A pontoon boat has a shallow draft of less than 10 inches. It floats via hollow aluminum log-like tubes called pontoons. They’re great on skinny water, so they’re a smart choice for inland fly fishing. You need certain special features for fly fishing that you should carefully consider.
Today, let’s take a deeper dive via this fly fishing pontoon boat buying guide. You may notice these boats have rockers, meaning the pontoon tapers on both sides to form a banana-like shape. It helps them spin and turn while you fish, but makes them less stable at high speed.
best fly fishing pontoon boats Buying Guides
Tip #1: Focus on Inflatable Pontoons
Fly fishing is mostly done in skinny water, which is the shallow water in bays, rivers, and lakes. This is because the ‘fly’ doesn’t go underwater. Instead, it floats on the surface, glinting in the sunlight and tempting carnivorous fish to jump up and grab it. As you fish, you’ll stand in the water up to your knees, or sometimes up to your waist. You can wear shorts or waders.
So when you’re fly fishing in a boat, you need something with a shallow draft. Otherwise, it may graze the bottom of the river or lake, which could damage the boat or capsize it. Metal pontoon boats generally have a draft of 8 to 10 inches. But inflatable pontoons are a smarter option because they’re smaller, so you can maneuver them more easily in tight marshes.
Tip #2: Get the Right Bladder
Inflatable fly fishing pontoons are softer and lighter than standard metal pontoon boats. They usually have a waterproof banana-shaped hull that’s filled with air. The part of the pontoon that gets inflated is called the bladder. The material could be pocket-friendly vinyl or longer-lasting (but pricier) urethane. Weigh your budget against your fishing frequency.
Before buying a bladder, check the fit, style, and valve position to be sure it’s compatible with your fly fishing pontoon boat. You want a bladder with a top-facing valve for easy access. It helps if the bladder is versatile enough to twist into multiple positions. Be wary of blended bladders with a vinyl base with a urethane coating. They’re not as good as pure urethane.
Tip #3: Test the Bladder Seams
As you explore this fly fishing pontoon boat buying guide, take a closer look at the construction of the boat, particularly the bladders. Remember, vinyl bladders aren’t elastic, so while they can expand in the heat of the sun, they won’t stretch, and this makes them more likely to leak. With a blended bladder, the vinyl may still tear underneath the urethane.
But beyond that, check how the bladders are joined. They might have stitched seams or welded ones. Welded seams are generally stronger, but depending on the style and quality of construction, a stitched blend might be better than a welded vinyl bladder. Ensure the valve on the bladder aligns with the hole on the PVC cover, especially for bladder replacements.
Tip #4: Find a Workable Power Source
Sometimes, float tubes are classed as fly fishing pontoon boats because they sit on blow-up bladders. Also, both float tubes and inflatable pontoon boats use oars to get around. But some have an auxiliary motor to take you further out into the water. This can be helpful when your arms are tired from working your rod, meaning you have no more energy to row.
On the other hand, your fly fishing trip may be an overnight trip to a cabin or island, so you may want a stronger engine to deliver you to base camp. Think about your favorite fishing spots and how far put they are. That’ll help you decide the range of motor that your boat. But think about how much fishing gear you typically carry, and the weight of your boat’s fuel.
Tip #5: Focus on the Pontoon Boat Shell
Most fly fishing experts use a catch-and-release approach. The joy is in luring and capturing the fish, and most anglers are content to cook one or two, maybe even five … and quickly throw the rest back into the water. You want to toss them back before they get too injured or stressed to survive. If you’re fly fishing closer to the shore, you have three main concerns:
- Keeping your feet steady so you don’t slip.
- Warming your lower body to avoid hypothermia if you’re submerged.
- Angling your arms correctly to position the fly.
But if you’re fly fishing on a boat, it needs a sturdy base that won’t roll or topple at the wrong moment and make you lose your catch. Solid pontoon boats have a hull made of either steel or aluminum. Aluminum pontoons are lighter, but steel ones can handle rougher water. So if you’re fly fishing, the aluminum pontoon boat is safer and easier for inland maneuvering.
Tip #6: Buy a Big Enough Diameter
Pontoons come in various diameters, and for fly fishing, inflatable pontoons work best. They distribute the weight of the boat while allowing maximum buoyancy on skinny water. If you mostly fish alone and you want to be out on the water, try a float tube or inflatable pontoon boat with oars. For inflatable hulls, 18 inches is the smallest diameter you should invest in.
This is different from boats with metal cylinders, where the minimum acceptable diameter is 23 inches. But these are too loud and heavy for fly fishing, so they’re better as pleasure barges for sunny sightseeing or overnight trips. As for the length of the boat itself, you want a 12-foot boat if you’re fishing in pairs and a 14-foot boat for teams of up to three fly fishers.
Tip #7: Understand the Language of Framing
When you’re shopping for fly fishing pontoon boats, you may get confused about the jargon. You might see a float tube described as a frameless pontoon boat. Or you might get puzzled when someone mentions float fishing (while sitting or standing in a boat, raft, etc.) and wade fishing (while standing in the water), so let’s scratch this surface and see what it all means.
In the inflatable pontoon space, frameless boats have a large, round tube that folds flat for portability. This tube (or bladder) curls around your fishing chair. Sometimes, the chair is inflated and/or detachable. Other styles have two parallel bladders with a seat in between. Sometimes these two bladders touch behind the seat. The seat is fixed on a sturdy platform.
Tip #8: Check the Weight Levels
For fly fishing, the number of people using the boat is as important as the weight capacity of the boat. It needs to be stable enough to hold you, your team, your gear, and any fish that you might choose to carry along for dinner. The boats usually have weight recommendations. One-(wo)man boats typically hold 250 and 400 pounds per fishing trip if you’re going solo.
You can also consider how easy the pontoon boat is to get around. It’s a crucial factor for any fly fishing pontoon boat buying guide. Frameless pontoon boats take minutes to deflate and dry, then you can fold it and stuff it in a backpack or carrier bag. Sturdier, more complex types can be attached to your roof rack or towing winch without taking the boat apart.
Tip #9: Try Kick Boats and Paddle Pontoons
You may prefer to keep your hands free so you can focus on your form. In such cases, you’ll want a fly fishing pontoon that relies on your legs to move. With a float tube, your feet, legs, and thighs are submerged, and you move by paddling your waders or pushing off the bottom of the pool. But with kick boats and paddle pontoon boats, you mostly stay above the water.
On a paddle boat or pedal boat, you cycle the pedals to move the boat without getting wet. On kick boats, your feet and lower legs are in the river or lake and you kick against the water to make the boat move. These boats are only safe in calm waters with high water tables and slow currents. They’re not ideal for fly fishing on swift rivers, dense lakes, or white water.
Tip #10: Seek Extra Features
You won’t have much room for a livewell or a fishfinder on an inflatable pontoon boat. But you could look for a ‘cargo pants’ boat with lots of pockets for your bits and bobs. You can also look for fly fishing pontoon boats that have rod holders or mini tackle boxes for your flies. Also, remember that frameless fly fishing pontoons cost way more than framed ones.
Another option is to buy a boat built for add-ons. On this Sea Eagle 285, the boat itself deflates and folds flat, small enough to fit in your trunk or closet. But it has widgets and spots where you can attach a fishfinder, multiple rods, oars, and a whole fishing haul. The boat has a motor at the back, and though frameless, it can sail fairly deep into the water.
Tip #11: Take Extra Care on Saltwater
Yes, saltwater fly fishing is a thing. But usually, that’ll be in bays and lagoons where your feet can reach the ground beneath the water. If you’re planning to fly fish offshore in deeper waters, a fly fishing pontoon is probably not a good idea. It may not handle the choppy waters well and you can easily capsize. Plus the marine conditions could damage the boat.
Remember, while seafaring vessels have solid parts, the vinyl, urethane, or PVC on inflatable pontoons could end up getting corroded or punctured by the salt, sand, and sea rocks. So if you’re going into the open sea or ocean, you’d be better off with fiberglass, aluminum, or bass boat rather than a pontoon boat. Or maybe a small inflatable dinghy with a motor on it.
Tip #12: Shop Separately for Lake Fishing
Typically, you’ll be fly fishing in a stream, pond, or river where the shore is within easy reach. Even for float tube fly fishing, you can see land on all sides. This ensures the current is gentle enough to stop your tube capsizing. But if you’re fly fishing on a lake or upon icy waters, you need a boat that can take on a little more depth. Try 8 or 9-foot boats with 16-inch pontoons.
For rougher (white) water, go over 10 feet. The tube diameter on these lake boats should be 18 inches at the minimum. This gets your stability and strong floatation. These boats may have fins in addition to oars, and they might have motors too. Bladders that are too big give your fly fishing boat a taller profile, which can make it susceptible to wind and currents.
Tip #13: DON’T BUY A REGULAR FISHING PONTOON!!
If you’re a first-time buyer, you might think any fishing pontoon is fine for fly fishing. But fly fishing uses bright, sparkly, colorful flies that float on the surface. So the water has to be shallow enough for the fish to spot your lure as it reflects the light and water. Besides, you want the type of ‘flying fish’ that leap out of the water to grab onto your playful little lures.
But while regular fishing pontoons can work on shallow rivers and lakes, they’re best for live bait fishing, where your net or hook goes underwater. They’re not as effective for depths of less than a foot because the hull may grind the waterbed. Worse, since there’s so little water and the current is so slow, your aluminum pontoons won’t ever achieve sufficient floatation.
Top Tips for Fly Fishing Pontoons
As we wind up our fly fishing pontoon boat buying guide, here are the most important tips:
- Buy inflatable pontoons, not metal ones.
- Vinyl bladders are cheaper but urethane lasts a decade.
- Frameless boats cost more but are lighter and more convenient.
- Oars are essential, but engines are optional.
- If you’re fishing while standing, test the platform for stability.
- Get a boat that can support your weight plus your gear.
- For longer trips, invest in better-padded seats.
- Invest in a good pontoon pump!
Which fly fishing pontoon boat recently caught your eye? Tell us about it in the comments!