May 29, 2014
That last catfish outing sealed the deal. You parked your car near the dam and trudged down 482 concrete steps to the river below, toting three rods and reels, a bucket of shad guts, two pints of stinkbait, 18 pounds of sinkers, a baloney sandwich, and a Mountain Dew. Then you walked three-quarters of a mile down the bank to your honey hole, losing one tennis shoe to the sucking mud in the process. After setting out your lines, you retreated to the bushes to answer Nature's call and almost stepped on a copperhead. By noon, the temperature had risen to 102°F, your shad guts had run out, your Dew had been drained, flies covered your stinkbait, and a sudden rush of muddy water through the turbines had trashed your hole. So you staggered back up all those steps to your truck, the hot concrete searing your one bare foot like a flank steak on a hibachi.
"This is fishing?" you pant upon reaching the top. "I'm all done totin' gear and dodgin' copperheads and walkin' up 'n down them steps. I'm gettin' me a boat!"
But what kind of boat? Today's catman has more options than ever, in both fiberglass and aluminum. What follows is a review of the various catfishing boats available to fishermen. Use this information to acquaint yourself with what's out there — then do more research online, visit your local marine dealer for a closer look, and take a test drive. Soon you'll be catfishin' in style.
These low-slung fiberglass and aluminum boats are designed primarily for bass fishing on big inland lakes, but they're commonly used for other species, as well. Around 60 percent of a bass boat's weight is in the rear third of the boat, including the outboard motor, fuel tank, batteries, and livewell. This fact, combined with its high-performance pad bottom (found on most fiberglass and some aluminum bass rigs), allows the nose of the boat to lift under power for maximum speed, even when carrying a considerable payload of persons and gear.
PROS: Highly efficient hull design allows maximum drag reduction for excellent speed and handling — many 20-foot bass boats run 70+mph when equipped with 200 hp or larger outboards. Excellent storage — most have two rod boxes and multiple compartments for tackle. Large, elevated front and rear decks. Low sides mean less wind resistance and greater ease of landing big fish. Handles well with a bow-mounted trolling motor.
CONS: Little floor space. May be hard to mount rod-holders. There's a livewell, but no baitwell. Carpeted interior is easily trashed and hard to clean. Hulking outboards are overkill for catfishing.
Available in both aluminum and fiberglass, bay boats were originally designed to operate in coastal bays and tidal rivers, but have found favor with many freshwater anglers, particularly catfish and striper fishermen. They have a 12- to 15-degree deadrise and a sharp entry, a good combination for crossing big, rough waters at moderate speeds. Bay boats aren't designed for maximum bow lift but run fairly level on their keel. Most have a center console and can be driven standing up for enhanced operator visibility. Many have an elevated front deck; some have rear decks.
PROS: Lots of interior room. Great for baitfishing — many come with a rounded, aerated bait tank capable of keeping delicate baitfish like shad and herring in good shape. Most have no carpet. Rods mount in clips on the console or sides, making them more easily accessible than when stashed in storage boxes. Some are available with a tunnel hull for shallow running.
CONS: Relatively little dry storage. Bay boats with tunnel hulls ride rough in choppy water.
These sturdy rigs, available in both aluminum and fiberglass, have traditionally been most popular among walleye anglers in northern states. But they're gaining popularity among southern catmen, as well, particularly those who frequent big, rough reservoirs. Their forte is trolling and drifting versus running fast. This design typically has a 12- to 18-degree deadrise at the transom and a sharp entry at the bow, good for slicing through waves. The interior may be open, or have casting decks with ample storage for rods and gear.
PROS: High sides and deep interior offer security in rough water. Lots of interior storage and elbow room. Compared to a bass boat, floats relatively level at rest, allowing it to operate in surprisingly shallow water. Many deep vees come with both an aerated livewell and a livebait well built-in. Flat gunwales provide easy mounting of rod-holders. Less expensive models are available without carpet, facilitating easy cleanup when fishing with messy baits.
CONS: Slab-sided aluminum deep vees tend to get blown around in the wind, which is less of a problem on molded fiberglass models. High sides and low decks also make it harder to land big fish.
Fish & Skis
A combination bass and ski boat, these are usually made of fiberglass. Most feature elevated front and rear casting decks, aerated livewell, roomy cockpit with walk-through windshield, twin consoles, two bucket seats, rear seats that convert to pedestal fishing seats, and a floor storage locker. Many come with fold-up top and built-in stereo.
PROS: Love that windshield and top in cold, rainy weather. Can be used for family ski outings if desired. Excellent performance and smooth ride. Killer sound system.
CONS: Marginal rod and tackle storage. Fancy interior is destined to be destroyed by catfishing.
If you need to cross skinny water to get to those monster cats, a jet-powered rig is your cup of tea. These flat-bottomed aluminum boats have either an outboard modified with a jet drive, or an inboard jet engine (the outboard is lighter and less expensive). Although most popular with salmon anglers in the Pacific Northwest, jets are finding favor with river and tailrace catfishermen nationwide. A properly set-up jet rig can run in 6 inches of water or less. These are usually do-it-yourself craft. Start with a basic aluminum jon, modified vee, or tunnel hull boat with a higher'‘than'‘normal transom, which allows the jet outboard to be positioned so its water intake is almost dead-level with the bottom of the boat. Console, batteries, remote bait tanks, fuel tank, and other heavy objects should be placed toward the bow rather than the stern, so the boat floats level at rest.
PROS: Unbeatable for shallow rivers and tailraces. No prop to ding up or lower unit to bust.
CONS: Jet outboards cost more than prop outboards of equivalent horsepower. Also, slapping a jet pump on an outboard reduces its efficiency by around 30 percent, meaning slow running speeds and poor fuel economy. Jet-equipped boats are hard to maneuver at slow speeds, especially when backing up. Leaves and debris can get sucked into the pump's intake, causing an immediate loss of thrust and possible engine damage.
These classic catfishing craft are the most basic of all fishing boats. They're made of riveted or welded aluminum and can range from 10 to over 20 feet long. Almost zero deadrise means they'll float extremely shallow (and deliver a pounding in rough water). Nothing but wide-open spaces inside — most have bench seats and no console.
PROS: Inexpensive. Light and extremely portable — you can haul a jon boat in a pickup truck's bed or on top of your car. Runs very shallow. Can be modified in endless ways to fit your fishing style. The low sides don't catch a lot of wind and allow for easy landing of big fish. Plenty of floor space for gear. No carpet.
CONS: Pounding ride in rough water. Uncomfortable to fish from — you sit on a metal bench. Little or no storage. Lacks amenities like built-in electronics, livewell, or baitwell.
True "mod vees" are racing boats with a combination deep vee/tunnel bottom, but the term is commonly used to describe an aluminum fishing boat with a low (around 7-degree) deadrise and with a moderately sharp point of entry. This design combines the excellent stability and shallow draft of the jon boat with some wave-slicing capability for a softer ride. Many modified vees have an elevated front deck, abbreviated rear deck, and small aerated livewell.
PROS: Extra-thick hulls (usually .100- to .125-gauge aluminum) make these boats great for shallow, stumpy catfish venues. Plenty of interior room — you can easily place a remote bait tank on the floor. Easy to mount rod holders; some models have built-in tracks in the gunwales for these and other accessories. Low sides. No carpet. Less expensive than many other boat styles.
CONS: Rides better than a jon boat in rough water, but not much. Minimal storage space means a cluttered interior when fishing.
Basically a floating living room, a pontoon boat is a super-comfortable craft that can handle a number of catfishing applications, including open-water drifting and bottom fishing. The spacious interior features lounge seating, snack table, stereo system and wraparound rails that keep active children corralled. Angler-friendly models are available with pedestal seats, trolling motor, livewell, and rod storage.
PROS: Roomiest and most comfortable of all fishing craft. Great for taking kids fishing. Relatively inexpensive compared to more specialized fishing boats. Ideal for laid-back catfishin'.
CONS: Barge-like proportions make it harder to trailer, launch, and load. Difficult to maneuver in tight spaces, and has less response to trolling motor power compared to other boat types. Slow under power. Difficult to handle in river current. Gets blown around on windy days.