Merwin: The Future of Bass Boats

At a bankruptcy auction held in Minnesota last Friday, a California-based company called Platinum Equity wound up buying fabled bass-boat brand Ranger along with Stratos, Champion, and several others formerly owned by Genmar.

How--or even if--a private equity company known for toughly squeezing bottom lines will continue to manage one of fishing's best-known brands remains to be seen. Also up in the air is just what relationship the new Ranger owners will have with FLW Outdoors, the pro-bass tournament series. Genmar principal Irwin Jacobs, who until last week controlled Ranger, developed the FLW Tour as a means of hyping and selling bass boats. He still owns the tour, but not the boats.

The boat business--and most especially luxury brands--has severely tanked in the current recession. Dealers have been unable to find the credit to finance inventories. And the home-equity credit lines and other credit sources that allowed consumers to buy boats basically dried up.

Right now the whole thing is a huge muddle with laid-off boat workers unfortunately stuck in the middle. Where things are going is anybody's guess. Will $50,000 bass-fishing rigs undergo a new renaissance if and when the economy recovers? Or have they gone the way of our notorious dot-com and real-estate bubbles?