Once upon a time, if an angler wanted to buy a fishing boat, he had to pretty much select everything separately and piece together his own bassin’ rig. Take this hull, put that motor on it, and fit it on such and such trailer, then add your own accessories. But in 1978, that all changed when Johnny Morris created and sold the BASS TRACKER® line of aluminum boats. Not only did he create the concept of a ready-to-fish boat package with this line, but he also advertised the package price for the boat in national ads found in major sporting magazines. It would only take 4 years before the idea caught on so well that TRACKER® Boats would open its first aluminum boat plant in Lebanon, MO. Such was the beginning of packaged boats.
Of course, Morris had founded the Bass Pro Shops brand, a combination store and mail order catalog business, a few years before. That operation and his experience fishing the BASS Master Tournament Trail gave him a good idea of what the fishing public wanted in the way of fishing and boating accessories. So, they bought a few boats, reworked them into “packages”, and then sold them in their Springfield store, along with being in the catalog. The idea caught fire pretty quick.
Tracker started modestly with just one model, a 16-foot boat with a 35-hp Johnson motor, custom Bass Tracker Trailer, Humminbird Super 60 depth finder, Minn-Kota 565 foot-controlled trolling motor and, according to the ad, much much more! All for the low price of $2,995 f.o.b. Springfield, MO.
By 1980 Tracker Boats had three models: the Bass Tracker I, II and III, offered in the popular 16- and 17-foot lengths. The Bass Tracker III shown in the 1980 ad had a full complement of bassin’ accessories for anyone wanting to get in on the bass tournament craze at an affordable price:
- Length: 16′ with a 69″ beam; Hull wt. of 575 lbs. and rated for 60hp
- .072″ aluminum gauge hull
- Ran a whopping estimated speed of 31 mph
- Had built-in raised casting platforms, marine carpeting, stow-away running lights, two fold-down fishing chairs, fold-down bench seat with storage underneath, and an aerated divided livewell.
- It also came with a 400 gph bilge pump, lockable storage compartment, and deluxe rod holders
- A Humminbird Super 60 depthfinder (flasher) was installed above the console dash
- The boat was priced standard with a 40hp electric start Mercury and 6-gallon remote tank, though one could upgrade to an optional 50 hp Mercury w/power trim. Both had a kill switch installed.
- The trolling motor was a Minn Kota 565 12V foot-controlled troll motor that kicked out an entire 21 lbs. of thrust.
- The whole deal came sitting on a custom trailer for just $3595, only $600 more than the original Bass Tracker.
The packaged boat, along with the idea of nationally advertised pricing, was revolutionary, and to say that the Tracker Boats concept has been successful would be an understatement. Kind of like the number of people whose first job was in the fast-food industry, there are a whole lot of guys who started out bassin’ with an aluminum packaged boat outfit just like the one described above. This was especially true at the club level, where it seemed like at least in the Midwest, half the guys ran such a rig. To this day, you will still find plenty of these older rigs being enjoyed and employed, along with their newest cousins, out on the water.
Here’s a link to a video on the history of Bass Tracker and Bass Tracker Boats.