There’s a lot to like about aluminum bass boats. Moderate price, minimal weight, smaller outboards, lower fuel use and a smaller tow vehicle are all part of the equation. And the two former knocks on aluminum boats-they’re slow and ugly-no longer apply. The boats we tested during a couple of rainy days at Dale Hollow Lake in southern Kentucky delivered impressive performance, and many were just as handsome as the most expensive fiberglass rigs. Here’s the menu.
ALUMACRAFT 195 CS
Alumacraft brought a gun to a knife fight, powering its good-looking 195 CS Invader with a Merc 200 OptiMax that had at least a 50-horse advantage over other boats in the test. However, with that power the boat did not disappoint, delivering a smoking 65.4 mph top end. And although our test day was calm, the 17-degree hull, which is sharper than most aluminums, should deliver a soft ride in rough seas. The boat had some tendency to porpoise at lower trim positions on plane but smoothed out quickly at high speed and maximum trim. Both bow rod lockers include no-tangle rod tubes. Another standard that most bassers will like is the bike-style pedestal fishing seat in the bow._ Contact: Alumacraft Boats (Dept. OL, 315 W. St. Julien Street, St. Peter, MN 56082; 507-931-1050; www.alumacraft.com)._
FISHER PRO HAWK 180 SE
The 180 SE is a lot of boat for the $14,470 price. There’s an exceptional amount of deck space thanks to the 87-inch beam, carried nearly all the way to the bow (some boats are wide aft, narrow forward). The all-welded .100-gauge hull features box-beam aluminum stringers and an add-on keel extrusion to give extra protection against grounding. The swivel fishing seats bow and stern have rot-proof composite frames. The storage boxes are fitted to hold Plano slide-in tackle boxes vertically, making it easy to find just the lures you want. The molded console looks good and provides excellent visibility for all gauges. The standard depth finder has a temperature gauge, too, and the package includes a built-in battery charger. Contact: Tracker Marine Group (Dept. OL, 2500 E. Kearney, Springfield, MO 65898; 417-873-5900; www.tracker marine.com).
G3 HP 180
One of the many notable things about the G3 is the storage space-just about every available square foot of space below decks has been utilized and all the boxes have locking, foam-lined aluminum lids. The upholstery has a luxurious look and feel, and the composite console also adds beauty to efficiency, though the windshield could be larger. The anti-feedback steering did a good job of taming the 150 VMax, which produced a top speed of 58.1 mph. The boat needs a good bit of trim once it’s on plane to keep its head up, but it corners nicely. Construction is .100-gauge, all-welded; overall, this is a solid and handsome rig._ Contact: G3 Boats (Dept. OL, 901 Cowan Drive, Lebanon, MO 65536; 417-588-9787; www.g3boats.com)._
MIRROCRAFT MV 175
The 650-pound hull gave three-second hole shots with the little Merc 50 on the transom. The boat showed almost no bow-rise; it virtually levitates on take-off. Top speed, 34.0 mph, was modest due to the low horsepower, but for river fishing and smaller lakes, it’s fast enough. The price, $9,029 including trolling motor, depth finder and trailer, makes this an affordable package and one you could pull easily behind a down-size pickup. The four-degree vee bottom allows you to operate in very shallow water but won’t help much in running rough waves. Decks and hatches are treated plywood backed with a 50-year warranty from the builder. Double-knee braces secure the transom to the aluminum stringers and all voids below deck are foam-filled. The console is fiberglass._ Contact: MirroCraft Boats (Dept. OL, 39 N. Harding Ave., Gillett, WI 54124; 920-855 2168; www.mirrocraft.com). _
POLAR KRAFT HP 180 PRO
Polar Kraaft rigged its stylish 180 with hydraulic steering, and the result is a boat that I could drive at top speed (55.3 mph) literally without touching the steering wheel. The boat was a bit slower at top end than some of the competition with equivalent power but should pick up speed with a prop of higher pitch. The 21-pitch prop, however, allowed it to be one of the quickest to plane, taking just 2.7 seconds for the 150 Yamaha VMax to send the 1,250-pound hull on its way. A huge “trunk” down the center of the bow deck provides storage for all the rods you’re ever likely to carry. All decks and floors are aluminum, and the hull is all-welded .100-gauge. The 44-inch-wide livewell should do a great job of keeping fish lively. Seats are broad and comfortable, and the console is a slick composite that would look at home in a glass boat. Contact: Polar Kraft Boats (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 1158, Elkhart, IN 46515; 210-522-8381; www.polarkraft.com).
SEA ARK 1860 VPLD
With an uncarpeted corrugated aluminum floor and bare aluminum storage boxes, this was the most basic boat in our test. There’s no wood in the boat, not even in the transom, and the all-welded, .100-gauge hull should last several lifetimes. The boat has more vee than most, 15 degrees at the transom, giving a better rough-water ride than you’d expect from aluminum boats. Performance at Dale Hollow was good, with tight cornering, almost instant hole shots (2.5 seconds!) and a 42.4 mph top speed-all you could ask from the 75 Merc outboard. The price for the package seemed fairly high considering the standard equipment, though a good portion of that cost is in the power-trim Merc. The boat without the motor costs $4,715. Contact: SeaArk Boats (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 503, Monticello, AR 71657; 870-367-5317; www.seaark.com).
TRACKER AVALANCHE 18
For those who want fiberglass appearance at an aluminum price, there’s not much that compares to the stretch-formed curves of the Avalanche. Tracker uses aircraft techniques to form the .125 marine aluminum-the thickest you’ll see in boats of this size. The hull then gets an automotive-type baked-on finish that shines like a luxury car. This is the widest aluminum bass rig in the field, a full eight feet, which means lots of fishing room and outstanding stability when you move around the deck. With the 150-horse Mercury XR6, the boat ran 60.1 mph. Hole shots were about average at 3.0 seconds. Cornering was as good as it gets. Floors, hatches, decks and transom are all aluminum. The boat comes loaded at $20,295 and seems a real bargain at that price. Contact: Tracker Boats (Dept. OL, 2500 E. Kearney, Springfield, MO 65803; 417-873-5900; www.trackerboats.com).
TRITON 176 MAGNUM
Floors, decks and transom are all rot-proof aluminum, and the all-welded hull is .100-gauge 5052 marine aluminum, with an added “Lock-In” keel protecting the center weld and giving more abrasion resistance when you scrape across gravel bars or logs. The cleats set on the inside of the gunwales are handy items. This is a pad boat with a built-in transom setback, and it provided a solid top end of 48.0 mph on just 90 horses. The hole shot was not so quick as some at 3.8 seconds, but the bow rise is minimal so forward visibility is never a problem. The baked-on urethane paint should be more durable than conventional spray, and it looks great._ Contact: Triton Boats (Dept. OL, 11023 Summit Dr., Aberdeen, MS 39730; 662-369-5870; www.tritonboats.com)._