It’s 6 a.m. at the boat launch in Fort Pierce, Fla. The parking lot is packed with trucks towing boats. They’re all waiting for a shot at the ramp to drop their vessels into the water.
Ford F-Series pickups are everywhere, occupying a dozen spaces. There’s another six Chevrolet Silverados lined up. A white Ram 3500 arrives towing a triple-engine powerboat.
I pull up in the Titan Surfcamp, a modified Nissan Titan XD built by the automaker specifically for surfing and fishing. Nissan and its trucks are often absent from launch ramps like the one in Fort Pierce. The company wants to change that.
That’s why Nissan used the International Consortium of Allied Sportfishing Trades, or ICAST show, in Orlando, Fla., as a chance to unveil the Surfcamp concept. Nissan senses an opportunity to reverse falling sales of its pickup models, which have dropped 4.8 percent through the first half of 2018 from the year before.
No other automakers displayed vehicles at ICAST.
Nissan tailored its concept truck to make the biggest impression. The Surfcamp sports 35-inch tires, a heavy-duty front bumper and a 3-inch suspension lift from Icon Vehicle Dynamics. The lift is available on production Titans.
The bed rack carries surfboards and a solar-powered shower. A rack on the front bumper holds up to four fishing rods. An integrated drawer can stow emergency gear, wetsuits or fishing tackle.
A Freespirit Recreation rooftop tent quickly expands atop the truck, thus its name: the Surfcamp.
Nissan is targeting this market because trucks play an important role in recreational fishing, an estimated $50-billion retail business in the U.S., according to the American Sportfishing Association.
Trucks offer plenty of utility. They can tow large boats and carry multiple kayaks, an offshoot of sport fishing that is exploding in popularity. Exhibitors at ICAST displayed far more kayaks than motorized boats.
To help Nissan tackle sport fishing, it’s brought in Carter Andrews, a professional sport fisherman and resident of nearby Vero Beach as a brand ambassador.
Andrews has fished all over the world. He is on the water about 150 days each year. Earlier this summer Andrews helped his 12-year-old daughter land her first sailfish in these waters. For those looking to hook something big, Andrews is the perfect guide.
On this day, Andrews welcomed a small group onto his boat, a 29-foot SeaVee.
Andrews stood atop the SeaVee’s lookout perch and navigated the boat onto calm morning waters. His trained eyes scanned the surface for signs of life beneath. The water shimmered flat across the horizon.
Andrews headed to one of his favorite fishing hangouts, Bethel Shoal. It’s 11 miles offshore where the ocean floor drops sharply from 35 feet to more than 100. The mixture of warm and cold water attracts many small creatures — and several big ones.
After dropping anchor, Andrews attached a plastic cutting board to the side of the boat. Using scissors, he chopped up small bait fish and tossed the bite-sized pieces into the water along with baited hooks.
Before long, one of the reels began to whirl. “Fish on!” Andrews shouted. He handed me the Shimano rod and told me to start reeling. Something bit. I appear to have hooked a king mackerel, possibly up to 30 pounds in weight. They are zippy yet strong. But within minutes the line changed. The power was far greater, and it became difficult to keep the rod from flying into the sea.
Andrews diagnosed the problem: a full-grown bull shark ate my catch. The massive fish beast pulled like a freight train. For each crank of the reel, it took four or five, curling the rod like a rainbow into the abyss.
“You’ve probably got a 300-pound shark on that line,” Andrews said.
I fought for 45 minutes before passing off the rod for a break. The group stared into the water hoping each turn of the reel would bring the shark’s gray body to the surface. But hope quickly vanished.
Andrews explained that the shark’s powerful pectoral fins that stretch 6 feet across from tip to tip had hooked on a rod and fishing line designed to capture speedy lightweight fish. There was little chance the boat would land this beast. More than an hour after hooking the shark, Andrews cut the line.
Others who fished on different boats had more success. They caught handsome sportfish like cobia and sailfish.
This was strictly a catch-and-release outing. But if fish had been brought back to shore, the fully equipped Surfcamp would have become a mobile cleaning station. It sports a slide-out tray with a surface to de-bone the catch of the day, sheltered by a Rhino-Rack awning. The onboard shower could have doubled as a hose to rinse the filets before storing them on ice in the truck’s Yeti cooler.
Back at the launch ramp I hoisted myself high into the Titan Surfcamp. Despite its heavy and rugged accessories, the Surfcamp’s docile drive soothed my tired muscles.
Nitto Ridge Grappler tires, intended for off-road performance, delivered a comfortable ride. The 5.0-liter Cummins turbodiesel engine provided smooth power, and hydraulic steering had no issue with the extra heft. The only change to the truck’s dynamics was a bit of top-heavy roll around corners. Even the stock vented brakes were up to the task.
The Titan Surfcamp left the coast with empty coolers but a memorable experience. The thrill of coming so close to a prized catch left me wanting more. I would welcome the chance to take the truck on another fishing adventure. The ocean owes me Round Two.