The new Stratos 186 VLO combines bang for the buck with style.
Piggybacking off the success of last year’s 176 VLO, Stratos unveiled the 186 VLO for 2014. It is not just longer and wider but has even more capability than the smaller “V-low,” which is limited to 75 hp.
While your eyes are telling you the 186 VLO is one of those high-dollar tournament bass rigs you’ll be able to buy when you hit the Lotto, in reality it’s a highly affordable yet still-capable bass rig that comes to you complete with a custom trailer and enough power to move it smartly for around $23K. Lest you dismiss it as cheap knock-off of a real bass boat, consider the fact it’s built right alongside Ranger boats in Flippin, Ark., and you’ll appreciate what Stratos has accomplished. The marketing department makes no bones about its strategy: It is looking to bring anglers who thought they could only afford discount aluminum bass rigs into the Stratos fold.Not only did Stratos build a capable boat even club anglers can use to compete in regional fishing tournaments, but its designers took the time and trouble to make it good looking with a choice of six custom colors that can be selected for $605. Our test boat features a classy-looking silver flake with black accent stripes — you’ll want to park in the driveway rather than the garage, and not because it won’t fit. High-end touches such as standard pull-up cleats will have everyone thinking you spent a bundle.
Stratos offers the 186 VLO with as little as 70 hp, but unless you have a fear of messing up your Ron Burgundy-like hair, don’t do it. It will be the worst $1,600 you ever “saved.” Maximum horsepower is 115, and our test boat proved that is the correct number of ponies to hitch up to this bassin’ wagon. Our test engine is the Mercury 115 Pro XS OptiMax, which complemented our boat’s color scheme, should those things matter to you. The Pro XS differs from standard OptiMax engines with high-performance cylinder heads, a custom exhaust tuner and a vented flywheel cover. The 186 reached plane in 5 seconds flat with little bowrise and accelerated to 30 mph in 9.5 seconds. The direct-injected two-stroke Mercury is louder than its four-stroke counterparts, especially at wide-open throttle where it reached 96 decibels; at a 4500 rpm cruise speed, it measured a more moderate 86 decibels. Top speed was a brisk 48.6 mph.Although Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Mo., was like Mountain Dew on a plate during our sea trial, we tested its mid-range acceleration and found it to be very responsive, which will come in handy should things get rough and precise throttle control be necessary. For people looking for a little more speed, Stratos also builds a 189 VLO that’s the same length as the 186 but features a wider beam and a 150 hp maximum. The fiscal bump up to the 189 isn’t small, though, costing $5,300 more when equipped with the same engine as our test boat. Clearly, the 186 VLO is the sweet spot in the lineup.
For a “price” boat, the 186 comes with an upscale racing wheel and a comfortable driver position with plenty of legroom. I liked the simple two outer bucket seats better than those on some high-dollar boats that suffer from the “fancy-play syndrome,” adding unnecessary bulges and vanity badges. The center seat folds down to form a step-up to the rear deck and can be flipped up to reveal dry storage for personal items.
Although I recommend hydraulic steering for any outboard with triple-digit horsepower, the less expensive Teleflex No-Feedback steering system worked well on the 186. It’s a mechanical system, but it has a clutch that engages to counter the effects of prop torque that try to steer you to port, so you track in a straight line without wrestling with the wheel. The clutch disengages when you turn the wheel, and you’re back to fighting the torque. Our test boat’s steering system was dialed in perfectly, and it was relatively easy to turn in either direction.
The 186 VLO has the large aircraft-carrier front deck you find on tournament bass boats, and low gunwales make landing a small bass by swinging it in easy. Despite the low price, it comes loaded with everything you need to hook it up at the dealership and take it directly to the lake. There’s a standard Minn Kota 12v trolling motor with a recessed footwell that features a flat panel off to the right for installing electronics in addition to the standard Lowrance X4 gimbal-mount fishfinder at the helm. A pro-style centerline rod locker under the front deck has space for 12 rods up to 7 feet, 6 inches long and comes complete with protective rod tubes. Even the co-angler in the stern has a rod ramp that can hold five rods for quick rig switching. With twin storage compartments up front and two on the rear casting deck, there’s plenty of room for you lure hoarders.
While features such as the twin casting platforms and a huge aerated livewell mark this as a bass boat, it can also go multispecies. The livewell has a removable divider, so if you are not using it to cull bass, you can take it out to handle longer fish such as striper and pike or keep golden shiners in one side and walleye in the other.
The 186 VLO gives you plenty of room to grow, with options such as flush-mounted electronics up to the advanced Lowrance HDS-7 Gen2 touchscreen monitor at the helm or bow. To keep costs down, check out the electronics in this month’s fishing column, which would be ideal on this boat. Want to bump the trolling motor up to a 24v system? No problem, since there is plenty of room for three batteries in a stern compartment that also houses your bilge and livewell pumps. The 186 comes with a built-in single battery charger, but optioning your way to a three-bank MotorGuide battery charger is the way to go for plug-and-charge maintenance. There’s an option for a second console, which not only provides a little protection for your favorite angler, but also enhances the boat’s symmetry.