Technically, boat fishing is not a fishing technique. Rather a boat is an important and useful fishing tool. A boat, whether powered by oar, sail or motor is a moveable fishing platform that gives anglers access to more of a given body of water than is possible from the shore or by wading. This greatly increases mobility, the territory that can be covered in a single outing and, to some degree, the number of fishing techniques that can be utilized.
Using a boat offers a number of other distinct advantages. First, it allows an angler to fish for species that live offshore in deeper waters for most of their lives. Second, one can move quickly from one spot to the next, checking a variety of locations and habitats until a pattern can be established. Boats allow anglers to carry and store more equipment, gear and bait, as well as fishing partners in many cases. Finally, virtually any fishing technique can be employed from a boat, whether it’s casting, still-fishing with a bobber, fly casting, trolling or drifting.
Types of Boats
Boats can be grouped into three basic categories according to size: small, medium, and large. Each category has advantages and disadvantages that influence which would be best for a particular angler or fishing environment.
Small boats are usually classified as those less than 12 feet in length. Although they may have a small motor up to 10-horsepower, they are commonly powered by an electric trolling motor, paddles or oars. This group of boats includes aluminum johnboats (flat-bottom, somewhat rectangular hull), aluminum V-hulls and semi-V-hulls, canoes, kayaks, inflatables and float tubes. These boats are common among those who fish smaller bodies of water, shallow backwater areas of large rivers or lakes, and other waters not accessible to larger boats.
Medium boats are generally 14 to 20 feet in length and are powered by motors between 10 and 200-horsepower or more. This class of boats is common on most lakes and large rivers. In nearly all cases, they are constructed of aluminum or fiberglass. Like many small boats, they generally have v-shaped or u-shaped hulls. Boats in this class include large johnboats, V-hulls and semi-Vs, bass boats, walleye boats, runabouts, fish-n-skis and pontoons.
Bass boats usually have a shallow draft (low sides) and are customized with elevated decks and fishing chairs on raised pedestals. Walleye boats are much like bass boats, only the sides are higher to handle rougher water and one, if not both, decks are not elevated. Runabouts refer to what most people recognize as a typical water ski boat. Fish-n-skis are specifically designed for the dual purposes of fishing and skiing. Pontoon boats have a long, flat deck mounted to aluminum pontoons and are suitable for fishing, but pontoons are used mainly for pleasure boating.
Large boats are those over 20 feet in length and are mostly constructed of fiberglass. This category includes larger pontoons, cabin cruisers and other seaworthy vessels. Some of these boats have additional amenities beyond standard fishing equipment, including an enclosed cabin, a restroom, table, beds and perhaps even cooking facilities. Many are designed for activities other than fishing, but virtually all can be used for fishing large bodies of water as long as shallow water is avoided.
Regardless of size, the engine – or motor’s – purpose is to propel and mobilize the boat to, from and between fishing locations. Motors are used and selected based on the size of the boat to which they are paired. They are rated according to the power (horsepower) they produce. These range from small, electric trolling motors at less than 1 horsepower to large, 250-horsepower outboards or inboard/outboard diesel engines with even more “horses.”
Outboards are the most commonly used motors on fishing boats. An outboard motor is not an actual part of the boat. Rather it is manufactured separately and mounted to a boat prior to or after the purchase. The internal combustion chamber is located under a hood on top of the motor, while the lower unit contains gears that spin the propeller. They range in power from 1- to 300-horsepower.
Inboard/outboard – or “sterndrive” – motors are more common as the size of the boat increases. In this motor type, the combustion chamber is built directly into the stern of the boat with the lower unit sticking out through the transom. They generally provide from 100 to as much as 800 horsepower.
Electric trolling motors are commonly used as the sole means of propulsion on smaller fishing boats, and are used as valuable maneuvering tools on fishing boats large and small. In either case, they are attached directly to the bow or transom. Often they are powered by one or more 12-volt batteries. These motors are very effective when attempting precise positioning maneuvers, but they are powerful enough to provide adequate power on small boats.
Kicker motors are small outboards, often gas powered but at 10-horsepower or less, which are mounted on the transom of larger boats. Their general purpose is to provide light power output for trolling or maneuvering, which saves valuable motor hours on the boat’s larger main engine.
Virtually any boat can be used for fishing, but there are a number of factors that should be considered when purchasing the right boat for an individual’s needs.
The most important consideration is the type of water on which the boat will be used. A boat that is perfect for catfishing on a shallow river will likely be less suitable for trolling for walleyes in a large lake. Additionally, the size of water influences the selection of a boat and motor. In large lakes, where long distances may need to be covered in a short period of time, the boat will require sufficient engine power and speed. However, if most fishing occurs in one stretch of a large body of water, the same type of boat can be used with a smaller motor.
A second consideration is the number of people and amount of gear the boat needs to hold. For each person added to the party, the size of boat required grows. Some boats are physically unable to handle moderate to large numbers of fishermen. If the style of fishing requires large amounts of tackle, bait and equipment, a small boat will not be adequate. On the other hand, if only one rod and a tackle box or two are needed, a large boat may not make much sense.
Obviously cost is a significant factor when selecting a boat. The larger the boat and more powerful the engine, the more expensive the boat will be. Added features, such as livewells, lights, sophisticated sonar equipment and other gadgets, will add to the expense. Assuming that one is purchasing a new boat, you can expect to spend up to $2,000 or more for a small boat, between $2,000 and $40,000 for a medium boat and $30,000 to $100,000 or more for a large boat. A large market exists for used boats, which can serve the boating needs for anglers on almost any budget.
Once an angler determines the type of fishing most often enjoyed, and the type of water most often fished, boat selection is ultimately a matter of preference and affordability.
Safety is often-ignored factor in all boat fishing excursions. Any time an angler boards a fishing boat, there are certain inherent risks not common to fishing from land. To avoid a wide variety of on-the-water hazards, anglers should keep the following tips in mind:
Have proper equipment. The following equipment can help you through nearly any problem: life jackets (personal flotation devices, or PFDs), fire extinguisher, flares, anchor, bilge pump, clock, flashlight, navigation lights, batteries, horn or whistle, paddle, first aid kit, basic tools, compass, sunscreen and weather radio.
Always wear personal flotation devices. This is commonly ignored, but at the very least, an angler should have quick access to a life jacket if trouble arises. Be proactive and wear a device if strong weather conditions develop.
Learn to swim. Or at least be aware of your level of ability. While it may be easy to get out of trouble along the shore, it is far more difficult if you have to swim a mile from deep water.
Leave a travel plan. This plan should be left with somebody onshore and should include when you are leaving, where you will be (list all possible locations), when you will return and a description of your boat.
Recognize the instability of boats. Be very cautious about where you stand while on a boat, especially a small craft like a canoe.
Drop anchor carefully. Caution should be exercised to prevent becoming entangled in the anchor line while it is uncoiling.
Be aware of fatigue. Inattention and fatigue are the two primary reasons for accidents on the water. Know where other boats are, especially larger boats that could capsize your boat passing by. Understand that a few hours in the sun, wind and noise can reduce your reactions and abilities. These factors, especially if combined with alcohol, can reduce balance, coordination, vision and judgment and are the leading causes of boating accidents.
Don’t panic. If you find yourself in the water, be calm. Most boats, even when damaged, can provide enough flotation to enable you to hang on until help arrives.