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The Best Small Crafts for Bass Fishing

Photo of Russell Wright taken by Author

When the water gets low and the weeds get high, sometimes smaller crafts are the best option for those hard to reach places where lunkers lurk.

Some of the most versatile water-crafts in the realm of the bass angler are not shiny, glitter coated nitro boats, built for reaching speeds suitable for bootlegging and outrunning the Sheriff on the river. These boats serve their purpose for tournament anglers trying to make weigh-in.

They aren’t the most practical watercraft for ponds, smaller lakes, or areas where gas motors are prohibited. Canoes, kayaks, pontoon rafts and float tubes all serve a unique purpose to fit different applications.

Johnny's Lunker1
This old Coleman Canoe dubbed the “Big Green Monster” has seen it’s fair share of fish catching action

Canoes are a little more on the bulky end of small watercrafts. An advantage to canoes is their versatility. You can apply them to almost any kind of water. While some of the larger canoes made of polyethylene are extremely durable, they’re also heavy and awkwardly long, requiring at least two people to load and unload it from the roof rack of a vehicle. Hauling them a long distance by foot is something you’ll have decide on with your fishing buddy for the day. Many of the larger models are designed with a flat stern so a trolling motor can be attached.

You’ll have to check your local regulations about registering the boat if you decide to use one. Most places will require you to have a floatation device and a paddle on board as well. It’s generally a good idea to use the paddles as much as possible. A little elbow grease goes a long way to push through the water with ease, and you have more control over starting, stopping, and quietly stalking bass. You’ll only get so much battery life out of using the motor, so try to reserve it for when you’re jetting across the lake.

Don’t pull your lines out of the water, either. I’ve hooked many bass trolling spinnerbaits slowly over deep shelves. If you are looking for an alternative that would make a better potential solo boat, reduce the length and look for something with a much lighter fiberglass hull. Shorter canoes will also be more maneuverable, not just because of their turning radius, but because they will be swayed less by winds and current. You should keep in mind that these crafts are tipsy, and easy to get swamped with water or even sink if you aren’t careful enough. Avoid taking them through narrow chutes on small rivers. The length of these boats makes it dangerous to squeeze through if you’re not lined up correctly.

Angler Brad Hole shows off a nice smallmouth caught from his Hobie Kayak
Angler Brad Hole shows off a nice smallmouth caught from his Hobie Kayak

Kayaks are not much different than canoes, but are better suited for currents in streams, creeks and rivers. The cargo holds will keep your gear not only dry, but intact when navigating areas where canoes are likely to cause disasters. A low center of gravity will allow you to turn the bow into chutes and direct the boat where it needs to be while drifting downstream.

There are a wide varitey of kayak models. The sit-in kayaks will take on water without a skirt, so some anglers just prefer sit-on models, some of which you can stand on like a paddleboard with some balance and experience. Foot propulsion is luxury that will allow you to be hands-free fishing and not consumed with positioning the boat. The low-profile of the boat will allow you to reach areas you might not be able to access by a canoe or a johnboat. Maintaining your balance while casting and setting the hook also takes some patience.

Shane Elkinton shooting through Smith Ferry Rapids on the Umpqua. Note that he is wearing a life preserver. (photo taken by Wyman Gast)
Shane Elkinton shooting through Smith Ferry Rapids on the Umpqua River.
Note that he is wearing a life preserver.
(photo taken by Wyman Gast)

Pontoon Rafts are also better suited for currents in streams, creeks and rivers. You’re not likely to sink your vessel, and if your gear is tied down well enough, your belongings should be secure when taking rapids. They’re more similar to navigating a drift boat, and their wide base makes them a little more stable than a canoe or kayak. While they take up space in width, they are also easily maneuverable because of their length.

If you plan on spending a lot of time on the water, you’ll probably be a lot more comfortable in a pontoon than cramping into a kayak or being hunched over in a canoe. Pontoons are lightweight and easy to carry over shallow areas where you may have to portage. Another attractive element to pontoons is that they can be deflated and broken down to fit in most vehicles, and don’t require a trailer or tie-downs to strap it to the roof rack. Some models are also built with a flat stern to mount a trolling motor, with the battery fitted in a basket behind the seat. You’ll likely have to adjust to having the extra weight in the rear of the boat if you decide to mount a motor.

An anchor pulley system is pretty standard on most models. Using the anchor will allow you to fish from a stationary position while in a current that would otherwise cause the craft to drift. It’s always a good idea to have spare parts on board. A spare oar, oar locks, and patch kit are essential. Be aware when navigating strong currents, that even with the stability from the wide base, they are not immune to tipping if you snag a boulder and high side the craft.

FloatOn
Angler Russell Wright shows off a nice Largemouth landed from his Caddis Float Tube

The float tube is not a glamorous accessory. It’s appearance resembles more of something you’d see summer sunbathers lounging in while being carried downstream by the current. You are essentially wearing a spare tire with waders and flippers. Make sure when purchasing flippers that you get the kind that cover your entire foot. Flippers that have straps on the back and an open heel will quickly wear through the neoprene in your waders. You may look ridiculous waddling to the water’s edge, but it is a valuable addition to any fleet for anglers in search of lurking lunkers.

While there are limited applications for float tubing, there are many times they can be the only viable option to exploring water where gas motors are not allowed and larger boats aren’t practical to drag around. Float tubes should be dried out, deflated and put away in a storage container so they aren’t damaged when not in use. A bonus is that a float tube is a watercraft that will fit in the trunk of any car. They also provide an element of stealth that is difficult to match with other watercraft.

There’s even a special connection to having your feet in the water that is un-explainable. Unfortunately, you will have to exert a maximum amount of energy to create a minimal amount of movement, so it’s best to plan trips in calm waters by avoiding windy days and currents. Long excursions may require a headlamp to get to the good water at dawn or in case it takes you longer to get back than you expected. Be prepared with a patch kit on board so you’re not left stranded in the water.

Of course, many of these small water-crafts can be used in a number of applications on different bodies of water. Choosing the right craft for each application can be vital to creating a successful and comfortable day of fishing. Having a complete arsenal of small water-crafts can expand your number of fishing opportunities, however, if you don’t have that luxury, learn what types of water your small craft is best suited for, and focus on dialing in the best techniques for that piece of water.

These creatures grow older and wiser to the wide range of angling tactics, so accessing water that receives very little fishing pressure will greatly improve your chances of catching more and bigger bass. Simply putting into the water and quietly moving through untouched or rarely fished areas can be rewarding in itself.

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NEXT: LEAN HOW TO USE ONLINE RESOURCES TO CATCH MORE FISH

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The Best Small Crafts for Bass Fishing