Best Center Consoles for Inshore Fishing

You need a new center console boat for inshore fishing? Here’s what to look for, along with some of our top picks.

Do a quick search for center console boats for sale here on BoatTrader, and you’ll discover that about 15-percent of all the boat listings on the entire site are center consoles. That’s a huge number of boats – well over 10,000 – and it’s proof of just how popular center consoles are. If you’ve ever gone fishing from one, you won’t be surprised by this popularity. The center console design is great for all sorts of angling and it’s absolutely ideal for inshore fishing.

Boston Whaler 380 Center Console
Boston Whaler 380 Center Console. Photo: Boston Whaler.

There’s just one problem: with this many center consoles out there, how will you ever know which one to pick? Never fear, that’s where we come in. As you check out one boat after the next, look for these key factors:

  • Construction quality
  • Hull design
  • Integrated fishing accessories
  • Deck space
  • Range
  • Creature comforts

Center Console Construction Quality

When you’re looking at a new boat, judging its construction quality can be tough. However, there are some key factors to look for as well as some features that are less obvious to the eye. As you look at a boat, be sure to do things like yank on the T-top and rocket launchers to see if the frame or pipework flexes at all. Open and close hatches, which will give you an eyeball on factors like whether they’re finished on both sides, hinge size, the presence of gas-assist struts, and whether stowage compartments are rough or fully finished inside. Obviously, take note of the use of plastic pieces and parts versus stainless-steel. And peek behind the dash to see how neat the wiring is or is not.

The “bones” of the boat may be harder to assess, but with a little research you can gain a lot of insight. How long and how comprehensive is the manufacturer’s warranty? A boat with five years of stem-to-stern coverage is likely much better built than one that comes with a basic one-year hull warranty. Checking out the manufacturer’s reputation is also a good idea. Remember that there are plenty of people with axes to grind running around on the internet and take everything you see with a grain of salt, but when you see positive feedback on the whole about one builder or another, that should tell you something.

One of the key methods of judging a boat’s construction can only take place out on the water: smash into some waves at full-tilt, and note how the boat feels underfoot. Also keep your ears peeled. If you hear a lot of rattles or vibrations, there may be some ill-fitted pieces and parts on the boat. Speaking of pieces and parts, on a boat that’s stoutly constructed you won’t hear a lot of creaking and groaning as a boat rolls in the seas. But a poorly built boat will likely create lots of noise as its parts move and grind against one another.

Top Construction Pick

When considering quality construction, Boston Whaler immediately springs to mind. Boats like their 230 Outrage feel solid as a rock when they run through the seas, and it’s no wonder: Whaler pumps closed-cell foam between the inner and outer hull skins, and when it’s cured the boat is essentially one solid fiberglass and foam sandwich.

Hull Design

There are a number of different hull designs used for center console inshore fishing boats, each with their own plusses and minuses. The major ones include:

  • Deep-V
  • Semi-V
  • Flat-bottom
  • Power catamaran

Deep-V Center Consoles

Deep-V hulls are the best at chopping open big waves, and are one of the most common all-around choices. Most people would consider a boat with 20- to 24-degrees or more of deadrise at the transom to be a true deep-V. However, boats with this hull design have less stability than most others, so they tend to rock and roll a bit more. They also have slightly deeper draft requirements and require more power to plane, all other factors being equal.

Semi-V Center Consoles

Hulls with less than 20 or so degrees of transom deadrise are generally considered to be semi-V designs. These boats enjoy enhanced stability, less draft, and often slightly better efficiency than a deep-V. On the flip side of the coin, they usually don’t run quite a smoothly as a deep-V in rough sea conditions.

Flat-bottom Center Consoles

A boat with no or very little V-shape in its hull is called a flat-bottom boat. This design has the best stability around, and minimal draft requirements. However, flat-bottom boats can also be quite bumpy in a chop and many tend to throw a lot of spray.

Power Catamarans Center Consoles

Power catamarans, often simply called “powercats,” are twin-hulled boats. Since each of the hulls are very narrow at the bow they easily slice through waves, while air gets packed into the tunnel between the hulls and helps cushion wave impacts. As a result, a well-designed powercat can ride through a rough bay chop much more smoothly than most monohulls. However, powercats also have a number of quirks. Some bank outward instead of inward when turning; others “sneeze” (send a puff of mist out the front of the tunnel) at times and get everyone aboard wet; and a few have very fast righting motions that can make the boat go from very stable to very rocky, very quickly, in a beam sea (often called a “snap roll”).

Awesome Hull Design Pick

New for 2020, the Caymas 26 HB is a red-hot model from a start-up builder with a hull design that’s about as tricked-out as any you’ll find. It’s based on an 18.5-degree transom deadrise and it has twin steps designed into the bottom. The specific design is called the Stepped Vee Ventilated Tunnel (SVVT), and was created by Michael Peters Yacht Design. The steps reduce wetted surface (and therefore drag), while vertical sidewall tunnels boost lateral resistance for better stability and maneuverability. Caymas claims a 15-percent speed boost without any loss of handling control, as a result.

Integrated Fishing Accessories

Is there any angler out there who doesn’t love tons of built-in fishing goodies in a center console fishing boat? Of course not. Some critical ones to look for include:

Livewells

Consider size and capacity, remember that overflow drains are better than stand-pipes (which get in the way when you’re trying to net the baits), and give bonus points for those that are rounded and baby-blue inside (this helps keep bait calm and prevents them from beating themselves up against the fiberglass).
Rodholders – The more, the better. Stainless-steel always trumps plastic, and integrated holders are superior to bolt-on racks.
Fishboxes – You’ll want boxes large enough for the biggest fish you plan to catch, and they should be foam insulated so they hold ice during the dog days of summer. Also consider how they drain; overboard-draining boxes are great but if a box has pump-outs, remember that diaphragm pumps tend to last longer than macerators. Fishboxes that drain into the bilge should be avoided if at all possible.

Integrated Tackleboxes

These are great, unless you enjoy lugging a tacklebox to the boat every time you use it. Those with slide-out trays are ideal, but remember that you’ll need at least three or four in order to stow a complete set of lures and rigs aboard. Large drawers are also important to have, for stowing bigger items like pliers and fillet knives.

Bow-mounted Trolling motors

Inshore and bay anglers will love the ability to use the GPS virtual anchoring features that come with high-end bow-mounts. Plus, when you want to prowl the shallows and back-country hotspots, they allow you to do so with stealth.

Electronics

These days many boats come factory-rigged with their electronics. In order to call a center console “best” for inshore fishing, you’ll want a chartplotter/fishfinder with as large a screen as possible, side- and down-scanning abilities, and maybe even a 3-D display function.

Fishing Accessories Stand-Out

Everglades 335 Center Console has so many fishing goodies built in, it’s tough to find any boat that surpasses it. Consider fish stowage, for example: there are three insulated boxes under the bow seating, a massive 129-gallon fishbox under the foredeck, and an 82-gallon fishbox in the transom. On top of all that, there’s a 32.5-gallon cooler built into the forward console seat. Or consider the integrated rigging station, 37-gallon pressurized livewell, under-gunwale power-ports for electric or kite reels and downriggers – the list goes on and on.

Deck Space

Unless you rarely invite any friends aboard, you’ll want the maximum amount of deck space (read: fishing space) possible. But there’s a big trade-off, on this count. On center consoles used for inshore fishing, deck space is most commonly lost to seating. Opt to maximize deck space, and you minimize seating. Opt to maximize seating, and you end up losing deck space. This is a straightforward trade-off, and only you can decide how much seating versus how much deck space is ideal for your needs.

Maximum Territory Pick

Foot for foot, the Sportsman 267 OE provides a shocking amount of deck space. When we fished aboard the prototype 267 OE this summer, there were five anglers aboard. Yet thanks to the open bow cockpit and bowdeck, the spacious aft cockpit, the aft deck, and the svelte console with enough deck space to cast while standing next to it, we never felt cramped.

Range

If you can’t make those long runs to the hot bite you won’t be happy with your boat, so range is an important consideration. As a matter of safety, you should always plan on a 10-percent fuel reserve at minimum. So in order to figure out maximum range for any given boat you may be considering, take the fuel capacity and first multiply it by 0.9. Then, multiply the remaining fuel capacity in gallons by the boat’s cruising mpg, to determine range in miles.

Maximum Range Pick

There are many variables affecting range including sea state, load, and how hard you run your boat, so it’s tough to nail down a top pick in this regard. A stand-out, however, is the Nautic Star 2302 Legacy. With a single Yamaha F200 outboard its economy peaks at five mph (while running at about 25 mph), and the tank holds a whopping 85 gallons of fuel. Crunch the numbers, and you’ll get a range of 382 miles, plus reserve. Wow.

Creature comforts

While creature comforts aren’t exactly the first thing that pops to mind when considering which center console is best for inshore fishing, in reality, it’s an important component of every boat. If you’re uncomfortable all day you won’t fish as long nor as hard, and in some cases, it will mean the difference between a family fishing together or half the crew opting for other experiences. As a result, several comfort features can be important considerations.

Seating is often high on this list. As we noted earlier, in many cases additional seating comes at the cost of deck space. On many modern boats the conundrum is mitigated somewhat in the aft cockpit with folding transom seats that you can swing out of the way once you reach the fishing grounds. Bow seating can be a bit tougher to deal with, though many arrangements allow for the cushions to be removed and the bow seats to serve as a forward casting deck when they’re not in use.

Another common comfort feature is a console head compartment. Look for those with good ventilation and opening ports, which can help mitigate the seasickness issues that may arise with some people when they enter enclosed compartments. You’ll also want to look for those with wide entries that are easy to navigate and have sufficient room to enter without feeling like a sardine in a can. Once again, however, we have to point out that there’s a downside – the larger a console is, the less pass-through room and deck space you’ll have around it.

Award bonus comfort points to boats that have backrests for the forward seats, coaming bolsters around the inwales, and surprise perks like built-in cockpit shades, misters, and icemakers.

Comfort Pick

When we stepped aboard the new Grady-White Canyon 326 this summer, we immediately knew we were in for a treat. Seating is plentiful to say the least, including a fold-away transom couch, a bow filler insert that turns the entire foredeck into a sunpad with swing-out backrests, a forward console seat, and flip-up helm bolsters with arm rests. But on blazing hot days it gets even better, when you realize there’s an electrically-actuated retractable cockpit sun shade built into the back of the hard top. After taking a dip to cool off you’ll enjoy the freshwater transom shower, and when the catch is in the fishboxes you may want to fire up the built-in electric grill.

Do these factors amount to a complete list of everything you’ll want to look for, as you search for your own personal best center console for inshore fishing? Of course not. There are countless other variables boat shoppers of all persuasions need to take into consideration, like the boat’s size and weight, power choice, and cost.

Naturally, personal preference plays a huge role in all the decisions you’ll be making. But as you look at center consoles keep these key factors in mind, and when you find your ideal fishing machine, you’ll know it.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.

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