Float Watercraft: What to Consider


  • Versatile
  • Tough
  • Portable
  • Equitable
  • 1-3 passengers
  • Transportable
  • Inexpensive
  • Comfortable

Versatile: When compared to other craft, it’s difficult to find one more versatile. You can fish as many as three people in a canoe, although for average sized folks, two is plenty. They don’t use gas and one person can operate a canoe efficiently, if need be.

Tough: Consider aluminum or another tough material that take rocks and will not easily incur repairable damage. Many of the newer featherweight lake canoes require extreme care too avoid scratches. They are designed for easy portaging. This is simply impractical in our view as a mainstay choice for river fishing. You are going to hit rocks, possibly a lot of rocks, period. So plan for it. Don’t waste your time refinishing the bottom of a $1,000 canoe when you should be fishing.

Portable: Some entry and exits points are not conducive to trailers or launching boats. Canoes can be managed by one or two people and are easily carried or slid to or from the water. This makes canoes extremely efficient to quickly get in and out and on your way. Even the heaviest canoes don’t weigh much more than 75 pounds, manageable for one or two folks.

Equitable: The sternsman usually steers and positions the boat for the bowman who does most of the quality fishing. It’s easy to switch places periodically to balance out the fun. Sometimes it’s difficult to flog for two hours straight making the switch a welcome respite for the bowman.

We find it fairy easy to fish from the stern especially with a spinning rod. No, we are not purists in this matter! I can fire off two casts by the time I could strip out and cast the fly rod. I simply don’t have that much time when in the stern, unless the water is extremely flat. You can get off course very quickly, so a quick cast here and there is about all you’ll get in the back.

If a drift boat is used, the person on the oars must tend them continuously, unless anchored, and is largely unable to fish. Again, the canoe allows for both riders to fish in many cases. If the sternsman hooks up, an anchor can quickly be deployed to stop and enjoy the moment without trying to do three things at once.

Passengers: I recommend two people per 16 to 18 foot canoe. There are 20-21 foot aluminum now available specifically for three people. You are adding weight, of course, but if you envision three people per trip, this might be the answer.

I also like a center-keeled canoe. I believe you have truer tracking and more stability. We use a lot of Alumacraft and Gumman canoes in the north country because they are tough and last forever.

Transportable: You don’t need a trailer or special vehicle to use a canoe. When people by a boat-motor-trailer, they often need an SUV or truck with which to pull (or so they think). You are often using a launch car (left at the upstream starting point) and a drop car (left where you take out of the river). One can use portable roof cushions that work on any care to transport the canoe back to the starting point if necessary.

Inexpensive: A little research will reveal you can get a basic 17 foot standard aluminum canoe for around $600. Add a couple paddles, life vests and a few other accessories and your set, all for under $1000.

Comfort: A canoe is not the most comfortable craft to sit in for extended periods of time. If you have knee problems or other advanced chronic arthritic issues, consider a jon boat or other – more comfortable craft. Yet a canoe’s comfort can be enhanced with seat cushions (designed for canoes) and back rests. These pleasantries can really make a difference on a four to six hour float trip.

Drift Boats
We are beginning to see a few more McKenzie-style drift boats in the Midwest. They are awesome fishing machines and great for skinny water. An oarsman must guide the boat down river and does not fish. These are great guide boats providing you are drifting and anchoring and don’t require a motor. Go here for more information on drift boats.

Flat bottom river boats
On larger rivers and lakes where comfort and stability are key, a flat bottom boat such as a Jon boat work extremely well. These boats are more stable than a canoe or pontoon “float craft”, allowing a person to stand and cast or stretch. While we use canoes on these rivers, an outboard or jet motor on a Jon boat or thin water jet boat can add to logistical strategy allowing one to move up river at will, repeatedly when necessary.

The application of a motor aids in boat control and takes the shuttle issues out of a river trip. On many large rivers in the U.S. these boats are standard fare and work extremely well when sometimes fitted with casting platforms and leg yolks similar to a McKenzie-style drift boat. We are, incidentally, beginning to see more of these western float craft on Midwest and eastern rivers.

Remember, if you plan on using a jon boat for drift-style fishing, keep the length down to about 14 feet. Larger jon boats become unwieldy and difficult to control with oars. 14 footers seem to be perfect, allowing the oarsman to easily adjust and spin the boat as needed to maintain optimal boat control.

Personal Float Craft: Tubes
Float tubes have come a long way and continue to improve. These are ideal for quiet water ponds, pits, and small lakes. The float tube is still very practical, especially for hard-to-get to or pack in trips. They don’t work as well on shallow rivers as your lower trunk area will meet new and unfriendly obstructions along the way. The are the most affordable craft; this one for example goes for under $200.

Pontoon Float Boats
In this category I refer to the pontoon style craft which can be dual opposing pontoons or the new line of canoe-like craft made of tough PVC and other plastics for one (sometimes more) person. Float tubes also fit into this category as do any craft which can be effectively used by one person. Price ranges vary widely here but figure on spending around $600 for a one-man pontoon. Prices will vary based on pontoon material and length.

One Man Float Boats
If one can drive to the river or lake, there are a number of exciting one (and two man) crafts either inflatable or made of light but durable plastics transported on a car roof or trailer. Most have an aluminum frame with a padded swivel seat or fixed seat, anchor system (optional, but mandatory in our view) and a motor mount. The kayak-style design makes this a fast and quiet boat, coupled with an electric or small gas outboard you can cover massive amounts of water. If you fish lakes, ponds, moderate rivers or tidewater, We have not been in one and cannot credibly speak to the relative stability of the craft.