Just because you don’t have $60k to spend on a tournament bass boat doesn’t mean you can’t compete with the big boys.
Author: Alan Jones
What angler hasn’t fallen asleep on the Barcalounger, fantasizing about being one of those pro anglers on TV holding up a surfboard-sized check with a six-figure number on it, lights flashing and confetti raining down? But one of the obstacles is that a 75 mph bass war wagon can cost as much as a house. Well, Stratos might have figured out a way for you to realize part of that fantasy for about $18,000, with its new 176 VLO (pronounced Vee-low).
A price tag of $17,999 for a fully rigged fiberglass bass boat with a trailer is a pretty bold statement, and you are excused for not expecting too much. In fact, you’re probably wondering if the salesman at your dealership is going to ask, “Do you want a steering wheel with that?” But believe it or not, a stock Stratos 176 VLO comes ready to fish the moment you hook it up to your tow vehicle, which by the way, can be your family’s Honda Odyssey minivan. Often, with budget boats, there is a question about quality of build, but the fact that Stratos boats are built side-by-side with Rangers at the factory in Flippin, Ark., should allay that concern.
Most often lacking in budget bass boats is refinement and attention to detail, but that isn’t the case on the 176 VLO. Big-boat features are in evidence with niceties such as a recessed trolling motor pedal for the standard Minn Kota Edge and a chafe plate to keep the cord from marring the beautiful, sparkly gelcoat. Even amateurs have too many rods (according to the spouse, anyway), so there’s a centerline rod box for a dozen weapons of bass destruction up to 7 feet long. Twin storage compartments in the foredeck and two more aft provide plenty of storage, and all are lockable. Twin rod stays on the forward deck allow you to move to another spot without stowing rods in the locker. And because the outer two of the three running seats are recessed from the gunwales, there’s additional space for the rod tips of your over-length rods to lay safely out of harm’s way.
For many anglers who fish on smaller bodies of water, having a 75 mph bass boat is about as relevant as having a 180 mph Porsche for your bumper-to-bumper commute. If you look at how much time anglers spend running as opposed to fishing, you’ll find it makes sense to put your money into fishing features rather than a big powerplant. And spending less on gas means you have more money to spend on tackle (cue spousal eye roll). Modestly powered by a Mercury 60 FourStroke, the boat won’t go fast enough to make you turn your cap backward, with a top speed of 33 mph. Time to plane was a leisurely 7.6 seconds, and it took 12.2 seconds to reach a cruise speed of 25 mph. Max power is 75 hp, which would be a good choice, since it has a significant effect on performance, pushing the top speed to around 40 mph, according to Stratos brand manager Jason Bragg. If you need more speed, Stratos makes a longer, wider 189 VLO that shares many of the features of the 176 and is paired with a 150 hp outboard while still being priced under $30k. Stratos will also rig Yamaha, Suzuki and Evinrude outboards.
Unlike faster bass boats that balance on a delta pad the size of a medium pizza at speed, the running attitude of the 176 VLO is more like a flats boat, with a level ride and more hull in the water. Normally, you can trim up the engine to defeat prop torque, but you’re not really going fast enough at its cruise speed of 25-30 mph to do more than bump the trim up a little to get the bow out of the water. Stratos includes No-Feedback steering at no extra charge, which means you get an assist to virtually eliminate prop torque when traveling in a straight line. Turning is easy, and the 176 tracks very well during moderate cornering, although sharp turns bleed off speed quickly. The little bit of chop we were in didn’t pose a problem as we sliced right across the top without pounding.
The 176 is an ideal multispecies boat for smaller bodies of water or where the angler has the local knowledge to launch near where the fish are biting. At 17 feet, 6 inches long, its beam is a proportional 7 feet, so while it’s fairly narrow, two beefy anglers can easily fish up front, pitching for bass or working underwater structures for crappie. Twin pedestal seats can be planted fore and aft for chillin’ while you’re bassin’.
A pro-style recirculating livewell is long enough for species such as striper and muskie, and there is a slide-in divider for culling the herd. This gives you everything you need to compete in club tournaments or surprise top anglers when they visit your turf. Stratos even sweetens the pot in many local tournament series by offering to match up to $10,000 for a win in select tournaments with its 2X Tournament Incentive Program. I counted 70 such eligible events in Florida alone, so nailing down a win in the right event can pay for your rig … and more equipment.
Stratos makes setting up your boat easy, giving you just about everything you want and need. At the compact helm station, you get a standard Humminbird Piranha Max 160, but there’s plenty of room to grow, with an area large enough to accommodate a Lowrance HD7 color screen. There’s also a flat area, off to starboard and away from the trolling motor cable, to flush-mount a 7-inch display at the bow. The large tach and speedometers are set very low and to the side, while the trim and fuel gauges sit higher. All rocker switches with circuit breakers are tucked close to the custom wheel to avoid accidental engagement. The removable mini windshield is there mostly for looks. The 176 VLO even comes with an onboard battery charger. Recommended options are the recessed boarding ladder, the ski tow for towing kids on tubes and the Professional Tackle Organizer (PTO) for the centerline locker.