Multispecies fishing boats are ideal for anglers who love chasing after fish of all varieties.
As a general rule of thumb, the more specialized a boat is for one specific use the less it excels at others. A low-slung bass boat provides the ideal example. Sure, it’s perfect for flippin’ and tossin’ spinner baits to shoreline structure, but it doesn’t have any downriggers or flush rod holders, and it’s far from ideal to hit the big water and go trolling for walleye.
The solution? Multispecies boats, which prioritize versatility over a narrow, laser-like species-specific focus. But there are tons of different hull forms and materials, lengths and features to be found carrying the multispecies moniker. What makes one type or another more or less desirable, and which might be best given one’s specific needs? Here’s the lowdown on many multispecies matters.
Hull Design & Construction
Multispecies fishing machines are built with varying hull-forms, but most fall into the semi-V category. Since anglers with diverse interests may want to probe the shallows one day and go out into unprotected water the next, a moderate deadrise is important to maximize stability, minimize draft and offer enough V in the hull to split open waves without taking a pounding. As a result, most multispecies fishing boats will carry a semi-V with between 12 and 20 degrees of deadrise.
The Tracker Targa V-19 WT provides a good example of one end of the spectrum. Tilted mostly toward rough-water handling, it carries a 20-degree transom deadrise, which is right at the edge of what most people would consider a semi-V vs. a deep-V. On the flip side of the equation, the G3 Angler V19 SF carries a more moderate 13-degree transom deadrise.
Not only is there a wide range of hull designs among multispecies boats, but there’s also a difference in the hull material itself. Both aluminum and fiberglass are popular for this type of boat. Along with the above mentioned models — both aluminum — there are fiberglass multispecies boats, including the Ranger 2080MS. Not only is this option molded fiberglass, it’s also built with Ranger’s trademark construction features, including a pultruded transom, foam-filled belowdecks cavities, and Zone-Tempered fiberglass layup.
Obviously, there are many differences between aluminum and fiberglass boats, but both materials make excellent multispecies fishing machines. Remember that aluminum boats tend to be lighter, which means easier towing and launching. They also have lower power requirements and, quite often, better efficiency at equivalent speeds. Aluminum has another edge, specifically in rocky waters where impacts are a possibility: It tends to dent during a solid strike as opposed to shattering like fiberglass. And aluminum boats in this size range are usually a bit less expensive than comparable fiberglass models.
On the flip side, the extra heft of a fiberglass boat and the ability to mold in more complex hull forms with multiple strakes and chines mean glass boats often ride a bit smoother and drier. They can carry bigger engines without a stability loss and often have higher top-end speeds. And finally, many people simply like the slicker looks of a fiberglass hull.
One other choice to consider is going in a completely different direction: choosing a pontoon boat for a multispecies fishing platform. True, a pontoon’s boxy shape isn’t for everyone, and it may not excel at tasks such as sneaking through tight, winding cuts in weed beds. On the other hand, an open deck, a broad beam and a top with rocket launchers — the Qwest 820 Pro Fish & Cruise is an example — mean a big crew can troll a huge swath of lines and do so comfortably. Plus, an optional third log can make these boats surprisingly seaworthy, for fishing in tough conditions.
Length and beam are big considerations when it comes to any sort of fishing boat, and that’s certainly true for multispecies boats. There’s a wide range to think about here, with offerings in this class usually between 17 and 22 feet. Sure, there will be outliers, but again, a multispecies boat needs a balance between big-water capability, the ability to fish small coves and creeks, and other considerations. But size will also dictate flexibility when it comes to factors such as how many people can go fishing, how much gear can fit aboard and maximum range.
In many cases, however, size considerations must go beyond fishing alone. How big of a boat can fit in the garage or driveway? What is the tow vehicle’s towing capacity? How much draft can the local waters accommodate? Are there low bridges nearby that may affect access to a local fishing spot?
Let’s think back to that Qwest 820 Pro Fish & Cruise vs. a boat such as the Princecraft Sport 172, to illustrate the point. The Qwest is much larger and roomier, which has obvious advantages, but that tall profile can’t squeeze under some bridges, and between the boat, motor, trailer, gear, and fuel, any tow vehicle will need to be able to haul several thousand pounds. The Princecraft is quite a bit smaller, and as a result it can go just about anywhere and can be towed by a much wider range of smaller SUVs or pickups.
Getting the Goods
Just how a multispecies boat is accessorized is often up to the buyer, and most of the boats in this genre come with a wide range of options. Some critical items, however, are more important to take into account. Consider these carefully, because they’ll have a huge impact on just how wide a range of fisheries a boat is suited for.
-Livewells are present in most of these boats, but their number and capacity can vary greatly. Buyers who want to fish in tournaments need a boat with the ability to keep more than mere minnows alive. And if they have anglers fishing live baits from the bow and the stern, a boat with livewells both forward and aft will save the crew from having to elbow each other out of the way every time someone needs a new bait.
-Rod holder number and design is a huge variable. Flush-mounted holders and/or rocket launchers are absolutely necessary for trolling, and how many a boat has will often be the limiting factor to how many lines anglers can deploy. But when it comes to drifting in a lake for crappie or setting out livies for lake trout, a crew needs rod holders that can be angled out from all parts of the boat. Meanwhile, remember that while surface-mounted rod holders often offer the most flexibility and can be rotated and adjusted to face this way or that, they can also get in the way during docking. And, as many anglers have learned the hard way, some tend to be less secure than flush-mounted holders when the quarry is very large, strong fish.
-Mounting plates, or gunwales designed to be strong enough for downrigger mounting, are a critical feature for anglers who like to troll with downriggers. Give bonus points to boats with built-in downrigger ball stowage slots, because those heavy weights can cause damage if they’re not secured underway.
-Windshields can be a big deal for multispecies anglers, because they’re the main form of protection for passengers when the spray starts flying, and many boats of this type are available with differing windshield styles and sizes. Tall wraparound windshields with a fold-over center filler pane offer the most cover and are usually favored by anglers who fish open waters or tend to go out even when the temperature is low. Smaller windshields can be advantageous when height restrictions are an issue, and as a rule they also cost less.
-Stowage is an important feature on any boat, and none more so than a multispecies boat. To facilitate fishing for smallmouth in the morning and salmon in the afternoon, a boat better have rod boxes with plenty of capacity built in (I love those that lock). Built-in tackleboxes are another good feature, as they allow an owner to leave that clunky tackle bag at home and keep all her lures right on the boat. Also pay attention to dedicated battery stowage; boats such as the Starcraft 2050STX have lots of room designed for batteries, which is great for powering a potent electric trolling motor and serious electronics.
-Seating is just as important for fishability as it is for comfort when it comes to multispecies boats. Having seats in the bow or on a bow deck can lead to longer fishing days with less wear and tear on one’s body, though there may be times — fly fishing, for example — when it’s better that a portion of the boat be clear of seats. For maximum flexibility, having multiple pedestal receivers placed throughout the boat is best, since anglers can move those seats around as necessary. We also give extra credit to aft jump seats that fold flat to create a casting deck.