Saltwater Fishing Boats
Finding the Right Saltwater Fishing Boat for You
Fishing in saltwater can be as simple as standing on pier or the edge of a bay or ocean and tossing out a line with a baited hook. But, using the right kind of boat equipped with the right gear, can greatly expand your angling opportunities. Manufacturers have produced boats specifically designed and outfitted to assist fishermen increase their catch; boats with baitwells, livewells, rod holders, trolling motors, and electronic fishfinders.
Baitwells Keep Your Bait Active
Fishing with active bait fish—shad, shiners, herring, menhaden, bunker, or others--improves your chances for making a catch and a baitwell can help keep your bait alive and swimming. Baitwells, or bait tanks, are molded plastic tanks equipped with pumps, filters, and hoses to either circulate water through the tank or aerate the water and maintain a healthy environment for live bait fish.
Baitwells for sportfishing boats range from 13 to 50 gallons or more in capacity and usually come with a built-in pump system that ensures a constant flow of oxygenated saltwater and a variable flow speed to prevent the live bait from tiring. Many species of bait fish swim almost continuously and need either a round tank or a tank with rounded corners. Oval tanks are easier to fit into corners or tight spaces on a boat or on the swim step. Look for a tank that fills from the top and empties from the bottom, keeping clean, well aerated water flowing and pumping debris out in the discharge.
Casual anglers and small boat owners can keep live bait in good shape by using a battery powered, insulated portable bait bucket that aerates the water and maintains the proper temperature. If you provide the right conditions, you can hold large numbers of bait in a small volume of water. A standard cooler fitted with a conversion kit or a bait bag that mounts on the boat’s transom also work well.
Livewells Keep Your Catch Alive and Healthy
Tournament fishing and increased fishing pressure have expanded the popularity of catch and release angling. Weekend anglers have joined with tournament anglers who face penalties for dead fish, and have demanded some way to keep their catch alive and healthy. A livewell is an aerated tank in the boat, similar to an aquarium that holds fish in water until weigh-in time so that they have a better chance of survival when released.
The best livewells are big enough to hold a lot of water, enough water for the fish to remain upright and have some room to move about. Look for a dual pumping system with a filling pump for new water, a recirculating or aeration pump, and automatic and manual operating modes. Be sure that the plumbing is an adequate size to pass any foreign objects brought in with the fish and handle the amount of water pumped.
Different fish species have different livewell requirements. Cold water can hold more oxygen from an aeration system than warm water. Ammonia from fish excrement can build up in the livewell along with carbon dioxide. Both can prove toxic to your catch. Be aware of the conditions demanded by each species and how to adjust your livewell system to meet those demands. You can run the pumps continuously and add ice to reduce the temperature; use a specialized oxygen-injection system; add water conditioners made for livewells; and even add a saline solution to condition the water.
Rod Holders, the Indispensable Accessory
Rod holders are exactly what their name says: devices or fixtures used to hold a fishing rod when the angler isn’t. The holders’ locations and configuration determines how useful they are for different types of fishing. Size and design of the boat also determines the kinds of rod holders and the mounting options.
A rod holder can be as simple as a hole in the gunwale or as complex as a pedestal-mounted four-rod “rocket launcher.” Fixed-angle mounts slide into existing holes in the gunwale while clamp-ons are the most versatile, attaching to horizontal rails or vertical stanchions, making them suitable for positioning throughout the boat. Swivel or pivot mounts enable the rod to rotate; adjustable rod holders that lock into any position offer value and convenience. Stainless steel or chrome serve for heavy duty fishing, but nylon, fiberglass, and ABS plastic are cost-effective alternatives for lighter duties and calmer waters. Rod holders used on saltwater fishing boats need to have protection from the water’s corrosive effects.
Removable rod holders offer a good option for small boats or boats that are only occasionally used for fishing. Some models tilt, rotate and lock in place and offer a range of mounting brackets, enabling you to customize your set-up. These adjustable holders are not as durable as fixed holders but they are more versatile and ideal for spinning and bait-casting.
Trolling motors are generally small electric outboard motors, frequently mounted on the bow, used to quietly maneuver into fishing areas. Serving as alternate propulsion on fishing boats and the main engine on small sailboats, canoes, and other small craft, most trolling motors operate on external 12-volt deep cycle batteries. Trolling motors must endure frequent on and off cycles and often run for just a few seconds to maneuver slowly or to hold a position. Propellers have two, three, or four blades, and weedless props have specially shaped leading edges to keep from fouling in the weeds.
Trolling motors are rated in pounds of thrust; 72 to 75 pounds of thrust equal about one horsepower. The motors range in size from a lightweight four-pounder that generates less than 13 pounds of thrust to a relative behemoth pushing more than 200 pounds. Experts recommend having five pounds of thrust for every 300 to 400 pounds of vessel gross weight. The lightweight four-pounder is obviously for kayaks, canoes, dinghies, or rafts.
More deluxe motors sport power indicator lights, rugged stainless steel shafts, five forward and two reverse speeds, and can be changed from a transom mount to a bow mount. Engine mounted trolling motors offer another alternative and can turn recreational runabouts and pontoons into fishing boats. The motor mounts permanently on the cavitation plate of an outboard or inboard/outboard (I/O) lower unit. It stays out of the way, is easy to deploy, and will not interfere with the boat or engine’s normal performance.
Saltwater trolling motors must be corrosion proof and offer precision boat positioning and infinite speed control for ideal bait presentations. Some motors are fitted with a sacrificial anode that protects the motor from galvanic corrosion. Saltwater attacks the zinc anode that can be easily replaced when necessary. Newer motors feature stow/deploy mechanisms that enable you to easily raise and lower the motor in and out of the water.
Bow-mounted motors may be equipped with a mechanical or electrical pedal for hands-free operation or cordless remote controls that can be operated from anywhere on the boat. A momentary switch enables for short power bursts and a bypass switch enables running the motor on constant high speed. Some trolling motors even have autopilots for anglers who like going by themselves.
Fishfinders Help You Find the Fish
Fishfinders, also called fishing sonars or echo sounders, display a representation of what is under the water--the bottom, vegetation, structures, and fish. Systems come in single and double frequency models, and while single frequency is adequate for most lakes and shallow coastal fishing, consider a double-frequency system for deeper marine fishing.
Fishfinders use a submerged transducer, mounted on the transom, inside the hull, or on the trolling motor, to send and receive underwater high-frequency sound waves. A cable connects the transducer to the fishfinder. The unit’s specialized software figures out the distance to detected objects, and a graphic display uses shades of gray, symbols, or bright colors to represent structures, the bottom, different temperature layers, schools of fish, and even individuals.
Fishfinders present their results on liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. LCD displays are measured in pixels - the little square blocks on the screen that make up the image. More pixels provide better resolution and a clearer picture. There are three main types of fishfinder displays: Passive Matrix monochrome and color LCDs, Active Matrix TFT (thin film transistor) color LCDs, and color CRTs. Each type has advantages and disadvantages; be certain to try them all before selecting.
Good fishfinders locate thermoclines, layers or abrupt changes in water temperature, and can help you catch fish. The contact between radically different temperatures causes some of the sonar signal to reflect back, creating a line across the LCD screen that indicates the thermocline, and potentially, fish.
Newer fish finders offer split and full screen zoom, real time imaging, adjustable backgrounds, and a choice of color palettes to highlight bottom structure or a particular fish species. An optional fuel kit enables you to track and display fuel data on screen.