With companies such as Bayliner and Stingray aggressively pursuing new boaters with the lure of $9,995 bowriders, it's nice to see a pontoon boat builder get into the act. SunTracker is bucking for attention with the Fishin' Barge 21, a $9,995 pontoon boat that's going to give other boats in its price range a run for their money.
For the price, you might expect a bare-basics pontoon boat with little more than an open deck and a wheel to steer her by, but that is far from the case with the Fishin' Barge 21. The 19-foot, 7.5-inch craft has a nicely laid out cockpit that is sure to garner high praise from anglers.
The boat's fishing-friendly layout starts up at the bow, where you can step onto the boat through a center gate. Granted, there's nothing special about the gate, but once you enter, rather than a settee to each side (as you'll find with most pontoon boats), there's a corner storage box to both port and starboard, as well as a pedestal fishing chair on each side. One of the boxes houses an 8-gallon livewell, and the combination of the boxes and the chairs makes the entire bow a wonderful place for anglers, who can fish unfettered by hard-to-walk-around pieces of furniture. When the fish inevitably try to run, you'll have the ability to give chase.
The storage boxes are great for holding lures, tackle and other necessities, and they have built-in cupholders that will keep anglers well hydrated during those long days on the water. The deluxe fishing seats come with composite frames.
Moving aft, there's an open "hallway" of sorts that runs athwartships, providing an open walkway between the port entry gate and the starboard entry gate. These two gates are much wider than the bow entry gate, or the aft entry gate, which will be discussed momentarily.
Behind this open walkway is the helm console, which is on the starboard side. The helm has several interesting idiosyncrasies that make it well suited to fishing. First, whereas the helms on most pontoon boats butt up against the fencing that runs along the outside of the cockpit, the Fishin' Barge 21's helm is set in almost a foot from the gate. Anglers who are really, really skinny might be able to squeeze through the space, but more important, it makes it easy to keep the line untangled when you're fighting fish. Moreover, it might be a good place to stow your tackle box if you want to keep it out in the open.
The second thing that sets the helm apart from others is the lockable rod storage box located between the fence and the captain's bucket seat. This box keeps the skipper involved even when his or her buddies are fishing from the pedestal chairs, and it's a great place for the skipper to rest the rod when it's time to move on to another fishing spot.
The helm console is also nice, in and of itself. The console has cooler storage, a trash receptacle, a small items tray and two cupholders, all of which are built in. The 36-quart carry-on cooler can be kept on the port side of the console, for easy reach.
The burlwood-accented helm also comes with a full set of instrumentation, including a tachometer, a voltmeter, a fuel gauge and a water pressure gauge. The skipper will be protected by a molded, tinted plexiglass windshield, and he or she can listen to a favorite CD or radio station on the boat's standard AM/FM stereo system, which comes with a CD player, a cover and 60-watt speakers.
An L-shaped settee runs down the port side of the boat, across from the helm console. The settee's seat cushions flip forward, allowing for access to the storage hidden underneath, and a pedestal table with built-in cupholders serves the settee. A pop-up changing room with a padded top and a bench butts up against the back side of the settee.
On most pontoon boats, that changing room with a padded top is located at the very back of the boat, but the Fishin' Barge 21 has a few surprises in store. A third pedestal fishing seat is located abaft the pop-up changing room - and the fencing on the starboard side bends inward, turning that corner into a boarding platform with the fourth and final entry gate. That corner also has a flip-down boarding ladder, so this is a great place to board the boat from either the dock or the water.
The SunTracker design team has also squeezed in yet another storage box tucked into a corner made by the fencing, and that box houses an 8-gallon livewell like the one at the bow, so the third fishing chair has the same amenities as the forward two. Moreover, it has a vertical rod holder at its disposal.
It was a bit overcast during our day on the water, so we never made use of the boat's Bimini top, but it's nice to know it's there if you need it. The day was gray, but the Fishin' Barge 21 kept our spirits up.
But How Does It Ride?
We tested a bevy of other pontoon boats from Tracker Marine on the same day we tested the SunTracker Fishin' Barge 21, and when it came to handling and overall ride, the 21 was the best of the lot. Even though our test boat had only a 50 hp Mercury EFI four-stroke outboard powering it, the craft had a lot of pep and wasn't sluggish in the least.
Pontoon boats don't go to plane like bowriders, so the Fishin' Barge 21 gained speed steadily throughout the rpm range, finally reaching a top speed of 20 mph. Considering the fact that the Fishin' Barge 21 has a pontoon boat hull, was being powered by a 50 hp outboard and costs less than $10,000, that's a darn good top speed.
We were riding solo during our test, with one person and a tank of fuel on board. The boat was very easy to maneuver, even when we were up against some heavy winds on Missouri's Table Rock Lake. When we took another, larger pontoon boat out that same day, its fencing acted like a big sail, pulling the boat wherever the wind wanted, but the Fishin' Barge 21 was much more well behaved, doing exactly what we wanted it to do.
The boat had a solid feel, and the fit and finish was very good. We found the 50 hp to be a good match for the boat, but you can also get power packages as high as 90 hp if you desire. With the $9,995 base price, you get a Mercury 25 EL outboard; for a Mercury 50 ELPT four-stroke EFI BigFoot like the one on our test boat, expect a base price of $14,490, which is still very reasonable, and well worth it.
At such a great price, it's hard to imagine any angler not feeling an affection for the SunTracker Fishin' Barge 21. What the Bayliner 175, the Stingray 180 and other quality-built bargain boats have done for bowriders, the Fishin' Barge 21 is doing for pontoon boats: Bringing new people to boating. What more could we ask for?
SunTracker Fishin' Barge 21 Specifications
|Weight (approx.)||1,535 pounds|
|Fuel capacity||23 gallons|
|Maximum power||90 hp|
Lockable rod storage, removable pedestal table, tackle management system, three deluxe fishing seats, aft mounted vertical rod holder, bow storage box, pop-up changing room w/padded top and bench, 12v outlet, navigational lights, 36-quart carry-on cooler, AM/FM CD stereo w/cover and 60-watt speakers, tachometer, voltmeter, fuel and water pressure gauges.
Dual-axle trailer w/brakes ($1,925), galvanized dual-axle trailer w/brakes ($2,320), single-axle trailer w/brakes ($1,345), galvanized single-axle trailer w/brakes ($1,740), Dura-Deck ($745).
For More Information
Tracker Marine Group
2500 E. Kearney
Springfield, MO 65803