Breathing is rapid, blood pressure high, pulse racing. Do we call a doctor or an ambulance? Is he scared, excited? Has he met the love of his life? The answer to the first question is maybe, the second and third, probably, but this is not boy meets girl. Well, maybe. The relationship between man and his bass boat usually ranks higher than that with his dog and, all too often, with the woman in his life.
Many anglers consider Skeeter to be the originator of the "bass" boat about three decades ago. From its humble beginnings as a 12 foot boat with stick steering and a "big" 20 horse outboard, the bass boat has become a screaming 20 foot monster with 200 horsepower (or more) and capable of speeds in excess of 70 mph. My first boat cost $2300 in 1971. Today's top of the line boats cost more than $30,000.
Once the fever has struck, it may be controlled by prowling around boat shows and showrooms. Alas, as in medicine, the cost of a complete cure is high. Enough beating around the bush, a new boat is a necessity and there are many things to consider.
How much boat can I afford? Although it should be, this is not the first question most ask. A budget, with some flexibility, is necessary. Financing is not that hard to come by these days if your credit is good but, even with a 10 year note, monthly payments will be about $225-250 on $20,000 and $350-400 on $30,000. A word of advice to the "serious" or tournament fisherman. If a 17 foot boat and a 115 horsepower motor is all you can afford, fish out of the back seat for another season. The larger, higher horsepower boats are safer when the wind is blowing 20-30 mph and the waves are running 4 feet. The larger boats have more storage, carry more fuel, and generally provide more angler room and a stable fishing platform, all important considerations for a boat to be used in competition.
There are several aspects to designing a boat package (not necessarily in this order): Basic Hardware, Performance Options, Accessories and Fishability. A good dealer will work with you to fit a package to your requirements. Once the wish list is complete, dollars again become a factor in deciding which options must be cut or changed to fit the budget.
Basic hardware is the boat, motor and trailer. Seems straightforward, doesn't it? The cosmetic aspects alone can be complex. Several general thumbrules: (1) If it's really pretty and flashy, it's wrong. (2) A black hull and/or cap is wrong, hot and hard to keep clean. (3) Full metalflake hull, wrong. I know I should be emphasizing positive things, but the negatives drive home the point. A non-metalflake hull is easier to keep clean, make repairs on, will not show fading as badly and often saves money on the initial purchase. Use your imagination on the cap, carpeting, etc. More about the hull in Fishability.
If budget permits, buy the highest horsepower outboard the hull is rated for. This will assure optimum performance. Performance does not mean just speed. Handling and fuel economy are integral parts of overall performance. If a 150 must run 6000 rpm to achieve the same speed as a 200 at 5000 rpm, the 200 will get better economy. Likewise at WOT (wide open throttle), the 200 will use more fuel but achieve higher top end speed.
The trailer is usually virtually ignored during the purchase dance. After all, you don't fish from the trailer. A high quality trailer is a must. When the trailer fails, you don't go fishing or you are fishing in a ditch. A relatively high cost trailer item is brakes. I consider trailer brakes a must for anglers who tow their boats with downsized pickups and utility vehicles and strongly recommend them for full size vehicles. This is a major safety item, ranking right up there with life jackets and kill switches. When you slide through an intersection or have problems stopping on slick or wet pavement, it is too late to add trailer brakes. There are also pros and cons to single vs dual axle trailers. Dual axles are a must once a certain size and weight are reached to assure a stable, safe tow.
The first performance option is the prop. I consider it an option because, although you must have one, your choice defines the performance characteristics of the hull. No one prop does it all. As a general rule, if you want top end, you give up hole shot, acceleration and, to some extent, handling. A boat optimized for top end is usually "pushing the envelope" and requires skillful, if not expert, driving. The trend is to four blade props for best overall performance.
For most hulls, a jack or step back plate will significantly improve both speed and handling. These adjustable mounts allow the motor to be raised or lowered to achieve the optimum vertical position and move the motor back in the slipstream 6 inches or more to put the prop in "cleaner" water where it can get better bite and slip less. Hydraulic jack plates allow adjustment of motor height while under way but are not that useful for day to day fishing.
I consider a foot throttle a performance option in that it gives finer throttle control and allows the driver to keep both hands on the steering wheel. The same applies to steering wheel or floor mounted trim controls. The foot throttle also enhances safety. Although kill switches are now standard, a concious choice must be made to use them. If the driver is thrown from the boat and the kill switch is not in use or fails to operate (extremely rare), the foot throttle will back the motor down to idle and decrease the odds of a tragedy.
The primary accessories are the trolling motor, batteries, battery charging system and fishing electronics. Most of the arguments about accessories are Chevy vs Ford. I will set out generalities and you must choose brand and model. This will require considerable research.
The trolling motor should be 24V with infinitely variable speed control, "battery saver" circuitry and 50 pounds or more of thrust. Hand or foot control is a personal choice. There are motorized deployment systems on the market but, at more than $300, I consider them a luxury.
Troll motor batteries must be type 27, heavy duty, deep cycle marine grade. I recommend at least 800 CCA. Assure that they are well mounted to survive the shocks of trailering as well as on the water. Purchase 3 batteries. Never use the cranking battery as a troll motor battery; you have to get back to the ramp. Although a couple of regular battery chargers are less expensive, dependable on-board charging systems are available and well worth the money.
The minimum electronics package is two flashers, one in the console and one bow mounted. The options are unlimited from that point including GPS (Global Positioning System) capability to tell you where you are (I assume that radar is not on your list). I do recommend a high quality LCD unit for the bow rather than a flasher. Worst case, it may be tilted so that it can be seen from the console and used at idle speeds for detailed study. Another alternative is console mounting the LCD using a pivot mount, allowing it to be seen from the console or the bow. Most boats today have a flasher, two LCDs and a temperature gauge (if that function is not built in the LCDs).
An important accessory that has recently come on the market is the keel protector. The major brand costs about $300 and is well worth the expense. One beaching on rocks or the ramp can do that much damage to the hull.
The list of accessories available from the boat manufacturer and dealer is long and often confusing as there are usually different packages. The following are critical items: (1) 1000 gph or higher bilge pump, (2) Outboard water pressure gauge and (3) Tachometer. Although not critical, a spare trailer tire is a good investment.
To a large extent, personal preferences and fishing style color this factor. Does the console fit the driver and are the gauges, controls and electronics accessible? Is the hull a stable fishing platform? How will it fish in shallow water? Stumpy water? Open water and 1 to 2 foot waves? Are the livewells large enough and well aereated? Do the storage and rod boxes meet your requirements? Can two anglers fish comfortably from the front deck? These are a few of the questions that must be answered.
If you know someone who owns a boat rigged out the way you like, fish with him 2 or 3 times and make sure that's what you want. If that is not possible, work out the package with your dealer and request an on the water test. Many dealers have made this a part of the sales process. The test boat may not be rigged exactly as you plan yours but major items such as horsepower, troll motor and performance accessories need to be as close as is practical to get a realistic feel for the boat you will order. If you bypass this test, your risk of being unsatisfied with at least one aspect of the boat is high.
No one article (or book) can cover all the factors involved in this kind of purchase. Buying a new car or truck is simple by comparison. Study the options, take the time to plan well and you will make good decisions.
copyright © 1996 Ken Cook