In August 2018, Ron Twardowski and his co-angler for the day were fishing a bass tournament in the big waters of Bay de Noc in far north Lake Michigan. They were moving fast at 60 mph in 60-plus feet of water when they struck something large and solid that brought their boat – and their tournament – to an abrupt halt.
The collision violently spun the boat around, but both men were fortunate to stay aboard. Then they saw Twardowski’s 2008 Ranger 521 was missing a key component: its recently rebuilt Mercury OptiMax outboard. Well, sort of. The motor was still attached to the boat but was fully submerged and hanging by its cables and hoses.
Because the direct-injected two-stroke OptiMax is no longer manufactured or sold in the US, Twardowski of Marshfield, Wisconsin, ordered Mercury’s recently introduced 4.6L V8 250hp Pro XS and looked forward to getting his tournament rig back on the water.
Unfortunately, due to the remarkably strong demand for the new V8 Pro XS, the delivery of the engine proved to be longer than expected.
The avid tournament angler made a decision that would accommodate his immediate needs and deliver a long-term tournament boat solution.
“After a lot of back and forth with my lovely wife,” he said, “I bought a 2016 boat with a 2016 engine, with the idea that it would be the boat I want for the next ten years or so and when that (V8) four-stroke arrives, I would put it on the 2016 boat.”
His slightly used 2016 Ranger 521 came with a 250hp OptiMax ProXS – the absolute top-of-the-line bass engine when it was built in 2016 – with just 140 hours, and Twardowski ended up running it for a month before his new V8 Pro XS arrived. That window provided a unique opportunity to compare the OptiMax Pro XS versus the V8 Pro XS on the same hull.
Once the new V8 was installed on the 2016 boat, the transformation shocked the veteran angler.
“The difference is night and day,” he said. “The (new Pro XS) got me 3 to 4 more miles per hour, it pops out of the hole better, it’s just an amazing engine.
“The first time I took it out and actually hit the gas with my new motor, I was with my dad. As soon as we got up on plane he turned and looked at me – and his eyes were as big as dinner plates – and he just said ‘Wow!’ And I felt the same way. You know, you hear talk about this engine and know it’s going to be good, but once you drive it and feel how it pushes your boat, it’s just a totally different deal.”
Though he had only a few months to run his boat with the V8 Pro XS before the cold Wisconsin winter set in, Twardowski said he sees improved performance in virtually every aspect.
“The new (V8 Pro XS) definitely lifts this boat a lot better than the two-stroke OptiMax,” he said. “I’ve had three Rangers now, and a Ranger is not well known for speed; they’re known more for the comfortable ride and some other things. The responsiveness, the torque, the speed – everything is better.
“And it’s not like the performance was bad with the OptiMax. It wasn’t a tired motor; it ran great. But the new (V8) just blew it away on what has to be as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as you can get.”
He was unable to comprehensively measure the fuel economy of the V8 before the cold weather hit, but he said all signs point toward improvement in that area as well.
In his day job, Twardowski works as an estimating manager for a large construction company. But bass fishing has been his passion for the last decade. He fishes extensively in local, state and regional tournaments, and occasionally competes in events in more traditional bass fishing hotspots such as Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee.
And while some folks won’t see the logic in repowering a newer boat that already had a perfectly sound, high-performing engine, Twardowski said he has no regrets.
“The decision I made to repower a relatively new boat seems strange to some people,” he said. “But I already had the new motor on order, and I wanted to give it a try. Even on a newer boat that didn’t have engine trouble, I think it was well worth every penny (to rig the V8 Pro XS).
“Not that the old one had anything wrong with it, but especially on the tournament level, everything on your boat makes a difference. And with the way this engine sounds and runs, you know it’s dependable and working for you, and you don’t have to worry about it. Repowering was just a no-brainer to me. With the way they’re making boats these days – even my ’08 boat is still in great shape – whatever boat you’ve got, you put a new Merc on it, and you’ve got a new boat.”