Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Triple Treat!

Reviewed: Skeeter ZX190

If you’re looking for a boating version of an uncompromising sports car, Skeeter’s ZX190 might come close. Mick Fletoridis reports.

AMERICAN bass boats have certainly made their mark in Australia in recent years. With the growth of the inshore tournament scene, these specialist fishing craft are now a common sight on our popular inland and estuarine waters, their skippers targeting everything from bream and whiting to big impoundment barra.

The original timber bass boat was built in the US in 1948 by Skeeter, followed up in the ‘60s with a fibreglass version. The first US-built bass boat I experienced was a Skeeter TZX190 a few years back on Lake Glenbawn, in the Hunter region of NSW, with Andrew Homann, the bloke responsible for bringing the brand to Australia. That TZX was also the first Skeeter to hit the country. While it would have been difficult not to be impressed by the standard of the sleek boat’s finish, fit-out and fishing friendly design, my lasting memory was of a blistering ride across the windswept lake with the 175hp outboard at full noise, tears streaming from my eyes.

Fast forward a few years and Skeeter Australia is run by Josh Batterson, a keen young fisho and mate of Homann’s. Batterson is extremely passionate about the specialist boats he imports. He’s regularly seen competing in tournament events, which provide a great platform for promoting his boats. Not surprisingly, many inshore tournament anglers are now seen blasting around on Skeeters.

Residing in Kempsey on the NSW mid North Coast, Batterson makes regular trips to his western Sydney workshop where new boats are fitted out prior to customer or dealer delivery. The number of Skeeters now sold in Australia totals about 140.

Three times the fun   

I recently joined the skippers of three brand new ZX190s during a photo shoot at Forster on the NSW Central Coast. As you might imagine from the accompanying photos, a ZX190 Skeeter isn’t the sort of boat that gets launched at a ramp without notice. The bullet shaped ‘glass hulls and attention grabbing plastic hull-wraps (courtesy of X-Factor signs in Blacktown) saw the trio of Skeeters attract plenty of attention. And for their skippers that’s probably the way they want it. As well as fishing tournaments, the three boats double as promotional craft for tackle and outboard engine companies Shimano and Evinrude. Shimano and Squidgy soft plastics distributor Dunphy Sports owns two of these ZX 190s, appropriately decked out with fluoro-coloured Squidgy and Shimano signage.

The Squidgy boat is skippered by Squidgy product manager Brett Wilson. The benefits of such a rig for soft plastics promotions are invaluable, says Wilson.

“I’ll just park the boat in the car park and I can run my talks on lures and rigging techniques right from there.”

Shimano sales rep Mark Dunphy mans the navy blue Shimano boat. He has all sorts of plans for his ZX190, including snappering offshore at some favourite reef haunts out off Coffs Harbour, an area Dunphy knows intimately. He also loves to coax bream out from under oyster racks and from the time I spent on board with him it’s clear Dunphy doesn’t worry about scratching that fancy hull-wrap if it means a chance at a big bream. We got into some tight spots, beam on, in a stiff breeze and the boat was remarkably easy to manoeuvre, considering its size and weight. These hulls sit low in the water at rest and with a rolled gunwale design to provide minimum windage a fishable drift is made easier in tough conditions.

The third ZX190 is owned by Forster-based tournament fisho, Adam Ward, a regular money earner and grand final qualifier on the bream circuit. Ward’s ZX190 is his second Skeeter. His first was a SX190 he upgraded to after fishing from a Quintrex Hornet. While his new boat features Evinrude signage, Ward’s not sponsored by the engine manufacturer. He added, however, that he liked Evinrude E-TECs and was happy to have Evinrude signage on his boat. All three boats reviewed here feature the new 150hp E-TEC HO (high output) engines.

Ward rates highly the overall finish of his Skeeter, its stability and huge amount of storage, meaning no gear needs to lay around on deck – a real consideration when your boat does 60mph plus…

On the water

When taking photos of boats with flash paint jobs good weather is essential. As Forster’s sky closed in around us not long after we arrived, we put the cameras away and went fishing. On board with “Team Squidgy” (Brett Wilson and Luke Wyrsta), a quick blurt around the Wallis Lake estuary in the pre-storm gloom highlighted the potent capability of these boats on relatively calm water. With the E-TEC 150 HO given a nudge the miles were eaten up fast. Essentially a factory “hot up” of a standard E-TEC 150, the HO proved surprisingly civilised and tractable. Well mannered and quiet at idle or during low speed putting around, these donks belie their performance capabilities and are worlds away from the smoky crankiness of old technology two-strokes.

The lake dividing the townships of Forster and Tuncurry is sparkling and clear. I could see why Wilson and Dunphy make regular trips to fish there. When the sun shone for us the next day the water took on an amazing deep azure colour. A slow boat trip to town for coffee highlighted a prolific and healthy fishery, despite ongoing commercial fishing efforts. Plenty of blackfish, big bream, whiting, flathead, mullet and rays darted from weedbeds as we passed. The local whiting appeared to be thriving, despite increased pressure from the popping brigade. The numerous fish we saw on the flats were very responsive to Stiffy poppers – especially in the pearl white colour. Our first casts over some local flats hotspots soon saw the flashing of four or five silver whiting under our lures before one made the mistake of latching on to a treble hook. If one whiting dropped off mid fight, another would soon take its place. Having hooked only a couple of whiting on poppers down south I was amazed at the aggressiveness of these fish – check out video footage of Brett Wilson showing how it’s done on the new Fisho website at www.fishingworldmag.com.au.

Design & fit-out

ZX 190 hulls feature an inbuilt metal stringer system, designed to transfer engine torque to the stringers and eliminate stresses to the transom, deck and hull sides, and provide lift along the boat’s keel. In my view, this design goes some way to giving the Skeeters their overall “solid” feel and excellent stability.

These boats feature high level functionality and an attention to detail that’s hard to fault. There’s a huge portside rod locker for up to eight rigged outfits, dual live wells and massive front casting deck with 24v 80lb bow-mount Minn Kota electric and a cool flush-mount Lowrance sounder install. Amidships there’s miles of under deck storage and lots of nifty features that demonstrate that the designers have earnt their dough. Check out the options list that covers everything from line spool holders to paint colours and extra consoles – nothing’s been left out. The deck carpet is a good example of the thought that’s gone into these slick boats. A “hookless” weave means you won’t be spending precious time digging a barb out of the plush pile when a school of fish busts up in front of you. For a full rundown of the ZX190’s many features check out a two-part video at www.fishingworldmag.com.au.

Skeeter Australia boss, Josh Batterson performing an “emergency stop” at high speed.

A quick spin

While sitting behind one of those consoles might have you feeling like an extra from The Dark Knight, there you’ll find a very functional control centre. Fitted with flush mount Lowrance X-510c sounder, stalk-style trim control, Evinrude I-Command instruments and state-of-the-art switching and circuit protection, Batman probably wouldn’t feel out of place behind the wheel. For the record, two of the boats had single consoles, Adam Ward’s boat featured dual consoles – he obviously has been on board as a passenger at 60mph…

Driving a Skeeter completes the experience. Throttle control is via a “hot shoe” metal foot pedal – pedal position is adjusted to suit individual drivers. Having short legs I found the pedal too far from my foot and had to slide forward on the seat. These are high performance craft and not really designed to go slow. When you try to putt along, the bow angles toward the sky and obstructs your view, the hull floundering as it displaces all that water. Once you up the revs and the hull pops out, it’s a different story. Like a thoroughbred racehorse, given some gas the ZX190 hits its stride and things go by fast!

Like any performance vehicle, these sort of boats are designed for experienced drivers. You’d be wise to learn the basics of boating on a standard craft before upgrading to a speed machine like a Skeeter. That said, in the right hands, Skeeters provide extreme – but controlled – performance. To demonstrate this, Josh Batterson pulled an emergency stop manoeuvre at high speed that was impressive if only for the amount of water it moved – see accompanying photo.

Like most things labeled “performance”, a ZX190 won’t be for everyone; but tournament or weekend fishos who like to beat everyone to the hotspots will love ‘em!

Length:Overall 5.6m (18’5”)
Weight:680kgs (dry; hull only)
Power: Max. 175hp;
FUEL:136 litres
PRICE: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    From $58,000
Contacts: Skeeter Australia on (02) 9SKEETER; www.skeeterboats.com au

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