Identify optimal hull design for the waters you plan to fish.
What separates similar boats more than anything is the design of the hull, or more importantly the running surface. Know going in when you start your search for that perfect boat, you may have to give up a shallow draft to get a softer ride. On the other hand, if you want a boat that is capable of getting up in real skinny water, the ride may be a little wet.
Typically a manufacturer designs a hull with a specific application in mind. Understanding the characteristics and language of hull performance should help you narrow down your choices. The five basic hull designs are flat bottom, deep V, semi-V, displacement and catamaran.
Flat bottom boats—like jon boats, rolled-edge skiffs and even many flats boats—have the shallowest drafts. These hulls are very stable at rest and don’t require as much horsepower to push. They plane off fast but suffer in rough water performance and they have a tendency to slide on a hard turn. The big advantage of a flat bottom hull is the ability to float in very little water, but it’s typically the wettest ride of all of the designs. The tradeoff may be worth it, especially if your favorite fishing spot is a short hop from where you launch. Many fish are quite comfortable in barely enough water to cover their backs, but if your boat draws 12 inches of water you may never get the chance to catch one.
On the other end of the spectrum are the deep-V hulls. This style of hull will give you a much softer ride in rough conditions and track like it’s on a set of rails. A deep-V is the best choice for high speed performance offshore and for the most part should give you a dry ride. Another place where a deep-V hull will shine is slow speed into a steep head-sea. The displacement and sharp entry of the bow cuts through a wave and rises up and over it. The drawbacks are, they require the most horsepower to plane off, draft the most water and roll on their lateral axis at rest. Pull up to a sandbar and you may be hard aground a good distance from the shoreline, but that could be a small price to pay when you’re running offshore, in heavy seas, easily passing other boats that are banging their way along.
The most common or middle of the road design is the semi-V. This hull design will have a varying deadrise, which means the entry at the bow will start off sharp, similar to a deep V, but will flatten out as you go aft. The idea behind this popular hull design is to combine desirable qualities of V-hull ride and performance and mitigate drawbacks. A semi-V will plane off faster than a deep V of the same length while not giving up much of the smooth ride. Most semi-Vs are also more stable at rest when compared to a deep V. Fishing boats, family cruisers, ski boats and a host of other watercraft are built on the versatile semi-V bottom design.
Displacement hulls commonly have a rounded bottom, much like a large sailboat. This design is not fast but requires less horsepower to push. Hull speed becomes a factor because once you reach the max designed speed of a displacement hull, stacking on more horsepower rarely yields additional performance. This hull design is commonly used on trawlers, where speed is not a factor but long-range fuel economy is.
Catamarans have come on strong in recent years. Cats, as they are commonly called, are very stable at rest and the extra beam carried farther forward will give you more bow area. But like any other hull design, there are other factors that may not be so desirable. Slow trolling into a head-sea, many cats don’t have enough bow displacement and rather than going up and over the wave will tend to go through it. Some of the smaller cats are very noisy in a stiff chop as the tunnel bottoms out against the wave tops and may not be a good choice for fishing in shallow water.
It doesn’t matter new or used, to make the best boat buying decision you need to test drive the boat. If you are looking at a flats skiff, pole it in shallow water. An offshore machine needs to be run through the inlet out into open water. Be sure to pick a day that’s close to the conditions of your average trip. Weight is also a big factor, so check the fuel gauge for a realistic amount of fuel on board and include some of your buddies on the demo ride if you normally venture out with several fishing companions.
For the sportsman who wants it all in a fishing boat, there has to be some compromise one way or the other to pick your best boat. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman January 2014