Our US correspondent Elliott Maurice picks out 5 of the best bass boats and explains the irrepressible rise of this once niche fishing boat design.
Most boats are built with a wide range of uses in mind but some have very specific and focussed aims. One such genre is the bass boat.
Probably the most specialized of all fishing boats, these high-speed angling platforms have been created with a very low freeboard and shallow draft to maximise performance while creating as little windage as possible.
The idea is to get to the best fishing locations as quickly as possible in order to bag the best spot, then enjoy a nice, stable platform from which to reel in your catch.
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The only downside of this design is that it makes them quite a tricky proposition in choppy water so they tend to be used mainly on inland lakes and waterways. The upside is they do not get blown around so much when trolling.
The first thing to consider when choosing a bass boat is whether you want an aluminum or fiberglass hull. A fiberglass hull will add considerably more weight and therefore more stability.
However, an aluminum hull is not only lighter and faster but offers superior impact resistance when creeping into shallow bays or rocky rivers and creeks.
So how much power do you need on your bass boat? Well, just like any type of boat, there will always be extremes. An Allison XB-2002 bass boat driven by David Shook at an APBA event in Crescent City, Florida reached speed of 116.6mph, a record that has stood for seven years now.
What to look for in a good bass boat
If it’s performance you’re after, then Allison produces the fastest bass boats around. A fishing spec Prosport with a 300hp Mercury Pro Max outboard can comfortably exceed 100mph in the right hands.
Despite looking more like a racing machine, it is still a fishing-focused bass boat. Even a standard bass boat can reach well over 70mph if you opt for a big enough engine but driving at these speeds on a narrow, almost flat-bottomed craft is not for the faint hearted.
Prices also vary widely; a basic aluminum-hulled Crestliner Storm bass boat with a 9.9hp Mercury four-stroke engine can be purchased from as little as $13,000, while a high end fiberglass Ranger Z521L complete with a trailer, dual ground anchors, customized paintwork and electric trolling motor can set you back over $100,000.
All the best bass boats feature a huge range of fishing-focused options such as live bait wells, standalone bow seats, dual consoles and electric trolling motor for manoeuvring silently around fishing grounds so think carefully what your needs are likely to be.
Another important factor to consider is electronics, with advanced sonar/fishfinders such as CHIRP (Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse) and side vision systems giving ultra-clear 3D views of the sea bed and fish-finding modes that sweep at low angles to port and starboard, so you can spot where the fish are further afield.
The bass boat is an exciting proposition as a highly-focused tool, suitable for flat-water fishing for up to 3 people. Easily trailerable with a shallow draft, a proper bass boat extends the possibilities for sporting fishermen to the extremes.
5 of the best bass boats available right now
Best performance bass boat: Allison Bassport Pro Elite
Looking more like a flat-water race boat, this model has enough performance to put it in the ultra-high end of performance boating.
With a 225hp Mercury mounted on a hydraulic jackplate, this boat will literally fly out of the water, planing in around 3 seconds from standstill.
The Bassport Pro Elite has a fast cruising range of over 200 miles and with its largest engine option will top 100 mph, but it requires an experienced skipper at the helm.
An $85,000 budget will get you a performance fishing machine complete with live well, storage for up to 20 rods, trolling motor and ground anchors, along with looks sure to pull crowds on the dock.
Best luxury bass boat: Basscat Jaguar 22
With similar performance to the Allison and up to 450hp available, this 22ft beast oozes desirability. Built like a high-end Cigarette or Donzi, with billet aluminum rails and vents, the Basscat Jaguar 22 is absolute quality through and through.
The spec level is impeccable, including two 8ft rod boxes, a 7ft rod box, two tackle wells, two live wells, two dedicated net wells, a helmet box, a 34 qt cool box, trolling motor, Dual race style bolstered seats and deck space for up to 4 people.
With over 50 years of bass boat building, Basscat has put all of its experience into building their top-of-the-line model and even with a price tag that can easily top $100,000, this boat is no holds barred champion of the breed.
Best value bass boat: Nitro ZV19
The high quality Nitro offers fantastic performance, better weather protection than most, and comes complete with serious power in the form of a 200hp Mercury XL Pro, complete with DTS fly by wire controls.
Prices start at $55,000 (inc. trailer) or you can plump for a larger 225hp Mercury Pro Max outboard for $2,000 more, giving a top speed in excess of 70mph.
At 18’11”, this bass boat can accommodate up to 6 people on deck and its near 26” deep interior will provide a dry ride.
The Nitro ZV19 has aerated pretty much everything you can imagine available on a bass boat: live bait wells fore and aft, a Minn Kota 24v trolling motor, a second kicker motor, trim tabs, bow-mounted navigation and a choice of Garmin/Lowrance fishfinders, as well as capacious storage for rods, tackle and gear.
This design also sports a fiberglass deep V hull, which combined with a loaded weight of around 4,500lbs, means the Nitro ZV19 can handle some serious chop.
Huge options include cockpit, and second bow mounted navigation and fish finders from Garmin and Lowrance.
Best budget bass boat: Boat-Triton 179TRX
Starting at just under $32,000, the Triton is still far from the cheapest bass boat available, but with its 115hp Mercury outboard (a 90hp is available for $1,500 less) you can still expect 45mph performance and a very high level of standard equipment, including a colour-matched trailer and aerated live bait wells.
Fully specced boats will still leave you with change from $40,000, which will include state of the art Lowrance electronics with side vision sonar.
Best aluminum bass boat: Alumacraft Classic 165 Sport
Aluminum bass boats should be considered a separate category because being fresh water only is a key restricting factor.
The flat-bottomed Alumacraft Classic is a highly attractive prospect, nonetheless. Prices start at just $13,712 for the basic boat with 50hp of power, and for $28,000 dollars you get a 90hp version with a good quality trailer.
The 165 Classic in Sport trim gets a decent wraparound windshield, offering good weather protection underway. With 3 seats and a roomy foredeck, this aluminum boat offers all the typical bass boat extras, including the latest sonar technology from Hummingbird.
With a 5-person capacity, a dry weight of 955lbs, and a one-piece bottom that is stronger and stiffer than the typical 2-piece competition, the Classic 165 is one of the best bass boats on the market and makes a compelling proposition.