Freshwater fishing boats come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny one-man self-propelled craft to snazzy bass boats that are juiced up with hundreds of horsepower. If you’re interested in buying a boat for fishing in sweetwater, you’ll have countless to choose from and many decisions to make. How do you get started sorting through the options? Never fear, dear boater—we’re here to help.
Above: The Crestliner Fish Hawk is a best seller thanks to its powerful performance and creature comforts. Image credit: Crestliner Boats.
Below are the main categories of freshwater fishing boats along with the main topics to consider:
- Specialized (Species-Specific) versus General Fishing Boats
- Bass Boats
- Jon Boats
- Fishing Skiffs
- Pontoon Fishing Boats
- Cuddy Cabin Fishing Boats
- Side Consoles And Dual Consoles
- Ski And Fish Boats
- Aluminum Vs Fiberglass
- Power Options
Specialized, or General Fishing?
The first decision you need to make is on just how specialized a boat you want. If you plan to spend your time bass fishing, period, then obviously you need a bass boat. But be aware of the fact that these are some of the most specialized fishing boats on the face of the planet. They’re designed for bass and bass alone, and if you hope to not only bass fish but also troll for walleye, fly cast for trout, and drift fish for crappie, a more versatile design is in order. Here’s a basic look at some of the specialized freshwater fishing boat types—and the more versatile ones—that you have to choose from.
The 2022 Contender 25 Bay has a deep-V modelled on Michael Peters iconic hull design. Image credit: Contender
Bass boats are designed specifically for bass fishing, with sleek, low-profiles that offer less water disturbance for better fishing. These boats are typically able to carry two to three passengers or anglers, but some larger models may hold four or five people. Bass boats range in length from 16 to 26 feet, with a variety of options in between. For all the advantages of these boats, some people are turned away by the lack of passenger capacity, the lack of crossover options for other fishing excursions, and the rather high cost associated with them, when compared to other types of boats. However, for the true bass enthusiast, these boats are worth every penny.
- These are highly specialized small vessels designed with bass fishing in mind specifically, with just two people onboard, regardless of size. Most can accommodate a third angler, but three’s a crowd.
- They tend to have powerful engines for their size, so that you can beat the competition to the hotspot, and they can take a good amount of skill to drive, thus many models are inappropriate for beginners.
- They have low sides (gunnels) to reduce windage, allow unrestricted casting, and make landing fish easy. But as a result, they aren’t the best choice for rough waters, nor for small children who may fall overboard easily.
- Bass boats can be extremely expensive, but there are also some very affordable bass boats under $10,000 out there.
See current bass boats for sale on YachtWorld.
The Crestliner 1660 Retriever Jon is a popular choice for hunting and fishing. Image credit: Crestliner
Although they are designed largely for fresh water Jon boats can also be used in saltwater marshes and brackish water environments as well. However since these boats ride over the waves and not through them, they are not designed for heavy seas or any significant waves, thus should not be used in the open ocean.
Jon boats have a flat bottom, so unlike boats with V-bottom hulls, they will not cut through the water. That is the main reason they do not handle waves well. On the flip side, the advantage of a flat-bottom hull is an extremely shallow draft and added stability on calm water. With a flat bottom, a boat won’t rock back and forth as easy as a small V-bottom aluminum boat may. Additionally, flat bottom Jon boats tend to have a broad bow area that is great for casting and angling in tight spots, although it does make for a rougher ride, especially in chop.
- This type of boat is as simple as it gets; although some are spiced up with features, the basic concept of a jon boat is to offer a small, wide-open fishing platform.
- Since they’re usually (though not always) on the small side, jon boats aren’t commonly chosen by those venturing into large bodies of water in various weather conditions.
- Expect to find few creature-comforts, and little protection from the sun and weather.
- Thanks to their simple design, jon boats are some of the most affordable boats around. In fact, some small jon boats can be purchased without power for under $1,000. And once you purchase a boat like this, there’s little to break or go wrong. That keeps long-term maintenance costs extremely low.
- Their light weight makes jon boats easy to tow, even for the smallest vehicles.
View jon boats for sale on YachtWorld today.
These are relatively small (12-23 feet in length) open boats that are designed from the outset for fishing and navigating bays, marshes and coastal flats known for shallow waters and shifting sands, especially during low tides. Skiff boat design can vary significantly from larger skiffs (from builders like Carolina Skiff and Mako) to smaller technical flats skiff fishing boats designed for poling extremely shallow flats.
The bottom of some skiffs can be almost completely flat, leading to minimum draft and maximum stealth in shallow waters, while others have a modified-V hull with a pronounced V shape in front and a wide, flatter bottom toward the transom – a hull design that is intended to give the shallowest draft while still providing a nice ride in moderate chop. Whether you plan on sight fishing or fly casting on the flats or in the bay, the best skiffs can put you right in the middle of the action.
See fishing skiffs for sale on YachtWorld right now.
Pontoon Boats For Fishing
Fishing is one of the most popular activities among boaters, so naturally, there’s a slew of fishing pontoon boats on the market. In fact, most manufacturers offer fishing versions of their pontoons, and there are even a few builders focused solely on creating serious fishing machines. Fishing pontoon boats can commonly be adapted from the other models in a builder’s line-up. Once again, this is thanks to their modular nature. Couches fore and aft can be eliminated in favor of swiveling fishing seats, and fishing-specific modules with things like livewells, rod holders, and tackle storage boxes can be added. It’s also easy to add some serious fish-hunting electronics to a pontoon boat. And storage compartments that might otherwise be used for wakeboards and water skis can be outfitted with fishing rod racks so you can haul loads of gear.
- Although they may not be the first type of boat to come to mind when you think of fishing, pontoons make excellent platforms for a wide range of angling situations and there are plenty of pontoon boats designed specifically for fishing. Excellent stability and gobs of deck space make them a good choice for social anglers who plan to invite lots of friends.
- Fences encircling the deck make these ideal for having children aboard.
- Though they aren’t the best choice for rough waters, they’re capable of handling most conditions in open bodies of water as long as you wisely pick your days.
- Most have Bimini tops and pop-up head compartments, which boost the comfort level of everyone aboard.
- Prices run the gamut, as do size and power options.
Pontoons such as Lowe SF234 cater to keen anglers, with rod holders and extra space for fishing equipment. Image credit: Lowe Boats.
View pontoon boats for sale on YachtWorld today.
Cuddy Cabin Fishing Boats
- Usually found on larger bodies of fresh water, the cabin on the bow of a cuddy boat boats gives you vastly more protection from the weather and makes “weekending” an option.
- Having a cabin almost always means having a head.
- Having a cabin in the bow cuts into your fishing space, as well as your usable deck space. As a result they’re rarely the top pick for those exclusively interested in angling.
- Cuddy boats tend to be significantly more expensive than open boats of the same size.
- Most boats large enough to support a cabin are also large enough to use in open waters, even if it’s a bit rough.
Above: Boats with cuddy cabins are often favored by family fishermen. Image credit: Grady White
Check out cuddy cabin boats for sale on YachtWorld right now.
Dual Console and Side Console Boats
Lund’s 2022 1975 Tyee dual console boats are versatile, and hold a large share of the freshwater fishing boat marketplace. Image credit: Lund
- Often called “multi-species boats,” these are highly versatile craft which are generally designed to take on a wide range of conditions, allowing you to fish in everything from small rivers and lakes to wide-open waters.
- Depending on size, this design can accommodate up to a half-dozen anglers.
- They’re available in a wide range of sizes with all sorts of power options, and no matter what your budget is, there’s probably a dual or side console freshwater fishing boat you can afford.
- They have higher sides and most offer a significant amount of protection. Cold-weather boaters will want to look at those with full windshields on both the driver’s and passenger’s sides.
View the dual console boats for sale or learn more about the difference between side consoles and center console boats.
Ski and Fish
Ski and Fish boats are medium-sized, trailerable vessels that combine fishing and watersports features into one versatile vessel. They are the do-it-all boats built for families who enjoy a variety of on the water activities and outdoor recreation. Tow a tube, bring a wake board and load up the rods – these boats are designed to please a variety of boaters and boating experiences.
- This type of boat is designed for the family boater who wants to take the kids fishing one weekend, and take them waterskiing or wakeboarding the next.
- Most offer jazzy performance, and medium to high horsepower.
- Although they’re good for both fishing and watersports, they’re not ideal for either. Trade-offs have to be made (such as slimming down livewells to make room for a ski towing post, or giving up board racks to make room for rodholders) to allow for the versatility.
- Since they tend to have a large number of features, and place more emphasis on looks and performance than many other fishing boats, they aren’t the least-expensive choice. Plus, the large number of optional features they usually offer can make figuring out the “real” price difficult when buying one new.
Ski and Fish boats (also called Fish and Ski boats) such as this 2022 Nor-Tech 390 Sport are dual purpose. Image credit: Nor-Tech.
View the ski and fish boats for sale on YachtWorld now.
Aluminum Versus Fiberglass?
Now that you have a boat type picked out, it’s time to decide if aluminum or fiberglass is the better choice for you. This can be a very, very tough call—but we have a system all worked out that will help. Scroll down a bit, and you’ll see tables listing some important pros and cons for each material. Feel free to print ‘em out, and mark ‘em up with a pen. Then, as you consider each pro and con, rank them from 1 to 10 as reflects your personal value for each. Then total up the results, and you should have some new-found clarity as you consider whether to look at aluminum or fiberglass boats.
|ALUMINUM PRO||Value||ALUMINUM CON||Value|
|Light weight means it’s easy to trailer, load, and launch||+____||Light weight means it gets blown around easily, making drift fishing tough in a breeze||-____|
|Comparatively inexpensive, and requires relatively small powerplants||+____||Doesn’t look as sharp as fiberglass||-____|
|Low maintenance; you can run it hard and put it away wet||+____||Bounces around a lot in choppy waves||-____|
|Lower maintenance and operating costs than fiberglass||+____||Often has wood structural components which could rot||-____|
|Dents instead of shattering on hard impacts||+____||Rarely offers speeds and handling as good as a fiberglass boat (which often has higher power ratings)||-____|
|If you’re considering a pontoon or jon boat, virtually all are built of aluminum||+____||Usually has fewer built-in accoutrements, and very few have self-bailing cockpits||-____|
|SCORES||+____ – ____ = FINAL SCORE ____|
|FIBERGLASS PRO||Value||FIBERGLASS CON||Value|
|Beefier, so it handles the seas better, bounces around less in a chop, and has a slower drift||+____||Heavier weight means you may need a larger tow vehicle||-____|
|Can have more complex molded-in hull designs (such as a flared bow for a drier ride, tunnel hulls for shallower draft, etc.)||+____||More expensive to buy, maintain, and operate||-____|
|Can often be powered-up to higher horsepower for faster speeds, and a better hole-shot for water skiing||+____||Requires more washing and waxing than aluminum||-____|
|Often has more molded-in seating, stowage compartments, and creature comforts (such as head compartments inside consoles)||+____||Hard impacts usually result in significant damage, which is expensive to fix||-____|
|If you want a cabin, there are far more options available than on aluminum boats||+____||If not well-maintained, fiberglass boats tend to loose their good looks and devalue more quickly||-____|
|Stern-drive power is more commonly offered than on aluminum||+____||Molded liners often eliminate some interior volume||-____|
|SCORES||+____ – ____ = FINAL SCORE ____|
So, which came out on top, aluminum or fiberglass? Please don’t say it was a tie—in that case, you’re in for some serious soul-searching before you can make a decision. But there’s one more thing that might help: take a look at Aluminum Fishing Boats: Light, Economical, and Seaworthy. This article goes into some in-depth detail about aluminum fishing boats, and may push you one way or the other.
Even if you have your ideal freshwater fishing boat picked out, you’ll still have to grapple with what type of powerplant to get with it. Should you go with a stern-drive or an outboard? And, just how much power do you need? Could an electric powerplant be potent enough to get the job done? Maybe you should consider a jet drive?
People often wonder whether they should buy a boat with outboards, inboards, pod drives, stern drives or jet drives. Which is Best? Well, if you’re looking for a freshwater fishing boat, chances are you won’t be too concerned with pod drives, but the best propulsion system depends on what activities you plan to do with your boat. For freshwater fishing boats, it is simplest to go with an outboard engine set up, as most small freshwater fishing boats have this basic propulsion system. Jet drives can also be great for shallow water fishing, and if you plan to also use your boat for water sports, they are a great and safe idea.
You’ve probably noticed that many freshwater fishing boats have a small trolling motor found on the bow. These are more for maneuvering while you fish, however, than they are for primary propulsion. Electric boat motors in larger sizes haven’t evolved nearly as quickly as those found in cars, and most are still very expensive, extremely limited in range, and aren’t very practical for fishermen. Still, there’s a good chance an electric motor of one type or another may be in your future, so get an in-depth look at them by reading Alternative Power: Outboards that are Gasoline-Free.
Whatever type of engine you choose, you’ll have to decide how much power is enough. Bear in mind that quite often, the base-model powerplant offered by the manufacturer would be considered insufficient by many boaters. But to keep base costs low, the manufacturer obviously wants to list the minimum size required. That minimum may be just fine when a boat sits unloaded, with just a person or two aboard. But when you fill the fuel tank, toss on all your gear, and invite a few friends along for the fishing trip, that same rig may not be able to get up to speed.
Make sure that whatever powerplant you choose, it has sufficient oomph to perform up to par. Image credit: Nortech.
In some cases this isn’t much of a concern. If you’re going to use your boat to fish in a small lake or reservoir, for example, you may not care to get above jogging speed. But as a general rule of thumb, it’s usually best to upgrade the powerplant by at least 10 or 20 percent over the boat’s base horsepower. This is an issue your dealer should be able to help you with, too. Most good dealers know from experience how a particular model they sell will run with a given sized engine, and ultimately they want you to be happy with your purchase, so the advice you get should be good.
One final consideration: resale value. While you may not care for gobs of horsepower, many other people do. It’s rarely difficult to resell a boat that’s equipped with the maximum-size engine, but it can be very tough to sell a boat that potential buyers see as under-powered.
Let’s Go Fishing!
Well, fellow angler, we hope we’ve helped you sort through some of the options, choices, and challenges you have to deal with when picking out a new freshwater fishing boat. If you love boats anything like we do, then using the information in this article you’ll probably be able to sort through the 200,000-plus listings on boats.com and cut your list of contenders down to 10,000 or 20,000 options. Slowly, slowly, slowly, you’ll whittle away at them until only a few hundred remain. Then finally, after much deliberation, dwelling, and dreaming, you’ll pick out a winner and buy your freshwater fishing boat. Congratulations—what time should we meet you at the dock?
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2017 and was last updated in February 2022.