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Are Fishing Boats Worth It? (Full Buyer’s Guide)

Owning a fishing boat sounds great on paper. The benefits to fishing are well known. However, whether you’re a seasoned angler looking for a new way to fish, or if you’re just getting into fishing, it’s worth learning if fishing boats are actually worth it or not.

Whether owning a fishing boat is worth it for you depends on multiple variables, including the type of boat you want to buy, how much you will pay for it, and how you will use it. If you are smart about it, however, you can make purchasing and owning a fishing boat work to your advantage.

Below, we go into more detail about what makes a fishing boat worth it, and what doesn’t. We’ll also discuss how much you should expect to spend on a fishing boat, and the various advantages and disadvantages of owning one.

Is It Better To Fish From A Boat?

Whether it is better to fish from a boat depends on the type of fishing you are doing. In some cases, there is no question that fishing from a boat is not only preferable, but also necessary. In other cases, fishing from a boat is not an advantage and can even work to your disadvantage.

When Fishing From A Boat Is Necessary

This one is easy. To fish certain areas, you must have some sort of vessel to be able to put bait where the fish are. Fishing further than a normal person can cast is one example. Another example when a boat of some sort is needed is when trolling. A third example is trying to fish over a large swath of lily pads. In these cases, without a boat, it is impossible to fish.

When Fishing From A Boat Is An Advantage

Sometimes, a fishing boat allows fishing from a more advantageous angle. A good example of this is when casting under a bank or dock. In either case, a boat makes the entire endeavor much easier. A boat can also be an advantage when fishing for certain types of fish. Going after deep sea gamefish, for instance, works better with a boat.

When Fishing From A Boat is Not Necessary

There are many situations when someone fishing on shore can do as good or even better than someone fishing from a boat. Some ponds and small lakes have enough open shoreline that a boat is not needed. Another example is a body of water with an active fishing pier. In some cases, you can do just as well off a pier as if you were fishing off a boat in the same place.

When Fishing From A Boat Is A Disadvantage

There are quite a few times when a boat is not only unnecessary, but actually a hindrance. Fishing rivers with extremely swift currents is one example as an angler can spend as much time positioning and holding their boat as fishing. Another time is when fishing up smaller streams or inlets where a boat can get stuck.

Whether fishing from a boat produces better fishing depends on the type of fishing you are doing, your skills in maneuvering a boat, the body of water you are navigating and whether you have help managing the boat. In many cases, a boat is a big advantage. In some instances, however, a boat is more trouble than it is worth and can even be a hindrance to catching fish.

How Much Should You Spend On A Fishing Boat?

How much you should spend on a fishing boat depends on the type of boat you want, the type of fishing you plan to do, and what features you want that boat to have. A fishing boat can cost anywhere from around $500 for a dingy to thousands of dollars for a proper fishing boat.

For many anglers, the boat they should buy is the one they can reasonably afford. It does not do any good to over-extend and put yourself in debt given that, in most cases, you can get a boat that is just as functional for less money.

If, however, money is not a concern, what you should spend depends on:

  • The type of boat
  • The type of fishing you do
  • The type of water you usually fish in
  • Instruments and systems you want
  • Other costs to consider

Type Of Boat

You can spend a few hundred dollars for a kayak all they up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a vessel that will let you fish in the ocean. Driving that decision should be whether you will use the type of boat you are looking to purchase enough to justify the expenditure.

For example, if you only fish once or twice a year while on vacation, dumping a lot of money into a fishing vessel does not make a lot of sense. Likewise, if you fish every chance you get and spend hours on the water, you may want to invest in something that is comfortable and conveniently laid out.

Another consideration is how mobile you want to be on your boat. Do you want a walkaround or deck, or are you content to sit for most of your fishing trip?

Also, how much skill do you want to have to acquire to master using your boat? Is it worth your time to learn how to dock a 20+ foot boat? Or for the time you spend fishing, is it preferable to keep your skippering at the kayak level?

To figure out what works best for you, consider how often you go fishing and for how long. Then factor in the amount of space to move you want. Lastly, consider if you want to spend the time learning how to truly master operating your boat.

Type Of Fishing

Another crucial factor is the type of fishing you do. If you are most often drift fishing in deep water you need a different type of boat than if you usually fish smaller inlets, streams, and rivers. If you normally fish in salt water, you need a different type of boat than that suitable for freshwater fishing. If you ordinarily fish in the ocean, a 12-foot skiff will not do.

This applies to the type of fish you go after as well. A boat with a massive motor that is 20 feet long will be an impediment and likely annoying if you normally fish in smaller tributaries, even if your boat can fit. Having an undersized boat when you aim to catch large fish is also not recommended. Consider what your average target fish is and choose a boat that suits that.

Type Of Water

Taking a 12-foot skiff out into the ocean is more than just an effort in frustration. It is also dangerous. At the same time, an oversized boat in a smaller river, pond or stream will mean you are constantly repositioning it. The type of water you fish is critical to helping you determine the type of boat you need.

Your choice should be size appropriate and address the major challenges you face when maneuvering in the type of body of water you most often fish in. You would struggle, for example, to hold a lighter boat in a swift current, but a heavier boat might rule out being able to fish in swaths of your preferred fishing spot.

Instruments And Systems You Want

Instrumentation on a boat is widely varied as well. You can keep it simple and go with no instrumentation, or you can get or install just about every conceivable instrument in existence. This includes:

  • Fish radar
  • Depth finder
  • Wi-Fi
  • Engine management analysis
  • Shortwave radio
  • Weather systems

The list goes on. Instrumentation is usually determined by the size of the boat and how sophisticated its systems are, but usually, if you want a system or instrument and are willing to pay for it, you’ll be able to get it on a fishing boat.

If the boat is going to be taken out onto an exceptionally large lake or the ocean, it pays to have basic instrumentation to keep up on weather, sea conditions, tides, maritime traffic, fishing conditions, etc.

Other Costs To Consider

Auxiliary but required gear is an expense that many people that are thinking of buying a boat overlook. These additional costs to consider when buying a fishing boat include:

  • Registration and licensing
  • Upkeep and maintenance
  • Fuel
  • Safety equipment
  • First aid equipment
  • Emergency instrumentation

While registration and licensing is straightforward, upkeep and maintenance can be something you do at the beginning of the season and end of the season for a small boat or something you must constantly manage if you have a large boat.

Keeping a saltwater boat from corroding for example can cost a lot each year. Fluids for an engine or motor are expensive. Likewise, there are a lot of other items and systems on a boat that need constant updating, restoration and maintenance.

Then there is fuel. If you think gas prices are high, wait until you are buying fuel for your boat, particularly if you buy it at a marina or must purchase it pre-mixed. Boats tend to be fuel-hogs, so you need to factor in a lot of fuel costs if you plan to use your boat regularly.

Safety equipment and first aid can also cost a lot. A life preserver, for instance, can cost anywhere from around $100 to over $1,000. Other flotation equipment is not as expensive, but the costs still add up. A fishing and marine first aid kit can range from around $50 to several hundred dollars.

Costs Of Various Types Of Fishing Boats

Kayaks

Expect to pay a few hundred dollars for something basic, around $1,000 for one that is outfitted with a lot of fishing tools and equipment, and over $2,000 for one that has just about everything you can imagine. You can also usually find used kayaks for a few hundred bucks.

Canoes

Like Kayaks, canoes can cost a little or a lot, depending on what you want. A basic plastic canoe can be found for around $100, while a handcrafted wooden canoe can run you several thousand dollars. You can also usually find canoes online, although since kayaks have become popular, there are often fewer of them out there for sale.

Skiffs

Skiffs are usually a little more stable than a kayak or canoe and can run between several hundred and a few thousand dollars. Price usually depends on whether you opt for a plastic or metal hull.

Bass Boats

You can purchase a smaller bass boat with a small to midsized motor plus a trailer for around $15,000 new. At the same time, you can go for boats with large engines (125 HP and higher) that exceed 20 feet for around $35,000. There are usually many used bass boats for sale that run from a few thousand bucks to tens of thousands depending on their size, use and equipment.

If you are budget conscious, you can find smaller, plastic hulled vessels that work fine on smaller lakes and ponds. You usually need to supply your own engine with these. A plastic hulled bass boat will usually cost a few hundred up to over a thousand dollars, not counting the motor.

Boats For Larger Lakes

These include pontoon, deck, fish, and ski boats. They range from around 17 feet up to over 30 feet. The prices are all over the place, but at a minimum, you can expect to pay over $20,000 for a new one, but you can find these types of boats used for lower prices.

Boats For The Ocean Or Bay

These boats also are all over the place in terms of cost. Expect to pay a minimum of around $25,000 up to virtually as high as you want to go. There are even fishing boats that sell new for over $1 million!

Do Fishing Boats Hold Their Value?

Many fishing boats do hold their value, provided they are well maintained. Depending on the boat you own, whether it ever goes into saltwater, and its history regarding repairs and maintenance, you can expect your fishing boat to hold about 60% of its value after 10 years.

Boats will typically depreciate about 20% up to 30% after 5 years. Most of that depreciation occurs during the first year of ownership. There are, however, many variables that affect depreciation.

Popularity

Some boats are always popular, no matter how old they are, provided they are kept in good condition. These types of boats include fishing boats, ski boats, center consoles and pontoon boats. They do not depreciate much because there is always a market for them.

Equipment

With fishing boats, the equipment that comes with the boat affects the price greatly when trying to sell it used. A fully outfitted boat in good condition will hardly depreciate for the first 10 years, provided the equipment on it was added after the initial purchase and is kept in good shape.

Maintenance Records

As with any vehicle, the better your records, the higher you can sell your boat. Maintaining records of motor or engine work, winter storage, and paintwork can prove your boat is in excellent condition and worth what you are asking for. While depreciation will still happen with a boat with great upkeep records, it will not be anywhere as much as for a boat without those records.

Engine/Motor Hours

As with vehicles, the less a boat is used the more it can be resold for. You should keep a log of how long you have the boat out on the water each time you take it out. Engine or motor hours will not matter to every customer, but they will to someone that plans to use the boat frequently.

Advantages To Owning A Fishing Boat

Access To The Water

Some water is impossible to access without a boat. You will never be able to fish miles out on the ocean, for example, without a boat. Likewise, when fishing from a boat, you can position yourself in more ways than if you are relegated to fishing on shore. You can get under docks or embankments that are tough to reach if you are fishing from shore.

Better Fishing

It’s not always the case, but generally, the fishing is better when you are on a boat. This is because you can attack fishing zones from different angles. Using the dock example, you can place a lure in the path a fish will usually take when exiting or entering under a dock.

Fish also usually will face outward towards deeper water when suspended under a dock and it is easier to drop your lure in front of them from a boat than it is from the shore.

You also can take advantage of observations you make while fishing. If you see, for example, bait fish reacting to a predator by jumping out of the water, you can position your boat to target the predator. It is much more difficult and often impossible to do that from the shore.

Another benefit a boat provides is in landing a fish. When you are on shore, your landing approach and techniques are generally the same. If the fish bolts, you are at the mercy of whatever is underwater in terms of structure and the energy of the fish. With a boat, you can position yourself to take advantage of what a fish does when trying to get off the hook.

No Shore Issues

If you have ever tried to navigate a shoreline when the bank is covered with brush, trees, or poison ivy, you know exactly what this point is about. When you’re on a boat, you have nothing around you to get in the way.

Better Visibility

On a boat, you can also see all around you, which you cannot always when fishing on shore. This can prove unbelievably valuable if you are looking for a specific topographical feature, such as a sunken road or stream entering the body of water you are fishing.

From the shore, you are often left guessing because you do not have the perspective of a broad view of where you are standing. With a boat, you can see the entire panorama and how it all fits together.

You Can Cover More Fishing Area

You can cover more of a body of water and cover it easier with a boat. This is true not only in terms of getting from point A to point B, but also in fishing swaths of a body of water. It is quicker and easier, for example, to cover a section of a river from a boat than it is from the shore. Additionally, you can revisit an area and position yourself more easily with a boat.

Wider Selection Of Strategies, Techniques And Lures

A boat opens up new fishing strategies. The most obvious is being able to troll lures for fish. Another advantage is that it is easier to fish jigs from a boat than the shore. You can use deep diving lures more effectively than if you are on the shore too.

Problems With Owning A Fishing Boat

Cost

The old joke is that the happiest two days in a boat owner’s life are the day he bought his boat and the day he sold it. There is a reason that resonates with most boat owners. Boats cost money – a lot of money. Boats are expensive initially, but upkeep and maintenance ensure the costs don’t stop when you buy the boat.

More Work

A shore fisher can pick a place to fish, park there and fish. A boat owner must get the boat in the water, pull it out, position and reposition it, watch the weather and make a beeline for shore if severe weather approaches. Maintenance is also work a shore fisher does not have to worry about. They worry about getting to where they want to be and then fishing, and that is pretty much it.

Limited Use

In most places, even if you can leave your boat in the water year-round, you cannot enjoy fishing on the boat for at least part of the winter. In colder states, your comfortable boat fishing season runs roughly from April or May to the end of October. In very cold states, the downtime on a boat can run up to six months out of the year.

Things To Consider When Buying A Fishing Boat

Used Or New?

New fishing boats tend to come with far fewer problems, but used boats are normally more affordable. New boats depreciate more and quicker, while a used boat holds its value and can even grow in value depending on what equipment is added to the boat.

Overall Cost

The initial cost of a boat is far beyond what you end up paying over the boat’s lifetime. Maintenance, upkeep and fuel can run into the thousands annually if you use the boat a lot. Each outing, if you use a tank of gas, can run you about $100, not counting food or any fishing related expenses.

It Is Work Owning A Boat

Put it in, take it out, strap it down, winterize it, store it, open it up in the spring – owning a boat is not a simple matter. There is a lot of work that goes into boat ownership, and it does not stop until you have gotten rid of the boat. Neglecting it can cost you time, work and money as boats must be kept in good condition or they will develop corrosion and performance issues.

Match The Boat To Your Fishing

Buying a bass boat might be a lot of fun, but if all you fish is smaller ponds and streams, it is a waste of money. A 150 HP motor sounds great and moves a boat like the wind, but again, if you do not have large swaths of water to navigate, it is a waste. Always match your boat purchase decisions to the type of fishing you do.

Fish Smartly

When you buy a boat, of any kind, use the boat when it is advantageous to do so and fish from the shore when that will yield better results as well. Do not try and force a boat into a shore fishing situation if you can help it, as not only will it simply cost you in terms of fuel and maintenance, but if you’re going to have more success from the shore, it just makes less sense to take it out.

Final Thoughts

Owning a fishing boat is worth it if you go about it smartly and do not jump at gimmicks or buy a boat that does not match your fishing style. While a fishing boat can cost thousands of dollars, it’s going to be worth it if it can aid your fishing substantially.