The Ultimate Guide to Recreational Boat Fishing

In today’s guide, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know to get started fishing recreationally. Particularly, we’ll focus on boat fishing, so read on.

Throughout history, humankind has found many different ways to keep itself fed, be it through agriculture or through hunting and harvesting wildlife. Fishing is one of the oldest methods of subsistence practiced by our species, with evidence of fishing being apparent from thousands of years ago.

In the years since then, the reasons why many of us fish may have changed, but the spirit of trying to catch a fish using whatever tools are at hand still remains. We’ve put together this article to serve as the ultimate guide to recreational boat fishing, and we’ll cover everything that you need to know about it.

What is Recreational Boat Fishing?

Recreational boat fishing is a combination of two different fishing disciplines that aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s because recreational fishing is a type of fishing, whereas boat fishing is a method that is used for fishing. Let’s take a look at what sets apart recreational fishing from other kinds of angling.

Recreational Fishing vs Commercial Fishing vs Subsistence Fishing

There are three reasons to fish: recreational fishing, commercial fishing, and subsistence fishing. Despite the name, recreational fishing doesn’t always mean that you’re fishing exclusively for fun. Competitive fishing falls under the recreational category, and it can get pretty intense.

However, the vast majority of recreational fishers choose to go out on the water for some fun with friends and family. Recreational fishing is a fun way to spend a few hours with people who are close to us.

On the other hand, commercial fishing is a venture that is undertaken for profit, as can be surmised from the name. The goal of commercial fishers is to catch as many fish as they can, and they will usually focus on the most profitable type of marine life in their area. This can include fish like Salmon, Tuna, and Pollock.

Finally, subsistence fishing has become relatively rare in the first world, though it is still practiced by certain native communities. Subsistence fishing is the act of fishing for your family’s source of food. Much like farmers and herders, subsistence fishers rely on their job for nutrition and survival.

To summarize, recreational fishing is for fun, commercial fishing is for business, and subsistence fishing is for survival.

Boat Fishing vs Other Fishing Methods

While there are countless fishing methods, there are only a few that are used by recreational fishers. Perhaps the simplest method is to find a shoreline near a waterway that has fish in it and to start angling. Riverbanks, docks, and all sorts of areas can be used for shoreline fishing.

Fishing from the shore has a few downsides, however, as it won’t be easy to pack up your tackle and find a different spot if you’re not getting enough bites. This is where boat fishing comes into play, as it can make up for some of the weaknesses of stationary fishing from the shore.

Since you and all of your tackle will be on a boat, you’ll be able to move anywhere that is deep enough for your boat’s draft. Of course, whether you’re renting one or buying it, a boat can be a significant investment, especially if you’re planning on fishing in deeper waters.

There are also specialized forms of recreational fishing, like fly fishing, but these are usually put in their own category and considered separate from traditional recreational angling.

Types of Recreational Fishing Boats

From sailboats to charter boats to deck boats, marina life is one filled with choice..There are a plethora of different types of boats that can be used for recreational fishing, so we’re going to focus on some of the most common varieties.

Kayaks and Canoes

While they aren’t motorboats, kayaks and canoes are extremely affordable and a great way to learn how to handle a vessel. These vessels are popular for fishing on small waterways where you may not have to travel far to get to the fish.

Since kayaks and canoes are propelled by oar power, you’ll also be sure to get a good workout out of any fishing trip. Fishing kayaks are particularly good at traversing rapids and other fast-running waterways, though they aren’t very spacious.

Skiffs and Jon Boats

These are the most affordable recreational fishing boats on the market, and they usually feature a lightweight aluminum hull. These boats can either come with oars or a small outboard motor, depending on how much you’re willing to pay for one of them.

Due to their affordable price, boats like these usually lack amenities when compared to anything else. However, this also makes these kinds of boats the perfect option for beginner fishers who aren’t sure if they’re ready to drop a substantial amount of money on a new boat.

As a bonus, the initially low price of these kinds of boats means that they retain their resale value pretty well. If you end up deciding that you want to take fishing more seriously, you won’t lose out on too much money when the time comes to upgrade your vessel.

Dinghys and Inflatable Boats

Dinghys and inflatables are also popular options for fishers on a budget. A dinghy is a lot like a Jon boat or a skiff in that it’s designed to be as basic and affordable as possible. A key difference is that Jon boats and skiffs are specifically designed for shallow water, where the dinghy features a more basic hull shape.

Inflatable boats have the added benefit of being easier to transport, as they can be deflated and inflated as needed. Keep in mind that top-end inflatable boats with rigid hulls can get relatively pricey, though they’re unmatched for fishing in rapids and other tumultuous waters.


The word runabout is something of a catch-all term for medium-sized boats with an engine located at the stern. Since runabouts are less specialized than other kinds of fishing vessels, they’re popular amongst recreational fishers that are looking for a versatile boat.

A runabout will be just as good at bringing the family down to the lake for a cruise as it will for fishing trips with your best friends.

Center Console Boats, Dual Console Boats, and Walkarounds

Center console boats feature the helm at a console in the center of the boat, as can be surmised by the name. Since you can walk around the sides of the console and access the front of the boat, center console boats are popular with fishers since they’ll be able to set themselves up wherever they prefer.

Dual console boats instead feature two helms, usually protected by a pair of split windshields. Since the consoles will usually be on either side of the boat, you’ll instead have to access the bow through a small walkway in between the two consoles, at the center of the boat.

Finally, walkarounds usually feature a more substantial superstructure than center or dual console boats, though they will still feature a path to access the bow of the boat.

Bass Boat

When you start to get serious about recreational boat fishing, you’ll probably want to get your hands on a bass boat. These boats are designed specifically for catching bass, as the name suggests. This means that the bass boat is best-suited for rivers, lakes, and similar waterways.

Bass boats are compatible with trolling motors, and they usually come with relatively powerful outboard motors. These features, coupled with plenty of extras for fishers, make bass boats rather expensive for their size. However, if you’re trying to improve your results while fishing, the tools on a bass boat can certainly help.

Bay Boat

Unlike bass boats, bay boats are designed for use in saltwater, so they feature fiberglass hulls. Bay boats also feature a relatively flat hull shape, making them suitable for shallower areas, and they’re similar to bass boats in overall length, rarely reaching more than 24 feet long.

Compared to a flat boat, a bay boat will feature a higher freeboard, allowing it to be used in rougher waters, like those of a bay or a protected estuary.


Cruisers are much larger than other kinds of boats, sometimes reaching a maximum of 50 feet long. Boats like these are pricey, but they usually feature a few amenities to allow the crew to stay onboard for at least one night. Inside a cruiser’s cabin, you’ll typically find a bunk or two, possibly a galley, as well as a head.

Since they’re much more versatile than other kinds of boats, cruisers can be used for fishing from time to time. Keep in mind that many of them are quite luxurious, so you may not want your cruiser’s leather seats to start smelling like fish.

Pontoon Boats

Pontoon boats feature a flat, rectangular hull that is kept afloat by pontoons running across it. Since they’re extremely stable, but they lack freeboard, pontoon boats are popular on lakes and other calm waterways.

The spacious deck of a pontoon boat makes it easier to fish from, as you’ll have plenty of room for your tackle and space to move around.

House Boats

If you’re looking for the most expensive and convenient way to go recreational boat fishing, you can invest in a house boat and do it from the comfort of your own home.

A house boat is essentially a home that has been placed on a barge, so they’ll typically only be found in calm waters because of their lack of freeboard. If you like the idea of fishing from your doorstep, a houseboat is tough to beat.

Types of Waterways

There are many different types of waterways, with varying degrees of salinity, wave activity, fish activity, and more. Knowing the kind of water that you’ll be fishing on is an essential part of picking the best boat for recreational fishing.


Rivers are where most fishers will start off; if not on a boat, then on the bank of a river. There are many different kinds of rivers in the US, and they can range from waterways that are barely larger than streams to 200-foot deep shipping corridors like the Hudson River.

Due to this huge disparity in the size of rivers, you have to know the average depth of your nearest river as well as its level of activity. If you’re going to be fishing on a small river that is frequented by several other anglers, then it wouldn’t make sense to get yourself a big boat.


Unlike rivers, lakes are typically stagnant, and fishing in some of them will be heavily regulated to ensure that the fish species don’t get exhausted. Depending on the size of the lake, you can even fish from a canoe. Also, be sure to check the lake’s regulations to determine if motorboats are allowed on it.

While the fish species in a lake will likely be limited, their enclosed nature makes for pleasant fishing conditions. You’ll rarely have to deal with choppy water when you’re out on a lake, so you won’t have to invest in a boat with a high freeboard.


Rapids are a bit like rivers, but they run a lot faster, and they’re often extremely shallow. If you’re planning on fishing in rapids, then your only option will be a kayak that is designed for use on rapids. These kayaks usually feature reinforced hulls so that they can survive the rigors of whitewater kayaking.

However, most rapids fishers will instead fish from the shoreline, as it’s extremely difficult to maintain your coordination when you’re being rocked around in a kayak.

Bays and Estuaries

These kinds of waterways are areas where saltwater and freshwater frequently mix, meaning your boat is going to need a hull that is resistant to corrosion. Fiberglass is a popular choice of hull material for avoiding salt damage.

Boats that are designed for fishing in these areas will usually feature a higher freeboard, as the water can get much rougher when you’re closer to the open ocean.

Oceanic Coast

Coastal fishing can result in some truly impressive catches, but you’ll need to invest a lot of money in a boat that can handle the conditions. While smaller saltwater fishing boats exist, you’ll be limited by your range and the boat’s ability to handle rough water.

Keep in mind that the risk is much higher when fishing far from the shore, so you’ll have to be an experienced boater and keep a close eye on weather conditions when fishing on the coast. A storm on a small lake is nothing compared to the sheer ferocity of a storm on open water.

How to Rig a Fishing Rod

For beginners, rigging a rod for the first time may seem like an intimidating prospect, but it’s something that you can do in a couple of minutes. Let’s go over the basics of rigging a fishing rod:

  1. Take your fishing line and thread it through the eyelets along the length of your fishing rod, all the way down to the reel.
  2. Flip the bail on the reel and tie your line into a loop. Position the loop over the spool and tighten it.
  3. When the line is firmly anchored, tie a second loop, and tighten it over the spool as a backup.
  4. With a pair of scissors, cut the tag end (the extra bit of line that is sticking out of the loop) as close to the reel as you can.
  5. Tighten your drag and flip the bail back over.
  6. Reel in the line until it’s fully wound.
  7. Thread your line through the eye of the hook and use your preferred knot to secure it.
  8. Cut the tag end off of the line near the hook.
  9. Attach a sinker to the line, about two or three inches above the hook.
  10. Hook your bobber into the line, depending on the depth you’ll be fishing at.
  11. Tighten your reel and connect your hook to one of the rod’s eyelets for ease of transport.

Fishing Licenses in the USA

In the United States, fishing licenses are managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. License sales fees are all used for the conservation and restoration of wildlife, along with certain taxes that are levied on fishing gear. These taxes include a 10% fee on all equipment used for sport fishing, as well as taxes on motors and fuel.

The exact cost of a fishing license will depend on the state where you want to fish, as will the process of getting your fishing license. Thankfully, most states have implemented an online application process that makes it as easy as ever to get your hands on a fishing license.

The cheapest fishing license in the US is an annual license in Hawaii, where you only have to pay $6. On the other hand, California has the most expensive annual fishing licenses, at the cost of just under $50. Keep in mind that these fees are for residents only, as non-residents typically have to pay two to three times more.

Alaska boasts the most expensive non-resident fishing license in the US, at $145. You may have noticed that we’ve been specifying annual fishing licenses, and that’s because many states offer shorter licenses at a lower overall cost but at a higher cost per day.

Some states will only offer annual and one-day fishing license options, but others have options for 3-day, 5-day, 7-day, and 10-day fishing licenses. These shorter-duration licenses can help out-of-state visitors avoid paying more than they have to, and they’re great for beginners who don’t want to make the full commitment just yet.

Improving Your Recreational Boat Fishing Experience

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can improve your success rate when you head out for your next fishing trip. This section will be particularly helpful for beginners, because there’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours out on the water without making a single catch.

Pay Close Attention to the Weather

Atmospheric conditions can play a huge role in whether or not you’ll find fish in the water when you get to your chosen fishing spot. Depending on the species of fish, the temperature of the air (and therefore the water) and the presence or absence of sunlight can influence their decision to come out.

First, you’ll have to find out what kind of fish are present in your nearby waterway. Once you’ve determined this, study the species’ habits so that you can determine the best fishing conditions for them. Also, keep in mind that weather prediction isn’t an exact science, so you can’t always expect the weather reports to be 100% accurate.

Consider Investing in a Fish Finder

Fish finders are commercial sonar modules that allow you to visualize the water beneath your boat. While they can get relatively pricey, they can also show you exactly where you can expect to find fish, meaning that the only challenge will be getting them to bite and reeling them in.

Of course, you’ll also have to make sure that your boat is compatible with a fish finder, as some of the cheapest boats may not have a mounting point for one. 

Provided you have a powerful enough fish finder, you may even be able to see the floor of the water beneath your boat. You can sometimes see sunken boats and other secrets that have been long-lost to the water.

Try a Different Waterway

It’s also possible that the area you’re fishing in is a poor choice for angling, either due to too many other fishers or a lack of fish in the area. If you’ve been having consistently poor luck in a single spot, it may be time to move on to somewhere with better odds.

Of course, not everyone has this luxury, and if the next nearest waterway is 100 miles away, this won’t be a very realistic option.


We hope that this guide has introduced you to everything that you need to know about recreational boat fishing. Whether you’re just getting into the hobby for the first time or if you’re refreshing yourself after a long absence, we’re glad to have you join us in our love for angling.

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