Fishing from a dock or standing in waders is great, but nothing truly compares to fishing from a boat. If you want to move out onto the water, then you’ll need to find the right boat for your needs.
When it comes to fishing boat sizes, there are a lot of options to consider. First and foremost, you need to make sure the type of fishing boat is suitable for the body of water you’ll be using it in. Lakes, rivers, flats, creeks, and oceans differ significantly and require different boats and equipment types. If you want to go offshore fishing, then you’ll need a deep-sea fishing boat. Comparatively, a smaller boat, like an inflatable boat, is required for shallow water.
To help you better understand fishing boat sizes and determine which watercraft size is best for you, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of some of the most popular types of fishing boats. But before you decide on what size fishing boat is the best for you, first consider where you’ll use it and how you’ll transport it.
Fishing Boat Size Considerations
You want to make sure that the fishing boat you purchase is right for you and your needs. For some, that means comfort. For others, functionality and performance are all that matter.
To get the right size fishing boat for your needs, answer these three questions:
1. What Type Of Water Will You Use It On?
The most important question you need to ask yourself is what type of water you will use the boat on. Ocean waves can be rough, and you need an offshore fishing boat so it can handle the rough waters of open water fishing. You’ll likely need to consider a fiberglass boat, although a larger aluminum boat could handle it, especially if you’re looking for more comfort.
Water and geological conditions will ultimately have the biggest impact on determining your ideal fishing boat size. Inflatable or aluminum drift boats are great for river runs, but you wouldn’t want to take them out on open water. A drift boat can be great in the flats of South Carolina but would fare horribly in the Gulf of Mexico.
2. Where Will You Store It?
Storage is another important consideration to make. Boats take up a lot of space, and you need to prepare to store it or pay the cost for a marina slip. The last thing you want is to purchase a new fishing boat but not store or maintain it when not in use. If you’re planning to store your new boat in a garage or at a facility, you’ll need to make sure the boat's overall length will fit. A full-size boat and trailer can eat up garage space quickly.
In general, for offshore fishing, you’re looking at a larger boat, which would require a trailer, garage or driveway space, or a marina slip rental. Smaller boats, like drift boats, can fit in more compact spaces, and some inflatable drift boats can even be broken down to slide into an apartment closet.
3. How Will You Travel With It?
The next thing you need to consider when comparing fishing boat sizes is how you’ll travel with it. For instance, something bigger like a bass boat or pontoon will need a truck and trailer to tow it. How you can transport the boat can limit the areas available for you to visit and fish.
If you don’t have a vehicle that can tow a boat, you might be limited to a smaller boat. This is fine, especially if this is your first boat purchase. You may want to start small, so you learn more about boating culture, maintenance, repairs, costs, and so on.
Which Size Boat Is Best For Fishing?
Once you’ve decided the type of fishing you want to do most often, you can decide on your boat.
We’ve outlined several boat types below, including bass boats, bay boats, drift boats, and pontoon boats. Each is designed based on the kind of water they can handle and the comfort and boat performance.
Bass boats are long, skinny boats designed for freshwater fishing in rivers, streams, and lakes. Equipped with low sides for bass fishing and panfish fishing, the modern bass boat will have a swivel chair that allows each angler to cast in their desired position around the boat. There is usually some storage space for fishing tackle, rods, and lures, including a live well, but it does not have an excessive amount of space.
This type of freshwater fishing boat can be constructed out of aluminum or fiberglass. And they offer a great combination of comfort and performance. Because of their unique design, bass boats are more streamlined, and boaters can drift slower. There are also no road holders, and they have a shallow draft.
Two to four people can sit comfortably in this type of boat, and the average length is around 20 to 25 feet. These boats are usually equipped with a powerful outboard motor and navigation system to help get around the water and find more fish. The two main types of bass boats are the traditional aluminum bass boat, usually affixed with a trolling motor and outboard motor, and the center console aluminum bass boat. These aren’t the sport fishing boats but instead are the Skeeter fishing boats.
Bass boats come with pros and cons. These are dependable fishing boats and, when made with fiberglass, offer perks in terms of performance. Their cost and storage requirements can be a con, as bass boats are one of the most expensive fishing boats to operate and own, and storing them requires additional expenses or space.
A bay boat, like their namesake, is built for nearshore areas and bays. Bay boats are built to withstand choppier waters but still can navigate through the shallows. These boats are very similar to bass boats and a popular choice among both recreational and professional anglers.
Bay boats are too small for open water fishing and too large for shallow rivers, but they are the perfect medium-sized boats. Most span around 18-23 feet and have a low profile and higher freeboard. They’re an excellent choice for inshore fishing or recreational boating.
These boats usually have a center console (but they aren’t to be confused with a center console boat), which allows the boat to balance and helps anglers to cast.
Like every boat, bay boats have their limitations. While they’re versatile and make it easy to access different inshore areas, they can’t handle shallow water like a drift boat or inflatable raft can. They also tend to be more expensive than other types of fishing boats. Bay boats are on the larger end, so you might have to pay more for winter maintenance, storage, and transportation.
Aluminum and Inflatable Drift Boats
Characterized with a flat, wide bottom, drift boats are a popular option for fishing rivers and flats. These boats are an excellent choice for the angler who wants to spend the day drifting currents on rivers and streams with his friends.
Often made from aluminum or fiberglass, these boats are easy to row and track straight. They have flared sides so they can handle some whitewater. They have a flat bow, though, and are secure and stable enough to fish standing up. You’ll also find a lot of storage for coolers, rod holders, equipment, and extra clothes.
Drift boats do have their disadvantages. If your boat is made from fiberglass, bumping into a rock could cause damage to the boat. If you go with an aluminum one instead, you may find the metal seats scorching hot in the summer and ice cold in the winter months.
You can also consider an inflatable drift boat. Inflatable fishing boats are versatile and built to help you explore more parts of the water. With shallow draft technology, you only need about 3-4 inches of water to float, which means that you can also launch from tough locations. Better yet, these boats are built to last and don’t damage as easily as fiberglass drift boats.
Inflatable boats are great for transporting; some break down and are so light they can even be packed in your luggage. This makes it really easy to pack in the bed of a truck, store in the RV, or fit in the trunk of your car. You can even bring it with you on a plane if you’re going on a cross-country fishing trip! Unlike bass boats or bay boats, you don’t need nearly the same space to store it. Inflatable drift boats can easily be stored in sheds, basements, or even apartments.
A final consideration again is travel and storage. Drift boats range in size from 14-20 feet. Aluminum and fiberglass boats will need to be towed with a trailer and require plenty of space to store them when not in use. While one of the smaller-sized fishing boats available, you’ll enjoy the storage space and comfort of a drift boat, with maneuverability and performance of a kayak.
What these boats lack in speed, they more than make up for in comfort and space. While pontoon boats were initially designed for cruising, many families and large groups now use them for fishing inshore waters. A pontoon boat is on the larger size of fishing boats, with most being at least 25 feet long. Despite their size, these boats usually have a low draft and can access skinny water.
If you’re planning to navigate narrow rivers and streams, you might want something else. These boats are big, and their maneuverability is limited. They’re typically on the lower end and can not handle rapids whatsoever, but their maintenance is relatively easy, and pontoons can be purchased relatively cheaply.
If you want to spend the afternoon cruising around your lake with a fishing rod in one hand, a cold drink in the other, and surrounded by a group of friends, a pontoon boat lets everyone be a part of the party.
Find The Boat That Meets Your Needs
As you can see, there are many different-sized fishing boats a boater can choose from. Ultimately you’ll need to decide what it is you’re looking for in a boat. If you want to float around with family and friends, a pontoon or drift boat might be the way to go. Serious anglers navigating the inland lakes might prefer the performance of a bass boat.
In any case, finding the right sized fishing boat is all about understanding what you need from the boat and how you plan to use it. From there, you can compare things like cost and size to find the perfect boat for you!