There is hardly a better place than the Florida Keys to test a technical poling skiff. Besides having miles of shallow, crystalline flats, these semi-tropical waters are also home to bonefish, permit and tarpon. That is, until a cold Nor'easter blows through.
That was the case last January when Key West guide Steven Impallomeni and I set out for the backcountry aboard a Ranger 169 Ghost. The glamour species were obviously huddled elsewhere, but the choppy conditions provided an honest test of the boat's running and fishing abilities. The Ghost handled the challenge without missing a beat.
The skiff we tested was rigged with one of Evinrude's E-TEC two-stroke outboards, and the surprisingly small, direct-injection 90-horse provided more than enough power for the lightweight hull. I recorded 32.6 mph on my GPS at a comfortable 4500 rpm cruising speed. And with the throttle wide open at 5600 we were zipping across the shallows at 41 mph. According to Evinrude's numbers, the Ghost has a 180-mile range with its 30-gallon tank (before factoring in a safety reserve), which is a comforting figure when the float plan calls for lengthy runs to isolated spots.
Besides its low maintenance and miserly oil consumption, the E-TEC has other benefits that make it a suitable match with this skiff. Its short profile and light weight afford a shallower draft, plus grass and other debris are less likely to clog the engine's oversized water pump and outflow port.
Impallomeni and I took advantage of a sheltered cove to cast at some laid-up barracuda, but even they were too lethargic to give our lures much interest. The shallow depths did give us a chance to pole the Ghost, however. Hull slap was minimal, and the boat tracked well with the two of us aboard. It spun nicely and was fairly balanced and stable despite its narrow beam.
When we decided to try another spot, the boat popped up on plane quickly and rode very soft. It was very responsive to trim-tab adjustments, and we stayed dry despite the choppy conditions. No-feedback steering is standard, along with speedometer, tachometer, fuel, trim and water-pressure gauges.
The Ghost comes with a storage compartment in the forward casting deck that will easily accommodate a normal load of gear.
A small tackle center is also built in to port. A roomy bait/live well is located on the centerline within the aft casting deck, straddled by twin storage boxes. The port compartment is insulated to double as a drink cooler. All compartment lids come with gas-spring assists and O-ring seals to ensure quiet operation and prevent water intrusion. Stainless-steel hardware is used throughout, including on the rub rail and recessed bow cleat.
The console on the 169 has a compartment that will house up to three batteries. A stainless-steel steering wheel with assist knob is standard, along with a 12-volt power receptacle, circuit breakers, dual handholds and seat cushion. The three-rod vertical console rack complements the twin racks under the gunwales, whose tubes will accept fly rods up to nine feet long.
As you'd expect from a technical skiff, the poling platform on the Ghost is standard, but Ranger throws in several other features as part of its package approach. The Genmar First Mate 24/7 emergency/technical-assistance service is included, along with a limited lifetime structural warranty for the original owner. Systems and major components are covered for three years. The package also includes a Ranger-built aluminum trailer with C.O.O.L. oil-bath hubs, matching spare tire and wheel, and torsion axle.
Ranger's 169 Ghost is sure to find an appreciative audience among the fly-rod and light-tackle crowd, yet it's also worth the consideration of big-boat owners looking for a versatile and functional tender. But don't take our word for it - find out for yourself, and hopefully the glamour species won't pull a vanishing act on your test ride. Ranger Boats, Flippin, AR; (800) 373-2628;