Author: Alan Jones
If you are a Ranger designer and have one of the best-selling bass boat models ever, you don’t just shake the Etch-A-Sketch screen and totally reboot. No, you tweak a successful hull design to improve its performance and make it more comfortable and adaptable for all fishing techniques. So when it came time to replace the 520 ZX, Ranger engineers listened to feedback from tour anglers and weekend warriors and came up with the Z520 Comanche, a boat with more beam and a larger front casting platform. And for 2012 it’s been improved with a higher deck that reduces gunwale height.
Most bass boat consoles are smaller than the dash on your kid’s Lil’ Lightning McQueen electric car. Previous versions of Ranger’s 520 Comanche models had mounting room for the electronics to the side of the wheel, but on the newest version that space is front and center with room for a Lowrance HDS8 screen (the 5.5-inch model is standard). This also gives you a taller console for wind-busting purposes — a very useful feature on chilly mornings. Even the oft-neglected passenger-side console gets a matching tall windshield … if you choose, since it can be ordered without the double-bubble configuration.
One issue for fishermen into flipping and pitching is that tall gunwales can get in the way. When performing an underhanded flip to place a lure under a dock with 7-foot-plus rods, you need more casting clearance. But instead of just lowering the gunwale, Ranger raised the deck a couple of inches to create more storage underneath, because what angler doesn’t want more room to cram more tackle and rods below? The forward deck is extra roomy, which is nice, but since it’s also higher, it’s better for anglers who are sight casting, and the 2 inches of extra beam provide more room for two anglers to fish side-by-side. An ultra-thick pad under the carpet helps reduce leg and back fatigue on those long days spent grinding out a limit. Ranger also improved the ergonomics by recessing the foot control of the new 24v Minn Kota Foretrex 80 trolling motor, which comes standard and features an ultra-strong design that’s easier to deploy.
Our test boat is powered by the Mercury 250 OptiMax Pro XS, which is the maximum horsepower for the Z520 and is 25 hp more than the 520 ZX could handle. It leaped out of the hole and reached plane in only 2.8 seconds, but more importantly it did so with little bowrise, which will allow anglers to work shallower areas and still be able to escape without tagging the bottom when it’s time to leave. The direct-injected two-stroke Merc pushed strong in the mid-range, and we hit 30 mph in only 6.5 seconds, reaching a top speed of 73.2 mph on Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Mo. The boat is very stable at all speeds and easy to drive.
When on a high-speed plane, all but the rear running pad of the 20-foot, 9-inch Z520 hull lifted clear of the water, so we glided over the nasty little chop our lake developed in the late afternoon. Not only did this give us a nice top-end speed with good fuel economy, since wetted surfaces were vastly reduced, but we didn’t feel the waves because they were hitting the hull behind us. This was in contrast to the 6-inch-longer Z521 that we tested last year, which kept a little more hull in the water — preferred by some anglers looking for a more stately Cadillac ride. Having the bow run high will be useful to resist stuffing when driving into large head seas, which is problematic for most bass boats. Another factor contributing to the sweet ride is the Soft Ride Seating (S.R.S.), which incorporates springs into the frame along with a generous amount of vibration-dampening foam. I would have preferred a little less contour on the backrest padding for more even back support, but when running it’s downright cushy.
One thing that sets the Z520 apart from many other bass boats is its ability to turn. At moderate speeds, we were able to crank it into a hard turn that would have many other boats blowing out. This control will come in handy for running twisty rivers safely and gives the boat a sports car-like feel.
Make no mistake; this is a bassin’ war wagon with a tunnel-vision mission to help anglers catch as many fish as possible and keep them in good shape until weigh-in. But it’s not just for those who make a living fishing; it’s also for weekend warriors who fish for fun or like to dip their toes into the competitive arena during club events. The extra deck height makes for cavernous storage in the three main compartments up front. To port there’s a rod locker with eight tubes that can handle up to 8-foot rods, and in the deeper center locker, there’s room for eight more rods up to 7 feet, 6 inches long. Many will use the middle locker for their Plano lure boxes and will remove the rod handle organizer to create room for up to 20 boxes. For life jackets and other bulky items, the starboard locker can handle any overflow. In front of the driver’s console is a built-in cooler for crew hydration, and it’s well insulated.
Since the consoles were moved back during the redesign, the rear deck on the Z520 is smaller than on the 520 ZX, but most co-anglers will still find enough space to give the primary angler a run for his money. Ranger’s livewell, set into the rear deck, holds 26 gallons and features a recirculating pump for enhanced fish survivability and has a removable divider to help cull the herd. A nice touch is the step-up to the front deck and the flip-down center seat to allow access to the rear deck without stepping on the upholstery.
Ranger gives you an incredibly complete package that needs only a few goodies to make it the ultimate rig. For people who fish on shallower lakes such as Okeechobee, having an optional Power Pole makes holding the boat in position a matter of pushing a button. It’s stealthier, too, with no anchor rattling to alert the fish to your presence. Many anglers who leave their boats in the water or are more security conscious will probably use a gimbal-mount for their expensive electronics, for quick removal when the angler leaves for the day.
Ranger will rig your boat for any brand outboard, which lets you take advantage of the best service in your area. Now that Yamaha has released the VMAX SHO, anglers can partake of four-stroke quietude with some attitude and no weight penalty, which was the previous issue for this technology.
For many companies the trailer is just a necessary piece of equipment, but Ranger takes its standard in-house-built trailer to the next level by adding features such as fiberglass fenders that look cool and have a built-in step and an available hand brake. Put those together with Ranger’s second-to-none fit and finish and excellent customer support, and you’ve been called up to the big leagues.