Recently, I was asked to participate in a writers' junket at Bienville Plantation — the famed hunting and fishing preserve in north-central Florida. The reason for the junket was to showcase Ranger's new line of aluminum boats.
Among the media who attended were Louie Stout, Thomas Allen, Chris Christian and David Brown — all representing various national fishing publications. Also in attendance were bass pros Jason Christie, Scott Suggs and Randall Tharp. Needless to say, I was surrounded by angling dignitaries.
To be honest, I wasn't sure how the event would go if these guys were relegated to smaller aluminum boats. But as things got underway, I quickly realized there was no cause for concern.
The boats proved to be excellent fishing platforms — none were tipsy or the least bit unstable. They were rock solid, in fact. And they provided us with access to some of Bienville's more obscure waters.
As a kid, my first experiences fishing were in my grandfather's handmade wooden johnboat. Constructed with marine-grade plywood, his was heavy and difficult to control. As I grew older, that old boat eventually succumbed to the elements and was left to rot.
When I was old enough to have my own boat, my dad decided mine would be an aluminum johnboat. Dad was all about safety and durability. And since the 14-foot Orlando Clipper was filled with foam, he believed there would be no way a foolish kid might sink it. (Trust me, I put that theory to the test.)
I loved my boat. It was outfitted with a 3.5 Elgin kicker with a 5-gallon gas tank and a paddle. The paddle wasn't just for emergencies. I used it to scull the boat along the shorelines of my home lake. It was all I needed until I joined a bass club, that is. That's when I learned bigger was better ... or so I thought.
The club's members all had sleek fiberglass fishing machines — all glittered up and adorned with the latest marine accessories. It wasn't long before I had to have one of those fancy sleds. So I saved my money and eventually bought my first true, legit bass boat.
With it the memories of my aluminum days quickly faded. I entered a world of monthly payments and regularly scheduled maintenance. The world where "bigger is better."
Ranger's workshop reminded me of what I had given up. Over the course of those three days, I rediscovered the many advantages smaller boats have over big ones. Like access to small waters, for example. That's huge.
Where I live, I can’t begin to count the number of ponds and streams that I'm unable to fish, simply because my 20-foot glass boat is too big to access them. That includes tidal streams — places most bass enthusiasts would never launch a fancy freshwater rig.
Aluminum boats handle salt well, and if you scuff the bottom on an oyster bar, it's no big deal. It's all part of the experience.
Then there are the financial aspects. An aluminum boat costs less and is cheaper to rig (cheaper to insure, too). They're also easier to haul. And with fuel costs these days, less weight behind your tow vehicle could translate to more trips to the lake. How could that be any better?
As the Ranger project wound down, I think the attending writers and pros were genuinely impressed. We each spent time in all the different models, fishing and driving them. And the comments were consistent. The boats were incredibly stable, dry and comfortable. They had plenty of deck space. I recall three of us standing on one gunnel and hardly causing the boat to lean.
What surprised me more than anything, however, was how quiet they were. My old Orlando Clipper was a tin can compared to these rigs. Because they are foam-filled — and, in some cases, carpeted — they fish more like a glass boat. They were truly impressive.
So with all these positive aspects and advantages, why hasn’t someone come up with a tournament trail just for aluminum boats? Seems like a no-brainer to me … especially in this economy.
It could provide access to so many new bodies of water, and it would open the door for a lot of good fishermen to showcase their skills, too.
What do you think? Am I on the right track?
Okay, maybe my idea lacks Ray Scott's vision, but it sure is something to consider — an aluminum bass boat tour all across America. Hmmmm....