Boating Bits

How to choose a freshwater boat

WE hear a lot about “all-rounders” – the boat that does everything – from fresh to offshore and everything in between. All-rounder boats are great – I own one myself –  but if your fishing is more specialised, then I suggest looking at a more specialised boat. If you’re an offshore fisho, you’ll buy a large trailer boat with enough space and safety to go offshore, catch fish and return you and your crew safely. At the opposite extreme, there are specialised freshwater boats and over the next few pages let’s examine boat choice and what options and accessories you should buy if you’re a dedicated freshwater fisho.

Bumper season

The East Coast of Australia has received a record amount of rain over the past few years. For the most part, it has been fantastic for the quality of freshwater fishing. The season ahead is shaping up as one of the best on record. We have impoundments and rivers full of water and successful migrations of fish. On top of this, Fisheries bodies across the states have been replenishing stocks with regular fish stocking activity.

Boat choice

Boat choice comes down to the location you fish. Freshwater fishing is either done in rivers (and creeks) or impoundments. If you fish one more than the other, it may affect your boat choice. Of course, you can find a boat that will fish small rivers and impoundments safely and effectively.

Personally, if I was to only fish impoundment and regularly visited some of the larger and more exposed impoundments, I would be choosing a larger boat that’s safe enough to handle different conditions. 

Big impoundments can be lethal in poor weather, especially large alpine lakes such as Eucumbene. Strong winds can whip up serious waves and the icy cold water makes it lethal. Even some of the more warmer lakes can be dangerous in strong winds.

My advice for those wishing to regularly fish impoundments is to choose a boat over 4.5m. Sure, any people fish these waters in small 12 foot tinnies and most of them are perfectly safe, however, it pays to choose your days and not venture too far in bad weather. It also pays to wear a life jacket!

A larger boat also typically has a larger engine and can travel faster and further. That’s an important factor for travelling around these larger lakes and searching for fish.

The standard “v-nose punt” style boat is a good impoundment choice and most manufacturers make these over 4.5m. They’re usually light, easy to tow, easy to manoeuvre at the ramp and are stable for fishing. Most modern versions from brands such as Quintrex and Stacer are great versatile boats. They ride well in some chop and have plenty of built-in fishing features suitable for freshwater fishing. They also make great estuary boats if you decide to venture to the coast.

The aluminium construction is usually tough enough to withstand the knocks and wear and tear you expect while fishing one of these dams. There’s usually sunken timber, branches, rocks and shallow water. It still pays to be careful!

Fibreglass boats also work well in impoundments, although there is less choice in the smaller end of the market.

Fibreglass tournament boats are popular. They’re usually much longer and even though they sit low in the water, most are capable of handling reasonably choppy water. These tournament style boats were developed in the US and most are still made over there and were designed for US bass fishing. They have excellent designs and fishing features and are ideal for our impoundments and chasing native fish.

If you do less impoundment fishing and more river fishing, a smaller boat might be better suited. Australia has endless small rivers. Some of these run along the coast and become fresh in the headwaters and contain bass. Inland you have plenty of small rivers that contain native and introduced species worth chasing from a small boat.

You could use a kayak or a canoe and these are especially useful in rivers that contain rapids! It’s easy to drag a canoe or kayak through or around a rapid. Boats aren’t so easy!

Most small rivers, however, are quite suitable for a small punt. Choose one form 10-12 foot, The longer boat is more suitable for two people and the smaller if you fish solo. Again, aluminium is preferred and generally the most popular, but small fibreglass, composite and even plastic boats are well suited to small inland and coastal rivers.

Choose a small engine and keep the boat simple and lightweight. These small river boats are capable of launching in tricky areas and are very easy to tow and manoeuvre at the ramp or in the water. While they’re simple and small, they’re also very effective fishing machines.

Electric motors

All freshwater fishing boats need an electric motor. You’re typically fishing to shy fish in calm, clear and sometimes shallow water.
An electric motor helps you sneak up on fish. Most modern electric motors also do so
much more.

Bow mount electrics these days have many features from GPS “spot lock” functions and even allow you to set waypoints and operate along a track hands-free.

Being hands-free is the key point here. The more you have to fiddle around with boa positioning, the less you will cast and the more opportunities you will miss.

My advice is to invest in a good trolling electric motor that sits on the bow and learn how to use it. Minn Kota, Motorguide and Watersnake are all great products. I’ve owned several of each and currently have a Watersnake GEO-SPOT on my Bar Crusher and a Minn Kota on my small composite ‘glass project boat.

Lowrance and Garmin also make great electric trolling motors and these work well with the onboard electronics.

Marine electronics

Having a good fishfinder is just as important as having an electric motor. Understanding how to use it is also crucial.

Rivers and impoundments both suit fishfinders. You want something that will reveal drop-offs, structure and of course, fish.

Even entry level sounders from brands such as Lowrance, Garmin, Raymarine and Humminbird will help your fishing and are typically easy to use. Small river boats, especially those 10 foot flat bottom punts are well suited to these entry level sounders. They’re also quite easy to install yourself.

Lager boats and those more suited to impoundments can benefit from a more advanced unit from the same brands. My boat has a Lowrance HDS LIVE unit. I have the Active Target transducer as well and that’s attached to one of Rob Payne’s excellent Transducer Poles.

I’m no expert at using Live Target, but there are plenty of freshwater specialists using this technology with great success. It really is a game changer and the technology is getting better and better every year.

Again, buy the best unit you can afford and learn how to use it!

Other accessories

It’s important you check the rules and regs for your state and ensure you have the necessary safety equipment. Having a boat with ample storage is useful for keeping this gear out of your way, yet accessible in an emergency.

Ensure your boat has enough rod holders, not just for stage, but also for trolling. Somewhere to safely store your tackle box/bag or trays is also essential. I always want a nice clean layout for fishing, so the more organised you are with your gear, the better.

Carpet or products such as SeaDeck is also a useful feature of a freshwater boat. It can get hot fishing inland waterways and having some flooring will keep the boat much cooler.

On that note, a cooler is a great idea. I carry a 45qt Yeti cooler in my boat and it’s great for storing drinks and food in hot weather and also has plenty of space for bringing the odd fish home.

Livewellls are another good feature on a freshwater boat, especially if you plan on competing in tournaments. If that’s the case, ensure your livewell is large enough for the tournament you wish to fish.

Another usual accessory on a freshwater boat is a downrigger. Trout fishos on lakes have been using them for years and even natives can be successful targeted with downriggers. They can be taken on and off the boat and used depending on your location or species.

Get fresh

Australia has a diverse freshwater fishery. If you regularly fish the fresh or live inland, why not look at setting up a specialist freshwater boat and take advantage of the great sweet water fishing on offer in this country.

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