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The Best Boats for River Fishing

Updated on June 24, 2009

Bass Boats to Kayaks

Choosing the best boat for river fishing depends upon the type of fishing desired and the size and depth of the rivers to be fished. Anglers can choose from well-appointed bass boats with high-powered motors to personal water craft such as float tubes, with many other possibilities in between. With such a wide selection, every fisherman can find the boat that suits his budget and his fishing style.

Fishing Big Rivers

Starting with the most expensive boats first, bass boats are the craft of choice for anglers who want to get around on big rivers in little time. These low-slung boats have raised casting platforms in the bow and stern. They are usually constructed of fiberglass and are over 18 feet long. Powered by 150 to 250 horsepower outboard motors, they are equipped with live wells, electronic depth and fish finders, and electric trolling motors.

Anglers who are after big catfish will need boats of a different style. The heavy rods used in this type of fishing are mounted on the stern of the boat, so a deeper boat with a sturdy transom is necessary. However, major rivers have powerful currents, so the boat must be substantial enough to accommodate a big outboard. Boats of this type may be fiberglass or aluminum.

Fishing Smaller Rivers

Smaller rivers don’t require as much current-kicking power. Anglers who seek smallmouth and trout in less powerful waters need boats that are versatile and maneuverable.

Jon boats are flat-bottomed craft with squared-off bows and sterns. They are light enough to carry on top of trucks and SUV’s, eliminating the need for a boat trailer. Two-man jon boats can weight as little as 80 pounds. These rugged aluminum boats can manage shallow water, and they stand up well to the occasional collision with underwater rocks and stumps.

Drift boats are popular with fishing enthusiasts and guides. These boats are very stable, with wide, flat bottoms, but unlike jon boats, the bow and stern both taper to a point. These boats can come completely outfitted with storage boxes, pedestal seats, recessed rod holders, side or floor anchoring systems, and passenger seats. For moderately deep rivers with shallow stretches, it’s hard to beat a drift boat.

Pontoons have a seat for the passenger that is mounted between two floats. These may be solid or inflatable, and they are tapered at the front end for greater responsiveness when the passenger needs to steer through rapids. These can navigate shallower water than either jon boats or drift boats.

Fishing Skinny Water

Very shallow water is known as skinny water. Good watercraft for such rivers include kayaks, canoes, and float tubes. Fishing kayaks are designed to be wide and stable. They come equipped with rod holders and storage compartments. These craft are easy to maneuver and light to transport. Canoes are also easily carried on roof racks. They are less stable than the wide, sit-on-top kayak designs, but they provide greater freedom of movement for passengers. Although float tubes are great for moderately deep holes, they are of little use when the water is shallow enough for standing, and they are not suitable for navigating rapids.

The angler who is shopping for a river fishing boat should be able to find the perfect craft. Whether skimming the surface of a major river in a high-powered fiberglass vessel in search of 50 pound catfish, seeking browns and rainbows from a well-equipped drift boat, or gliding along quiet, wooded riverbanks in a kayak, anglers will enjoy fishing from the boats that best suit their needs.


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      ichetucknee river 

      8 years ago

      Smaller boats are better for fishing in my opinion.

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      boat storage brunswick 

      8 years ago

      A good overview of boat options. One definitely needs to consider where the boat will be used. Hard to pick just one in an area with lots of water options.


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