By: David Lockwood, Photography by: John Ford

Ranger is the ‘must have’ boat of American Bass fisherman since the late 1960s, and the Made In USA craft are now out to Americanise the Australian market, writes David Lockwood

Though Australian anglers are a resourceful lot who, over time, have developed their own techniques for luring native fish, much of our tackle and techniques are rooted in America half a world away. Today we walk the dog with our stickbaits, sink and draw our jigs - soft plastics and spinnerbaits - often from boats that are at least lose derivations of Yankee craft.
Founded in 1968, Ranger is as much a part of Middle America as cheerleaders, Chevrolets and spinnerbaits. As one of the biggest manufacturers of high-speed tournament bass boats in the world, Ranger builds 40 different models, while also offering customisations by way of optional gear, graphics and finish, plus more for the fishing pros.
So, while it’s owned by marine multinational Genmar Holdings, Ranger has maintained its identity, exclusivity but also its approachable face. A keen angler, Ranger’s founder Forrest L. Wood signs every badge, while long-term president Randy Hopper says: "Feel free to contact me at rhoppr@rangerboats.com".
When you enter the Ranger website or thumb the glossy brochure you soon discover that, besides the almost baffling use of marketing jargon, this is one of the most heavily branded boats in American history. Put simply, pro fishers on the American bass circuit love Ranger boats.
Though the boatbuilder accommodates family fishers and has a saltwater series (primarily for flats fishing), its speciality is building bass boats with one purpose in mind… luring lunkers in flat water.
For this, there are three series: the top-of-the-line Z Commanche, the mid-priced tournament VX Commanche and the entry-level VS Series. The flagship of the latter range, the 188V3 tested here is a great example of the American bass-fishing genre. It’s a sexy, sassy and, well, very bassy flat-water fishing boat that I tested on a not-so-flat Sydney Harbour.
Fitted with an optional Tournament Pack, including bow-mounted sounder, illuminated bait wells and rod storage compartments, tackle-storage system, remote oil filler, plus keel guard, column-mounted trim lever and Hot Foot recessed foot throttle, this is a boat made for high tailing it to the far end of the impoundment and fishing in comfort and style.

If not for the construction and fishing features then it’s the car-like finish of the Rangers that will win you over. The attention to detail, graphics, metallic silver and metal-flake blue gelcoat on the demo boat, the fish box liners, carpet and dash are all applied with care. Even the custom Ranger aluminium trailer is a work of art, with hydraulic brakes, independent suspension, a swing-away tongue and more.
On the construction front, the Rangers are filled with closed-cell foam for upright level flotation, have a foam-filled fibreglass stringer system to help make them monocoque and rattle-free one-piece boats, and are backed by a lifetime hull warranty. Some components, such as hatch lids, are composite to reduce weight and have gas struts to assist with access, but just as much thought has gone into the hull design.
For example, the transom on the 188VS has an outboard setback so that, when you back of the (foot) throttle in a hurry, water doesn’t wash aboard.
This was nice to know as the demo boat was paired with a not-inconsiderable 175hp Optimax that might otherwise generate a decent transom wave.
Because it’s intended for tournament work, the Ranger also has a high performance hull with snappy hole shot and, underway, a huge amount of lateral lift. Though there isn’t much freeboard, the bow is flared. Having said that, I managed to put it through the back of a brace of unsuspecting ferry waves.
While we got wet and I drowned a mobile phone, the Ranger was to be commended for keeping the water out of all its waterproof tackle lockers and storage bins. Also, along with some air cushioning from the hull, the blows were absorbed by the suspension seating. But you do need to power up to keep the nose up, something that takes guts with giant ferry wakes.
When not underway, most of the boat sits low in the water and it’s that profile, and the so-called Rite Track Keel, that helps slow your drift rate giving you more time to pitch your lure in the zone. The 188Vs’s 2.31m beam and low COG also assist stability when you shift around the deck. That flat deck, the heart of this boat, has been designed from the keel up for bass fishing.

From the pointy end, the 188VS looks the goods: sharp, sporty and with plenty of fishing intent. There is a foot throttle built in for the 24V high-thrust Minn Kota 70lb Maxxum electric motor, which runs off two 12V batteries back aft. The motor is mounted on an internal Poltruded liner so you can charge over the rough stuff and not worry about it breaking free. There is a separate engine-crank battery off the floor near the easily accessible bilge and a spare house battery.
Electronics range from front and rear-mounted Lowrance X-135 depth sounders and transducers to a dual-pro battery charger, and full spread of switches and gauges on the dash, with a separate bow panel for trimming the outboard, accessories, powering the bow sounder and the deck lights. There are removable navigation lights and compartment lights, and the wiring runs are heavy duty six-gauge with a 50amp breaker.
All the seating, including a Ranger casting seat for the bow, is mounted on Springfield bases. With or without them, the boat has a handy carpeted casting platform fitted with retractable rod stows for carrying rigged gear between runs.
Underfloor is a catacomb of storage. There is a huge locker forward for lifejackets and safety stuff — you could use it for fish storage — an insulated icebox aft of it, a portside rod locker for 10 outfits that separates their fragile tips, and a starboard locker that can be optioned as a second rod locker. As it was on the demo boat, that locker proved handy for stowing the supplied clear Ranger lure boxes.
The boat also comes with a fire extinguisher, good access to the fuse box, and a Ranger fish-measuring ruler. Such is the attention to detail. There is also an amidships position for mounting the remote casting seat before you step back to the dual helm consoles and then the aft casting platform.
Your fishing buddy scores a bucket seat, grabrail, drinkholder, removable windshield, rubber-backed footrest and a quick-stow rod rack with rubber guide protectors. Between him or her and you the skipper, is a step through to the aft casting platform. It also conceals a flip-up third crew seat and clever retractable grab handle.
The moulded helm pod has a raceboat-like dash, sports wheel linked to hydraulic steering, Pro-Trim engine-trim stick, scope to fit a column-mounted trim stick for a jacking plate, Hot Foot throttle — truly performance orientated — cruise computer for the Optimax outboard (standard), and switches, timers and recycle modes for the baffled livewell back aft.
The rear casting platform conceals two additional storage lockers or kill tanks. It can also be fitted with a bucket seat. Incidentally, the Perko catches on all the lockers are lockable and, upon inspection, all the plumbing lines are double (hose) clipped. The cleats are recessed, of course, in keeping with a good snag-free deck design.

This isn’t your average fishing boat. Plant the foot throttle and the Ranger 118VS bass boat, with the maximum 175hp outboard, jumps then roars to a top speed of about 60mph (68mph on the dash). I couldn’t read the handheld GPS at top revs, but did note on the choppy harbour that the boat felt comfortable at 3500rpm and, I suppose, high 20 to 30kts.
The 144lt sub-floor fuel capacity should see you through most days of flat-water fishing on big impoundments and long rivers. The dash-mounted computer will help with your range to go. But on harbours like Sydney during rough conditions the boat performed like a low-slung sportscar on a corrugated dirt track. It’s a bass boat, right?
While it may only seem like yesterday that spinnerbaits sounded as foreign as Crispy Crème donuts, such lures are now common in our tackle trays today (the donuts are a big hit too). Before long, boats like these Rangers are bound to be part of our waterways. One has been sold in Sydney and already there are a couple up the Queensland coast.

Dedicated bass-fishing layout
Designed for serious casting, tournaments etc.
Driving pleasure
Plenty of poke
Incredible attention to detail
Big-boat engineering
Flash finish including custom-matched trailer
Seated comfort
Chosen boat of USA bass-fishing champions
Famous badge that is sure to attract attention

Not a lot of freeboard in the bow
What weather protection?
You might need to treat the flash finish with kid gloves
Relatively small fuel capacity
Limited appeal and unknown resale value in Australia

Specifications: Ranger 188VS

Price as tested: $56,900 w/175hp Optimax outboard, aluminium Ranger trailer and options.
Options Fitted: Engine upgrade, custom metal-flake hull, custom Ranger trailer, Tournament Pack including bow-mounted sounder, lighted bait wells, rod storage compartments, tackle-storage system, remote oil filler, keel guard, trim lever, Hot Foot recessed foot throttle, safety gear, registrations and more.
Priced From: $51,990 w/115hp Optimax outboard and trailer.

Material: GRP or fibreglass with composite stringers, and level and upright foam flotation
Type: Moderate-vee planing hull
Length overall: 5.60m
Beam: 2.31m
Deadrise: N/A but flat
Freeboard: 0.51 metre internal
Weight: Approx 715kg base boat hull only (dry). Approx 1690kg on road

Berths: n/a

Fuel: 144lt
Water: n/a
People and gear: 567kg
Recommended HP: 150
Maximum HP: 175

Make/model: Mercury Optimax 175
Type: Direct-injection petrol V6 two-stroke outboard
Rated HP: 175 at 5250 to 5750rpm max
Displacement: 2.50lt
Weight: Approx 195kg
Gearbox make/ratio: Outboard 1.87:1
Props: Standard 23in three-blade S/S

Sportsfishing Boats Australia,
105 Batt Street, Penrith, NSW, 2750.
Phone: (02) 4732 5249, Dean Hayes 0408 334 892, or for dealers visit www.sfba.com.au

Originally published in TrailerBoat #218


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