The evolution of bass boats

Paul Elias didn’t have a bass boat when he was a teenager, but he did have a hunger to fish.

He caught rides with friends for years, even after he graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and headed offshore to work in the oil patch. Determined to have a boat of his own, Elias saved money for a full year to put a down payment on his first bass boat – a 15-foot Venture that he outfitted with an 85 horsepower Johnson outboard motor.

The boat had two Lowrance flashers on it that “shook the boat and made all kinds of noise,” Elias recalled. It had a 12-volt trolling motor that offered 28 pounds of thrust.

Completely rigged, the Venture cost Elias $4,700. He paid $2,000 down, financed the rest and remembers the details of the transaction like nobody’s business.

The year was 1974, and B.A.S.S. was only 6 years old. A full 50 years after the organization was founded, things have changed even more.

“That boat wasn’t much at all by today’s standards, but I fished in it for three years,” Elias said.

Fast forward a decade and Elias, who already had the 1982 Bassmaster Classic championship to his credit, walked into a boat show. There was a brand new Ranger bass boat sitting on the showroom floor. Tricked out, the craft had a $20,000 price tag.

“I remember saying to the guy I was with ‘They’ll never sell a bass boat for 20 thousand dollars,’” Elias said.

Anyone involved with modern-day bass fishing knows Elias’ prediction was dead wrong.

The BassCat he fishes from today sells for more than $80,000, and the four Garmin Fish Finders on board total another $15,000. Throw in his Power Poles and his trolling motor, not to mention all the gear he can carry below deck, and Elias’ BassCat is a floating, six-figure investment.

The price tag on today’s bass boat certainly is higher, but with it comes safety, comfort and specialization never before seen in competitive bass fishing. The 250 horsepower engine seen throughout the Bassmaster Elite Series and Open tournaments can propel anglers and all their gear at speeds greater than 70 miles per hour, while longer hulls (21-22 feet is standard) provide more stability in open water. Kill switches and better running lights are simple additions that have saved lives.

Today’s rides certainly are more comfortable, as well, said Shaw Grigsby, another decades-long pro.

“We used to wear rain suits when we took off in the old boats,” Grigsby said. “The boats now just handle the water the better. They’re designed to have all the comforts you could want – rod holders, the storage below deck for gear. My Triton has heated seats, for crying out loud.”

Perhaps more than anything, technology has changed the bass fishing game and the transportation that makes it possible. Fish Finders are light years ahead of where they were when older pros like Elias began his career. And while they may not put bass in the boat, today’s electronics certainly make them easier to find.

“I read somewhere that there’s more sonar equipment on today’s bass boat than there was on a World War II battleship,” said Jeff Stone, Senior Vice President of Skeeter Boats – a company that traces its roots back to the 1920s.

“It’s true,” Stone continued. “And that puts into perspective how far we’ve come. You can’t compare where we were even in the 1980s to today. And you certainly can’t compare today’s boats to the ones from the first B.A.S.S. tournaments.”

Stone age to space age
Long before Bill Dance brought his orange and white University of Tennessee ball cap to televisions across America, he was a competitor in the first B.A.S.S. tournament ever held – a rally on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake in 1967.

Dance borrowed a 60-horsepower engine to outrun the competition to start the event. He caught the first bass in the history of B.A.S.S. that day, and as the story goes, some anglers were still at the launch when he made that historic cast.

Tournaments in those days began with a “shotgun start,” meaning everyone launched at the same time, as opposed to today’s flighted events. It’s not clear why the field was still close to shore that morning when Dance was already catching bass, but there are any number of reasons.

“The components back then were terrible,” said long-time B.A.S.S. pro Gary Klein. “For years, no matter what brand of boat you were in or what motor you had, there was no guarantee you’d get to fish all day. There have been all kinds of changes in boats since I stared fishing as a sophomore in high school in 1973, but the reliability of the boats is the biggest thing. You’re not breaking down and you’re not busting up your boat unless you’re trying.

“Today’s boats are meant to be used for bass fishing,” he added. “When you buy a car, it has an engine in it. You have some boat/motor packaging today like Skeeter/Yamaha and Triton/Mercury, but in the 70s and 80s, that wasn’t the case. And if you put the wrong motor on your boat, you had problems.”

Perhaps ironically, Klein’s first boat had fewer horses on the back (a 50-HP Mercury) than the 60-horse unit Dance used in 1967. The entire set-up cost a fraction of what today’s boats do, but Klein said anglers are the ones who have benefitted from the advancements.

“When I cross five states or more to go fishing, my equipment is not an issue,” Klein said. “Knowing everything is going to work lets me focus and do my job. It lets me enjoy my sport more.”

Grigsby agreed, and said added safety features are much more advanced than when he began fishing competitively. He recalled, in particular, past tournaments on the Potomac and Santee rivers that scared him.

“There were 50 mile per hour winds and I really didn’t know if we were going to make it back,” he said. “That one on the Santee, I was fishing with Frank Scalish. It was his first tournament. There were times in the waves when you couldn’t see anything around you but water. Frank was in his awe and wanted to take pictures. I just told him to keep his eyes behind us so no ran on top of us.

“I didn’t tell Frank, but I thought we were going to die then and there!,” Grigsby said.

Steve Bowman, the director of web content for JM Associates, has covered professional bass fishing for 30-plus years. He said rough water made broken tackle boxes and busted noses commonplace, and added that his back “still hurts” from a tournament he worked on Lake Erie in the ‘80s.

“These boats are not just faster and safer for one event,” Bowman said. “They’re better for your long-term health. We couldn’t have Marshals in these tournaments today with the way boats used to be. No one would volunteer to do it.”

Uniformity rules
When the first Bassmaster Classic was held on Nevada’s Lake Mead in 1971, B.A.S.S. officials attempted to level the field by making anglers fish from identical Rebel Fastback bass boats.

A Bassmaster Magazine photo caption from that year tells the story: “The $4,000 Classic Model was powered by a 90 (horsepower inboard/outboard,) rigged with a Lowrance model LFG-300 Locator-Sounder, a Super Motor-Guide foot controlled electric motor and Worth Anchor-Mate.

“Everything was standardized, but the individual tackle and ‘know-how,” the magazine explained.

B.A.S.S. provided boats to anglers in every Classic until 2008, but an event just as important in the evolution of the sport (and the vessels that make it possible) took place in 1997. That’s when B.A.S.S. decided to raise the maximum horsepower on a boat motor from 150 to 250. The move was made to attract anglers from western states to the tour, which long had been almost entirely populated with anglers from the southeastern U.S.

And as Bassmaster Magazine Editor-in-Chief Dave Precht pointed out in the April edition, there were some who felt the high end should have stayed at 150 horses.

Precht wasn’t one of the naysayers.

“If increasing horsepower was the price for bringing Western anglers into the fold, I say it was worth it,” Precht wrote.

“It was for safety reasons, having it at 150 horsepower,” Precht said in a later interview. “Just like NASCAR has restrictor plates, we didn’t want some guy out there doing anything crazy.”

Anglers and manufacturers interviewed for this story said quite the contrary has happened; adding that boats are safer now with more powerful motors.

“In the 80s, (the sport) WAS about going fast,” said Skeeter’s Stone. “The industry is more mature now, I think. We are protective of the habitat and the places we fish. We have catch and release programs that protect the fishery. [Manufacturers and anglers have] taken great strides collectively.”

Stone said those changes are among the most fundamental he’s seen during his 30 years in the boat-building business. Leaders from all divisions of his team meet weekly to discuss products and concepts, and they give safety and performance equal weight.

“I’m hands on [as vice president] and I think every company in this business is like that,” Stone said. “You have to be.”

Gary Clouse, the founder of Phoenix Boats, certainly is.

A longtime professional angler, Clouse owned a bass boat before he had an automobile, and he’s been around long enough to remember when an “85 horsepower engine was huge.”

“When I was 14 years old, the boat I wanted was a TR-10 Ranger,” Clouse said. “That was THE boat to have because they were using it in the Bassmaster tournaments. The first boats were fiberglass with wooden transoms, and you didn’t have a casting deck, so you were sort of tucked away in there…But those days are over. Now, you have high quality fiberglass cloth and resins. The hull design is better. There’s craftsmanship better than ever before.”

Where to now?
Forrest Lee Wood and his wife Nina used heavy, wooden boats when they ran a successful guiding service on the White River and Bull Shoals Lake in northern Arkansas in the 1950s and 1960s.

Forrest eventually taught himself how to work with fiberglass, and Ranger Boats was born.

The fledgling company, with its home base in the appropriately-named Flippin, Arkansas, manufactured six bass boats in 1968. The number grew to 600 boats in 1969. A year later, Ranger produced 1,200 boats.

Then on May 4, 1971, Ranger’s boat plant burned to the ground.

The business was devastated, but Wood was unflappable in his resolve to get his company back up and running.

“We rebuilt the building with the same boat-building crew in 40 days,” he recalled. “And then we got back at it.”

Wood’s designs, which he scribbled onto napkins and scrap paper every chance he got, revolutionized the bass boat industry at just the right time. Ray Scott founded the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society in 1967 and demand for quality boats grew almost exponentially.

Ranger almost never happened, however — Wood was going to use his new fiberglassing skills to build, believe it or not, phone booths.

“I taught myself how to work with fiberglass in my backyard,” Wood said. “I was looking to build a better boat, but I was just trying to make a living.

“There isn’t a telephone booth to be found in America anymore,” he continued. “But there are a whole lot of people who want a bass boat. I think we made the right choice.”

Wood, now 85, is among the many people who believe technology will continue to spark the industry.

“Things will keep pushing forward,” he said. “There are some really smart people in this field.”

Today’s visionaries, guys like Clouse and Stone, no doubt will help lead the way. Stone sees improvements to systems integration and the diagnostic capabilities of boat dealers in the near future. Clouse said design tweaks and increased efficiency are on the horizon.

And as Klein said, bass anglers (from weekend warriors to Elites,) will benefit from the ingenuity.

“There have been so any changes to bass boats through the years, and every one of them has been good,” Klein said. “I can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Lake Cumberland – Catching Fish In A New Lake

How do you find fish in a new lake? Where do you look and how do you target them? Come along with Matt for a day on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. With no outside information and little more than a map to guide the way, he covers water and locates feeding bass.

Whether you’re in the PNW, the Midwest, or deep in the South, bass all behave the same way. Once you understand their feeding habits and basic movements they become highly predictable. Don’t let a new fishery frighten you, its not that hard to find fish.

During the cold months we typically start by exploring the backs of deep pockets and creeks. If you can locate baitfish with your electronics you’re already off to a great start! Pay attention to the depth of those baitfish and repeat the process in a different location until you find baitfish with bass around them.

Once you’ve located fish it simply comes down to confidence. Pull out your favorite lures, those baits you’ve got the most confidence in, and begin targeting those bass. If you don’t have confidence baits look below, you’ll find a break down of the lures and gear Matt had the confidence to use on his first visit to Cumberland.

The Baits…

Yellow Magic Popper-

River2Sea Rover-

Keitech 2.8 Swimbait-

Swimbait Head: 1/8 oz Guppy-

Blade Runner 1 3/4 oz Spoon-

Finesse Combo…

Rod- Expride 7′ Light+ Spinning:

Reel- Stradic CI4+ 2500:

Line- 10 lb Power Pro Braid:

Leader- 8 lb Maxima Ultragreen:

Spoon Combo…

Rod- Zodias 7’2″ Medium Heavy:

Reel- Curado 200 HGK:

Line- 60 lb Power Pro MaxCuatro:

Leader- 20 lb Maxima Ultragreen:


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10 Travel Rods for Every Fishing Vacation

The best freshwater and saltwater fishing rods that can slide into your luggage


Whether you’re vacation plans are for Disney World or Rio de Janeiro, there’s always somewhere to fish. But getting tackle to your destination can be a chore. Long, plastic airline tubes often aren’t large enough for your favorite rods and can cost a fortune in baggage fees to transport, and all too frequently they arrive damaged, no matter how carefully you pack.

That’s why travel rods are almost always your best bet. But not all travel rods are created equal. Doing some pre-dawn bass fishing on a golf course in Scottsdale, Arizona, requires drastically different gear than fishing off the beach in Bermuda. Thankfully, there are travel rods available for wherever you’re going and whatever you’re targeting. Here’s a quick list of some of your best options.

St. Croix Triumph Surf Travel Spinning Rods

The St. Croix Triumph Surf Travel Rod breaks down into four sections for easy transport.

Beach vacations are a family favorite. Luckily, every inch of beach offers an angling opportunity. You might encounter a sea of stripers while summering on Cape Cod or monster jacks, barracuda, and tarpon off a Caribbean island. Having proper surf rods to launch plugs, drop chunks of bait, and tame big fish is a must. While you won’t find an abundance of travel surf rods on the market, St. Croix’s Triumph Surf Rods are a top choice. Two 4-piece models easily fit into a packable carrying case. You have a choice of a 9-foot or 10-foot spinning rod built on a quality blank with aluminum-oxide surf guides and top-notch cork handles.

Okuma Nomad Surf Travel Rods

The strongest rod in the Nomad series is 10-feet long and can cast lures that weigh up to half a pound.

For a few bucks less, Okuma offers their own line of high-quality surf rods that will help you land larger specimens. If you’re pre-vacation daydreams feature 150-pound beach tarpon or rocket-fast Costa Rican roosterfish, you’re going to need a brute of a stick. Anglers planning overnighters to land sharks from shore should also be prepared with a rod that’s up to the task. All Okuma Nomad Surf Travel Rods models feature Fuji Alconite guides compatible for use with heavy lines. The 10-foot, heavy-action Nomad is rated for up to 65-pound braided lines and can cast lures that weigh close to a half-pound. All three models break down into four pieces that stow easily inside the included rod tube.

Temple Fork Outfitters Traveler Series

Both the Traveler spinning and casting models are suited well for lighter applications like bass and bluegill fishing.

There are more travel rods on the market for freshwater and light inshore applications than ever, but you’ll need a light to medium-heavy spinning and casting rods to tackle slab bluegills at your lake house, catch bass in a farm pond, or relax on a dock while messing around with snappers. For that, the Traveler Series from Temple Fork Outfitters has a healthy offering of five spinning and two casting models. All rods are 7 feet long, break into three pieces, and are available in a variety of powers and actions. The Traveler light power, moderate/fast action spinning rod is geared for quiet trout streams, while heavier versions are perfect for bass and smaller inshore species. The Traveler Series is built on lightweight carbon-fiber blanks finished with Fuji’s Fazlite Corrosion Control K-series guides that are safe for both salt and fresh water.

St. Croix Legend Trek

Now you can get St. Croix’s amazing rod quality in a size you can stow almost anywhere.

If you’re the type of angler who demands the best, even in a travel rod, St. Croix has you covered with the Legend Trek. Four spinning and four casting models are available, all of which include St. Croix’s rod-blank technologies and are finished with high-end components. Medium-heavy and heavy-action spinning rods can double for labor intensive freshwater applications or inshore pursuits for redfish, speckled trout, and even small tarpon. Casting models include a 7-foot medium-fast rod that works well for bass techniques and 7-foot, 6-inch heavy and extra-heavy fast-action rods to handle small swimbaits in freshwater or plugs for saltwater species.

G Loomis Escape Travel Rods

The G. Loomis Escape lineup includes 10 rods designed for a wide range of applications.

Another high-end option for a travel rod is the G. Loomis Escape. The 10-model series has a wide range of powers and actions in both casting and spinning models. Trout fishermen will find a 6-foot, 3-inch ultralight perfect for all of their spinning applications and inshore anglers targeting redfish and snook will like the 6-foot, 9-inch casting model, which handles up to 2-ounce lures. The series is handcrafted in Woodland, Washington, on quality blanks with Fuji Alconite guides and cork grips. Each rod breaks into three sections and comes in an attractive rod sock and travel case.

Daiwa Ardito Travel Rod

The Ardito is a great rod for anglers that want more than one travel rod for different situations without spending a lot of money.

Daiwa offers freshwater anglers a variety of reliable travel rods at a low price point. The Ardito travel rod line consists of three casting and four spinning rods, and one rod that can perform both functions. The lineup is geared toward traditional black bass angling, with rod lengths ranging from 7- to 7 1/2-feet long in medium-light to medium-heavy actions. Anglers looking to take two or three rods to fish different techniques would do well with the Ardito. The rods are made with X-45 Bias graphite fiber blank construction that excels in flexibility and strength. All casting models are 3-piece, have aluminum-oxide guides, and come in a semi-hard travel case. One 6-piece hybrid model is 7 feet long and can be configured as both a spinning and casting rod.

Okuma Nomad Xpress Travel Rods

Okuma’s Nomad Xpress is a terrific option if you plan to chase pike or catfish while traveling.

If your vacation plans center around the monster largemouth regions of California, or far North into the land of giant pike and muskies, a heavy-action casting rod is a must. Okuma’s Nomad Xpress Travel Rods work great with swimbaits and can handle the large lures in your tackle box. They also provide the backbone you’ll need to land big fish. Two 7-foot, 11-inch, 4-piece models are available in either heavy or extra-heavy powers. The heavy-action rod is rated for 1- to 4-ounce lures, while the bulkier, extra-heavy handles lures that weight 2 to 8 ounces.

13 Fishing Omen Black

13 Fishing’s Omen Black travel rods fish as good as they look.

13 Fishing’s Omen Black 3-piece rods are the perfect choice for light-tackle freshwater anglers. Panfish and trout specialists can stow the Omen Black in its 34-inch case to chase their favorite quarry. If your game is catching smallmouth or largemouth bass on lighter tackle, or targeting exotics in the warmwater canals and development ponds of the South, consider the four models of the Omen Black travel series. The collection consists of a 6-foot, 7-inch medium-light rod, a 7-foot ultralight, and two 7-foot, 1-inch rods in medium and medium-heavy actions. All are constructed on 30 Ton Japanese Toray Blanks and have ALPS guides with Zirconia inserts.

Daiwa Saltiga G Boat Travel Rods

Daiwa designed the Saltiga G rod lineup for anglers mixing in a little offshore fishing on a trip.

If your travel plans include spending time on the high seas, you’ll want an open-water rod for saltwater species, like a Daiwa’s Saltiga G Boat Travel Rod. The two spinning and two casting models measure 7-feet in length, which is the preferred rod length for a majority of boat fishermen on both coasts, and they are available in two different actions. The medium and medium-heavy rods are rated for 12- to 25-pound test and 15- to 35-pound test, respectively. The four rods cover a huge array of saltwater applications like bait fishing for yellowtail off California or dropping for snapper and grouper on inshore wrecks in the Gulf of Mexico.

St. Croix Tidemaster Inshore Travel Rods

St. Croix’s Tidemaster Inshore Travel Rods are all 3-piece and come with a durable case.

Topwater fishing for redfish in Louisiana, or throwing swimbaits for stripers in the Northeast, both require strong, sensitive rods. St. Croix’s Tidemaster series has long been a favorite among near-shore anglers and is a great travel rod option for vacationing fishermen. The travel series is made up of four casting and six spinning models that cover everything from medium-light to heavy action. All the rods break down into 3-pieces and stow easily into the included carrying case. All are constructed from quality SCII graphite and feature aluminum-oxide guides in corrosion-resistant black frames.

Bonefish The Hard Way, Deep In The Mangroves

If you are wading or using kayaks to navigate the flats your mobility may be limited and timing the tides becomes crucial. Bonefish will be most accessible on low tides. Late in a falling tide when they are forced out of the mangroves to early rising tide when they work the edges. It’s important that these tides fall during the time of day when the light is good for catching fish.

That said, I did the exact opposite on a recent trip to Cat Island, Bahamas. It was a vacation, not a fishing trip. The distinction is important to my wife. It means I don’t fish all day, every day. You can read my recommendations on how to make that work, (HERE). On this particular week, low tide came very early in the morning and after dark. Most mornings were compromised by rain. It was a tough set up, but I was determined to catch some bonefish, so I tried something crazy. And it worked!

At high tide the bonefish were feeding deep in the mangroves. In some spots, a hundred yards or more from the edge of the flats. So, I went in after them. It wasn’t long before I was catching bonefish and learning a lot about this new way of fishing. It’s not ideal. In fact it’s damned hard to do, but surprisingly fun.

Stay in the mangroves
When you’re hip deep in mangroves those big open areas that occur in the groves look inviting. Don’t get lured in. The bottom is usually soft and you’ll be waist deep in mud before you know it. Stay on the firm soil where the mangroves grow. Look for the sandy places to wade.

It’s all about line control
Nothing else matters if your line is so woven in the mangroves that you can’t cast. Take forty feet or so off your reel and fold it carefully into loops that you can manage. Hold the loops high to keep them free. Keep a short leash. Five feet of fly line plus your leader out of the tip top. When you get a shot, it will be short. Don’t struggle with more line than you need.

Pick your shots
Strategy becomes really important. Don’t rush. When bonefish are hunting in the mangroves they work at a slower pace. They poke around and meander. Wait until you get a shot you can make. Look for openings in the brush where you can drop the fly. Try to land it when the fish is a couple of feet away. Even if he isn’t looking the sound will get his attention. It’s less about what’s ideal and more about what will work.

Don’t be afraid to cast over brush
You will not be making long retrieves. Bonefish working the mangroves will strike decisively. Inevitably, you will take shots where your fly line lays over the mangroves and your fly drops in a clear piece of water. Just be sure you have 3 or 4 feet of open water to move the fly. Don’t worry about what will happen when the fish eats you fly. You’re already screwed there.

Pick your battles
Landing a powerful bonefish in heavy mangroves seems impossible. It’s actually far more doable than you think. You just have to be open minded about the battle. Your instinct may be to over power the fish. That’s not going to happen. You have to fight smarter, not harder. Loosen your drag way up. When you set the hook the fish is going to head for the nearest cover, which in this case is inches away in every direction.

Let him go. The most important thing is that you have managed your stripping line and it is not tangled in the brush. Keep just enough pressure on the fish to keep him hooked as he weaves your line through mangroves into a hopeless mess. He will eventually tie himself up. Drop your fly rod, (Like I said, keep an open mind) and chase him, following the line until you find and land your fish. Once he has been released, cut off your fly, find your rod and reel the line back through the roots and retie. You will be amazed how well this whole thing works.

Admittedly, this is a crazy way to catch bonefish and I’d have never tried it if I wasn’t desparate for a fish. The thing is, it was really fun. Exhausting, but fun. It’s a whole different kind of hunt and a different set of challenges. That’s what I like about fly fishing. Overcoming the challenges. So, if bonefishing ever feels like its getting too easy, give this a try! You’ll feel challenged, I promise.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline