Dealer meeting full of surprises

I just got back from the Tracker Dealer meeting at Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake and I don’t think I’ve ever come home more excited about a new boat than the one we’re coming out with next year.

I’ve been sponsored by Tracker/Nitro boats my entire career. In fact, I was running a Nitro even before I joined the Bassmaster Tournament Trail.

The meeting, which attracts all Tracker/Nitro boat dealers and most of the company’s vendors, is where new models are unveiled.

Nitro teammates have been running a Z-9 on the Elite Series and it’s been a great boat. But next year, we’ll be in Z-21s, a totally new boat with new hull, interior design and added features you won’t find on most bass boats.

What makes it more special is that Nitro engineers relied heavily upon pro team members for input on features and improvements that we wanted to see in the next generation of high performance bass boats.

And boy, did they deliver. The Z-21 has an incredible hole shot, improved handling in turns at all speeds and good top-end speed. It rides amazingly smooth and dry in rough water too, which is important when fishing the Great Lakes area where I live.

The boat has a ton of refinements, including a cell phone holder with 12-volt outlet under the dash that keeps the phone accessible yet dry; integrated net storage behind the seats; a bigger front deck and rod lockers that can accommodate eight-foot rods; and NASCAR-inspired seating that is fully adjustable with built-in shock absorbers.

The overall design of the center tackle storage compartment has divided storage that can accommodate 28 Plano 37000 utility boxes with added tackle storage space along the side and room to store life jackets and rainsuits in that same compartment.

The goal was to maximize storage space and they did it. There are magnetic lure grabbers on the underneath side of the storage lids and special places for clippers, pliers and other fishing-related tools.

The Z-21 will have a battery management switch in the rear that allows you to jump your cranking battery off the trolling motor battery should you see the need. The boarding ladder on the transom is spring loaded yet placed where it doesn’t interfere with Power Poles or Talon anchoring systems mounted on the rear.

The floor cooler is insulated similarly to today’s high-end coolers to keep ice lasting longer and there’s a place for a snap-in sandwich holder that keeps lunch above the ice and water.

And those are only a few of the things that are different about this boat, which will be shown publicly at next year’s Bassmaster Classic in South Carolina.

As an added treat, Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris surprised everyone at the meeting with an appearance by President George W. Bush, an avid bass fisherman. The president did a question and answer session for more than 30 minutes and the Nitro team got to meet him. It was my second meeting with President Bush, as I fished with him years ago at Ray Scott’s lake in Alabama.

Tracker also presented him with a special aluminum boat for his private lake in Texas. The boat was painted similarly to Air Force One and it was lettered with “Bass Force One” in red, white and blue lettering.

Also, each of the Nitro team members gave him gifts to enhance his fishing. I gave him one of my signature series Plano tackle bags stuffed with my favorite Strike King baits, a pair of my signature Oakley sunglasses and my signature Mustad pliers.

It also was great visiting with dealers and their families, many of whom I have known for years, like Bobby Nobles, of Leesburg, Fla. and the first-ever Tracker Marine Dealer. And there was Knox Bradford, whose Little Rock, Ark. area dealership was named the No. 1 dealer in the country, and Mike Bowers, whose Baltimore dealership received the top award for customer satisfaction.

It was also cool that my brother Randy, who owns D&R Sports Center in Kalamazoo, was listed as the eighth top-selling dealer in the country.

The Tracker event really got me pumped up about fishing out of that new boat with a fresh start on next year’s Elite Series because, after all, it’s all about the attitude!