. The boat was repowered with the Mercury engines in the spring of 2021, and it was the fourth set of engines the boat has seen since it was built in 2007.
As you might imagine, the duty cycle on the boat and engines is a veritable torture test. The boat leaves the dock between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. most days, often going straight into an hourlong run to a nearshore fishing spot. Upon arrival, the main engines get shut down and the ProKicker engine is used for trolling, mooching (a type of drift fishing) and bottom fishing. When it’s time to try a new spot, the kicker comes up and the V6 engines go back to work. This cycle is repeated numerous times throughout the day, often with Endsley and his angling clients ending up offshore in sporty seas. Around 3 p.m., it’s time to take the exhausted customers and their coolers full of fresh fish back to the lodge, a journey that may take another hour or two.
After just one season, the hour meter reads 450 hours of running time on the main engines.
The boat had a competitive brand of engines for its first three “lives,” and Endsley has owned dozens upon dozens of outboards – including ones from every major brand – over the course of his three decades as a guide. So he was hyper vigilant and hyper critical of his Mercury power this past season. Through it all, he’s been beyond happy with his decision to switch to Mercury.
“They are by far – and I’m not just saying this – the best engines I’ve ever had,” Endsley said. “They’re just incredible. And they’re so quiet I can chat with the customers while we’re running with the doors to the cabin open, and that’s never happened before.”
Because of the full complement of electronics, downriggers and an electric-powered diesel furnace on the boat, as well as the absolute need for bullet-proof reliability the Alaskan environment demands, Endsley elected to upgrade the alternators on the V6 outboards from the standard 85-amp models to the optional 115-amp units. As a result, he had plenty of electric power to keep his guests comfortable and on fish every single trip.
“They’re just an insurance policy really,” Endsley said. “And it allows me to run just one house battery, which saves weight and creates space inside the transom. I use an E-Z Anchor Puller, and that draws a lot of juice. We’ve also got downriggers and electric reels, and the stereo is running all day, and I never saw a drop in voltage all season.”
The new engines also included the installation of something he never thought he’d want or use: the Active Trim feature.
Active Trim is a Mercury-exclusive GPS-integrated smart-trim system. At install, the dealer or boatbuilder will configure Active Trim with five trim profiles that deliver optimal performance for the boat and engine combination. When activated, Active Trim automatically trims the engine(s) out as the boat accelerates and trims them back in as the boat slows down, regardless of throttle position. It’ll even accommodate for speed changes that result from turns. The operator can manually override the system with the trim buttons at any time, and can change the running angle to compensate for sea conditions or boat load while still allowing the system to trim up and down with changing speeds.
As someone who has spent a lifetime trimming outboard-powered boats for optimal comfort, efficiency and safety, Endsley thought he’d have little use for such a feature. After a season of seeing how Active Trim works in day-to-day operation, he’s not just a user but a full-blown Active Trim evangelist.
“I like Active Trim because it’s one more thing that I don’t have to worry about,” he said. “I just get in the boat and go. The only time I ever adjust the trim profile is when I’m in pretty heavy following seas and need to get the bow up just a little bit. Then the system takes over and keeps that profile.
“I typically don’t trust those sorts of things; I’m old school. I was nervous for a while, and I constantly had my trim up on the display and was watching it all day every day for about the first month. I watched it go up-down, up-down all day long, and I never felt anything out of place. After four or five weeks I just quit watching it altogether. I was like, ‘This thing works. I’m done worrying about it.’ It’s a no-brainer.”
As a high-hour user, Endsley said he also appreciates the fuel efficiency of his new engines compared to the competitive inline four-cylinder 200hp four-stroke engines that were on the boat previously.
“I average about 40 gallons of fuel a day,” he said. “That’s about a 10% savings versus my previous setup. Having two more cylinders, I’m running 3900 rpm instead of 4400 or 4500 rpm like I was before, and still making the same speed or just a little bit faster.”
In 2022, all four of the boats under the Prince of Wales Sportfishing flag will be running Mercury V6 FourStroke outboards.
Endsley tapped The Bay Company in Craig for his repower. The store – one of three the company owns in southeast Alaska – happens to be the only marine dealership on the island, but co-owner Chet Powell is quick to point out that his team decidedly doesn’t rest on its local monopoly.
“We do 15 to 20 full refit/repowers like Rob’s a season, and about 75% of those are charter boats,” Powell said. “As far as the total business goes, it’s about 50-50 charter and recreational boats. We’re on an island, and people have to come to us whether they want to or not, but we just try to take care of everybody, no matter what.
“The guys making money with their boats, they don’t sit on the beach; one way or another we’ll get them back fishing the next day. When availability is good, we’ll keep 50 to 80 Mercury motors in stock between the three stores.”
The Bay Company also sells several lines of boats, including North River, Hewescraft, KingFisher, Lund and SeaArk. Between all three stores, Powell estimates The Bay Company repowers approximately 100 boats a year. But technical expertise and an unwavering commitment to service are the lodestar guiding everything the dealership does, he said, and it’s largely due to the harsh environment in which his customers operate.
“We’re going to do it right, or we’re not going to do it at all,” he said. “If we see something wrong, we’re going to fix it the right way, and that’s the bottom line.
“We just don’t take chances.”
Endsley was raised in Washington and attended college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. When the Alaska guide season ends, he heads back to his home in the Seattle area, spending his days hunting and fishing, as well as co-hosting an outdoor radio show on Seattle’s ESPN 710 AM radio. He also makes up for lost time with his wife, Nicole, and daughters Ava, 6, and Emma, 9. He used to spend his winters taking groups fishing in Panama and Costa Rica, but today he’s content to stay closer to home and enjoy the time with his family.
But come spring, he’ll be back in Craig, getting ready to show another 100 days’ worth of charter clients the wonders of southeast Alaska, because that’s who he is.
“I knew when I was like 11 or 12 years old that this is what I wanted to do,” Endsley laughed. “So I was kind of messed up from the get-go.”