The perfect bass boat still doesn’t exist, and one that seems nearly perfect for me may not be so for you. But whatever your idea of perfection, you’ll find something close in the 2002 model year, perhaps among the boats we reviewed on Table Rock Lake in Missouri last fall. The choices are wide. If you’re someone who just has to win every boat race-and most bass boat owners welcome a brisk run every now and then-you’ll probably prefer a boat that’s narrow, light and low-cut. On the other hand, if you like ’em built for comfort rather than speed, you may want a boat that’s broad and deep, with plenty of vee in the bottom to soften the ride and plenty of weight to give stability at rest. Remember, these days even the “slow” performance rigs run better than 60 mph, which means you can fish those distant destinations and still get home before dark…unless the bass are really biting.
Size counts in bass boats, to be sure, and it’s possible for a boat to be too big for a particular buyer, as well as too small. Bigger boats, 20 to 22 feet long, generally offer a better ride and more security in rough water, as well as lots more fishing room. But bigger boats cost thousands more out of the box. They require bigger outboards to perform well, and these cost more, too-and they burn more fuel. You may even find that you’ll need a bigger truck to pull one of these bassing queens. Finally, a bigger boat simply may not fit in your garage.
If you’d prefer something a little more sedat
e and a lot less pricey, don’t be discouraged; most of the builders reviewed here make smaller and less expensive models. Although standard equipment varies, the rigs tested include trailers and trolling motors as part of the price. BASS CAT SABRE 18 I liked the Sabre’s flush-mount pocket for the remote control on the troller; it’s easy on the ankle and the back. The boat had no windshield, which translates into a rather brisk ride in cool weather, but the 23-inch inner depth provides a feeling of security. With a 150 on the transom, the hole shot was lightning quick, averaging around 2.3 seconds, and top end was an impressive 65.5 mph. The Sabre was not the easiest of the fleet to drive at that speed, however; moderate chine-walking will sneak up on the inexperienced. The lifetime transferable hull warranty is a rare feature. The company uses solid fiberglass everywhere; there’s no wood, no foam composites in structural members. The A-beam stringer matrix has minimal weight and maximum strength thanks to vacuum-bagging, which sucks out excess resin and eliminates air voids. Layup extras include vinylester resin throughout, which is more expensive than standard resin but boasts three times the flexibility, eliminating stress cracks after years of hard use. Fiberglass putty seals the cap securely to the hull. The visible bilge ports on the aft deck are a good idea; you’ll notice if they’re pumping often, which indicates problems below. The boat seems a good value because you get a lot for the price, but you might want to pay extra for hydraulic steering, which would make top-end driving a lot easier. Contact: Bass Cat (Dept. OL, P.O. Drawer 1688, Mountain Home, AR 72645; 870-481-5135; www.bass cat.com). BUMBLEBEE 290 PROSPORT The first thing you notice when you step aboard a Bumblebee is the “Pro-Tech” deck: a three-eighths-inch-thick foam pad under the carpet that gives the feel of walking on a plush rug. It’s a big advantage for anglers who stand all day. Seats are rotocast composite, rotproof and quick-drying. The boat showed exceptional handling in tight turns. It requires some skill to drive over 60 mph but will be no challenge to experienced performance boaters, even at the maximum 72.2 mph. Hole shots were exceptional as they averaged around 2.7 seconds, remarkable with a prop that will turn up 70 mph. It’s a shallower boat than some at 18 inches inner depth, which reduces wind resistance but allso cuts freeboard a little. The wells are narrow and three inches deeper than the waterline of the boat; the company says a deeper livewell keeps fish cooler and enhances survivability. Cap and hull are held together with stainless rivets and bolts, and the stringers are encapsulated AC Superply plywood, said to be stronger than encapsulated foam. Fuel tanks are aluminum rather than plastic, and bulkheads separate the tank from the battery compartment for safety. The layup is 36-ounce stitchmat, which is lighter but stronger than woven roving, with balsa reinforcement in the running surfaces. This layup contributes to the minimal weight, making the boat several hundred pounds lighter than similar boats of the same length. The standard equipment list is impressive for a boat under 30 grand. Contact: Bumblebee Boats (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 128, Tullahoma, TN 37388; 931-455-9728; www.bumble beeboats.com).