As much money as you have — or can borrow — you can spend at the Minneapolis Boat Show, which opened Thursday at the Convention Center downtown and runs through Sunday. Boats costing $200,000 and more are squeezed among all manner of watercraft in all price ranges, from paddle boards to cruisers.
But some of the best takeaways at the show are free, including four publications produced by the Department of Natural Resources. Depending where you fish or boat — and Minnesota registers more boats per capita than any other state — one or more of these spiral-bound publications should go afloat with you:
• Public water access in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area — boat launching and fishing pier guide.
This recently released, updated version is indispensable for metro-area boaters, from Sherburne County in the northwest, to Le Sueur and Goodhue counties in the southwest and southeast, respectively, to Chisago County in the northeast. Maps included are highly detailed, easy to read and include lake and river locations and availability of boat-trailer access sites, carry-in accesses, fishing piers and shore fishing locations.
• Metro area rivers guide — a guide to boating on the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers.
Especially important here is information about and locations of locks and dams, draw bridges, and perhaps most important, lower-unit-wrecking wing dams.
• Mississippi River Guide — a guide to boating on the Mississippi River between Hastings and the Iowa border.
Anglers who fish the Red Wing area of the Mississippi in spring will especially find the detailed maps included here important if they are unfamiliar with the big river.
• Lake Superior Boating Guide.
Included are locations of small craft harbors and protected accesses along the North Shore, as well as their GPS coordinates and contact phone numbers for harbor masters.
Other Boat Show observations Thursday afternoon:
• Hull design breakthroughs have vastly improved the seaworthiness and handling of today’s pontoons. Now they are longer, powered by bigger outboards (a 250-horse is typical on many pontoons longer than 24 feet; two pontoons in the Brainerd area swing 400-horsepower Mercury outboards on their transoms) and cost more (you can spend $100,000 if you want.)
Most pontoons displayed at the show also are super-deluxe, with many outfitted with refrigerators, barbecue grills and other amenities.
“Pontoon sales nationwide are up 7 percent again this year,” said Richie Rodgers, regional sales and marketing manager for Yamaha out of Kennesaw, Ga. “Many families now think if they’re going to have one boat that will serve all their interests, it’ll be a pontoon.”
• Kayak fishing continues to catch on in Minnesota, though perhaps not as fast in some other parts of the country, such as Florida, where kayak fishing tournaments are common. Hi Tempo (hitempo.com) of White Bear Lake is exhibiting Hobie fishing kayaks. “The Hobie Mirage ‘Pro Angler 14’ is our most popular fishing model,” he said. “It will fit in the back of a pickup, you can stand up in it, and fully rigged, it weighs about 110 pounds.” Expect to pay about $3,800.
• Product Development Group (PDG) of Eden Prairie again this year is exhibiting its Flo-Fast portable fluid transfer systems. Invented by the late Norman Franks (PDG is owned now by Michael Franks, his son), the tanks allow boaters and others to safely and conveniently transport and transfer fuel to watercraft, ATVs, tractors and other machinery. The patented systems start at $299. More at flofast.com.
• Of this there is no doubt: Boaters have more and better — meaning more fuel efficient and more reliable — outboards to choose from than ever. Each manufacturer — Evinrude E-TEC, Mercury, Yamaha, and Suzuki among them — touts its wares as best. All are light years ahead of motors sold even a few years ago.
• Competition is similarly keen among boat builders. Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops and also of Tracker boats, now owns Ranger Boats as well Triton and Stratos. Meanwhile, Minnesota boat builders Alumacraft, Lund, Crestliner and Larson all have big displays at the show, and each continues to appeal to evermore discriminating buyers by continually refining their designs, colors and features.
• Finally, Hydrosweep, a Chanhassen company, is exhibiting its “aquatic current device” that mounts to a dock and mimics natural water movement to keep waterfronts free of algae, stagnant water and other debris. Appearing, generally, like a trolling motor, the electrically operated Hydrosweep rotates up to 360 degrees, “agitating” water with its propeller up to 50 feet in all directions. Like a WeedRoller, only different. About $3,200. More at hydrosweeppro.com.