What makes a pontoon boat an effective--and enjoyable--fishing platform? Read on to find out.
There was a day when pontoon boats not only warranted the moniker “party barge” but were limited to that one activity. That’s now ancient history, however, because modern models are designed for everything from watersports to weekending. And since fishing is a pastime boaters of all stripes enjoy, it’s only natural that we’ve seen a plethora of piscatorial pontoons hit the water.
But what makes a pontoon boat a “real” fishing boat? What restraints might a fishing pontoon apply on an angler? Let’s answer these questions as we get to know a few fishing-centric pontoons.
Before any pontoon boat can be considered appropriate for angling, it must feature a few items. In the past, rigging a pontoon to fish often meant adding the following items as aftermarket modifications, but today many boats offer them either as factory-installed options or as part of a “fish package” buyers can order to go along with their new boat.
•Rod holders are a no-brainer. Without them anglers would be leaning their prized poles against the fence or stacking them on a settee, wondering all the while whether someone might sit or lean on them and damage expensive gear. Any pontoon boat being considered for a fishing machine absolutely must have rod holders that can be used to safely stow fishing rods while its occupants cruise. Most commonly these come in the form of vertical rod racks, though builders use horizontal rod holders or under-seat rod racks in some cases.
In addition to any of these rod holders, it’s also quite nice to have some that can be used to hold rods while the crew is actively fishing, or that angle rods out to the side for trolling. Buyers who plan to troll should consider four such holders to be the minimum; in a few rare cases, such as on the Angler Qwest Pro Troll, more than a dozen rod holders are positioned to troll a huge number of lures all at the same time. Otherwise, the number of holders merely needs to match up with the number of anglers commonly aboard the boat.
•Livewells are another item most anglers would consider a necessity. Not only do they allow owners to haul lots of live bait, but they give owners who participate in bass tournaments a way to keep the fish alive and healthy until the weigh-in. Some models will have livewells built into seat bases or furniture, but most often pontoon livewells are found in add-on units that also have rod holders and tackle stowage designed into them. The Bennington SX22 is one example, since it has units added to the corners of the bow, at the transom and amidships that house livewells, rod holders and tackle storage. Note that two livewells are always better than one. The crew can carry multiple types of bait or use one well for bait and the other for the catch, and having one forward and another aft will save dual anglers from having to walk from bow to stern, or vice versa, every time they need a new minnow.
•Pedestal-mount fishing seats are in order for fishing-dedicated boats. The center-facing settees that are so good for socializing only get in the way of anyone trying to face outside the boat. And those uber-comfy lounges we love so much for tanning are utterly useless when it’s time to cast and reel and swing a landing net. Ideally, a fishing pontoon will have at least a pair of fishing seats forward and another pair aft, and they should swivel on pedestals so anglers can shift to cast in different directions. Some models, such as Lowe’s SF234, have a mix of fishing seats fore and aft with more traditional sofa-like seating in the middle of the boat.
•Fishfinders are certainly something fish seekers don’t want to do without. And they can be difficult to adapt to non-fishy pontoons, too, because equipment such as transducers and head units need good mounting spots. Most fishing models have a transducer mount designed in, and many also offer factory-mounted units. At the helm, a flat mounting surface or a flushmounted unit is ideal. A word to the wise: Be sure that what’s on offer is the fishfinder one really wants. In many cases, the choices for factory-installed units are limited to one or two models from a specific electronics manufacturer, which may or may not fulfill specific needs. Sometimes they’re low-end units, and spending some extra cash on a favorite brand and model and mounting it DIY-style or paying the dealer to install it is a better option in the long run.
•Bow-mounted electric trolling motors aren’t seen on each and every fishing pontoon, and people who usually fish at anchor will find them to be of limited utility, but serious fishermen will find them a feature that seriously boosts the catch. Electric motors allow a pontoon to sneak up to hotspots with stealth, creep along as the crew works a shoreline and hold position above structure as everyone drops baits or lures. Electric trolling motors also allow boat owners to make silent micro-adjustments to boat positioning as they drift-fish.
Fortunately, adding some or all these goodies to a pontoon boat is not usually a cost-intensive measure. Consider, for example, the Fish Package for a Sun Tracker Fishin’ Barge 20 DLX. It adds just $1,350 to the cost of the boat (right around $20,000), but it adds some of the perks we just mentioned, such as the fishfinder and the electric trolling motor, to a boat that already has fishing seats, livewells and rod holders included.
Fishing on Logs
Those must-have fishing features only tell part of the story. Using a pontoon boat as a fishing boat works better or worse depending on some of the boat’s inherent design features. Consider, for example, the boat’s range and performance. Owners who use their pontoon for putting around the lake, waterskiing and sunbathing probably aren’t too worried about making miles-long runs on any given day. Anglers, however, often want to cruise to distant hotspots and may need to stay on the move until they find a good bite. In both cases, a fast cruising speed and hefty fuel capacity are in order. Naturally, an owner’s specific requirements will change depending on where she commonly fishes and whether she trailers the boat or keeps it in the water at one location all the time. Either way, a pontoon needs the speed and the tankage to accomplish what a buyer wants.
Another important consideration is flooring. While marine-grade outdoor carpet might work great on an entertaining platform, it will make for a very difficult cleanup after a slimy day of fishing. Most pontoon boats are offered with a range of flooring, giving buyers options to consider. Look at the Princecraft Sportfisher LX 25, for example. It comes with choices of carpet, vinyl flooring, or faux-teak vinyl flooring. Either vinyl option will reduce cleanup to a hose and a brush at the end of the day, and in the long run will be a much better choice for buyers who fish often.
Some pontoon boats are natural-born fish-spookers, and even though they may look like great fishing machines, owners may find that the fish seem to disappear whenever they’re around. The usual culprit is fencing, gates and hatches that clang, bang and vibrate. Remember that any sounds a boat makes travel right through the water and to the fish. Yes, they can hear. And yes, they will get spooked if a boat’s fence clangs every time someone moves around. A sea trial is an important part of the boat-buying process, and potential buyers should add “listen for loud noises” to the list of items to look out for when they give a fishing pontoon a trial run. So, who’s ready to run out and buy a new fishing pontoon? We’d certainly encourage such behavior. And now everyone should know exactly what to look for in a fishing pontoon. As for actually getting a fish on the line…
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