As the technological revolution in bass fishing continues to grow, so do the barriers to entry to a sport that was never meant to cost $50,000 to participate in. It’s admittedly a little frustrating to see people with a real passion for the sport get eaten up and spit out by the financial obligations of being competitive. 

It will never be cheap to compete in bass fishing. Boats are expensive, and everything is only becoming more expensive. But it is possible to lower the barrier to entry with a more modest rig, and to do so without too much sacrifice of the benefits of top-of-the-line equipment. 

Boat

Bass boats have broken the $90,000 mark with the introduction of some new players in the market. These are no doubt phenomenal boats, but you can get a tournament ready rig for about a quarter of that. You can also see our guide to the confusing used bass boat market here.

Nitro, and to a lesser degree Triton, tend to offer boats at more affordable price than many competitors. The used boat market for an 18-19 foot Nitro or Triton that’s about 4-7 years old is where you’ll want to be looking if you’re trying to build a budget boat. It’s not so old that you have to worry about it falling apart, so you can get many years of use out of it, but the price has come down significantly from original asking. Some quality boats in this range can be found for under $20,000, which is a pretty good price for a tournament-ready bass boat. 

Nitro’s Z-7 is 18’9 and Triton’s TR18 is (I believe) 18’6 long. I personally recommend at least an 18-footer. The space is nice and Nitro in particular uses it well. As someone who has owned a 17-foot boat, I promise you the extra 1-2 feet is worth the upgrade. A 17-footer will start to feel  real small 8 hours into a tournament. 

The best part about a more budget-friendly boat brand is that it still offers the same motors that you’d get on a more expensive boat. The motor is your number one concern on any boat you’re buying, so the cheaper boats offering the same quality outboards means you aren’t sacrificing as much in quality as it sounds like.

An 18-footer with a 150 horsepower motor can get up and even a little over 60 MPH if driven correctly. Obviously, bigger boats with 250s will go faster, but not that much faster. You’re competitive on speed. 

One way to increase the speed of your boat is to add a jack plate. Many of these mid-level boats won’t come with one. You can purchase a hydraulic one for around $1200, orrrrrr you can get a manual jack plate for more like $300. Yes, manually adjusting the jack plate is a pain, but is it such a pain that it’s worth $900? Typically, no. 

Trolling Motor

This is one place that I cannot in good faith tell you that there isn’t a huge advantage to the top-of-the-line equipment. There absolutely is. Buy a trolling motor that offers the GPS anchor feature, or you’re at a disadvantage.

Check out our trolling motor guide here.

I run a MinnKota Ultrex. It’s expensive but a little less expensive than competitors. I absolutely love it. GPS anchor for the win always. 

Electronics

(Read our fish finder buying guide)

This is definitely one area where you can be competitive without the best stuff on the market. I personally recommend Lowrance’s Elite TI2 line, the 9-inch version of which you can get for around $800.

For reference, the top of the line Lowrance stuff is around $3000. These fishfinders are compatible with Lowrance’s active-imaging transducer which provides an incredible image that I can personally attest to. 

I run an Elite-9 TI2 on my console and an Elite-7 TI on the bow and could not be more pleased with the setup. 

Elite-9 Ti2-9-inch Fish Finder no Transducer Model Wireless Networking, Real-Time Map Creation Preloaded C-MAP US Inland Mapping …
  • ENHANCED DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY: High-resolution, 9-inch SolarMAX display that makes it easier to identify fish and structure with new, enhanced screen clarity and target separation.
  • FISHREVEAL SMART TARGET VIEW: Makes fish easier to see on DownScan Imaging by combining clear CHIRP sonar fish targets with superior, high-resolution views of bottom detail, structure and bait fish.
  • GENESIS LIVE: Update the mapping of your favorite fishing spot or map unmapped areas with ½ foot contours – in real time – on the screen of your fishfinder/chartplotter with C-MAP Genesis Live.
  • PRELOADED HIGH-DETAIL MAPPING: Fish new water like a pro with preloaded US Inland mapping that features 4,000 lakes with 1-foot contours. Narrow your search for productive water, easily locating fish-holding structure like ledges, drop offs and cover.
  • WIRELESS NETWORKING: Share sonar, mapping, waypoint and route data between Elite Ti2 displays without connecting a cable with the new wireless networking capability of Elite Ti2.

Make sure your units are networked together and that network includes a heading antenna. This is a small accessory (like this one that is about $100) that you really can’t skimp on. You need to be able to see what your boat’s heading is when you aren’t moving, or you’ll struggle to be effective when fishing away from the bank. 

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And that about covers it. Bass fishing is never going to be cheap, but you can still build a competitive rig with quality accessories that won’t leave you at a disadvantage without paying out the nose. And nobody wants to pay out the nose. At the very least, you’d like the money to come from your wallet.

About the author 

Alec Lower

I like bass fishing and I like writing, so this was the natural meeting point of those two pursuits. My name is Alec Lower. I'm from Raleigh, North Carolina, and I fish a lot. Hopefully, you enjoy the things I have to say. If not, that's fine too I suppose.

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