We’ll explore the various types of watercraft from high-tech, to low-tech, and compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. I’m going to ignore the obviously ridiculous types, such as houseboats, yachts, speed-boats, ski boats, off-shore boats, and large pontoon boats. While it may be possible to fly fish from these at certain times, they are insane overkill.
Bass boats are the king of fresh water boats. Sleek, fast, expensive, and they come loaded with just about every gadget there is, such as GPS units, radios, live-boxes complete with aerators, sonar units, trolling motors and more. They can be equipped with outboard engines in excess of 200hp and can top out at anywhere from 70, to over 100 mph.
These are massive overkill for fly fishing, but if you plan on fishing very large impoundments and reservoirs, such as Lake Texoma, Lake Okeechobee, Lake Lanier, Possum Kingdom Lake, or any of the Great Lakes, you may want to consider a bass boat. They can cover long distances very rapidly, a good thing to have on a large lake, should bad weather or an emergency present itself unannounced. But be prepared to spend $10,000 or more for one.
- Very comfortable for all-day fishing, with swivel seats, sun canopy, coolers, and more.
- Has the latest electronics for finding bass.
- Lots of safety equipment, such as GPS Navigation systems, radios, auxiliary trolling motor, etc….
- Plenty of power to cover long distances, or get out of trouble.
- Plenty of prestige to owning one.
- Very expensive to own and operate.
- Requires a boat ramp for launch and recovery
- Requires frequent maintenance.
- Must be transported on a boat trailer.
- Bass Boats are not good in smaller waters. They require too much space to maneuver, and draw as much as 9” draft. They can easily bottom out on shoals and underwater obstructions.
Also known as motor whaleboats, dinghys, and skiffs, these are simple boats with a V-hull, bench seats, and little else. They can be rowed (although with some effort), but usually have large enough motors for a reasonable speed for most waters. They are very dependable and safe, handle rough water well, but are very heavy and solidly-built. Skiffs work very good in medium to large bodies of water. When used as rowboats, they are even suitable for smaller waters. They can also be converted to sail. Skiffs and dinghys are one of the best all-around boats you can own.
- Less expensive than bass boats
- Very stable fishing platforms.
- Can handle rough waters
- Can be rowed, powered by an outboard motor, or rigged for sail.
- Can still be a little pricey
- Doesn’t have any frills, but you can add them yourself.
- Usually requires a trailer for transport and a boat ramp for launch and recovery.
Flat-Bottomed (Jon) Boat
For fishing in calm waters, there are few boats that can equal a Jon Boat for fishing. Made of aluminum, Jon Boats can float in as little as 2” of water, are next to impossible to swamp, can skim right over weeds and shoals, can be motored, paddled, or poled, and can be carried on a car-top, or in the back of a pickup truck, and launched and recovered just about anywhere. In the swamps of the Southeast, many enterprising people have taken to mounting aircraft engines and propellers on Jon Boats, and calling them Swamp Buggies. On the downside, Jon Boats are a little heavy, and a bit of work for one person to handle by themselves, but not impossible. Also, since they have a square bow, they do not handle waves very well. They crash into them instead of cutting through, as in a V-hull. Waves won’t swamp them, but the crash vibrations can be a bit rough on your bottom after a bit.
- Reasonably priced
- Doesn’t require a trailer for transport, and can be launched just about anywhere.
- Ultra-stable fishing platform
- Can float in 2” or less of water…perfect for small and quiet waters.
- Jon Boats are not very maneuverable, so you need to think ahead.
- Heavy, but manageable.
- They are uncomfortable in rough water.
Canoes and kayaks are the ultimate watercraft, in my opinion. Light, fast, and almost indestructible, these little craft have explored every watery corner of the globe. There is no place with water that they cannot go. Tribal people use kayaks to hunt seals and whales in frigid Arctic waters, and Islanders use them as basic transportation between islands, and for fishing. In WW-II, British Special Boat Service commandos using kayaks disabled an entire Axis fleet in a harbor. Native Americans have used canoes for transportation for hundreds of years.
A kayak is basically just a canoe with a covered deck, and a canoe is just a kayak with an open deck. It all depends on how you look at it. Both canoes and kayaks regularly traverse Class V Whitewater rapids, places where no other boat can go. Kayaks and Canoes are powered by paddles, meaning you don’t have to depend on a noisy, polluting motor to get where you want to go. Canoes and kayaks are quiet, and fast for a human-powered craft. Maintaining 4 or 5 knots is easy for just about anyone. They are so quiet that they do not disturb wildlife. You can get closer to the fish, and you’ll see a lot of natural wonders that you would miss in a power-boat. Kayaks and canoes can be car-topped, and launched anywhere the water can be reached. The downside…well, I really can’t think of any. There are even SOT (Sit On Top) Kayaks that you can stand up in (or on…). Canoes and kayaks are perfectly suited for fly fishing.
Belly boats are basically a float tube with a cover on them and a seat. You are sitting in the water up to your waist. You propel yourself through the water backwards with a pair of swim fins. You can wear waders in cold water, or just shorts in the summer. Belly boats are great in small calm waters. You can go right to where the bass are holding in cover. They are safe, because they have several air chambers. If you poke a hole in one, the others will keep you afloat long enough to get to shore. The downside is that they are not fast at all. You’re not going very far in one of these. Also, you are in the water, and exposed to everything in it, such as Cottonmouth snakes, alligators, etc…
One of the neatest recent developments are the new inflatable watercraft. Once regarded as nothing more than glorified pool toys, or survival equipment, modern inflatables by reputable companies such as Sevylor, Advanced Elements, Intex, Saturn, and Solstice are serious boats. Their performances can match those of solid similar boats, and some rafts even have hard floors, and motor mounts. They are great if you have limited transportation options. They can be carried on planes, trains and buses, or in the trunk of your car. Inflatables can be launched anywhere you can reach water.
As long as you stick to the better-made models, such as those with nylon covers, inflatables are great boats that can even handle whitewater. I own 2 myself, a Sevylor Rio Canoe, and an Advanced Elements Convertible Kayak.
The difference between a solid boat and an inflatable is that if you knock a hole in a solid boat, you’re done fishing. It can’t be repaired on the water. With an inflatable, they have several air chambers, so there is no danger of sinking. If you poke a hole in your boat, just paddle to shore, apply a patch, re-inflate the chamber, and you’re back fishing again, usually within 20 minutes or so. The only drawback to inflatables is that you have to be a little careful about punctures. That all the downside.
Whichever type of watercraft you choose, remember, no boat is fool-proof. Any boat is only as safe as the operator.