2017 Best Open-Water Aluminum Fishing Boats
February 10, 2017
Fishing comes first. But Dad isn't the only member of the family. Boat manufacturers get that, and are making boats that compromise little in the way of fishability but give the rest of the clan features and comfort so everyone's smiling. Happy wife, happy life, right? Here's our take on some of the top new open-water aluminum fishing boats -- um ... family boats.
-- John Geiger, Senior Editor
This is an all-new Pro Mag that has been essentially redesigned from the keel up. The 16-foot Pro Mag 162 has a good-sized elevated front casting-deck, storage and a 15-gallon livewell hidden beneath its surface. There is a locking rod-rack with six tubes and a drain. A pair of gas rams support the lid, so it stays up when you need it to. This basic design gives the Pro Mag considerable versatility: You can probe the shallows for largemouth one minute and troll deep for walleyes and lake trout the next. That's important if your "fleet" is made up of only one boat.
In the main cockpit, you'll notice that it's quite spacious for a 16-foot boat â€” much less a 16 that has a large front deck. There's also a second rod locker in the cockpit floor with five tubes and drainage. A new integrated track system is extruded right into the gunnel, rather than being a bolt-on. You can mount rod holders, downriggers, electronics or anything else where you like.
The boat has a Hydra-Lift reverse chine hull. The 162 is rated for outboards of up to 90 horsepower but I think it runs like a champ with a 75. Our test boat, rigged with a Mercury 75 four-stroke, got on plane in under 3 seconds with three adults aboard, and hit a top speed of about 35 mph at wide-open throttle. A 90 would likely put the WOT speed at closer to 40 mph.
Smoker Craft's new Yarblow aeration system circulates fresh air through the rod lockers and storage spaces to protect rods and tackle from rust and mildew. A timer controls the vent fan, so you can just set it up at the end of the day when you plug in your batteries, and forget about it. Or, run it throughout the day, like a livewell. The stern has a smaller casting deck and a 25-gallon livewell.
WHAT WE LIKED
The Yarblow ventilation system is innovative, and the integrated rail makes the boat easy for anglers to customize. Lots of storage on this boat.
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
For a 16-foot boat, the 162 is impressive, but for regularly fishing in rough open water, we'd opt for a larger boat.
Alumacraft has a reputation for making strong boats that aren't as pricey as some others in their class. The Trophy 185's twin-plated .20-inch hull is made from just one sheet of 5052 marine-grade aluminum. They are also known for larger rivets and smooth welds. All that makes a nice foundation and platform for your cruising and fishing. This boat is one that gives you a lot of fishing features, like two 18-gallon livewells, and rod lockers, but a few things that the family would appreciate, too, like two aft jump seats and interior courtesy lights.
The 185 has a wide beam and impressive stability. You'll also find a remarkable number of places to store longer rods and many are lockable. In fact, I figured I could securely put 13 rods, up to 8 feet long, on this boat. The gunnels are a good compromise between a dry-running open-water boat and one that makes it easy to swing a walleye or bass into the cockpit.
The boat handled well during testing in light seas and winds. When encountering wakes, it rode softly without pounding yet still attained a healthy rate at WOT. The 185 is rated for a maximum 175 hp motor. We ran a Honda BF150, which got it on plane quickly and offered excellent mid-range response. We could make tight turns without cavitation. (The transom is 25 inches tall.)
We loved the two lockable pull-out storage boxes under the two consoles. They are tucked away near your feet and make a great place to put your phone or wallet or other valuables. There are a few other clever touches, like a smart-phone holder on the passenger's side. The 185 also has one of the best driver consoles in the business, with a clean interface and large, flat top for big electronics.
WHAT WE LIKED
This boat is a kind of a recreation-fishing hybrid, which is fine by us as long as it's primarily a fishing boat. The 185 delivers.
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
One of the rod lockers is on the gunnel, which makes it tough to access with rod holders on the track. The driver's seat and console were a tight fit for an average-sized guy.
It's hard to believe the Starcraft STX is only 20 feet long. The elevated bow deck is huge, with plenty of room for a couple of anglers to cast in comfort without constantly knocking elbows or stepping on each other's toes. With a typical load of gear, the bow deck is also situated at just the right height, being tall enough for easy pitching or sight-fishing, yet still low enough you can reach over the side to lip a bass without wishing you had a much longer arm. It handled rough water on my rides and wasn't prone to being blown around. I didn't have to spend much time making course corrections on the electric while I fished.
The deep cockpit offers a ton of space and plenty of freeboard. There is plenty of room for four anglers to troll, even when running downriggers, planer boards and multiple rods. The boat has a number of secure storage lockers. An in-floor rod locker between the twin consoles hides rods to 8 feet in length. The 36-gallon livewell is lighted and aerated, with recirculation, timer and oxygenator.
This boat can handle outboards of up to 250 hp, so it has the muscle to get where it's going fast. My test boat was rigged with an Evinrude E-TEC G2 250. Pinning the throttle had us climbing past 30 mph in 5 seconds and soon after achieving a top-end speed of near 60 mph. The hull dug in on the turns without giving up speed or ventilating the prop.
The boat has heavy-duty hinges and latches. Cleats are through-bolted, rather than just screwed on. It has a .125-inch one-piece bottom plate right up through the .080-inch side plates, which are as thick as many other boats' hulls are at the keel. Built on their Power-Trac hull design, it has internal torsion-beam construction. Three-bank battery charger is standard equipment.
WHAT WE LIKED
The STX 2050 manages big water, but with its shallow draft, you can explore the skinny waters as well. Wide beam and huge fuel tanks.
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
We could do without the integrated baitwell in front and instead leave that area as flat floor.
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