Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ranger Boat Review: 168 Phantom

Hope you enjoy this thorough review of the Ranger 168 Phantom by professional angler, writer, and antique lure collector Bernie Schultz.

Ranger Boat Review: 168 Phantom
By: Bernie Schultz

When redfish go shallow — really shallow — not just any boat will do.  

Vast, skinny-water flats, like those found in parts of Texas, are perfect for scooter-style skiffs. More treacherous waters, such as those littered with rocks and oyster bars, call for aluminum airboats or johnboats. 

Anything else, I say the Ranger 168 Phantom! 

Considered a true technical poling skiff, the Phantom can access water shallower than most fish will swim, and it can do it quietly with ease. 
I use mine to access a variety of coastal flats — even those with scattered oyster beds, so long as the water is reasonable clear. I’m all about accessing the areas other boats tend to pass by. Fish there are usually unmolested and much more receptive, and that’s where the fun begins!

The Right Stuff

The Phantom measures 16½ feet from bow to stern and boasts an 83-inch beam. That added width makes it incredibly stable. And believe me, fishing with two full-grown sons (each weighing 200 pounds) that added stability is appreciated. 

For power, I chose a Mercury 60hp 4-stroke outboard, which has proven reliable and fuel efficient, and more than adequate for our needs.  

On the bow, I installed a MotorGuide Great White 24-volt trolling motor that delivers 80 pounds of thrust. Although something lighter may have been sufficient, I wanted the extra power for covering lots of water and dealing with strong tides.

For juice, I chose lithium-ion batteries made by The Lithium Battery Company. Although pricey, they are lightweight and powerful, and three take up little more space than a single Group 34 lead-core battery. To charge them, I installed a PowerMania 3-way onboard charger, which weighs less than seven pounds. All three batteries and charger fit nicely beneath the bench seat, inside a concealed compartment. 

To find my way around, I installed a Raymarine eS78 GPS/graph, complete with Navionics’ latest navigational charts. This combo unit is not only dependable, it allows me to view satellite imagery and mapping side-by-side in split-screen mode, or as an overlay … which means I see depth contours as well as an aerial view of the habitat I’m trying to access. In remote places like the Everglades or the Louisiana delta, that’s invaluable.
In addition, the Navionics card offers tide data referencing. If I want to know what phase the tide is at in a particular location, I simply punch the icon for the nearest station and a pop-up will appear with that information. This saves me time, effort and fuel, while keeping me in productive water.
For tournament applications, the Phantom features a 16-gallon livewell that easily supports slot-legal reds, trout and snook, while doubling as a baitwell for those who require live bait. The aeration system comes with a timer option and produces more than enough oxygen to keep your catch alive and healthy, all the way to weigh-in.
All wiring is sealed against corrosion and is efficiently laid out — simple to access, too. All decking is finished in a non-skid texture for sure-footed maneuvering, yet it’s easy to clean.

Silent But Deadly

For those who prefer to pole, you’ll really appreciate the Phantom’s stealth. There is zero hull slap and the boat poles effortlessly. Subtle, strategically placed poling strakes increase control yet won’t hinder quick maneuvers, such as spinning.
The poling platform cants slightly forward, directly above the outboard when tilted. This offers optimum weight distribution and a level profile. To store the push-pole, there are three retractable brackets lying flush atop the starboard gunnel.
The Phantom also features retractable trim tabs that snug flush to the bottom of the hull. Those, along with the cleverly placed spray rails, ensure a dry ride, even in a quartering chop. Add a folding backrest and even the longest treks through the backcountry are made more comfortable.
In all, the Phantom is an expertly-designed fishing platform. Not only will it put you closer to the fish, it will do it with comfort and ease.

Comparing Notes

Although I make my living fishing bass tournaments, my true passion lies in chasing shallow, inshore saltwater species. There’s something about sight-fishing in skinny water, trying to fool fish that know you’re there. I can’t get enough of it!
And just as my Ranger Z520c is the ideal platform for bass fishing, I find the Phantom is perfect for my saltwater needs. Sure, a bass boat may offer more creature comforts — like carpet, bucket seating, a cushier ride — but the Phantom puts me up close and personal with the saltwater species I’m after.
I like its layout, handling characteristics and all around performance. But what I like most is the hull’s stealth. It’s incredible how close I can get to fish without being detected — which can mean the difference in seeing fish and catching them.
Years ago, when Ranger’s design team asked for my input on a near-shore saltwater boat, I had no idea where it would lead. Our first effort was the Cayman, then came the Intracoastal. Through years of testing and development, and the input of a number of other anglers, the Phantom was born.
Since its introduction, the Phantom has evolved into a true technical skiff — one that can compete with anything in its class.