South Padre Island, Texas, has long been a stomping ground for spring breakers. Back in the day, Max Nichols used to be one of the college guys who flocked there in March to enjoy the large beaches and small bikinis. Decades later as he nears pseudo-retirement, Max returns to South Padre again and again, but now he flies there on his very own airplane, stays in his own vacation home and goes offshore fishing on his new Boston Whaler 345 Conquest.
“I made an excellent choice when I bought the Whaler,” Max says. “I wanted a fishing boat with all the bells and whistles—a nice boat. The 345 is a very capable offshore boat. It’s fast and real nimble, it rides well, and it’s solid as a rock!”
Max lives in Great Bend, Kansas, but heads to his vacation home on South Padre whenever he has a long weekend or just needs to get away from it all for a few days. With his plane—a Beechcraft King Air 350i Turboprop, which he pilots himself—he can be on the Texas Gulf Coast in two and half hours. Max, who works in the oil and natural gas pipeline business, sought out his pilot’s license to make travel a little easier. “When you live in the middle of Kansas, and you work in remote locations, commercial travel really isn’t a great option. It’s truly a business tool,” he says of the Beechcraft. “But the Whaler is purely a toy.”
It may be for fun, but at the same time Max is quick to point out the Whaler’s serious merits. He and his captain-turned-fishing buddy, Bryan Ray, often head offshore more than 30 miles for day trips and have no issues. “That’s one of the great things about the Whaler,” Max says. “It takes the waves, and it’s fast. Even in four- to six-foot waves, the bigger boats will be slogging along, and it will take them two hours to get to a spot. But not us. We can get right out there.”
“I made an excellent choice when I bought the Whaler.”
The Texas Gulf Coast is a fishing mecca for both offshore and inshore anglers. Islands—like Galveston, Mustang and Padre—that protect the Lone Star State’s coastal bend create a barrier for bay and lagoon waters that are perfect for catching redfish, black drum and speckled sea trout. And offshore anglers in the area appreciate the quick access they have to open water and for heading straight out into the gulf.
“We’ve got kingfish, dorado, wahoo and tuna,” Max says. “Everybody loves to catch tuna. We catch a lot of red snapper, too. That’s just a given. We’re pretty blessed down here. I don’t want to say I’m addicted to fishing,” he adds with a grin. “Let’s just say I really enjoy it.”
When he’s not heading offshore, Max takes his girlfriend, Patti Locks, out on the Conquest to catch fish in the bay or to just cruise around. Patti lives in Mesa, Arizona, but South Padre proves a great spot for the couple to spend long weekends together in the sunshine when they can.
Although the occasional cloudy and windy day can interfere, the area usually provides what Max calls “perfect Chamber of Commerce weather.” Pristine, white sandy beaches are the draw for the spring-break crowd. Padre Island as a whole is the longest of the Texas barrier islands, and aside from the resort town of South Padre, much of the island is undeveloped. More than 65 miles of primitive beach here are actually protected as Padre Island National Seashore, and much of that is only accessible by boat or ATV. North of Padre is Mustang Island, featuring Mustang Island State Park, with even more undeveloped beachfront and plenty of recreation opportunity.
The town of South Padre at the southern tip of the barrier islands, though crowded for a few weeks in the spring, is generally a laid-back destination. That’s why Max chose the Texas Gulf as his home-away-from-home as opposed to the Florida Gulf Coast, which he also considered. “It’s a pretty slow life,” Max says, “not as go, go, go, like it can be on the west coast of Florida. I looked and looked there for years, but I decided that was just too long of a trip to go as frequently.”
The most important thing for Max in choosing a chill spot was being on the ocean. He is a Kansas native who grew up fishing for crappie, walleye and catfish, but now he says he simply prefers offshore action—although he does have a mountain home in Colorado where he still enjoys catching trout on the fly rod.
When Max and Bryan head out from South Padre, they often use rod and reel to target various species, but whenever they feel like getting serious about trolling, they enlist the outriggers. In addition to fishing with Bryan, Max enjoys flying in various friends who want a shot at catching saltwater species. “Sometimes we fish, and sometimes we ride around and kill time,” he says, “but usually we fish.” Max purchased his Whaler last fall from Mike Dyson at Sail & Ski Center in San Antonio. “They’re a good dealer with good service,” he says. “I’ve been really happy working with them.”
The 345 is actually Max’s second Whaler. He previously owned a 305 Conquest, which he bought after checking out a friend’s Boston Whaler. “For the type of boat I wanted, a Whaler is as good a boat as money can buy,” he says, “and the Conquest fits my needs perfectly.” Max says he wanted a boat that was classified as an express because he knew he’d mostly be using it for day trips. He lauds the boat’s roomy cabin, however, with its luxury amenities like a galley and a flat screen TV, and he appreciates the top-notch navigation equipment at the helm.
Fancy features mean nothing if a boat can’t perform well getting from point A to point B. “One of the other things I like about it is the Mercury® FourStroke motors on it,” Max says of his triple 300-hp Verado outboards. “They are so quiet. The only noise is the water. You can sit and visit. And I like the speed and maneuverability.”
Max admits that although the Whaler is his favorite toy, it’s not his only toy. “I’m knee-deep in collector cars,” he says, “and I have a few hobby airplanes.” Clearly Max isn’t ready to settle down any time soon. He says he’s traveling a little less for work and certainly enjoying more vacation time, but he’s pretty sure full retirement isn’t for him… although every minute he spends on his new 345 Conquest twists his arm in the right direction.