If you want to start a good-natured debate among serious catfish anglers, ask them "What makes a good catboat?" They'll talk floor layout, seating, storage, rod holders, motors, anchors, electronics, and trailers. Near-scientific discussions may ensue about hull engineering, and disputes about rod holders could require a referee and a bucket of cold water.
Ultimately, participants agree on one point: there's no perfect boat. What works well for one angler can be a headache for someone else with different preferences and fishing circumstances. Invite a few diehard catmen to the table and here's what they have to say.
Bill Kunzeman, Eagle Claw pro staffer and catfish tournament angler from Concord, Illinois: There's no hull design that can't be used for catfishing. I've fished off pontoons, flatbottoms, deep-Vs, modified-Vs, and they all work. Right now I use a 20-foot Lund deep-V. This hull design is a good all-around choice that works on everything from reservoirs to big rivers.
Mike Ostrander, catfish guide and founder of James River Fishing School based in Richmond, Virginia: I started fishing in a 12-foot fiberglass jonboat, working my way up through hull designs and sizes. I'm currently using a 24-foot Sweetwater pontoon boat. As a guide, I want to offer my clients a stable, comfortable platform with room to move around. We can fish off the stern and sides. I can also enclose it and keep everybody comfortable in cold or rainy weather. A pontoon boat has everything I need as a catfish guide.
Steve Brown, catfish guide from Warsaw, Missouri: You can catfish from any boat, but the poorest design for catfish boat is a bass boat. You sit on top of a bass boat rather than down in it. For stability and a lot of other reasons, I like to sit in a catfish boat. Bass boats also are designed to fish off the front, so the seats and layout face forward.
Most catfish guys fish off the back of the boat. That's why deep-Vs are popular with a lot of catmen, because they're designed for walleye fishing, and a lot of walleye anglers fish off the rear like we do. You want at least 12 degrees of deadrise to get a decent ride. I prefer 15 degrees. Those who say they get a smooth ride from a flat-bottom are kidding themselves.
Warren Byrd, catfish guide from Clarkesville, Tennessee: I run an 18.5-foot G-3 deep-V. It started out as a walleye boat that I customized for catfishing. It's laid out nicely for the way I use it with two or three clients at a time. It's stable and rides well, which is important for keeping clients comfortable.
John Jamison, catfish tournament pro from Spring Hill, Kansas: On the competitive scene I run long distances so it's critical that I have a boat with a good ride. Mine is an X24 Catfish, a 24-footer I designed for Xpress Boats. It has an 18-degree V hull, similar to the hull on bayboats used to run long distances in coastal saltwater fishing. The 101-inch beam adds a lot of stability, too.
Brown: I like a full, walk-through windshield, which makes the Bimini-top enclosure system work. Put a propane-fueled ceramic heater in there and you can fish comfortably with the outside temperature well below freezing. With a single console on the side, or single console in the center, you can't enclose the top and sides as well as with a full windshield.
Ostrander: One of the first things I did when I got my pontoon boat was take out four of the seats. I want deck space. There's still seating for six people, with plenty of room to move around. I've even guided some folks who were in wheelchairs, which would have been difficult in any other kind of boat.
Tim "Doc" Lange, tournament catfisherman from Springfield, Ohio: I ordered my boat with as little storage as possible. (Lange's boat is a 24-foot SeaArk ProCat modified-V.) Storage lockers are just more places to collect junk. I've got a full, extra-high walk-through windshield with enough storage under the consoles for what I absolutely have to carry. I'd rather have open deck than storage.
Brown: People get obsessed about storage, then they pack all sorts of stuff on the boat they really don't need simply because they've got places to put it. They end up with too much storage full of junk, and not enough deck space to fish.
Jamison: Guys who like to anchor prefer an open floor plan in the center of the boat, and those who control-drift a lot and use their trolling motor often, like me, prefer more space at the front and back. In tournaments you need the capability to hold multiple, big fish. A large livewell eats up deck space, but you can't get around that and it's well worth it.
When it comes to storage, I like lots of it because I'm an organization freak. I don't like anything laying around on the floor, so everything has it's place. There are spots for tools, nets, tackle, bait, and everything else. On the X24 all of the storage is lockable, a critical feature if you park your boat outside or if you're on the road fishing tournaments.
Byrd: I have a 115-hp 4-stroke Yamaha and a Minn Kota 70-pound-thrust bow-mounted trolling motor. I rarely use the trolling motor except for moving around docks. I went with the 4-stroke for fuel economy and reliability.
Jamison: I run a 250-hp Yamaha 4-stroke on the X24. I'm a huge 4-stroke guy, mostly because I like a quiet-running motor. We do a lot of baitwalking, and also often fish vertically right over fish — cats you don't want to spook. When I'm on a reservoir fishing vertically over big blues, if I have to fire up the motor the quieter the better.
A key to my fishing is my trolling motor because I rely on precise boat control in a lot of situations. I use a Minn Kota 101-pound-thrust Terrova. It has the power and responsiveness to keep me precisely on fish.
Brown: Most catfish guys are going to 4-strokes. Bass guys are staying with 2-strokes. It's a Corvette versus Suburban thing. You can put a Corvette motor in a Suburban, but it's still gonna drive and handle like a Suburban. You give up some acceleration and gain some weight with a 4-stroke compared to a 2-stroke, but overall a 4 — stroke works better for catfishing.
Lange: I've got a 175-hp Suzuki 4-stroke. It's better to spend the money and get the biggest motor the boat is rated for. My Minn Kota 75-pound-thrust trolling motor is a wireless model. I love the wireless feature because it lets me run it from anywhere in the boat without a cable to trip over.
Ostrander: I bought my Sweetwater with a 50-hp 4-stroke, and eventually upgraded to a 90-horse Evinrude E-Tec 2-stroke. With the 90-horse Evinrude I can cruise the river at 18 to 20 miles an hour. I'd like to put a 115-horse Evinrude on it, which would be the biggest motor the boat is rated for."
Accessories, Options, and Toys
Byrd: I carry two anchors, an 18-pound Richter and a 25-pound box anchor. I use the Richter in smaller rivers and lakes, and the box in the Mississippi or fast-current situations. I also use a float-type anchor retrieval system. The anchor rope runs through a swivel on the bottom of a big float, a buoy, and when you want to raise anchor you just move the boat slowly and the float stays in one spot. The anchor gets pulled up until it's against the bottom of the float and then you pull the float to the boat. It really saves my back — the best money I ever spent.
Brown: I also use an Anchor Ball float-type anchor retrieval system and keep two anchors in the boat. In heavy current, I put both anchors out and tie one to the first cleat on each side of the bow. That reduces side-to-side sway in the current. Some guys use electric anchor winches, but those can be dangerous on big rivers. If the anchor hangs up while you're winching it in, the winch can pull the front of the boat under real quick.
Lange: My boat has a 60-gallon livewell, but even that's not big enough for the catfish we've been catching. (Lange's wife, Lynn, holds the West Virginia state record for blue catfish at 29.7 pounds, and once held national honors with an 88-pound blue cat.) I took a diamond-plate truck toolbox, plumbed it into the regular livewell's pumps and made it into a 125-gallon livewell that sits just ahead of the 60-gallon livewell in the stern. When we're traveling and it's empty, it makes great, lockable storage.
Jamison: Tournament anglers need the capability to haul lots of big fish, so I designed a 125-gallon livewell into the X24. It's a critical piece of equipment.
Brown: I've got some special seats that I transfer to my new boat every time I trade in. Most boat seats are a piece of foam on a board, and after an hour or so, all you feel is the board. My seats are like La-Z-Boys — they've got suspension, armrests, and recline.
Byrd: I keep two "redneck driftsocks" in my boat. They're 5-gallon plastic buckets with 4 holes spaced around the rim and 7 or 8, 1-inch holes drilled in the bottom. I rig 4, 2-foot-long ropes to the holes in the top so they all tie to a big swivel, then I tie the swivel to 6- to 10-foot section of rope. Commercial driftsocks bring a lot of water onto the deck, but these buckets drain empty and don't make nearly as much mess.
Ostrander: My boat has carpet, but if you let the slime and scales dry they brush right off. It doesn't get slick, which is important.
Lange: I ordered my boat with GatorHide coating on the floor. It's like a pickup truck bedliner. Non-slip, sound-deadening, and it cleans up easy.
Jamison: My boat's floor is coated with a tough, non-skid Xtreme Coat Liner. It also has handy washdown pumps and drains to keep the deck clean.
Brown: I wouldn't be without my Driftmaster rod holders, the 1/2-inch-thick versions. They're what make circle hooks work. People talk about the "give" in their lines or how rod tips load up when using circle hooks, but none of that matters if your rod holders flex. Driftmasters don't flex.
Lange: I've got 6 Monster-brand rod holders mounted on the rear and sides of the boat. Lifetime guarantee, but I've never broke one.
Jamison: The windshield on the X24 is welded in, rather than mounted in an aluminum frame, so it takes a beating, doesn't come loose, and closes snug.
Byrd: I keep the biggest landing net I can find. I had one with a 6-foot handle and a hoop big enough to hold a 50-gallon trash can, but somebody "borrowed" it from my boat when I was at a gas station. The one I'm using now is a Cummings with a 4-foot long handle.
Brown: I'm using Team Catfish's Fish Grippers more and more, but always have a big landing net on board.
Byrd: I've got a $10 plastic cutting board mounted on a pivoting RAM mount — like you use to mount a sonar unit — on the side of the boat behind the steering-wheel seat. Keeps the mess out of the boat when I'm cutting bait.
Lange: I ordered a galvanized, dual-axle trailer. I got tired of my painted boat trailers getting chipped. The dual axles reduce the load on my truck and smooth out the ride for the boat on rough roads.
Brown: I don't do a lot of night fishing, but when I do I've got 115-volt clamp-type light fixtures on goosenecks that hold 12-volt bulbs. I mount them on poles so they're way above the boat, which keeps the bugs up high and out of my face. In cool weather when bugs aren't a problem, I clamp the lights to my Bimini top.
Ostrander: I've got a dock light attached to a pole over my stern I use while catching bait before sunrise. If I'm fishing in the dark I use ultraviolet lights to see my fluorescent lines. I also use a headlamp a lot, both when I'm getting ready in the mornings and if I'm fishing at night."
Byrd: I recently switched from regular sonar to a Humminbird side-imaging unit. Took some time getting used to, but I really like it. It's as if you're standing on the bottom of the river, looking up and down the channel.
Lange: I've got Lowrance and Hummingird electronics, mounted on the stern. That way I've both sides and under the boat covered. Both units have GPS.
Jamison: I'm a huge Humminbird side-imaging fan. I have one unit on the dash to use when I run the main motor and another on the bow to watch when I'm running the trolling motor. The capability to uncover structure and cover with these units is incredible. I'd fish out of a 10-foot dinghy as long as I have these electronics.
Brown: I have a Humminbird side-imaging unit that's awesome. I'm not big on giant screens — a 7-inch screen works for me. You can get too fancy with electronics. I use a separate GPS unit because I don't like to split the screen on my fishfinder.
Byrd: I always have a plastic trash bag hanging in the walk-through area. Soda pop cans, Slim Jim wrappers, and trash go right in that bag. Reduces clutter on the deck during the day, and makes cleaning the boat a lot easier.
Jamison: I have tool holders mounted in the front and back of the boat to keep knives and tools off the floor. When you need your pliers you know where to reach.
Brown: My American Express "don't leave home without it" item is my cell phone. You can fix a lot of problems if you can call somebody from the water.
*Dan Anderson, Bouton, Iowa, is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications on catfish topics. Guide contacts: Capt. Mike Ostrander, jamesriverfishing.com, 804/938-2350; Steve Brown, catfishsafari.com, 660/438-3125; Warren Byrd, trophycatfishing.com, 931/237-4999.