What are the Best Boats for Fly Fishing & What Boat should I Use?


If the fish aren’t coming to you, you will have to go to the fish! Angling afloat is great fun and will allow you to reach parts of the water that other anglers can’t get to!

There are many ways to get out onto the water. Some can even be carried on your back.

Today we will look at different boats for fly fishing, including float tubes, canoes, kayaks, rafts, car tops, and a few more!

Let’s get our oars and paddle out!

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The Different Types of Boats for Fly Fishing

Float Tubes

angler fly fishing with a float tube in river

Fly Fishing from a Float Tube

Float tubes come in all sizes and shapes. But they’ve evolved over the years! The original float tube was a truck inner tube with a sling inside.

You inflated the tube before you went fishing and deflated it at the end of the day! It was a homemade solution and not custom-built for fishing!

The downsides to this were numerous. Belly boats were hard to get in and out of, not particularly reliable, and were little more than a giant rubber ring.

Over time these belly tubes were developed. The first commercially available float tube for fly fishing was called a Utube! This was a structure filled with separate air bladders. They were much easier to get in and out of and were a little more purpose-built.

These were improved upon over time until we were left with a dedicated float tube for fly fishing!

fishing float tube with rod and other fishing equipment

What are Float Tubes Good for?

Float tubes for fly fishing are best suited for still water only. They tend to be a little unstable in moving water. They are particularly suited to larger bodies of water. When fishing on a drift, you can cover a lot of water in a single session.

And…

Because they aren’t powered, you tend to drift with the current. This means that you’ll naturally end up in the same areas that food is naturally being pushed to in the lake.

Float tubes are very inexpensive, they are portable and easy to store, and you can almost launch them anywhere.

They are commonly used by fly anglers, but people can also use them for casting lures too.

There are many styles, sizes, and models available with prices starting at under $ 100.00. They even have some that are made for a certain use, like backpacking into high mountain lakes.

Any Downsides?

The main downer is that they’re slow, and you can get pretty cold because you are sitting in the water up to your waist.

If there is a strong undertow or current on the water, you may find that you have to walk back a long way too!

Here are some great examples of float tubes:

Classic Accessories Cumberland Float Tube

As fly fishing float tubes go, this is a budget option that offers nearly everything you’ll find on more expensive models.

You’ll notice things like the comfortable and adjustable seat and support bar to keep you from sliding into the water. It also comes with an integral tape measure to easily measure your catch!

It also has a few integrated features, such as arm storage and even a rod holder!

Savage Gear Float Tube

No doubt the first thing you’ll notice is the price. But that said, this is much more hard-wearing than the budget models, and bearing in mind that the tube is the only thing stopping you from becoming a long-distance swimmer, it might just be worth it!

The storage on this float tube isn’t inflatable; instead, it is rigid, which is just what you need for storing sharp objects like fishing tools and scissors. It comes with included paddles, too, and is one of the most stable float tubes around.

If you want to see a full rundown of what float tubes offer and what features to look for, here is a great float tube buying guide.

Pontoon Boats

Fly Fishing from a Pontoon Boat

If you haven’t seen a pontoon boat, they are like all of the best bits of a float tube, combined with the stability of a canoe. The ‘pontoon’ part of the boat’s name comes from the fact that the boat is normally made up of a seat suspended between two inflatable pontoons.

Pontoon boats are normally built for one person. They can easily carry weights of up to 400 lbs. They are lightweight and fairly easy to assemble. It is generally the case that you’ll only need to do this once. Most anglers leave them assembled and transport them on top of a car or in the back of a truck

You’ll also occasionally find two-person pontoon boats. They are significantly heavier and a little harder to transport.

inflatable motor pontoon boat floating on the forest lake

What are Pontoon Boats Good for?

They are ideal for ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. You can fish pretty much any water with a pontoon boat… The one exception is white water, where a pontoon boat can be too unstable.

These are a versatile craft that is fairly inexpensive. They are relatively easy to store, transport and launch. You can row with them or move around with fins. Unlike the basic float tube, you’re sitting up and out of the water.

Prices go from about $250 into the thousands. The larger ones can carry two or more people and gear, but they are more expensive and take up more space.

Any Downsides?

There are a few downsides worth considering when it comes to pontoon boats.

First, they can be quite tricky to maneuver. You are well above the water, so they tend to get blown around quite a lot in strong winds. They can be tricky to row too. Because they are fairly large, storage and transport can be an issue, even when they are disassembled.

Here’s a few great examples of pontoon boats:

Classic Accessories Colorado Pontoon Boat

If a float tube is a little too low-key for you, then this is the answer. Two sizable pontoons will keep you well above the water, which is the idea when casting a fly line.

The boat comes with a powder-coated stainless steel frame, which should be pretty corrosion-proof.

One nice feature of this boat is the storage capacity. There is plenty of room with 10 mesh pockets and 12 further zippered pockets. It even comes with a drinks holder! You’ll have all your gear around you, and the lake is yours!

AQUOS Inflatable Pontoon Boat

If you are looking to take some company, you are going to need a bigger boat. This pontoon boat features two seats!

The storage is a little limited, but you could easily secure a few gear bags with bungees with such a large platform.

The standout feature of this boat is how small it packs down. It is a modular unit, meaning you can disassemble each individual part for a convenient carriage.

You can find other examples of inflatable fishing pontoon boats in my article right here.

Canoes

Fly Fishing from a Canoe

The canoe is ideal for fishing small flatwater rivers and streams, sloughs, ponds, and the edges of large reservoirs and lakes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re out on a quiet fishing trip or you’re trying to enjoy Mother Nature with your family. Canoes can offer easy access to a variety of waterways.

Canoes can be nice to use. They are pretty quick and relatively stable, even in strong currents. They are quite comfortable too. Some models have features like contoured seats and rod holders. They also have handles, making transport fairly easy.

Many purpose-built fishing canoes have stowage and waterproof sections, perfect for keeping your gear, lunch, and maybe even a few beers?

And there’s more…

If paddling seems like a chore, it is possible to buy motor-powered canoes!

canoe with fishing gear heading out on lake

What are Fishing Canoes Good for?

Most canoes are fast and easy to paddle. Canoes can be roomy enough to take most of the family fishing and can be ideal for trolling. You can carry a lot of gear for yourself and the kids in a big 17- or 18-foot canoe. If you like tradition, then a canoe will fit the bill.

Expect to pay from $400 to $2,000 for a canoe, depending on the size and how lightweight it is.

Any downsides?

There are a few downsides to canoes.

First, they can be unstable, especially in choppy water. They have no keel, and if they tip, you will lose whatever is in the canoe!

Getting an upturned canoe right side up is a real challenge. They can fill with water, which can lead to a dangerous situation. Water can also splash over the side. Anything on the lowest part of the canoe is going to get wet

If you are paddling with more than one person, this requires significant coordination. Otherwise, you’ll end up going in circles or constantly having to correct your course.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing we are talking about:

Lifetime Kodiak Canoe

With three seats, you will have plenty of room for guests, gear, or perhaps both! This canoe has comfortable luggage-style handles to make carrying it a breeze.

It is purpose-built for fishing and even comes with integrated rod holders.

If you and your guests have trouble paddling, then you are in luck. This canoe comes with a transom mount meaning you could fit a light outboard motor to make life easy!

For more information on fishing canoes, check out my handy guide.

Drift Boats

Fishing from a Drift Boat

Drift boats are great as they are pretty stable. They are especially good in faster currents and can even be used in white water.

If you tell most people you’ve got a freshwater fishing boat, a drift boat is what they’d imagine. They are large, stable, and have plenty of room. You can even bring a few guests (just be careful when casting).

The earliest drift boats were made out of different kinds of wood. Later on, the boats were made with lower maintenance materials like plastic, aluminum, and fiberglass. They have become very popular for fishing. They have been made commercially since the middle ’70s.

inflatable boat on the lake at dawn and fisherman fishing

What are Drift Boats Good for?

Drift boats are considered the Cadillac of riverboats. They are roomy, stable, and great to fish from, and they are extremely durable. People can hold them steady in the current to get multiple casts to a rising fish.

Drift boats can haul enough gear for overnight trips, and experienced rowers can take them through white-water up to Class IV.

You can use a drift boat pretty much anywhere. They are good for large still waters, fast-moving rivers, and large lakes. They are probably overkill for a small pond.

And the best bit?

Because of their size, you can easily attach a motor to the back of a drift boat.

Any downsides?

One downside is the high price. Even used boats can cost several thousand dollars. The new boats start at about $4,000 for a cheap, stripped-down model that is just a hull, seat, and oarlocks.

You typically need a ramp to launch them, limiting their use on rivers that would otherwise be suitable for drift boats.

Because of their size, they can also be a real nuisance to transport.

Kayaks

Fly Fishing from a Kayak

Kayaks are a really versatile way of fishing. They are fast, maneuverable, and really stable. You’ll generally encounter two types of kayaks. There are sit-in kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks (commonly abbreviated as ‘SOT’).

Here’s our advice.

If you are considering a kayak for fishing. Make sure it is a sit-on-top variety. Sit-in kayaks are more likely to capsize, and it can be a real nuisance trying to reach your gear.

Sit on top kayaks aren’t prone to tipping, allow water to drain out of the scupper holes, and make your gear super easy to reach. They are much more comfortable too!

You can fish pretty much anywhere with a kayak. They are good for large lakes, fast-moving rivers and are even used by sea fishermen!

man kayak fishing in river

Why Kayak Fishing is Cool?

The fishing kayak industry is booming with all kinds of innovations. You’ll find all sorts of cool gear on a purpose-built fishing kayak. There are rod holders and mounts, GPS stations, adjustable and comfortable seats, in-hull storage… They even include fittings so you can mount a camera and share your adventures!

They are extremely wide and stable. You could stand up if you so wanted to (but we’d advise that you don’t). They are pretty lightweight and easy to transport. You can even buy removable wheels that stow in the kayak, giving you a great degree of flexibility.

Any downsides?

Kayaks are amazingly versatile, and there are few areas that you won’t be able to fish. There is only one downside… The cost. You can expect to pay $800+ for a really good fishing kayak. This is for the hull only. When you add in seats, rudder fixings, stowage, and mounts, the cost can soon start to add up!

Here’s a couple of examples of the best kayaks for fly fishing:

Reel Yaks Pedal Fishing Kayak

This kayak is sweet for many reasons.

First, you’ll notice it has pedals. This is a feature normally found in expensive premium kayaks. It is ideal for fishing as the pedals drive the boat forward, meaning you’ve got your hands free for fishing or setting up an anchor!

It also has integrated rod holders and hull storage for all of your gear.

Another great feature is that it is really wide, with a 34″ beam, it is stable as a rock. The length (11′) puts it right in the ballpark for the ideal size.

BKC Brooklyn Fishing Kayak

This is the one that I use. It is perfect for fishing in rough water and even works well if you’d like to have a go at kayak sea fishing!

There is plenty of room to store everything you need. The nose hull storage is the perfect size to store a set of wheels, meaning you can transport it anywhere.

It also comes with an included paddle, rudder steering system, and bungees for rear storage.

One great feature is the purpose-made hull mount, ideal if you want to fit a fish finder easily!

Here’s a great guide to what to look for in the best fishing kayaks.

Fishing Rafts

Fly Fishing from a Raft

Rafts are inflatable boats that are purpose-built for rough water. If you want to get to a section of river with rapids in the way, then a raft might be the way to go. Because they are flexible and wide, they tend to stay the right way up (which is always a big plus when fishing).

For fishing on wild rivers, they are pretty decent.

One really great thing about them is that they have a lot of room, both for other anglers and for storing your gear!

What are Fishing Rafts Good for?

There is plenty of choices out there, and you can get a whole manner of sizes and shapes. Fishing rafts can be packed to a relatively small size, making them ideal for putting in the trunk or trailer.

Rafts are also forgiving. That means they can get through Class IV rapids and take you down some wild trout rivers. These are ideal for allowing you to carry more gear, especially for overnight trips.

Rafts can take a lot of punishment, like hitting rocks and scraping over gravel bars. They are one of the most versatile types of fishing craft on wild rivers. Expect to pay from $2,000 to $5,000 and more because frames come separately.

Any Downsides?

Sadly, yes.

The first thing that you’ve probably already noticed. The price can be pretty high if you are looking for the best fishing raft.

Because they have a large profile, fishing rafts also tend to get pushed around by the wind a lot.

If you have navigated through white water, or it rains, they can also fill up with water.

Finally, rafts are inflatable. Fishing is full of sharp objects like knives, scissors, and hooks. Rafts and point objects don’t tend to mix well.

Here are a few great examples of fishing rafts:

LOBOTOU Inflatable Boat Set

One thing you want in a raft is separate air chambers, that way, if you get a breach, the raft will still stay afloat!

This isn’t the biggest reft, but it could be ideal for a small party or an individual. It weighs only 40lbs, making transportation really easy. The bottom is also reinforced with nylon wire, perfect for rocky bottoms.

This kit comes with everything you’ll need, including a pump, safety ropes, aluminum oars, and even a fishing rod holder!

BRIS Inflatable White Water River Raft

If you want heavy-duty quality, then you are going to have to pay for it. This raft is certified as commercial grade and is made with super durable 2,000 dtex PVC. It is puncture-proof and abrasion-resistant.

One nice feature is that the seams are heat-sealed. This prevents fatigue and slow leaks. It doesn’t come with many extras, but you will get a pump and storage bag to transport it. It also includes a repair kit, which is a nice addition.

Cartop Boats

Cartop Fly Fishing Boats

These aluminum boats are similar to drift boats, except they are a little smaller and significantly lighter. They are so named as the usual method of transporting them is to tip them upside down and transport them on top of your car!

These boats are pretty great for large still waters. You can choose to row them, or if you aren’t feeling all that energetic, you can also fit them with a small outboard motor.

There’s plenty of room. You could easily accommodate two anglers on board. They are also really stable. Provided you don’t take them anywhere too ‘sporty’, you should always stay right-side up.

man fly fishing from boat in large lake

What are Car Top Boats Good for?

The typical 12-foot car-top boat is just that – something that can be lifted by two people on the roof of the truck or car. They weigh around 110 pounds and up. Stash the small outboard motor in the back of the truck, and you are set.

Aluminum boats are super durable. This would be a one-time purchase, as they don’t corrode at all.

Any Downsides?

It can be a little bit of a hassle getting them up and down off the car. These aren’t really a ‘grab and go’ kind of deal. Unlike something small and portable (like a float tube), you will need to plan your day and launch site.

They aren’t cheap either. But that said, they will last a lot longer than a float tube!

What Boat Should I Use?

There’s a lot of choices above.

But let me tell you this…

Not all boats are created equal, and each has a specific place and purpose. Here’s a quick rundown of the best boats for fly fishing, based on location:

Small-Medium Stillwaters

In theory, you could use any of the boats above to fish small or medium still waters. However, there is a good chance you’ll find car tops and drift boats are a little too large to warrant all of the hassles of transporting them.

So, here’s what we suggest…

The ideal choices in this instance would be one of the following:

  • Float Tube
  • Pontoon Boat
  • Kayak

All of the above need a little effort to maneuver, but because your venue is small or medium, you aren’t going to need to paddle all day to get to where you need to.

Because you’ll be closer to the bank, you won’t need huge amounts of storage, as you can leave some of your gear and come back to it.

Larger Lakes

Large lakes can be challenging, so you are going to need the right boat. They can sometimes have significant currents, and you’ll be traveling further afield.

Here’s what I’d suggest:

  • Fishing Kayak
  • Pontoon Boat
  • Drift Boat
  • Car Top

Because you will want to go further, you’ll need something faster with a little more storage. All of the above will fit the bill. For really big lakes, a drift boat or car top is the way to go. That way, you’ve got a really stable platform if you are a long way from the shore.

Bigger lakes normally mean bigger fishing trips, so this negates the effort required to transport your boat.

Faster Water

  • Kayak
  • Raft
  • Drift Boat (used with caution)

Your choice will depend on the size and speed of the water. Kayaks are more maneuverable but are more prone to capsize.

Rafts are durable and purpose-built to navigate fast water, but they too can overturn.

Drift boats are pretty stable but will require careful navigation. They are also difficult to transport back to your point of origin.

White water, in particular, presents problems. A drift boat with a motor would possibly be the best choice.

Big Rivers

Big rivers present two problems. You will need to travel a long distance and will also have strong currents. Nothing but a solid and stable boat is going to cut it.

Rowing will probably be hard work too. For that reason, I’d suggest either of the following with a motor:

  • Drift Boat
  • Car Top

Saltwater

Saltwater fishing is exciting. There are some big species out there. My preference is an ocean fishing kayak. It is really easy to transport, has lots of storage, and can be easily launched from anywhere.

They are also maneuverable and can be fitted with an anchor, holding you against the tide. You’ll get more storage and stability with a car-top or drift boat, but they are a nuisance to transport and launch due to their size. Not only that, but the tide has a greater effect on bigger boats.

Conclusion

Choosing the right boat for fly fishing can be tricky. You have to consider ease of transport, the type of water you are fishing, and overall capacity.

Think about these criteria before making your choice and ensure that you pick something suitable for the conditions.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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