Nail the throttle and the big Mercury 300X hooks up without a trace of cavitation. Three quick heartbeats with the bow in the air and the hull is already flat on plane. After that, there's nothing to do but hang on. The acceleration is relentless, an irresistible force that pushes you straight back into your tight bucket seat.
At 60, your hat blows off. At 70, your eyes start to tear, even though you're wearing sunglasses. At 80, the hull is out of the water and you're riding the prop, the wail of the big 2-stroke like an animal in pain. At 90, you're going faster than you've ever gone before on water, your cheeks pasted back into an insane grin.
Over 90 mph, because of the prop's pull, the hull keeps rocking to starboard. You have to constantly balance it with the wheel to minimize chine-walking that can turn to disaster quicker than a New York minute. Speed increases incrementally. Your whole world has shrunk to the GPS mounted above the tach, willing it higher ... 96.5 ... 97 ... 98 ... 98.5. 100. How fast is 100 mph on water? Let's just say you're tensed for something cataclysmic to happen. Prior to this, the fastest we'd ever gone was 88 mph in a $160,000 Scarab powered by twin NASCAR racing V8s assembled by Jeff Gordon's crew at Hendrick Motorsports.
So, just how fast is 100 mph on water? Well, MerCruiser just announced that a 30-ft. Eliminator Daytona with twin MerCruiser 496 MAG HO big-block V8s is the first boat ever to hit 100 mph powered by production sterndrives.On water, 100 mph makes you Top Gun.Compared to that narrow-focus Eliminator, a bass boat not only costs $100,000 less, it has a practical reason for speed--the quicker you can get out to where the fish are biting and back again, the more time you'll have to fish.
We feel the minimum requirements for a bass boat are speed and, of course, a flat deck where a fisherman can stand. To get speed, you bolt the biggest, meanest outboard motor you can afford on the back of the lightest, sleekest hull. To get a flat deck, you fill that hull with storage lockers and baitwells whose lids form an uninterrupted high-traction surface. Then you go fishing.
Truth be told, designing a bass boat is a little more complicated than that. You need a place for two adults to sit without being bounced out of the boat at speed. You need a place to mount a fishfinder and an electric trolling motor where the fishermen can operate them easily. You need fuel tanks that will hold 50 gal. or so.
You also need a design that's easy to trailer behind a pickup and easy for one person to launch and retrieve from a primitive backwoods launching ramp on a lake that's never been fished. You need a hull that's not only light, but immensely strong to stand up to high-speed pounding. It should be maintenance-free. And just for fun, you need to make it cool-looking, with eye-popping colors that the bass can see coming a mile away.
The hardest part of designing a bass boat is getting it to handle at high speeds. You've got 500 pounds of Mercury or Yamaha outboard mounted on a Power-Lift hung off the transom and jacked up as high as it will go. To counteract the tendency for the boat to flip over backward from this highly leveraged engine weight, bass boat manufacturers have settled on fiberglass hulls roughly 21 ft. long and weighing between 1200 and 1800 pounds for their highest-performance models. Each company has its own secret combination of chines, strakes and hull contours to give the best combination of straight-line tracking, sharp turning and rough-water ride. Just as important, at 0 mph, a good bass boat needs to be a stable platform from which to cast.
Saltwater snobs call them Bubba Boats because bass boats evolved on the rivers and lakes of the rural Southeast. Today, there are literally dozens of bass boat manufacturers spread across the South from Texas to Florida, but the heart of bass boat country remains in East Tennessee. We invited seven top bass boat manufacturers to bring their hottest boat/motor combinations to Georgia's Lake Lanier. There we ran them through our usual tests, with two men aboard. Professional bass boat pilots drove these tricky-to-handle rockets as they chine-walked toward triple figures, while we ran the test equipment.
Mercury and Yamaha sent out their engineers to ensure that every motor was properly tuned and propped. As you can see from the results in the table above, prices and performance are surprisingly varied for boats that are all nearly the same in size, type of construction and appearance.
There's no point in declaring a winner from this group, or guessing which one will help you catch the most fish. Very minor differences in the way the cockpits are laid out or the decks are configured will make a particular boat appealing or annoying to you. The big Mercury and Yamaha outboards perform about the same, but the expertise and enthusiasm of the local dealer probably will make one seem like a better choice.
We can tell you which bass boat is our favorite. The fastest one, of course. A good ol' boy named Chub Bryant hand-builds 100-mph Stroker boats in Maryville, Tenn. While some of his competitors are cranking out 25 hulls a week, Bryant makes less than a hundred boats a year. Call these boats "customs" and you'd be right on the money. Speaking of money, his Strokers cost a little more, but customers can specify every detail right down to the color of the piping on the seats. Best of all, on the space on the boat specification plate where the government requires a manufacturer to specify a maximum horsepower rating, ex-drag-racer Bryant puts: Unlimited. Now that's style.