The Bass Boat Evolution
From Then Till Now
Bass Boat-a fishing vessel named after a popular freshwater game fish. Just think a, “fish so popular they named a boat after it”.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear someone say bass boat? I think of a shiny fiberglass boat with a flashy paint scheme. I see it throwing a rooster tail while going fast enough to get a ticket on any interstate highway. I see it trimmed out to where the only thing touching the water is the pad just ahead of the outboard. The power behind this speed is a 250HP outboard motor.
I know because I’ve heard it many times before, “I don’t care about the speed, I just want a bass boat that will get me there”. I know because I said it myself. But that was before I got my fourth Stratos Bass Boat. It was a 285 PRO XL with the new Evinrude Intruder 150HP outboard. By the boats speedometer it was running top end at 71 ½ MPH. on Lake Mead, Nev., I was blowing by everyone on the lake. I felt like the king of the lake.
Actually as a guide, I’m not concerned with speed. I’m more concerned with the safety, comfort and functionality. When they started building speed into the bass boat hull, it was with the tournament angler in mind and his need to spend more time fishing and less time running. As a guide, I look at speed in the same light. I want my customers with lines in the water. They didn’t pay for the boat ride it’s just part of the day that’s unavoidable. So with a fast boat I can reduce the long boat ride and increase their fishing time…That’s what they paid for!
Bass boats have come a long way since the original Skeeter Bass Boats. The first designs incorporated a platform to fish from and a flat bottom to get back into the shallows where the bass lived. Around the same time, Motorguide introduced the electric trolling motor while Zebco developed the spincast reel. All of this was happening in the 50’s and then in 1963 was the birth of the fiberglass bass boat hull.
Fiberglass changed everything in the designing of bass boat hulls. It gave engineers more flexibility in configuring hull designs. The earlier bass boats were designed with speed in mind. Then, with more and more reservoirs popping up, they leaned more towards stability to handle the rough water. Now in the 21st century, bass boat hulls are built to give stability, comfort as well as shallow draft without giving up speed. No longer will you find wood or aluminum in today’s fiberglass hulls. This eliminates the worry of wood rot or metal fatigue that weakens a hulls frame structure and transom.
Now that we’ve looked at the bass boat's hull, what about the cap? This is what everyone looks at when shopping for a new bass boat. The first question in everyone’s mind is storage. Where am I going to put all my stuff?
The inside of the bass boat is what separates one manufacturer from another. Who has the most deck room? Who has the most storage? Who has the better livewell system? Which one has the better mounting space for my electronics? The list goes on and on like fishability, comfort, look & feel etc. The one that puts it all together in the best layout, meeting all your needs and still fits your budget…WINS!
The inside of the boat is where the biggest changes have been made. The biggest change came with adding livewells. This all came about when bass tournaments were vilified for bringing hundreds of dead fish to the weigh-in displayed on stringers. The idea of catch and release was introduced using the example set by trout fishermen. The competitors catch still had to be brought to the scales before being released alive. So boat builders incorporated holding tanks in their interior designs. Later came pumps and overflows. Today we have aerator pumps, recirculators and venture valves. Some, serious about keeping their catch alive and healthy, have even added oxygen systems.
The next big innovation was probably the rod locker. Now most bass boats come with dual rod lockers with rod caddies built into one of them. When flippin’ was introduced, rod builders had to come up with a way to get a 7 ½’ rod into a bass boats rod locker. Voila…the telescoping rod butt. Now that they leave the front of the locker open, you could probably fit a fly rod in some of them.
Dry storage boxes come in all kinds of configurations. Usually you’ll have at least two in the back deck, one on either side. Slots are built into the boxes walls so you can put a half dozen or so tackle organizers in them. They come with a tray that drops in the top and catches the lip. This allows for the small loose stuff like sunglasses, keys, sunscreen etc. I’ve seen some bass boats with a tray across the bilge opening for tools, spare parts like trolling motor props, emergency kits etc. Some have even built a caddy in the bilge area for your spare outboard prop.
Up front you’ll find at least one large box and as many as three smaller ones. The larger box can be used for bulky items such as life jackets, coats, raingear or throw cushion. The smaller boxes are for tackle, scales, pliers and whatever else you need at your finger tips. Don’t forget room for anchors, landing net and tow rope. Most builders provide clips under one of the larger lids to store bow and stern lights. Oh and did I forget to mention built in coolers? "Now where did I put the spare batteries for my potable GPS?"
You have to appreciate the planning that goes into designing the perfect bass boat deck. Every time you move, eliminate or add a compartment to the design you have to reconfigure all the components of the original layout. Before any design can be finalized there are more important factors that must be taken into consideration. The first is the overall strength and integrity of the deck. You could have the weight of several passengers walking on a deck and its storage lids. The second consideration is the proper amount of flotation required by law that has to be built into the hull. And the third would be space allowed for electronic harnesses, plumbing, drainage, and mechanical assemblies like steering cables, retractable boat reins and livewell valves. So before you ask yourself “why couldn’t they put a box over here”, try to imagine what might be underneath that area of the floor.
The next area with considerable change is the electronics. Dash switches, that were once toggles, are now either rocker switches or touch pads. Fuses have gone from the old glass type to the new plastic to none. Now you have a dedicated circuit breaker for each accessory line. Some of your add on accessories like fish finders and GPS units still have inline fuse holders, since they may require as little as a 1 amp or a slow blow fuse. Battery chargers are built in so all you have to do is plug it in to a wall socket. Instruments are digital with LCD displays. Courtesy lights are built into storage boxes so you can find and rig rods on those early morning blast-offs. Depth finders are built into the dash and bow accessory panel.
Here I’ll list a few other innovations that need no explanation:
- Recessed area in front deck for trolling motor pedal
- Plush upholstery
- Dual console
- Cigarette lighter sockets for portable DC accessory plug-ins exp. cell phones
- VHF radios
- Foot control throttle
- Adjustable seat posts
- Shock absorbing driver and passenger seats
- Map pouches
- Seat post caddies
- Hydraulic jack plate
- Hydraulic steering
- Plush carpet
- AM FM radio (can’t miss the game)
Emergency ladder…Talk about thinking outside the box! When this came along, I recalled some unexpected dips over the years. I had no problem getting back in the boat but a couple of customers and a friend had a bit of a struggle. A big guy in winter gear can really test your strength trying to extract him from the lake. I had them go to the back of the boat and use the cavitation plate above the outboards prop as a step. Once your rear end clears the gunwale, your pretty much home free. A ladder in these instances would have com in handy. I’ll bet Triton Boats received some “Best of Show” awards for this one.
While we’re on the subject of falling in, I have to tell you about the time my wife went in.
Back when I worked for Humminbird, we had a house built on Lake Eufaula. My wife wanted me to cut down some of the trees to improve our view of the lake.
With a Red Man Golden Blend tournament coming up in the spring, I decided to salt some of my spots with brush piles (illegal on Lake Eufaula…Shhh!). I remembered my wife’s request to clear some of the trees so I got to work. I cut down a tree that fell towards the house, barely missing by inches. When my wife came running out the door, I just raised my arms with my little electric chain saw in hand and yelled “Paul Bunyon”. She didn’t laugh but pointed out how close I came to hitting the house. I knew that, what was I supposed to say except that, “but I didn’t”. See, I know she was just proud to know that her man was following her instructions and doing his “honey does”.
Hang in there, it gets better.
After working a half day cutting all the branches off and dragging them down to the bank, I was ready to fulfill my real purpose for cutting the tree down. I hooked up the company boat (didn’t want to scratch up my shiny new Stratos Bass Boat) a Ranger Chief and started loading it with cinder blocks. When my wife questioned what I was doing she said “and that’s the only reason you cut that tree down”. I said “of course not dear but I need to dispose of the branches some where”.
So down the road I went to White Oak Landing to launch the boat. When I pulled up to the neighbors dock my wife was there to meet me. I talked her into helping me load and plant my brush piles as to do it quickly before a game warden saw me.
Let me get to the good part. After planting half dozen piles or more, we got to the last one. This one was the biggest and I had to tie two blocks to it to make sure it stayed down. Well my wife was concerned about scratching the boat. So, picture in your mind, a woman with one foot on the dock and one on the deck of the boat holding these branches up off the gel coat. The motor was off and I had already untied the boat from the dock, helpless to prevent what was about to happen. The boat started drifting away from the dock with my wife straddling both of them. I think her brain must have locked up while paying too much attention to not scratching the boat…it’s called decision constipation? Then it happened, she reached the point of no return and plop, in the lake she went. Oh, and did I forget to mention it was February? Fortunately the water was only a few feet deep, just above her waist. I got her into the boat and proceeded to plant my last pile. All along she’s shivering and complaining about how cold she was.
Next I turned the boat around and hammered down. She said “what are you doing, I’m freezing”? I calmly looked at her with a grin and told her I needed her to ride back to the ramp and help me load the boat. She was madder than a Wet Hen!
The last improvements over the years are the cosmetics. I don’t care what manufacturer’s boat you buy, it will be pretty. The touring pros bass boats are now required to have, what they call, boat wraps. This is the sponsors logo boldly displayed on the hull, carpet and some are even embroidered in the seat upholstery. Even if you’re not a tournament pro a new bass boat will make you look like one. The manufacture’s name will be boldly displayed on both sides of the boat with the model number, often in raised lettering. The hull itself will have a beautiful paint scheme sealed with a layer of glistening gel coat. Inside, the seats and carpet will be done in colors that compliment the boats paint scheme complete with the manufacture’s logo branded or embroidered in the seats. The dash is laid out like a sports car and the steering wheel looks like it came from a Ferrari.
Here’s the part I don’t understand. Why do the outboard manufactures insist on painting all of their motors in the company’s signature color? Why don’t they offer an assortment of colors to match the beautiful boat you just paid thousands of dollars for? Example; let’s say your primary sponsor is Berkley Trilene and you want a red bass boat to compliment their company logo. Now your outboard sponsor is Evinrude whose color scheme is Royal Blue. As Ernest would say, . “EWWW”!
Bass boats all come equipped with a kill switch. If for some reason the driver is thrown out of his seat or worse out of the boat, the motor is automatically disabled when the kill switch is pulled out.
Other features that make today’s bass boats safer, but not listed as safety devices, are the hydraulic steering and the foot controlled throttle. The hydraulic steering keeps the boat going in the same direction it was in when the accident happened. With cable steering the boat automatically goes into a tight turn because of the outboard motor torque. With that said, if the hydraulic steering is turned in a hard turn at the time of the driver being ejected, you get the same results. Therefore you can’t really consider hydraulic steering as a true safety feature.
Foot control throttles will bring the boat to idle if the driver is ejected from the seat. The hand throttle will stay in the same position the driver left it in. Let’s say he had hydraulic steering and when the driver left the boat it was going in a strait line. Let’s also say he had a hand control throttle, kill switch not hooked to his body and it was in the wide open position. You now have an unmanned missile looking to destroy anything in its path i.e. swimmers, other boaters, docks or even lake front homes. Can you imagine going out to get the morning paper and finding a bass boat in your front yard or even worse, your living room? The important thing to remember here is that a kill switch will stop any of these disasters from happening. As a guide I, or my customers, don’t always have a lifejacket on since it is not required by Florida law. However I always, always, always hook the kill switch to myself somewhere i.e. belt loop, around my leg etc.
I was covering a B.A.S.S. event for Humminbird in Catskill, N.Y. on the Hudson River. One of our regulars was killed by a local entrant. His boats foot throttle was jury rigged with a piece of twine. As witnessed by his previous day’s partner, he used the twine to pull back on the pedal to slow the boat down (broken return spring). Add to that the fact the man was handicapped and walked with a cane.
After weighing in his fish the man was returning to his cabin by running north up the Hudson. The other competitor, in a later flight, was coming out of a creek and turned south to head down the Hudson to the weigh-in. Witnesses on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge said as they were approaching each other they were trying to avoid one another by correcting their direction. Unfortunately, each time one would compensate the other boat was already changing his direction right back in his path. The boats were so close and running so fast, they only needed to make that mistake once. The handicapped mans boat ran over the console of the other boat killing the driver.
I never saw or talked to anyone that read the accident report. But having a throttle controlled by a piece of twine in a panic mode and a handicapped driver can only add to an already bad situation. Remember boats DON’T have brakes.
Most Important Feature
You finally decided on a bass boat that fits all your needs. It has all the features you want from deck layout to electronics package. The outboard matches up with the hull for optimum performance. It sets on a trailer with a paint scheme to match the hull. Hopefully it falls within the target price that fits your budget. Okay so you went over by a few bucks. Just remember, the most important feature probably cost less than ten bucks. It’s that inline switch with the lanyard that attaches to your body…The Kill Switch! Always use it even if you don’t have the life jacket on, attach it somewhere on your body. Kill switches save lives. Boating safety laws require a certain length of anchor rope, sounding device, paddle, fire extinguisher, baling device, navigation and anchor lights but none require the most important and that’s a kill switch. Manufacturers are not required by law to install kill switches but do so responsibly. All tournament organizations have it written in their rules that the kill switch will be attached to the bass boat operator anytime the outboard motor is running. No kill switch will prevent an accident from happening only safe boating can do that. But they can stop the boat from causing anymore damage, injury or even worse, simply by shutting it off.
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