Buying and Enjoying a Budget Bass Boat

By Jim Byrd

For The Chronicle
Be honest! You envy those big, sleek, shiny 70 mile-per-hour bass boats, at least a little bit. Or maybe a whole bunch. But they don’t fit your budget, style of fishing, or storage ability. Well, don’t despair. There’s a lot cheaper way to do some serious bass, trout or panfish angling. Does a $1,000 “mini-bass boat” that will get you into places the big boats can’t even go appeal to you?
You might be thinking “what makes this boat better than a pontoon, a canoe, or a float tube?” For lakes that require a long pack to reach, it isn’t. But if you have a boat launch, or can get within a couple hundred feet of the water, it’s no contest.
• They provide a roomy fishing platform for two full-grown adults, with space to stow a modest amount of gear.
• They are stable; two adults can stand up at the same time and flip or pitch lures to shoreline brush. Or furiously flycast to a frothy foam.
• They are rugged (I’ve dragged them over long stretches of gravel and small rocks).
• If you have a pickup truck, you don’t need a trailer. One reasonably robust adult can maneuver one of these boats in and out of a pickup bed; two can pack or drag the boat a fair distance to the water.
• No smelly gasoline, and you can fish in places that don’t allow gasoline engines.
• You can fish for hours on a single battery charge.
• Unless you’re going to be on navigable federal waters (none of those come to mind in Lewis County), you don’t have to license them.
• Clean-up and maintenance are minimal; just lean the boat up against something and hose it down.
• You’re not limited to fishing. These boats make an excellent duck hunting platform. Easy to hide or camouflage, with room for one person, a bag of decoys, and a retriever.
Their biggest shortcoming is they don’t go well against the wind. They won’t sink; the floatation material they’re filled with handles that. But large waves, say anything over about a foot, will wash over the blunt bow when you’re going into the wind and make progress difficult. And due to a mysterious meteorological phenomenon, the boat launch always seems into the wind when you’re headed home. So you’ll want to stick to small waters or near-shore areas of larger lakes.
If you’re still reading, you must be interested, so let’s put one of these rigs together. You’ll need four basic items, not including your fishing tackle: boat, motor, battery and a life jacket for each occupant. You might want to throw in a paddle or push pole too, for shallow or weedy areas, in case the battery dies, or if you decide to ascend manure creek. Properly outfitted, this rig will get you bass or trout fishing on Carlisle, Coldwater, Davis, Hayes, Mineral and Plummer lakes, Swofford and South Lewis County ponds, and more. Even Mayfield, Riffe and Scanewa if it’s not too windy and you stay close to the launch.
Let’s start with the most expensive item: the boat. These foam-filled, twin-pontoon plastic boats are not sleek. (The word “plastic” is used here as a generic substitute for polyethylene, HDPE, ABS, or similar materials.) But they are amazingly stable, rugged, go fast enough to troll or move fairly quickly from one spot to another, and offer a very efficient fishing platform. Nominally four feet wide, with lengths from eight to ten feet, they typically weigh between 100 and 150 pounds, including seats. Weight capacities for the ones listed below range from 475 to 600 pounds.
So where can you buy one of these wonder boats? Maybe at some retail stores in larger cities north or south, but nowhere locally. But they’re easy to find on the internet.
Electric trolling motors are available at Sunbirds, Walmart, Bob’s in Longview, Cabela’s in Lacey, sometimes at Costco, plus other retail stores, and at any of the online stores listed above. A 30- to 40-pound thrust motor is plenty for these boats, and will set you back $200 to $250.
Batteries are easy to find. You can use an automotive battery, but deep cycle batteries last longer, both on the water and in years of service. A group 24 size battery will let you fish for half a day, and is enough for most uses. You’ll usually be going slow enough that battery drain is low. Larger batteries (group 27, 29 and 31) will run longer, but weigh more and cost more. Battery cost about $100.
Let’s see: boat $650, electric motor $200 – $250, battery $100, a couple life jackets at $15 each. That comes to about one kilobuck if you shop wisely. You’ll end up with a boat that can last you more than twenty years with reasonable care. Likewise, electric trolling motors usually last ten years or more. Your major replacement item will be a new battery every four or five years.
Within the next couple weeks, look for a follow-up article on how to rig your new bass boat.