We just bought a fishing boat to ferry us to our boat access cabin and to fish with. It’s a Hewescraft 180 Pro V with a hardtop cabin to be specific. It’s a mid-sized fishing boat with a pilothouse. Before choosing and buying the Hewescraft, I spent a lot of time researching boat options online and at boat dealers. There are many, many different types of boats to choose from. Moreover, there are many different types of fishing boats to choose from. Buying a boat for fishing is one of the most popular reasons for getting a boat.
Choosing the best fishing boat for you depends on the following
- Your budget: Obvious budget plays a huge role. $10,000 vs. $500K budget makes big a difference as to your options. See my boat costs article.
- Where you’ll use it: River, lake or ocean. Protected waters or open ocean?
- Where you’ll store it: Will you be towing and launching it for each outing or store it at a marina? If towing and launching, you’re restricted to a certain size.
- How long you’ll use it per outing: If you’re planning multi-day outings, you’ll need a fishing boat with sleeping quarters.
The above considerations aren’t always easy to answer. Our budget shifted upward once I started getting serious about buying a boat. Once you have a boat, you might want to venture out to different fishing locations. In other words, things change so it’s hard to anticipate how and where you’ll use it, especially if it’s your first fishing boat.
At the end of the day, there are many boats that can function as a fishing boat. Heck, you can fish from anything that floats really but if fishing becomes your thing, it helps to get a boat designed with fishing in mind. There are also many ways to categorize fishing boats such as lake vs river vs ocean, aluminum vs fiberglass, hull type, by size and so on. We decided to categorize fishing boat options by size since most people have a size in mind as a starting point.
We classify by boat size as follows:
- Small fishing boats: Up to 20′. Most are 12′ to 16′. No cabin or pilothouse. Some skiffs and Jon boats exceed 16′ yet those would be small fishing boats.
- Mid-sized fishing boats: 16′ to 28′ in length.
- Large fishing boats: Longer than 28′
A. Small fishing boats
What qualifies as a small fishing boat? Small fishing boats are lightweight and easily towable by pretty much any car, don’t have a cabin or pilothouse and are very small. Let’s say small boats go up to 20′ (some Jon boats can also get longer but I consider them still a small fishing boat).
These manual-powered boats are used for fishing on lakes all over the world. It’s about as simple as it gets and not expensive to buy (relative to motor-powered boats). The best of these for fishing, IMO, is a rowboat because it offers more onboard space and is more stable than a kayak or canoe.
The rowboat comes in several lengths, ranging from approximately 4 ½’ to over 32’. The most expensive versions are made of wood and can cost well over $20,000.00, while an inflatable rowboat can cost under $100.
Some rowboats are explicitly designed for fishing, such as the drift boat. It’s perfect for river fishing over either shallow or deep water. Most rowboats hold their own well on deeper water such as lakes, though oceans and fast waters can cause them to swamp and sink. Fishing from rowboats can be done, though, on moving water, one person will need to power the oars or motor to keep the boat in line while the others aboard fish.
Modern rowboats range from simple inflatable rubber flat-bottomed boats to fiberglass V-shaped hulls and several types in-between. Aluminum, wood, and even glass builds are available to purchase. Several options will allow the installation of a trolling motor or larger outboard motor, though oars are always an option.
The kayak is quickly moving up the ranks as a go-to fishing platform. It is available in several lengths, ranging from 6’ to 16’. Fishing kayaks are generally between 9’ to 13’. Shorter kayaks are more maneuverable, while longer ones are typically faster. Fishing generally requires maneuverability over speed. A decent fishing kayak will also provide a spot to install a trolling motor, which takes away the issue of having to paddle and fish simultaneously. It can be challenging to manage the rod and net while landing a fish on a kayak.
Kayaks are optimal for rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans. They come in different designs for different water types. Fishing kayaks are typically built for calmer waters, both shallow and deep.
Price ranges vary widely for kayaks depending on materials and length. Build materials such as wood, polyethylene, and composites like graphite are factored into the price, along with any kayak propulsion systems, such as a pedal drive. All these factors add up to a price range that starts around $100 for a used model to well over $3000 for a sea kayak.
Canoes are simple to take on the road, making them an excellent option for fishing. Ponds and lakes of any depth are the ideal options for canoes. Several lengths are available, though shorter canoes tend to be better for fishing. Inflatable canoes start in the 8’ range, while fiberglass and wood canoes can get up into the 23’ field. The ideal fishing range is between 8’ – 13’.
Shorter canoes can handle rivers, though they aren’t great at rougher rapids. Class 1 is okay, but anything rougher should be avoided. As for price, shorter canoes are anywhere from $150 used up to $700, while a full-length canoe can be $2000 or more. Hand-crafted canoes will run higher.
The fishing canoes work well, provide a stable platform, and will stay in one place on lakes and ponds. Equip a trolling motor and avoid having to constantly use oars. The biggest pitfall to fishing from a canoe is losing balance, which can happen easily when multiple anglers are in the same boat.
4. Rigid Inflatable Boat (i.e. Zodiac)
Often referred to as Zodiacs (brand of RIB boat), these can serve very well as a small fishing boat. Some of these can be quite large.
Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats, or RHIDs, are quickly growing in popularity, and there’s an excellent reason for that. The unique build of these vessels allows you to get creative with them. Hull design options include flat, modified V, V, planing, and more due to the solid hull build. Plus, they make for great fishing boats. I’ve used one of these personally and have enjoyed the ability to get out on the water in a hurry, bait up, and be fishing in no time.
The boat tends to sit where I put it with no need for significant adjustments with the motor once stopped. That’s a huge plus when dealing with a smaller vessel of any type. It sits deep enough in the water to feel stable yet doesn’t weigh as much as a bass boat or other type of fiberglass hull.
The price range is between $500 for a used model in the 10’ range to well above $100,000 for a top-of-the-line professional model that will seat 32. The only real downside to this boat is its relatively short 10 – 15-year lifespan. It doesn’t navigate the open ocean like a full solid boat. They’ll do the fun stuff closer to shore but avoid deep-sea fishing.
The skiff is a great fishing boat, particularly for flyfishing for bonefish in southern Florida. I’ve been on a few of these, and they’ve all been solid, sturdy boats that performed well for what they do. Typically made from either wood or fiberglass or some combination of both, skiffs have hulls with either a V shape, modified V, or a flat hull design.
The price ranges wildly on these boats. It’s possible to download a set of plans to build your own for around $600.00 or buy one used starting at about $1850.00 and running up to $80,000.00. New boats start at around $4500 and run up to $85,000. The length varies from 12’ for a small model to a giant 34’ model.
I’ve been on skiffs equipped with powerful outboard motors, and they handled well, though for most models’ power isn’t necessary. You can make it by just fine with a smaller outboard and a trolling motor.
6. Jon boat
Jon boats are among one of the most popular fishing boats out there. The reason is threefold: Price, ease of use, and transportability. These simple boats are typically made of aluminum, have a flat or almost flat bottom, and weigh next to nothing. I’ve helped fellow anglers load them into the bed of trucks before. Put it in the water, attach a trolling motor, and you’re ready to go.
Some models are fiberglass or polyethylene, though none of them are very complex. Seating is typically two benches, and maintenance is almost nonexistent. Jon boats are great for lakes, ponds, and bigger rivers. I wouldn’t take one through rapids, but they are a solid boat. Bay fishing is an option, though near shore fishing isn’t recommended.
7. Deck boat
Deck boats are designed to have enough deck space to spread out and be comfortable for a day on the lake. With enough room aboard, anglers can fish comfortably without having to crowd around the back. These boats work well on lakes and oceans. Hull options include a modified V, V, and deep V. The deep V is preferred for ocean use. Typically built of fiberglass, they tend to be sturdy, well-crafted boats.
Deck boats run from 15’ to over 26,’ and a used range will cost anywhere from $5500 to $25,000, while new models range from $14,000 for basic models to over $100,000 for fully loaded boats. I like the ability to choose between an inboard or an outboard on several models. Many have options for live wells, which are perfect add-ons for deep-sea fishing and tournament bass fishing.
The only drawback to deck boats is the size. They aren’t suitable for smaller waters, leaving them only for bigger lakes, bays, and oceans. Deeper water is necessary for these to operate properly.
If you’re searching for a boat that can handle multiple activities equally well, a runabout might be a good choice for you. The options to choose from allow you to customize it to fit your personal recreational needs, so if you’re an angler, gear it towards fishing. The runabout isn’t explicitly designed for angling, so it has an abundance of seating which is a hindrance to fishing. I’ve used runabouts that had inboard drives that had a large swimming platform on the back, which doubled as a great fishing platform. Outboard motors are available as well and cost less.
The body is generally made of fiberglass, and they typically have a modified V hull, which gives them a shallower depth in the water. Some models are made of wood and are significantly more expensive. They aren’t built for rough water, so lakes, bigger ponds, inshore waterways, and bays work well.
Prices for used runabouts range from $4500 for an older model to over $200,000 for a well-equipped newer model. New boats range from $15,000.00 to well over $225,000.00.
9. Bass boat
Bass boats are, by design, created specifically for fishing. They are perfect for ponds, lakes, larger rivers, and bays. There are certain models that can go offshore as well. I’ve used them many times and have enjoyed every time on the water. The slight V shape to the hull allows them to gain speed and get you out to the fish fast, while the flat design gets you into ultra-shallow water. Hook up a decent outboard motor and a trolling motor, and you have all the power needed to get to your favorite fishing spot in a hurry.
Aluminum or fiberglass options are available, and the prices reflect those. Prices range from around $10,000 for a low-cost new aluminum 16’ boat, while a fully-loaded 26’ offshore boat can run over $110,000.
While these boats are designed for fishing, they aren’t ideal for all types of fishing. If you target trout or salmon more than bass, this may not be the boat for you.
B. Mid-sized fishing boats
What’s a mid-sized fishing boat? 16′ to 28′ is a mid-size fishing boat. Basically any boat larger than the small boats above and that you can safely tow on the public roadways. I’ve read that some folks will tow boats up to 32′ but I suspect most people wouldn’t.
10. Bay boat
Bay boats are great for those that live near the ocean. Bays and inshore areas are the perfect targets for a bay boat. They sit high in the water and are designed with anglers in mind. Ranging in length from 16’ to 28’, bay boats are popular in the gulf area. They handle the waves, and depth changes well and offer plenty of room for four anglers to fish comfortably.
The hull build is typically fiberglass, though there are fiberglass/wood combinations out there. Prices for used models range from $9800 for an older model to over $200,000 for a full-sized high-end model. New boats start at $13,600 for a 16’ stripped-down model, while a fully decked out 26’ boat can cost closer to $395,000.
Bay boats use outboard motors and handle high-speed well. They use a modified V hull design that allows them to get into 10” – 12” of water. While these vessels make great inshore fishing boats, the smaller boats don’t offer much room for more than three or four anglers. A 16’ boat is a tight squeeze for four people if flyfishing.
11. Power Catamaran
Power Catamarans, or power cats, are rapidly gaining popularity among anglers, and for a good reason. They provide an excellent platform to cast from due to the dual V hulls. These boats are typically made of fiberglass or a wood/polyester combination. The wood combination creates a lighter boat with added strength since most builders use balsa as the wood of choice.
Used power cats vary widely from shorter, 20’ models at $23,000.00 to full-blown 70’ yachts over $3.5 million dollars. The shorter 20’ to 25’ models are great for fishing and can handle rough waters both inshore and while chasing marlin in the deep sea. They are too big for most lakes and rivers but will work if the water body is large enough.
The shorter-length models usually feature one or two outboard motors, while the bigger boats have engine rooms. A drawback for anglers with the bigger boats would be that you just can’t fish off them. Of course, you could always launch the runabout that’s tucked away inside for a day of fishing, so maybe that’s not really a drawback.
12. Center Console
Center console boats vary in size. Some would qualify as a small fishing boat but most are longer so we slotted them in the mid-sized fishing boat.
The center console boat is nearly perfect for the angler looking for river, bay, and ocean fishing in a mid-twenty-foot boat. Center consoles range in length from 18’ – 40’, and you can buy a used one from $9500.00 that will get you on the water, up to $900,000 that will get you and 25 of your friends out on the water as well. I’ve been on charters that use center console boats in the 35’ – 40’ length with 20 – 25 anglers and didn’t feel crowded.
Center console boats are offered in several materials ranging from fiberglass to balsa/vinylester resins to create durable, lightweight structures. Outboard motors power them, and the larger the boat, the more outboards you can expect them to require.
The smaller center console boats falter in one area. For a boat over 20’, they don’t have much overnight capability. You’d need to get into a bigger size to get a cabin. You could get another type of boat that’s far more equipped for the price.
We have a fishing boat with a pilothouse. Basically, it’s a fishing boat with an enclosed area but it’s not living quarters. Our enclosed area is for the driver and five passengers.
Pilothouse boats make boats for areas where the weather is a factor. However, they have certain drawbacks as well. The pilothouse gets hot unless you have air conditioning. It also takes up a lot more room than a center console, leaving less room for anglers to fish. Visibility can be affected, leaving blind spots. That said, I’d rather have a pilothouse than be standing out in the weather during a rainstorm off the coast of Maine in November.
Pilothouse boats are typically made of aluminum up to the mid-20-foot length, then move into wood/resin combinations. The hull generally is a V or deep-V, which works well for getting through the bigger waves that a rough winter ocean will stir up.
Outboard motors power most pilothouse boats, though some of the larger models have inboard motors or even engine rooms. Prices for used models range from $10,500.00 for a well-used model to well over 5.5 million for a giant ocean trawler. New boats start around the $13,500 range and can get as high as &8.7 million for ocean trawlers. Lengths range from 16’ to 118’.
14. Pontoon boat
Pontoon boats are fun. I’ve rented them several times on my favorite lake. They offer easy access to fishing and can hold several people. The typical build is aluminum, though more expensive models have fiberglass upper bodies. They offer two or three pontoons and are very stable when stopped. The cost range for used boats starts at $1250 for a 15-footer up to $350,000 for a 30’ behemoth. New boats start at close to $18,000 and can go as high as $450,000.00.
Outboard motors power pontoon boats and additional trolling motors help with slower movements. The hull is just the two pontoons and a flat deck, so the boat itself sits out of the water. The unique design makes it ideal for lakes, larger rivers, and bays. The pontoon boat works well as a fishing boat, though it isn’t quite versatile enough to cover deep-sea fishing or smaller bodies of water. It can move quickly but isn’t ideal for water sports either.
15. Cuddy cabin
These boats offer plenty of deck space which is great for fishing. These boats are often manufactured specifically for fishing and can be totally decked out.
Cuddy cabins are a good boat for the leisure angler that likes to boat with the family. It has a cabin in the front and a room in the back for fishing. The build is usually fiberglass and wood or foam. Cuddy cabin boats average lengths range from 16’ to 28,’ and a used boat will start at around $12,200.00 for a decent 16-footer up to $55,500.00 for a like-new 28-footer. New models can run much more, with 16’ boats starting around $18,000 and 28’ boats ranging up to $90,000.00 for standard models or over $500,000 for high-end models.
These boats can come with outboard or inboard motors. They are usually built with a V or deep-V hull, and the longer boats can handle a day at sea with no problem. Inshore and bay fishing are ideal for a 20-footer, while anything shorter should stick to bays, rivers, and lakes.
Fishing off the back of the boat is excellent, but the sides can be tricky. If the craft has an awning or shade, the sides are almost too difficult to fish from at all. The cabin can become unbearably hot and stuffy during the day if there’s no air conditioner.
C. Large fishing boats
A large fishing boat is any fishing boat larger than 28′.
16. Flybridge sportfishing boat
The flybridge sportfishing boat is all about fishing. Its price point is a significant drawback for most anglers, but if you’re a professional guide, you might be able to get past the price tag. Used boats start out at $7,500 for an ancient boat to $2.5 million for a well-equipped newer model, while a new boat starts out at around $110,000 and can reach as high as $6.5 million. The length ranges from 28’ to 115’. You can choose between outboard and inboard motors, as either will give you the power you need to get out to deep water quickly. The hull design is usually a deep-V, though you can opt for a V or a modified V if you want to stay closer to shore.
These boats are big, meaning they aren’t built for freshwater. You’re going to be fishing in the ocean for tuna or marlin with these, and sitting upon the flybridge, you’ll be able to spot them from a reasonable distance. Everything about the flybridge sportfishing boat is geared toward fishing, which makes it a fantastic boat for anglers who can afford the cost and want to spend a lot of time fishing the deep sea.
Convertible boats are high-end boats for saltwater fishing and cruising. They start out used for around $90,500.00 for a smaller model and can run as high as 6 million or more. New boats are available starting at $110,500.00 up to 8 million or more. These boats are made from wood, steel, fiberglass, and all types of proprietary resins. I’d love to take one on a trip someday. Lengths range from 28’ to over 60’.
Outboard motors or inboard motors can be selected, and the boat can reach around 30mph on the ocean. The hull options are a V or deep-V, and most are large enough to support you and the family for at least a weekend excursion, if not a week or two on the water. These boats are so large they aren’t meant for anything other than saltwater.
The main drawbacks are the price and the inability to use in freshwater. Other than that, it works remarkably well for whatever you need it to do.
18. Express Cruiser
Express cruisers are a good option for those looking for more maneuverability on deck than a convertible. There isn’t the issue of bridge ladders getting in the way when going around the deck. You can also operate the boat with a captain and an angler. There’s no need for a mate along to help with gaffing. Deep-sea fishing is the main target with these boats, though the smaller 25’ size can do large lakes. The sizes range from 25’ to 45’.
Outboard motors are an option, though most offer inboard or stern drives as the boats require the power provided by a big diesel engine. The hull is typically built of fiberglass, wood, and resin and will stand up to the constant battering of the ocean well. It comes in a deep-V or V design, with the deep-V being the preference for deep-sea fishing.
The price range for used boats is crazy. You can find a used 32’ for $1200.00, though the seaworthiness might leave you in doubt. There are other used boats in the $380,000.00 range. New boats range between $85,500.00 to over $6.5 million, though for most, the average is around $250,000.00.
These boats make great deep-sea fishing vessels. They have several rod holders, offer live wells, and all the electronics you can imagine. The downside is the cost and size of the area to fish on the boat.
19. Cabin Cruiser
Cabin cruisers let you get out on the water and stay there indefinitely. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in one on a fishing trip before and found it to be almost perfect. The only drawback I found was the stateroom I had was a little stuffy. The deck was big enough to allow six adults plenty of room to fish off and on for four days. The price tag was steep, but the boat was terrific. The price for a used model starts at around $8500.00 for a decent 19’ boat and soars to over 1.5 million for a fully decked out 75’. New boats start in the $29,999.00 range and go up to $5.5 million or more.
The hull is typically made of fiberglass or a wood/resin combination. The hull design is a deep-V, and with the inboard motors or dual inboards, it can get up and go fast.
Trawlers range from 20’ to 110’ in length and can be made specifically for fishing. The larger ships can go out to sea for weeks at a time and can handle any type of deep-sea fishing you’d want to undertake. A used trawler costs $10,000.00 on the low end and can run as high as $3.5 million for a high-end model. New models range from $19,500.00 to over $4.5 million. Several styles are available, though most come with a deep-V hull or a V hull. A modified V hull is an option as well. These ships are very stable and can travel far across the ocean.
The hull is made of fiberglass in shorter boats, while larger boats use a mixture of fiberglass and steel. They outfit diesel or gas engines in the engine room on larger boats, while smaller 19’ – 25’ boats use inboard/outboard motors, inboard, or stern drives. The downside to a boat like this is its inability to fish in shallow waters.
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