Another FLW championship is in the books, another champion has been crowned. As predicted, this year’s event was a real memory-maker, resulting in an outcome never before seen. In the end, a shallow-water specialist prevailed, as John Cox proved he’s one of the best in the game, despite hard charges by tournament veterans and some of the hottest anglers on Tour.
Cox had prepared for the victory all of his life, tirelessly staying knee-deep for his entire fishing career. His choice of rod, reel, line and lures narrowed through years of short-line experience, his mind-set keeping him in the game despite dock talk of offshore mega-schools.
But perhaps Cox’s greatest moment of preparation had nothing to do with tackle; it was his choice of boat.
For the first time, an angler bucked the trend toward giant fiberglass rigs, staying with an aluminum boat all season long; capping it off with a championship win. In the recent past, we’ve seen anglers trade in glass for tin in a few specific scenarios, reaching areas inaccessible to other tournament competitors, and reaping the rewards. However, more recent rulings by the tournament committees have made this impossible, for the sake of keeping things fair across the board. In today’s age, if a tournament angler wants a small, lightweight aluminum rig, he must be prepared to fish in that same boat at every venue the tournament trail visits, whether that be a shallow river or a Great Lake.
For this very reason, nearly all competitors in major bass tournaments continue to rely on big, fast, heavy glass boats. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages at the vast majority of tournament waters.
And while Cox’s win won’t likely effect the boat choices of many tournament pros, it will prove to be a huge influence on consumers looking to purchase a new rig.
In the past, you’ve recognized my critical opinion of today’s bass boat market. Unlike other facets of our once over-inflated economy, the price of tournament bass boats remains unadjusted. In fact, the top rigs of today are priced higher than many homes.
I guess there’s a few ways to look at this. Perhaps the boats used by professional bass fishermen are just that: professional boats. I mean, professional race cars are expensive, too; so are monster trucks. In this case, our society accepts the fact that such machines are built for a professional sport. Yet we never got that memo when it comes to professional bass fishing. Here, those with enough cash fish out of the same boats as the big boys.
In any case, most bass anglers across America can’t afford a brand new pro rig. A look at any local tournament illustrates such, as most boats being used are from a time when manufacturers still offered a mid-range bass rig at a reasonable price.
We’re finally seeing some resurgence of that thinking, as more 17- to 19-foot boats are being offered in the glass market. Cox’s win, however, could help propel the aluminum market even higher. Where consumers once viewed aluminum as a sacrifice, they may now rethink their opinions.
I feel somewhat qualified to talk about this subject because I, too, recently became a metal-head. As many of you know, I traded in my glass boat for a Ranger aluminum, and have never looked back.
Sure, my relocation to Florida had a lot to do with it. Here I frequent shallow, remote backwaters and ponds in search of big bass, the isolation from society an added bonus. And while I wouldn’t take my current boat across Lake Erie in a bass tournament, it sacrifices nothing when it comes to shallow-water largemouth fishing. In fact, it adds quite a bit.
Mobility when fishing in cover is incredible. Aluminum rigs not only float higher across shallow water, they glide through lily pads like a canoe.
Trolling-motor efficiency isn’t even comparable on a glass boat. My lightweight RT178 has a 24-volt Minn Kota Ultrex; it will propel my rig over 3 miles an hour on high, and I never seem to run out of juice.
My livewell is plenty big, my rod locker holds 8-foot flipping sticks, and I’ve got decent storage. Also, just yesterday, I launched and loaded my boat from the remains of a ramp that only kayakers have used for years.
Oh, and did I mention that I gas up about once a month?
My point is this: all hail John Cox. Aluminum boat manufacturers should be picking out his Christmas gift. As we see more big aluminum rigs being introduced every day – those capable of handling large outboards that have become mandatory in national tournaments – it’s apparent I’m not the only one thinking this way.
Cox took a stereotype and beat it down. For years, the market has been driven by consumers convinced that the fastest boats, with the most expensive electronics, drift-paddle anchors and shad-sounding echo devices are what catch fish.
No, they’re not.
John Cox beat them all. He beat Bryan Thrift, he beat Andy Morgan, he beat Scott Martin. He did so by using an aluminum boat all season long, spending time at the top of the BassFan World Rankings along the way. The same boat you can buy for half the price of glass.
Boy, what a sacrifice.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)