So you’ve discovered you love fishing, and now you want to find the best possible starter boat for the sport? We’re here to help. The term “starter boat” means different things to different people. Some folks may think that means choosing an inexpensive model and others may feel simplicity is the key feature, but it all basically boils down to being an angler’s very first boat. First things first, whatever your ultimate choice may be, be sure to check out our Buying a Boat: The Ultimate Guide article for the background information you’ll need to know regardless of what sort of boat you’re buying.
Then, consider these top five options.
- Jon Boats
- Center Consoles
- Pontoon Boats
- Ski and Fish
Jon boats are among the simplest fishing boats around, with relatively flat bottoms, bare interiors, and small powerplants. Most, though not all, are constructed of aluminum. But in their simplicity lies much beauty. Jon boats are comparatively speaking about as inexpensive as boats get, don’t require a lot of power to generate fast speeds, tend to be very stable for their size, are easy to clean and maintain, and easy to trailer. In other words, for many people they’ll prove to be the best starter fishing boat around.
On the flip side of the equation, the simple flat bottoms of Jon boats that gives them such great stability and low power needs also can get banged around when it’s rough out and you’re in open waters. They may throw a lot of spray, and can get quite wet when it’s rough. And most don’t have very many creature comforts; in some cases you may be looking at a hull with some bench seats, a few fishing rod holders, and little more.
Center consoles run the gamut from small, simple boats to large, complex ones. Naturally, cost will vary quite a bit across the spectrum. But for the purposes of a starter boat, most anglers will be looking at smaller, more affordable models in the 16- to 22-foot range. Most of these have either semi-V or deep-V hulls that are excellent for slicing open the waves at high speed, and fairly simple deck layouts including fore and aft seating, a center steering station on the console, and leaning post behind it. At the larger end of this spectrum, T-tops and advanced marine electronics will likely be optional equipment.
Center consoles net you the advantage of being able to run through rougher seas than many other types of starter boats could handle, but the larger and more complex they become, the more they cost. Maintenance and operational costs also rise accordingly. And while deep-V hullforms are great for splitting open waves, the design does sacrifice some stability and efficiency.
Can a pontoon boat really fit the bill as a starter fishing boat? You bet it can. Pontoon boats are incredibly stable, have gobs of deck space, and are available in plenty of economical packages. Plus, most builders offer fishing packages that outfit the boat with things like livewells, rodholders, pedestal fishing seats, and tackle storage systems.
The downsides to fishing from pontoon boats are similar to the downsides you’re likely to experience with pontoons in general. They aren’t incredibly maneuverable, which may make it tough to position the boat for pinpoint casts. Many models really aren’t designed for large, open bodies of water that see rough conditions and big waves. And unless you choose one of the more expensive triple-log models, performance is likely to be underwhelming.
Kayaks make for exceptionally good starter fishing boats. In fact, these days fishing kayaks are incredibly popular and they serve as the first fishing boat for many anglers. Kayaks also enjoy several advantages over other types of fishing boats. They allow you to stealthily sneak up on the fish while making virtually zero noise, they can access extremely shallow water, and they can be maneuvered into the tightest confines. One note, however: make sure to get a kayak that’s designed specifically for fishing. These have comfortable seats, integrated rodholders, molded-in mounting points for fishfinders and transducers, and are often stable enough to stand up on.
Fishing kayaks do suffer from two drawbacks, when compared to larger boats. First off, you obviously won’t be inviting a bunch of friends out to go fishing with you — yours will be solo adventures. Secondly, while there are many kayaks that are very seaworthy, tackling big waters will be a serious workout and rough seas could mean cancelling fishing trips.
Ski and Fish
Ski and Fish boat models are ideal starter fishing boats for people who have family members that enjoy other watersports as well as fishing, like water skiing and wakeboarding. They usually don’t have to make any real sacrifices on the fishing end of the equation, and generally come fully equipped with livewells, rodholders, and the like — they just also happen to have the basics for watersports, like tow pylons and aft-facing observers seats.
Ski and Fish boats are available in all different trim levels and sizes up into the low- to mid-20 foot range, though since they are usually well-equipped boats, you do have to expect pricing to be commensurate. Also bear in mind that many ski and fish models are freshwater-oriented and may be designed more for tactics more appropriate to bass and bluegill than barracuda and bluefish.
So: have you decided on your perfect starter fishing boat yet? If not, don’t worry. Considering these five categories alone, we can serve up tens of thousands of new and used fishing boats for you to choose from. Consider these important points as you peruse the listings, and we’re betting that sooner or later the ideal starter fishing boat will jump right off this screen and onto your driveway.