5 Best Shallow Water Boats for Navigating & Fishing Skinny Waters
Shallow water fishing boats have become incredibly popular as anglers have gravitated towards light-tackle casting, and these five boats are best for accessing those skinny water hotspots.
Many of those potholes, weed beds, and flats simply can’t be accessed by an average boat, and you may need to be able to float or run in ankle-deep water if you want to get your lures in front of the fish. If you want in on this, you need to know about the best boats for shallow water fishing underfoot. Of course, choosing your ideal make and model depends on several factors ranging from price to performance.
Consider these five boats boating in shallow water, including fishing in skinny waters:
- Bay Boats
- Flats Skiffs
- Jon Boats
- Tunnel Boats
1. Bay Boats
Bay boats aren’t going to get you into the water as skinny as the other boats in our top 5; however, they are the choice of a huge swath of shallow water anglers because they also can handle rougher conditions than the others.
With all boats, the draft is a matter of trade-offs.
- The flatter you make the hull, the less water it needs to float, but the bumpier and wetter it becomes when you’re running through a chop.
- Bay boats take a middle-of-the-road approach and add a bit of V to the hull (often in the neighborhood of 10- to 15-degrees of transom deadrise) to smooth out the ride but usually keep the V shallow enough to maintain a draft of a foot and change.
Since most anglers enjoy all sorts of fishing, the versatility of a Bay Boat often outweighs cutting draft by an additional inch or two. As a result, bay boats like the Blue Wave 2200 Pure Bay, the Pathfinder 2300 HPS, and the Nautic Star 227 Bay (all of which draft right around one foot) have grown incredibly popular in recent years.
2. Flats Skiffs
Flats skiffs are considered by many to be the ultimate shallow water fishing boats.
- Many can run in mere inches of water and few drafts a full foot when at rest with the engine tilted up.
- Some are also rigged to be “poled,” or pushed through the shallows with a push-pole, although more and more anglers have come to depend on bow-mounted trolling motors in modern times.
- Still, for a flats fishing purist, nothing can beat poling a small, light flats skiff when you’re in pursuit of species like bonefish and permit in the skinny.
On the flip side of the coin, flats skiffs tend to have a lot of limitations.
- They’re generally very small so in many cases, three’s a crowd.
- They don’t tend to handle rough conditions very well and often deliver a rather bumpy ride in a chop.
- Because weight is important to reducing drafts, some are built with the latest high-tech materials and lamination methods (like carbon fiber and resin infusion) but this can make them extremely expensive.
Still, their ability to get shallow is supreme. The Maverick 17 HPX-S, for example, needs a mere 6” of water to float. The same goes for the Yellowfin 17 Skiff and the Spyder FX19 Vapor, which is quite large for a flats skiff, needs just 7.”
3. Jon Boats
They’re simple, plain, and some might say a bit inelegant, but Jon boats are among the best boats for shallow water fishing.
- Their flat or nearly flat bottoms minimize draft, and since the vast majority of the Jon boats out there are aluminum, they’re lighter than most fiberglass boats of equivalent size.
True, they will bounce you around and soak you to the skin in a rough sea. Sure, most Jon boats have few amenities beyond the hull and some seats. But if you want to get shallow they’re tough to beat and many draft 6” or less even with a couple of people aboard.
Added bonus: due to their simple nature, Jon boats also tend to be priced at a fraction of what the other types of boats on this list will cost you. That’s why boats like the Tracker Grizzly or the Lowe Jon Boat lineups are so popular.
Scooters are a rather specialized type of boat, which was born and bred along the Gulf coast purely for taking shallow water anglers where no other boats could go.
- They generally have wide, flat bottoms, and often a tunnel that channels water upwards to the propeller.
- Weight is minimized in part by eliminating gunwales and scooters usually have no sides, or sides of just a few inches, rising above deck level.
- When handled by an experienced operator, on some scooters the motor can be raised to the same level as the bottom of the hull and not only does the boat have a running draft of just a few, it can coast across a wet sand bar for short distances purely by momentum.
As one might expect, however, they aren’t designed to handle large seas. And for many people, the absence of gunwales can be a bit unnerving.
Because they’re so specialized scooters aren’t seen very often outside of a few select areas, and are most popular in Texas. The Shallow Sports Classic 20 is a well-known model, which publishes a running draft of just 3” and a static draft of 6”. Another scooter of notoriety is the Dargel (available in 14’, 17’, and 20’ models).
5. Tunnel Boats
As with scooters with tunnels, tunnel boats channel water up towards the stern of the boat and allow the engine to be raised well above the norm height to reduce draft. However, tunnel boats are available in a wide range of designs. Boatbuilders make them out of both aluminum and fiberglass, with hulls that have varying degrees of V-shape starting at the bow and tapering back as the tunnel is formed.
- It’s difficult to make blanket statements about how they handle the seas or how they perform, since there are so many different designs and sizes on the market.
- As a rule of thumb, however, they can trim several inches off of the draft that they’d normally have without the tunnel.
Some builders combine a tunnel hull with a jet drive to reduce draft even further, as is the case with the Lowe RX1860 Tunnel Jet. Some others have model lines that mirror their boats that don’t have tunnels, like the G3 Tunnel Jons. And still others, like Gator Trax, offer to put a tunnel into the different models they build as an optional feature.
Are you ready to rig up the rods, and hit the shallows? While each of these types of boats has its own pros and cons, they’re all prime for reeling in those tailing bonefish and hard-tugging redfish.
Also be sure to read:
Dive deep into the fishing community and discover fishing boats, destinations, and events at Boating Guides & Resources!
Boatsetter is a unique boat-sharing platform that gives everyone — whether you own a boat or you’re just renting — the chance to experience life on the water. You can list a boat, book a boat, or make money as a captain.
With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.