Can you go performance bass boating for under $20,000? Well, with a bit of judicious shopping you can, as our Outdoor Life boat test revealed. We asked manufacturers to supply boats with 150-horsepower outboards, complete with trailer, trolling motor and basic depth finder, and a sticker price of as close to 20 grand as they could get. Here’s what they showed up with at Dale Hollow Lake in Kentucky.
BUMBLE BEE 278 pro fd
Equipped with a whisper-quiet Suzuki 140 four-stroke, the Bumble Bee gave up at least 10 horses to the other boats in our test yet still turned in a credible 53.0 mph top speed. The tidy little 140 weighs just 416 pounds, so it’s actually lighter than many 150-horse two-strokes. However, the slower windup inherent in four-strokes resulted in the boat requiring more time to get on plane (averaging 6.0 seconds despite a four-blade prop). Considering its hull weight of 1,000 pounds, the 278 might be rigged with a 150 two-stroke. The 278’s rod box runs from the bow deck to the stern deck on the port side and is long enough to handle fully assembled fly rods or bream poles. It also includes a power-piston lid to ease access. We liked the dash layout: gold-rimmed Faria gauges to the left, depth finder to the right, rocker switches down the inwale. The all-glass construction of the boat extends even to the storage boxes._ Contact: Bumble Bee Boats (Dept. OL, 210 Industrial Blvd., Tullahoma, TN 37388; 931-455-9728; www.bu_mblebeeboats.com).
CHARGER CX 180TF
The Charger was one of the quickest boats out of the hole, despite running a 27-inch prop on the Yamaha VMax 150. Top speed was 62.8 mph, and the boat was easy to handle with the no-feedback steering. The bow sheer is dropped slightly, giving a superior view ahead, even on takeoff. You look over the top of the windshield, which makes for an eye-watering ride on chilly mornings. Charger has some of the most comfortable seats in the industry, with built-in lumbar support and backs several inches higher than standard. Stringers and transom are fiberglass-laminated, treated wood with a lifetime warranty. Another nice touch: the split-access lid aft that allows you to sit on one side and work on equipment below, which is tough to do with single doors that open all the way across. Contact: Charger Boats (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 709, Richland, MO 65556; 537-765-3265; www. chargerboats.com).
RANGER 185 DVS
The 185 DVS lists for $24,800 with the Johnson 150 in the test package, which is a bit beyond the $20,000 parameter. Still, it provides lots of extras for the added cost, so we let it fudge a bit. The Ranger we tested is a dual-console boat, and all lids are extremely rigid urethane-cored fiberglass. The port-side rod box features tubes for eight rods.
Construction includes Ranger’s exclusive “pultruded” transom material-a high-density fiberglass drawn through a heated mold. The material is also used as reinforcement under trolling motor and cleat mounts. The main fuse box is in a storage box just in front of the console, which makes it much easier to reach than if it were under the console. Seats are broad and deep. The transom includes a molded-in setback plate. The boat was quick out of the hole, taking just 2.7 seconds to flatten out, and its top speed was an easy-to-handle 56.3 mph. The motor was mounted high on the transom, which resulted in some blow-out on very sharp turns, but the hull itself held nicely in simulated emergency maneuvers._ Contact: Ranger Boats (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 179, Flippin, AR 72634; 870-453-2222; www.rangerboats.com)._
The Skeeter was priced at $24,900, the most expensive boat in our test. However, you could shave the price by $1,200 or so by choosing a carbureted outboard rather than the Yamaha OX66 injected 150 that was on the test rig. The boat’s unique design features a rounded aftt deck with no splash well, which gives the boat an exceptionally sleek look. We made several power-off stops from planing speed and found there was little or no backwash over the back deck, so the well is not missed. The rod box on the port side features eight no-tangle rod tubes, and it’s lighted. There are four pop-up cleats-very clean. Construction is all fiberglass and composite, with 3/8-inch aluminum knee braces adding stiffness to the transom. The boat was a little slower out of the hole than some, averaging about 3.2 seconds, which perhaps is due to the heavier weight-around 1,500 pounds. This boat ran as fast as most in the fleet at 61.5 mph, but the hydraulic steering allowed nearly hands-off driving. Contact: Skeeter Boats (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 230, Kilgore, TX 75663; 903-984-0541; www.skeeterboats.com).
STRATOS 185 SC
With a 21-inch interior depth, the Stratos should do a great job of keeping spray out of the cockpit. Features like hydraulic steering and bike seats, extra-cost items on some, are standard on this rig. The 40-gallon livewell is as big as you’ll see in a boat this size. The console features full instrumentation and a clear Plexi windscreen that provided better visibility than most. The dual rod boxes have aluminum lids and covered locks for security. Construction is all fiberglass and composite, including a matrix-type stringer system for maximum stiffness. The boat was extremely quick out of the hole, and cornered as if on rails. At the top speed of 61.2 mph, there was a slight chine walk at maximum trim, but this was easily corrected by wheel pressure. At $18,995, the 185 SC is a lot of boat for the money._ Contact: Stratos Boats (Dept. OL, 880 Butler Road, Murfreesboro, TN 37127; 615-895-5190; www.stratosboats.com)._
TRITON TR 185
Triton’s 185 is a deep, wide boat that provides a feeling of security as well as added spray protection. We also liked the flip-up security handles under the passenger seats. The plastic windscreen causes some distortion in view, but most operators will look over the top. Storage boxes are designed to rack all the plastic tackle trays you’re ever likely to own. The 36-gallon livewell is larger than most on boats of this size, and all hatch lids are aluminum. The transom is a hard-foam composite encased in fiberglass for lifetime rot protection. Tri-Core composites back all fittings, and the stringers are a fiberglass matrix secured to the deck with space-age adhesive stronger than the glass itself. The boat cornered like a sports car and is fun to drive. It had a small tendency to chine walk at maximum trim, but this is nothing seasoned drivers can’t handle with ease. The TR185 reached 60.3 mph with the Johnson 150. Contact: Triton Boats (Dept. OL, 15 Bluegrass Drive, Ashland City, TN 37015; 615-792-6767; www.tritonboats.com).