CHARGER 297 TF
Charger has more vee than many in the performance boat fleet, concentrating on delivering a soft ride rather than the swiftest top end. Still, the 297 delivered an impressive 71 mph, and hole-shot times averaged about 2.6 seconds, making it one of the quickest on top. The “triple step” transom area allows mounting the motor very high for good performance-the higher the unit is in the water, the faster the boat can run. The boat is several hundred pounds heavier than some competitors’ boats-this improves ride and stability while decreasing top end minimally. It’s an easy boat to drive, with very little tendency to chine-walk, and handles superbly in corners. We noted some flexibility in the aluminum hatch lids; a brace inside these doors would solve the problem.
The seats are exceptional, with 181/2-inch-high backs and attractive tuck-and-roll upholstery that’s more comfortable than that in most boats. Those who like bike-type seats up front rather than swivel chairs will love the Charger version; turn it one way and it’s a leaning post, the other and it’s a bike seat with backrest. The price of the test package was toward the top end of the class, but you get a lot of gear that would be extra on most other rigs: two Lowrance depth finders, hydraulic steering, rod racks and vertical-storage tackle trays. The Pro-Air aeration system feeding the twin livewells allows you to chill the water by putting ice in a separate tank, which cools circulating coils that feed the well but keeps chlorine out-very techy and effective.
Contact: Charger Boats (Dept. OL, Box 709, Richland, MO 65556; 573-765-3265; www.chargerboats.com).
For those with the absolute need for speed, Gambler is hard to beat in a full-featured bass boat; the test rig topped out at 77.4 mph, about as fast as you’ll see a bass boat of this size go with 225 horses. The boat feels very stable to 70 mph and you don’t realize how fast you’re going until you check the GPS. The bow flipping deck is barn-dance size, 109 inches long by 72 inches wide-the largest I’ve seen. Of course, this design makes the aft deck proportionately smaller.
Gambler is the only bass-boat company to provide standard trim tabs; advantages are a quicker hole shot and the ability to stay on plane at lower speeds, as you may want to when running into tall head seas.
Hole-shot time was about 3.6 seconds with tabs up, about 2.7 with tabs down. The tabs would be even more useful, though, if they could be operated independently, allowing anglers to tilt one side of the boat up slightly to keep down spray or to level a load. The all-glass stringer molding forms a second hull inside the outer hull, greatly increasing strength. A layer of Kevlar in the outer hull also adds durability without excess weight. Most layup is triaxial glass. Gambler’s is the only bass boat that provides a stainless-steel grab-rail around the windshields. This prevents you from using the Plexiglas shield as a handle, as you may do to your regret on many other brands.
The unique centered trolling motor mount includes a flush pocket for the foot control. There’s no bow electronics panel as in the boats of most competitors, but a toggle switch controls outboard tilt. Tackle storage? How about 14 quick-draw boxes? Another unique feature is the “water slide” to the livewell; fish can’t jump out.
A “hotfoot” (floor-mount throttle), racing-style shift lever, floor-mount trim buttons and Sea Star hydraulic steering are all standard on the ZR2 top-end package we tested. The boat was one of the most expensive we looked at, but it’s the Ferrari of the fleet.
**Contact: **Gambler Boats (Dept. OL, 2150 Independence Blvd., Groveland, FL 34736; 352-429-8888; www. gamblerbassboats.com).