A Fly Angler's Guide to Inflatable Pontoon Boats: 


   Inflatable pontoon boats have been available to fly fishers for many years and are becoming a very popular method for adventurous anglers to explore their favorite waters.  I purchased my first pontoon boat ten years ago after watching a guy kick around in one on my favorite local bass pond, plucking fish after fish off of a line of reeds I had been eyeing for as long as I can remember.  Soon after I returned with my own boat and discovered a plethora of fishy spots accessible only to those that float.  The idea is simple; get where you want to be conveniently, comfortably and inexpensively and these boats do it all!  I have used mine on lakes and rivers all over California and it has helped me look at fishing from a different angle.           
   There are several advantages to choosing a pontoon boat as a fishing craft.  Float tubes are great for still waters, but I wouldn’t advise using one on a river.  Drift boats are also good for their purpose, but they can’t be used on some waters and require a trailer and tow worthy vehicle.  Also after paying for all this, plus gas for your truck and shelling out fifty bucks to the shuttle driver, your wallet can start to get pretty thin. There are many pontoon boats on the market priced for the budget conscious angler and they open up a world of fishing options.  Most pontoon boats can collapse to fit into the trunk of a regular passenger car too.  Their design allows the angler to use them on a variety of water types from small ponds to large lakes and rivers.  There are pontoon boats available that can handle almost any situation.  When seated between the two large inflatable pontoons the angler is free to use the oars or kick around with fins.  In lakes and slow moving rivers I enjoy being able to position myself in just the right spot while having my hands free to cast.  Then when I want to move on, I simply pull my feet out of the water, set them on the footrests built into the boats metal frame and row on to more fish!  In swift rivers I have found an eight-foot pontoon boat to be highly maneuverable and surprisingly stable.  Learning to navigate a river in one takes some practice and common sense and you should always keep safety in mind, but it is one of the most fun ways to fish.           
   There are a few things to think about when buying a pontoon boat.  When buying one of these boats it is safe to say that you get what you pay for.  The quality of materials and construction on boats like those made by Outcast and Buck’s Bags is well worth the money you will spend.  Most boats come with a set of oars, storage bags and a pump that will most likely break the first time you use it.  I picked up a heavy-duty billows style foot pump at my local West Marine and I have never needed a new one.  I would advise having some kind of anchor system.  Some boats come with a rope and anchor while others have these available as optional accessories.  You will also need to figure out a way to keep your rod safely out of the water and attached to the boat while you are rowing or running rough water.  A company called Scotty makes a reliable rod holder that I have been using for a long time.  It clamps to the frame of my boat and can be set in almost any position to keep my rod free of the oars.  In rapids it is safer to pack your rod away and strap it to the frame to ensure it is not lost or broken.  A life jacket is an absolute necessity as well as the law. You will need waders if floating in the winter time or colder water, but in the summer time wet floating like wet wading is a great way to stay cool.  If you want to have the flexibility of kicking around you will also need a set of fins.  There are special fins on the market such as Force Fins, which work quite well and have the advantage of being able to fit over wading boots, but an old set of diving fins will work just fine.  Just make sure they are not brightly colored or you might spook the fish!           
   Look around at various shops as well as doing some research on the internet before you make a final decision.  There are boats in all different sizes from four to fourteen feet long and they all come with different features.  Keeping in mind where you will be fishing and what the conditions call for will help you pick the right boat.  Will you be mostly fishing small lakes and reservoirs?  I would go with a boat no larger than eight feet to keep wind and water drag from becoming an issue.  Are you planning on floating larger rivers and maybe even taking extended trips where you will need to carry gear such as tents and camping supplies?  Maybe a ten-foot boat would be a better choice because they are more stable in heavy current and can handle more weight.  The size of your vehicle may be an issue, but in my experience an eight-foot boat will fit into even the smallest of passenger cars when collapsed.
   Once you have an idea of what you need and make the right choice on a boat you can start learning how to use it.  When floating new water for the first time it is a great idea to hire a guide.  Knowing the water is part of what being a guide is all about so a good guide should be able to show you the river and let you know if there are any dangers as well as key you in on fishy areas.  If you choose not to hire a guide you will still need to get some practice and do some research before embarking on your boats maiden voyage.

-Chuck Robinton

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