With lure and fly fishing such exciting and widespread methods of targeting freshwater and estuary species, the popular choice of craft over many years for this fishing was a low-profile aluminium boat featuring flat casting decks.
When bream and bass tournaments started to take off, it didn’t take long for US bass boats to appear on the scene. Despite price tags exceeding the budget of everyday anglers, they became more common but few fibreglass boats rivalled the economical aluminium boats for recreational anglers.
That’s until the affordable US Stratos 176XT, which poses a serious alternative to the popular aluminium fishers.
The 176XT offers a lot of features that are unavailable on aluminium boats or not even offered as options. It’s a fibreglass boat offering big value in comparison with aluminium.
Standard fare on the Stratos 176XT includes a Minn Kota electric motor, Humminbird Piranha Max 210 sounder, 90L livewell with divider, lockable compartments, boarding ladder, on-board battery charger and a range of other features.
There are plush carpets, huge amounts of storage space for tackle boxes, upright level floatation, an accessory hatch right at the stern and a lot of other extra goodies.
All the hatch lids are aluminium for better durability. No more marine ply warping, swelling or splitting.
With the Australian Stratos distributors, you can choose your favourite brand of outboard so you’re not tied to one marque.
The 176XT is recommended for 50hp to 75hp and if you think that a 5.33m (17’6”) boat could take more power, you’d be absolutely right. But this boat was designed to go head to head with aluminium boats in the US, so horsepower ratings were kept low to allow competitive pricing.
For the average Aussie angler chasing bass or bream, a 50hp 176XT is very economical, while a 75hp is fine for those who like life a little faster.
I have driven these hulls powered by a Mercury 50hp carb two-stroke and a Mercury OptiMax 75hp and both are great. A fellow member of Western Sydney Bream and Bass has a 176XT with a 50hp Merc which hits 60kmh with three guys and fishing gear.
The 75hp Optimax seems to be a very popular match with this boat in the US and in Australia. At full throttle, you can expect up to 80kmh and while this doesn’t make it the quickest boat on the water, it’s still plenty enough for most.
The hole shot with the 75hp Optimax is terrific and cornering at full throttle shows no sign of cavitation or skittishness.
The Stratos offers ride softness that simply can’t compare with aluminium boats. I’ve had to contend with the washes of large fishing boats, wakeboard and ski boats, all of which provided a constant slop. If you’ve ever spent time boating on the Nepean River at Penrith, you’ll know the washing-machine effect you experience in this area.
The first time Dean Hayes from Sportsfishing Boats Australia took me out in the 176XT with the 75hp Optimax, we shared the water with a broad-beamed 7m plate-alloy boat.
Keen to show how the XT handles such wash, he opened the throttle and headed straight for the looming wake. Having been used to aluminium boats, I did the old ‘this is going to hurt’ grimace and prepared myself. Two quick and very gentle bumps and it was all over. The chiropractor wouldn’t be getting my money after all!
Storage space is abundant and I doubt most anglers will fill it all. It’s nice to be able to take spare clothing, a thermos, an esky with some food and still pack in the important things and have room for extras.
The 8.5 square-metre front deck hides a central rod locker which can store 12 rods ready to fish. Either side of the rod locker is a storage area for tackle boxes and anything you care to take with you. All storage is lockable.
Under the centre seat, there’s more storage for little extras like keys, wallets, wet weather gear and cameras.
The rear casting deck is just over six square metres, under which are an accessory storage locker and two more storage holds. Between the two is an aerated livewell with a removable divider and splash guard with an 800gph pump with timer.
The fibreglass hull is incredibly quiet on the water and it’s amazing how much you’ll notice this if you’ve only fished from aluminium boats before. I’m sure it makes it harder for the fish to know you’re there.
Local aluminium boats have traditionally been considered good value but with volumes of production of US bass boats come economies of scale. Even though the Australian dollar has fluctuated wildly since the Nightmare on Wall Street, the Stratos 176XT and its stablemates remain serious contenders in the value stakes.
One local aluminium series which had always been a favourite just didn’t compare with the 176XT in ‘features for dollar’. When optioned up similarly to the Stratos, it was still more expensive.
Fantastic stability, soft seating, heaps of leg room, open deck space and all the other features of the 176XT make this a great rig to fish from and the ride and comfort are superior to anything aluminium.
Thanks to Dean Hayes at Sports Fishing Boats Australia for his assistance. SFBA offers a range of electric motors, electronics, outboards and trailer options for any individual requirements, call Dean on 0408 334 892.
• The author is sponsored by Sports Fishing Boats Australia.
|Total Persons, Motor, Gear||500kg|
|Approx Boat Weight||545kg|
|Rod Box Length||2.13m|
Price on alloy trailer with Mercury 75hp Optimax: $38,900; with Mercury 50 hp two-stroke $32,950.