November 05, 2020
By Florida Sportsman Editor
Light in weight, heavy on features: Metal bassboats come of age.
The basic aluminum john boat has long been popular among Florida bass and panfish anglers: Durable, low-maintenance, affordable. In recent years, brands like Ranger, Vexus, Crestliner and XPress are offering tournament-rigged aluminum boats which compete with fiberglass models at all levels.
Florida pro John Cox has made a name for himself as a successful tournament angler: two B.A.S.S. wins and six FLW victories, including the 2016 Forrest Wood Cup—all from an aluminum boat. Cox is a vocal proponent of the inexpensive aluminum option — his 18 1/2-foot Crestliner PT18 with a 150 4S retails at $30,650 (boat, motor, trailer) before accessories.
FEWER POUNDS, GREATER ACCESS
“Towing all over the country, I get better gas mileage pulling an aluminum boat than a fiberglass boat,” Cox said. “Also, the engines are smaller, so I'm not using as much gas during practice or the tournament.”
Lighter weight also equates to shallower draft and Cox is seldom happier than when he's competing on a flooded fishery. Rising water puts the fish deep in the bushes. The depth may float a fiberglass boat, but bumping and scratching gelcoat deters some anglers.
Conversely, Cox won't hesitate to push deep into the thick stuff to find hidden lagoons and unmolested fish. For scooting around shallow areas, raising his Atlas Jack Plate to the highest position allows Cox to sprint short distances with only his skeg below the hull. Heavier fiberglass boats would typically lose water pressure with the motor that high. When it's time to leave, Cox can plane in inches of water.
Cox finds an aluminum boat's modest draft simplifies maneuvering around docks, laydowns and cypress knees. With less boat in the water, he can turn in tighter spots — a point that proves particularly helpful for sight fishing.
“With an aluminum boat, you can shoot right in and kick the trolling motor right out.”
Stump fields and standing timber— think: Rodman Reservoir — often intimidate glass boaters, but aluminum boats eat this stuff for breakfast. As Cox notes, impact damage is rare, but when it occurs, a little 3M 5200 sealant or a quick weld gets him back in the game.
Fellow Elite pro Dale Hightower runs an Xpress X21 with a Yamaha 250 SHO. Hightower said he loves pushing deep into shallow backwaters and he won't think twice about “hopping a log.” Fast idling until half of his boat scrapes over the subsurface roadblock, he raises his motor out of the water until the rest of his boat slides clear.
BELLS AND WHISTLES
“Six or seven years ago, aluminum boats weren't beefy enough for a jack plate and Power-Poles,” said Cox, “but now many are.”
“The aluminum boat that I use to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series has a 12-inch Lowrance unit in the dash. We've come a long way.”
One last word of advice: “With a lot of aluminum boats," said Cox, “once you put the jack plate and Power- Poles on it, that voids the warranty. Make sure you find a boat that's built strong enough for this rigging and a large outboard.” FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2020