Pontoon boats have become incredibly popular in recent years because of their comfort, versatility and ability to accommodate numerous guests. And, many pontoon owners enjoy fishing from their vessel. In this article, I will share my thoughts regarding who a fishing pontoon boat is best suited for and what factors to consider when shopping for one based on over three decades of boating industry experience and personal interviews with hundreds of pontoon owners.
What are Pontoon Fishing Boats?
The majority of pontoon models built today are designed primarily for pleasure cruising. They feature large bench seating and are intended to maximize comfort and passenger capacity. While you can fish from these, they are not ideal because of the type of seating and lack of critical fishing features. Conversely, models designed specifically for fishing typically have the following items:
- Swivel fishing chairs – mounted on a pedestal, these are designed to give you space to fish and pivot in the direction of your line.
- Livewell(s) – pontoons designed for fishing will have one or more aerated livewells to keep your catch healthy. Many also have a separate “baitwell” compartment for minnows or other live bait.
- Electronic equipment – fishing pontoons typically have a fish finder installed at the console and a trolling motor in the bow or are pre-wired for each to enable you to easily add your favorite electronic equipment.
Is a Fishing Pontoon Boat Right for You?
Now that we have a clear idea of what a pontoon boat is, let’s discuss who this type of boat is and isn’t suited for.
A fishing Pontoon boat is often a good choice for those who satisfy any of the following conditions:
- Enjoy fishing with a sizeable group (3+ anglers). Most freshwater fishing boats do not provide adequate space if fishing with more than two people.
- Like to do other on-water activities besides fish. A key advantage of pontoon boats over other types is their versatility. This makes them a good choice for families that enjoy pleasure cruising, tubing or swimming – not just fishing.
- The type of fishing you do is either “still fishing” (with a weight or bobber), vertical fishing/jigging or trolling. If you prefer to cover a lot of water and make frequent moves and casts, then a pontoon might not be ideal for you because they are less maneuverable and more difficult to cast from compared to a bass boat or aluminum fishing boat.
- Have younger children or individuals with mobility issues. Another nice feature of pontoon boats is that they are wide and stable on the water. This makes them a good choice for those with young children and senior citizens. Plus they are easier to get in and out of because of their walk-through gate(s) instead of climbing over a gunnel.
On the other hand, a Pontoon fishing boat might not be the best choice if:
- You plan to use the boat on a large body of water that is prone to rough conditions. This is because large rollers might break over the deck soaking passengers and belongings.
- You plan to use it often in Saltwater. Pontoons tend to have many more compartments than other types of boats. As such, they are much more difficult to wash down after spending a day in a corrosive saltwater environment. While you can do it, it is a matter of convenience.
- You fish in areas with a lot of obstructions (e.g., standing timber). Because of their size and width, pontoon boats are not as nimble/maneuverable around tight spaces vs. other fishing boat types.
If you have decided that a pontoon fishing boat is right for you, here are some fishing-related features and other considerations to help find the right boat for your needs.
Fishing Specific Features
- Swivel fishing chairs – given the amount of time spent in fishing chairs, this is an important element to consider. Key factors are the comfort, quantity and location of the fishing chairs.
- In terms of comfort, make sure the chairs have sufficient padding and are comfortable to sit on, have quality stitching and don’t feel loose or wobbly.
- Regarding quantity, some layouts have fishing chairs in the bow, the stern, or both. The ideal configuration depends on your needs. Bow only fishing chairs are great if fishing is the main priority but you still want to do other activities on occasion such as cruising, tubing and entertaining guests. Chairs in the stern only are for those who consider fishing a secondary priority and want to maximize passenger space/conversation areas. Finally, fishing seats in the bow and stern are best for those who want to accommodate 3 or more anglers on occasion.
- Location refers to whether the front fishing chairs are located inside or outside the fencing. Outside the fencing is less common but is a good option for more serious anglers because you can cast with fewer obstructions and have greater access to the water to unsnag a hook or land a fish. Inside the fencing is preferable for young children or those with stability concerns because it provides a measure of safety. This configuration also makes the front fishing chairs usable if the boat is under power for the same reason.
- Livewell – ideally, there should be a livewell in close proximity to your fishing chairs. So, a boat with chairs in the bow and stern should have two livewells. The livewells should also be aerated and the size should be appropriate for the species you are pursuing. If fishing for panfish (crappie, bluegill, perch), a 10-to-20-gallon livewell might be sufficient. But if catfish is your thing, you will want one that is considerably larger. A baitwell is a nice feature too if you use a lot of minnows or baitfish but is not a deal-breaker since you can always bring your own minnow bucket.
- Trolling motor – trolling motors are extremely helpful to position the boat without spooking the fish or to retrieve a snagged hook. Some models will even hold your boat in position without the use of an anchor (spot-lock feature). Be sure to get one with sufficient power. A rough rule of thumb is to take the total package weight with passengers and gear and divide by 100 and multiple by 2. For example, if the total weight is 3,500 lbs, you should get a trolling motor that has at least 3,500/100 x 2 = 70 lbs of thrust. Consider getting a quick release mount if you plan to use the boat often for cruising/entertaining or for added security when storing the boat.
- Fish finder – this is a must to help you locate the fish or find a waypoint that you marked previously. Most fish finders installed on pontoons are fairly basic in terms of size and features. You will minimally want one mounted at the console with a chartplotter (GPS with maps) to create and locate waypoints in addition to the standard 2D sonar. Side scan (which looks out to the left and right) is also helpful to locate targets. While many pontoons are equipped with smaller (e.g., 5″) models, it would be beneficial to upgrade to a larger size if your space and budget permits. This is because the screen can be difficult to read if you try to view your chartplotter and sonar simultaneously.
- Rod holders – having adequate rod holders will make your day on the water a little more convenient. There are two types – vertical rod holders or “rod racks” to organize your rods and reduce clutter, and rail-mounted rod holders to hold your rod while you fish. While many fishing pontoons are equipped with one or both types, it is not a big deal if they don’t because it is fairly easy to add some after the fact. For example, here is a rail-mounted rod holder that is relatively inexpensive and gets good reviews and works with both baitcasting and spinning rods (I have a couple similar Scotty rod holders on my kayak that work great).
- Rod locker – though not a “must have”, rod lockers are nice if you travel much with your boat or if you temporarily disembark during your day at the lake (e.g., going to lunch) because they keep your valuable equipment out of site. Some are even lockable. Be sure to check the size of the rod locker if the boat you are considering is so equipped. In most cases, you will want one that can at least accommodate rods that are 7′ in length.
- Interior lighting – if you like to get out before sunrise or fish at night, then some sort of interior lighting would be beneficial to help move around the boat. However, for detailed tasks such as tying a line or removing a hook, the amount of lighting on the boat might not be sufficient. In this case, you will also want to bring along one or more lanterns. Here is a fantastic lantern I purchased years ago to do some night fishing on a family vacation. What is cool about this model is that it is waterproof, floats, is dimmable and has a red light setting which is the color that is the least likely to attract bugs or disrupt your night vision.
In addition to the fishing-specific characteristics listed above, here are some other general factors to consider when shopping for a pontoon boat.
- Size/capacity – One of the very first things to decide when shopping for a pontoon is the desired size and passenger capacity. Think about how many people you will want to be able to accommodate. For those who purchase fishing-oriented pontoons, many want the ability to handle 5-8 passengers. For pleasure-oriented pontoons, the desired passenger limit increases to 7-10. Of course, your needs might be different. Also recognize that the legal passenger capacity is not the same as the amount of seating available. In other words, be sure that the legal capacity is sufficient and that an adequate number of seats are available for the number of passengers you wish to accommodate.
- Quality – For most people, it is not about finding the highest quality product but rather getting a product of acceptable quality for the price. After all, quality is usually considered within the context of price. So how do you assess whether a boat is of acceptable quality? Here are some of the key things pontoon owners look for:
- Upholstery – seats and benches are comfortable, the material is fairly thick and is well stitched.
- Construction – the gauge of aluminum is fairly thick, the frame is sturdy, the welds are smooth and uniform, and the decks do not flex much.
- Fit ‘n Finish – doors and compartments fit properly and wiring is “neat” and secured to reduce chafing.
- Warranty – having a lengthy and comprehensive warranty provides a degree of assurance and is indicative of the manufacturer’s confidence in their product.
- Ample storage – whenever I have interviewed boat owners, one of the most consistent, and often unmet, needs expressed by boaters of all types is to have abundant storage. This is important to reduce clutter and make it easier to move about the boat. Key things to look for, besides the total amount of storage capacity, is the size of storage areas (ideally, you want a mix of sizes for different sized items) and whether the storage compartments are dry or wet (wet are fine for things like dock lines and anchors; dry is needed for clothing, personal items and live vests).
- Good bimini – this is important for comfort and health reasons. The size of the bimini is important and should minimally cover the main cockpit area. Some manufacturers also offer a double bimini for coverage over the bow. Recognize, however, that having the bimini up might restrict your casting abilities. Also, the bimini should ideally be easy to stow and deploy. A few manufacturers like Sun Tracker offer a powered bimini which is a very nice, but not necessary, feature.
- Vinyl flooring – nearly all new pontoons are available with vinyl flooring instead of carpet which is easier to clean and maintain (which is important when fishing).
- Cupholders – it is nice to have a cold drink while waiting for the fish to bite. And most manufacturers do a good job of providing several in key seating areas. But if that is not the case, you can easily add your own like the one you see here.
- Table – when you are entertaining guests or wanting to take a break from fishing, having a nice table to serve food is very convenient. Ideally, the table should be sufficiently large (but not too big to obstruct passage) and be easy to stow when not in use.
- Sound system – while some anglers (like me) prefer to fish in peace, others enjoy jamming to their favorite tunes while waiting for the next bite or when cruising around the lake. One key to getting good sound is to have speakers spaced throughout the boat. Otherwise, the volume may be too loud for some and too quiet for others. Bluetooth connectivity is also a must but this is largely standard on newer models.
- Adequate power – one of the biggest sources of frustration among pontoon owners is not having sufficient power. If you boat on a fairly large body of water or intend to do watersports (e.g., pull a tube), you will want the max HP or an engine large enough to get the job done. Also, if you do plan on pulling a tube or wakeboarders, be sure to get a tow bar because attaching the rope directly to the pontoons does not work very well.
Fishing pontoon boats are great for families that enjoy fishing but also like to do other activities as well. They are comfortable, versatile and, unlike many other dedicated fishing boats, have room to accommodate the entire family. After you have decided on a budget and the size/capacity needed, the most important thing to consider is the layout (e.g., number and location of the fishing seats), whether the quality is sufficient, and whether the boat has enough power for your intended usage. Getting a good bimini is important too for health and comfort reasons. Most of the other factors listed above are convenience items that can often be added or upgraded as needed.
Finally, if you are shopping for a new pontoon boat, also pay close attention to the dealer. Ideally, you will want a dealer that is relatively close to you, has a good reputation for customer service, and is stable (likely to be around for the long haul). You can start your search by checking out this article on what I think are some of the best pontoon fishing boats. Or, if you prefer to buy pre-owned, see my review of the best places to shop for a used boat online.
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