Time was when fishing boat manufacturers established a lineup and then cruised with it for several years, maybe adding a new paint color one year and different upholstery the next. New model introductions often were 10 years or more apart, and nobody seemed to notice.
Today, however, a manufacturer can't wait more than a couple years between new model introductions. With Alumacraft, Crestliner, Lund and Warrior all competing for market share in Minnesota with out-of-state manufacturers who aren't standing still, buyers have lots of choices. Either catch their eye this year or lose a sale and customer who might have stayed loyal for a lifetime.
Last year Crestliner dumped the Eagle and added the Canadian, two moves that were less than daring. The Eagle was a slow seller and the Canadian was a long-overdue challenger to Lund's popular Alaskan. But this year Crestliner's lineup has a new heavy hitter at the top of the order, solid, hit-for-average types in the middle, and no-nonsense offerings in the bottom third. In the boat business you must cover your bases, and after running several new models last week on Lake Darling near Alexandria I'd say Crestliner's got 'em covered.
New this year are a revamped Sportfish line, a new Serenity series and a new Sport Angler. In the '05 catalog Crestliner says "the new Sportfish is the best boat we've ever built." The old Eagle measured 23 feet; the new Sportfish 2150 measures 21'-11" (11 inches longer than the departed Sportfish 2050). The new 1950 measures 19'-7."
Crestliner's 21-foot and 19-foot Sportfish models feature a "space saver transom," which allows a bimini top and other gear to be stashed out of sight, yet remain easily accessible.Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer
Both are impressive rides. The 2150, powered by a 200-hp Mercury Verado, got to plane in less than 5 seconds, which I wouldn't have expected of a 22 footer whose hull weighs more than 2,000 pounds. The 1950, at 1,800 pounds, got to plane in 4 seconds with a 200-hp Mercury Optimax.
Once on plane the rides were rock solid. During part of my drive in the 2150 I hit a stretch of water with one of those criss-cross wave patterns you get on days like the Fourth of July, when a hundred boats are zinging around the lake in all directions. Hit those waves and what was on the dash is now on the floor and the cup holders runneth over. But in the 2150 those waves caused hardly a jolt. I braced for their arrival and was prepared to lower the throttle until I realized I had nothing to fear and continued on full speed ahead.
Each boat comes in three versions: regular outboard, SST (space saver transom) and inboard/outboard. Among the nicer touches are rod lockers that extrude from the sidewall for more storage space without compromising floor space, lined storage bins, and no-seam seats made of molded foam -- the same type John Deere puts on tractors and Harley Davidson on motorcycles. If the seats can run with the Deere and ride with the Harley they must be good enough for a boat. A new extrusion process makes gunwales with rounded edges for a smooth, clean look. Cosmetically this is a huge improvement, giving the Sportfish the look of a fiberglass boat. Look for those gunwales on lower-end models in the future. The Sportfish consoles also are redesigned with a tough new plastic that feels like hardened rubber.
The 1950 might turn out to be the better seller because it has all the benefits of the 2150 in a more manageable size. Put it this way: if I lived on Mille Lacs, Leech or Lake of the Woods, I'd opt for the 2150. Everywhere else I'd take the 1950. The line also comes with 18- and 17-foot models.
The true measure of any boat manufacturer is how well it serves the middle of its lineup, where many buyers end up through reasons of cost. In this region Crestliner has replaced the Super Hawk with the Serenity. The hulls on the new Serenity 1800 and the old Super Hawk 1800 are identical in aluminum gauge, length, beam, depth, weight and horsepower rating. But the new 17-foot Serenity has a .100 gauge hull while the old 17-foot Super Hawk had .090. The 16-footer wasn't carried over.
The Serenity has a few nice touches not found on the Super Hawk. The bow can be converted from passenger seating to fishing deck by flipping a few panels. An optional flip-up bench seat in the stern is great for those days when the whole family wants a ride.
The Fish Hawk and Angler series continue unchanged, but slotted in between is the new 1650 Sport Angler. It's 3 inches longer than the 1650 Fish Hawk and has stronger sidewalls, a higher horsepower rating and a full windshield. Crestliner says the Sport Angler is targeted at the first-time buyer who wants a boat that can do it all.
Like Lund, Crestliner is filling the few remaining niches in its lineup with boats that barely differ from each other except in price and a few amenities. As the number of offerings increase, the distinction between individual models blur. Perhaps that's not a bad trend. No matter which model you choose, you can drive it home feeling you got the best boat for the money -- exactly what boat manufacturers want you to believe.
VINCE MEYER, Dispatch outdoors editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 855-5862.
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