As its popularity has gone through the roof, the pontoon boat has come to serve many, many purposes: sunning platform, wakeboard and water ski boat, cruiser, and yes, even as a fishing boat. But when it comes to fishing, many boats are highly specialized. Center console fishing boats rule the saltwater realm, bass boats dominate the lakes, convertible and express boats venture offshore, and aluminum fishing boats have a toe-hold across the board. So, can the do-everything, do-anything pontoon boat hold its own? Let’s find out.
Serious fishing boats need to have a few specific items that don’t appear on other types of pleasure-boats. Luckily, most can be found on fishing versions of pontoons. Livewells are a biggie, and can be found on plenty of pontoon boats. They do tend to be smaller than those found on center consoles, bass boats, and some other dedicated fishing boats, however, plenty of models offer dual livewells and in many cases, additional livewells can be added as options.
Raw water washdowns are one area where pontoons may fall short. Some, like the Lowe you see above, do have washdown options. Many other models, however, do not. Freshwater anglers won’t be worried by this, but saltwater anglers may find it an issue. And this is tough to add to some pontoons, since you need a hard-mounted raw water pick-up.
Rod holders are another challenge, since pontoon boats don’t have traditionally-formed gunwales. As a result, you’ll be limited to surface or track-mounted rodholders, unless the builder offers add-on modules that include flush-mounted holders. Again, this is fine for freshwater anglers but not so great for saltier types, since most add-on rodholders of this variety aren’t intended for heavy saltwater use.
Beyond accouterments, anglers will find that a pontoon’s lay-out is excellent for fishing. Broad decks with plenty of pedestal seating options mean that foot-for-foot, more peoples can fish from a pontoon than from a V-hull boat. Just watch out for large seating modules that many builders use to line the fence and maximize passenger seating capacity. One more potential down-side is the fence itself. On most models it wraps 360-degrees around the boat, forcing you to bring a fish up several feet to get it inside the boat. Make sure any models you’re considering have an easily accessible bow which can be used when you’re trying to land a real lunker.
When it comes to performance, today’s pontoon boats leave nothing on the table. Many, especially tri-toons, can be rigged with monster outboards and easily attain speeds in the 50-mph-plus range. These models also bank and carve out turns like a V-hull, so they’re a pleasure to drive even at high speeds. Draft is no more than other types of fishing boats, and economy is similar, too. Check out our Harris Flotebote Royal 230 video boat review, for example, and you’ll notice that with a 300-hp Mercury Verado outboard, we cruised in the upper 20’s while getting close to three MPG, and topped-out in the upper 40’s while getting almost two MPH.
When it comes to protected waters that may have a bumpy wind chop but aren’t subjected to large waves, pontoon boats have an advantage over many V-hull boats. They tend to ride quite nicely in a chop of a foot or two, smoothing out the bumps and riding level whether the chop is on the nose or on the beam. On top of that, they tend to be substantially more stable than other types of boats. For anglers who enjoy drift fishing, in particular, this can be a big factor.
This advantage is lost, however, in open water with large waves. In fact, a pontoon’s sea-keeping abilities may turn from an advantage into a detriment. Since there’s no up-swept bow to meet the seas, large rolling waves can over-wash the deck. When those waves are large enough that the underside of the deck slams as the boat goes from peak to peak, the ride becomes extremely uncomfortable. And pontoons do tend to throw more spray than many other types of boats (although you can often get them fitted with spray-reducing fins or rails). Finally, the pontoon boat’s fence can act as a sail in strong winds. This many make it difficult to anchor or drift-fish over a small spot, and it can also make docking or pulling onto a trailer a real chore. For these reasons, it’s important to think long and hard about the kind of conditions you’ll be fishing in, when considering a pontoon. This also explains why many anglers who focus their efforts in shallow coastal bays love pontoons, while those who venture outside the inlet do not.
The bottom Line
As is true of many types of fishing boats, you can find a pontoon that’s attuned more or less towards fishing. And those that are built for all-around use will probably not satisfy the hard-core anglers in the crowd. Copious seating with supple vinyl, pop-up changing rooms, and dinette tables are a few of the commonly-found pontoon boat accouterments which are more likely to get in the way of fishing than enhance it. But if you choose a pontoon boat that puts the emphasis on fishing, and if the type of fishing you do meets the parameters of a pontoon’s usability, particularly for freshwater anglers and somewhat less so for saltwater anglers who stay in protected waters, there is no question. Yes—a few compromises may have to be made, but a pontoon can satisfy the most dedicated piscatorial pursuers among us.
For more information on some of our favorite pontoon boat models, both fishing and general use, see 10 Top Pontoon Boats, Our Favorites.