THERE’S NO DENYING THE POPULARITY of pontoon boats these days, but can they function as effective fishing boats in both fresh and saltwater?
Do they have any redeeming qualities for hunters? Might they do the trick as multipurpose machines for outdoorsmen who need a single boat for different purposes? The answers might surprise you, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of pontoon boats.
Performance & Handling: In this regard, pontoon boats are like any other type of boat—you get what you pay for. Buy a pontoon with the smallest power plant the manufacturer offers, and you’ll have a slug on your hands. Up the ante to the maximum power plant, and you can get pontoons that are thoroughly juiced up, including some that can top 60 mph.
Part of the reason why modern pontoons can go so much faster than those sold a few decades ago has as much to do with how pontoons are put together as it does with the size of the outboard strapped to the back. Many now have a third “log” running down the center, making them “tri-toons.”
This design can handle substantially more power and has the advantage of additional planning surface and floatation. Additionally, tweaks like running strakes are often welded on to enhance performance.
Wave-handling Ability: Truth be told, in most sea conditions modern pontoons do just fine. Again, tri-toons have a leg up over those pontoons with just two logs. But in a one-foot chop, life is good. Running through a two foot chop is do-able on most of today’s pontoon boats. It’s not until you start encountering larger waves that things can get problematic. (Of course, you could say that about most relatively small boats).
There is, however, one unique issue that commonly comes up: Since pontoons have a relatively low amount of buoyancy forward and no up-swept bow, it’s relatively easy to stuff the bow into a wave. This generally brings the boat to a very abrupt—and very wet—stop. The same problem can become evident when a large number of people sit or stand in the bow of a pontoon, weighing it down.
Stability: One of the biggest advantages of pontoons is their supreme stability. That boxy shape and widespread weight means that even when your 300-pound cousin Bubba walks from one side of the boat to the other, it won’t lean over.
There’s very little rocking and rolling so most people don’t have a problem with seasickness on a pontoon boat, and fishing in a busy lake riddled with wakes is often a lot more comfortable on a pontoon than on other types of boats.
Added bonus: If you’re looking for a hunting platform to build a blind on, that tremendous stability again makes a pontoon boat a great candidate.
Fishability: On this count, pontoons are a mixed bag. They have tons of room. On most, you can cast more or less 360 degrees around the boat, and it’s always nice to have one of those comfy seats nearby.
Some models come with rodholders and/or livewells, and there’s plenty of opportunity to add rail-mount rodholders. Pontoons also have relatively shallow draft, plenty of space to rig electronics, and enough stowage for all the tackle in the world.
On the other hand, the livewells available on most (though certainly not all) pontoon boats are usually very small. You’ll always have to carry on a cooler for the catch since there aren’t any fish boxes. Same goes for your tacklebox and tackle.
The biggest problem with fishing from a pontoon, however, is often windage. Their tall aluminum “fences” which surround the deck act like tall sails. In a breeze, drift fishing from a pontoon can be quite difficult.
Expense: When comparing the expense of a pontoon with the cost of other types of boats, we again have to note that you’ll get what you pay for. You could spend $30,000 or $40,000 for a modest pontoon boat with a mid-sized power plant, or you could easily break the $100,000 barrier if you tried. We can make no blanket statement regarding pontoon boat pricing because just like other types of boats, the market is filled with offerings of all levels.
Comfort: True, many anglers will rank comfort as their least-important consideration, and others won’t rank it at all. But for those who are interested in comfort levels, pontoon boats can’t be beat. How many other types of boats, after all, have couches and sun loungers?
Considering all of these factors, it should be clear that for some people a pontoon boat will be a good choice. Yet few outdoorsmen opt for pontoons, instead getting more traditional V-hull fishing boats.
One reason is simply the stigma once assigned to those “party barges.” But if you think a pontoon might be just what you need, don’t let a silly thing like that stop you. Once you’ve blasted across the water’s surface at 60 mph, relaxed in a lounger, cast from the bow, and hunted from the blind, you’ll begin seeing pontoon boats in a completely new light.
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]