Chinook salmon, Coho, estuary fishing, bay fishing, 

Basic Fishing From a Boat for the Beginner 


Chinook salmon, Coho, estuary fishing, bay fishing,


   OK, here is a sequel to the bank fishing for the beginner.   If you happen to have started fishing from the bank, you will soon realize that you have restrictions, because of property ownership, or non usable access (lots of brush or a high bank), etc.  If you could just cast a bit farther, maybe that lunker was just out of reach.  OH, if I just had a boat !!!.

   Well, yes owning a boat does expand your possibilities considerably, but it comes with a lot of responsibilities and expenses.  The one bad thing about owning a boat is that the perfect boat always belongs to someone else.  There is no one perfect boat to be used for all types of fishing, or boating experiences.    CLICK HERE  for a link to a boat ownership article.


  Selecting Your First Boat ;  There is a saying that goes something like this.  There are two joyous days in a boat owners life.  One is the day he buys a new boat and the second is the day he sells it.  There is another that using the spelling of BOAT which translates to Break Out Another Thousand.   It also has been described as that a boat is a hole on the water that you pour money into.  


   The natural tendency is to look at larger boats and wish, but for a newbie, DO NOT get caught up in this thinking.  Many of us have been there/done that and have probably purchased larger boats in our lifetime only to find out later that our needed crew moved away, or we got older and could not handle that large a boat alone, it became too expensive to operate, or it was not really suited for what we then needed as time passed.  Times change and over time our desires/needs can change also.  One of the boats that I bought (a 17' Glassply) was from a couple of brothers who because of their advancing COPD, they had to take turns in winching the boat back onto the trailer.


About as small & crowded as you can get, BUT bonding & having fun


   There are many sizes and styles of boats, so on the practical side, for this article we will be discussing small lake type boats in the 10' to 14" class.  In modern times, these will usually be made of aluminum or fiberglass, either of which for your intended purpose either will function quite well.   When buying a boat, most of us will, for our first boat of this size usually buy a used one.  This could be good or bad, depending on the condition of your intended purchase.  Older aluminum boats were made by being riveted together.  Over time, these rivets tend to become loose and leak. The NUMBER ONE criteria is that your boat does not leak.  A little leak may be OK in that you are usually not going to be on the water for along time, but getting your feet or worse, and anything else laying on the bottom wet is not a desired feature.  Rivets can be tightened up or re-riveted, but is is best to shy away from this aggravation and get a welded aluminum boat to start with.  The current best sales media appears to be Craigs List.


   I would also shy away from a canoe as your first boat.  They may be good for their intended purpose, but for a newbie to the boating world, probably not the best choice as they are rather tippy and if a cargo canoe with a flat transom for a motor, they can easily be overpowered and become unstable. 


   The deeper the boat is the better, (like higher sides) like being more stable if you and your fishing companion happen to be heavy weights, and get caught in a windy and rough water condition.  There are flat bottomed boats that are called Jon boats, which usually DO NOT have a pointed bow, (the front to you non boaters),  as seen in the photos below, while other more conventional boats are a more normal pointed bow shape.


   You also want to be sure that your new to you boat has floatation built into it.  Currently (after 1977) all boats made in the US being 20' or less require manufacturer installed floatation.


   Also there needs to be some method of transporting the boat unless you are fortunate to live on a body of water.  Some will come with a trailer, others maybe not.  This can be "Car Topping" if the boat is small and light enough and you are strong enough to facilitate this method.  Usually anything longer than 10' would require a trailer to be used to transport the boat to your intended water.  Usually normal utility trailers are not used here, (however you will see a few).  Boat trailers are designed specially for this purpose.  Depending on the style they could have 2"x 6"carpeted bunks for the boat to lay on for this size a boat, OR rubber rollers which allow heavier boats to be easily winched the last few feet and into nests to tie the boat down.   All trailers will have a small hand winch on the tongue to pull the boat onto the trailer and secure it at the front.  To secure them at the rear a strap / straps of some kind is usually used.


14' Lowe deep Jon boat & trailer 12' regular Jon boat mounted on a pickup canopy


   One suggestion is to NOT get a SMALL boat that does not readily accommodate more than one person, which usually means getting 12' or more.


  Propulsion ;  You will need some form of power for locomotion to move the boat on the water.  This could be oars or a outboard motor of some kind.  Oars are fine if you have a good back.  Motors for this size a boat can be broken down into 2 styles, (1) Outboard or (2) Electric.   Outboards then come in 2 different types, (a) the older 2 cycle ones requiring a oil to be mixed with the gasoline fuel and (b) newer 4 stoke automotive type that use straight gasoline.   Either need regular attention if you want it to start and run every time, like regular maintenance, proper storage etc.   They also come in different shaft lengths, but for this size a boat you will probably only be using the short shaft (15") size.   If you decide on an outboard motor for propulsion, CLICK HERE  to get an understanding of how/what is needed to maintain the older models.  I would not get one larger than 8hp as anything bigger than that becomes heavier and of course more power, which could mean more speed, BUT in the boating world, SPEED is what gets you in trouble, especially for the uninitiated.

   Electric motors on the other hand only need a charged Deep Cycle Marine battery.  Here it is best to NOT buy the cheapest car battery, but one designed for this purpose, being a Deep Cycle.  These are designed so that if you run it down (DEAD, even numerous times) and then it can still be recharged.  Most of them, if NOT run at HIGH SPEED all day will last for most of a day if used only for trolling, or to move to one location to another.  However it is best to have a set of oars as a backup if you want to get back to the launch.


  Outfitting Your Boat ;  First off, the MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE IS WATER SAFETY.  By this, there are some safety requirements for boats set forth by the US Coast Guard.  These include appropriate life preservers (Personal Floatation Devices, PFDs), which are required.  "There shall be one USCG approved device for each person onboard, plus one throwable floatation cushion".  Some states also require kids under 12 years of age to wear the PFDs.  There are a couple of types, (1) more somewhat ridgid foam type and (2) the more comfortable inflatable ones.


   One of the most important things to have on a boat is a comfortable seat, as this size a boat is not conducive to standing up all day in.  This size a boat will not have seats as we know it, but usually simply a bench type from one side to the other.   Therefore it may be advantageous to purchase seats with a back.  These are made to clamp, or bolt onto the bench type.  You may also want to install fishing rod holders to the top sides (gunwales) of the boat.  CLICK HERE for an article on them. And adding a depth finder unit (sonar) to tell you the water depth, or to locate fish may be desirable.


   There are other requirements, which are covered HERE.  These could include the above PFDs, boat registration numbers displayed on the bow, a copy of the state boat registration, fire extinguisher, signaling devices, lights if applicable, etc.    You will not need lights if you are on a inland lake and do not venture out at night.  You may also want a small anchor and line, along with a bailing device.   You will also want a long handled landing net.   Do not get carried a way with overloading your new boat to the point where it is crowded so that you have a safety situation.

   So just buying a used boat and legally putting it in the water is not that simple.


Some days on the water are enjoyable no matter the weather  conditions, like this stormy November day.   While other days the weather can be just the opposite, however the enjoyment is still there.


  Now To The Fishing Needs ;  OK, you have now transgressed from the Basic Bank Fishing to on the water fishing, so you may have most of your gear.  Much of this bank fishing gear can be used for boat fishing.  But depending on your method of fishing, some items may change.  If you are just using the boat to move from spot A to spot B on a lake, then you can still use your gear doing it in the same method as from the bank. 


   But you may see fisherpersons using some form of propulsion slowly moving around on the lake.  This would be TROLLING, which is, let out your line and lure, then drag it around slowly at a desired depth until you find a fish that is hungry and decides to bite (a willing biter).  Here, fish tend to gather in a depth containing a water temperature that they are comfortable in, and/or an area where food is plentiful.  This usually requires that you know how deep you are fishing.  One funny thing you will see is the bankies want to cast as far out as possible, while the boaters like to hug the shoreline.


   Trolling is good in that you cover a lot of water, giving you more coverage, as compared to just sitting waiting for a fish to find you.   Here the gear changes somewhat.  Rods and reels could remain the same, however letting the line out when using a spinning reel is not conducive as to the distance you let out, which equates to depth, if you want repeatability.  


  Reels ;   If you are considering to troll most of the time, you may consider using a casting type rod and reel.  (You need justification for two don't you?)  Here, depth of your lure is important, which also equates to how far out you are letting the line out.  For years fisherpersons, have been counting  "PULLS" of line to determine how far out they are.  A pull is usually considered 2 feet, measured from the reel to as far out as you can pull it.  Some of the longer rods have the first line guide at this distance.  You need to calculate how far out your line is as compared to the weight of sinker/lure to relate to how deep it is.  The average line angle as it enters the water may be between 15 and 30 degrees.  The chart below may help by using your line angle and the distance you are out.


   Then there are line counter reels available now that really help, but that is just another expense at startup.


  Rods ;   If you intend to do trolling with any of the large gang troll attractors, there will be a greater pull on the rod, therefore a little stiffer rod may be in order (one which is designed for a line weight of from 12 to 17# would be a wise choice.  For the small boater long rods are not needed and would be a hindrance when trying to change lures or re-bait, therefore  rods in the 6',  6 1/2' to 7' are plenty.  You can use an 8' or 8 1/2' or longer, but for a small boat it gets cumbersome.


   Trolling speed can vary from 1 mph to up to possibly 3 mph, depending on the specie you are targeting.  The new depth-finders/plotters that have GPS capability also have a speed over ground which helps, or the older non GPS units have a mechanical speedometer that is attached to the transom (rear of the boat).  These read speed by using a hollow plastic tube to the meter, and the force of the water into the orifice, creates pressure to the front ot meter end.  Others have a paddle wheel at the transducer, but these other than GPS, also read current speed and not Speed Over Ground as the GPS does.  If you are sitting anchored in a river, these will show that you are moving.


This chart gives some computer driven numbers using the known angle



   Now here is another method of getting the lure deeper as seen in the photo below, which is a Diver.  These come in various makes/models and are a device attached to the line in front of your attractor that use the boat's forward motion to pull the diver down.  Again distance out equals depth.  Some have a release clip so that when a fish bites, the diver releases (as in the one in the photo below) and negates the dive, making less drag to pull the fish in.


Here a typical Kokanee trolling diver tackle that can be used for trout also


   In the photo with the wobble spoon attractor and diver above, the leader to the plastic squid (hoochie) that has no action itself, so it needs to be short enough, about 10" back so the spoon's wobble creates movement for the hoochie which imitates a small fish or worm swimming.  However you do not want the lure to be slammed all over the place by an aggressive wobbler, creating a condition where the fish does not have much change of grabbing it.  Therefore trial and error becomes the rule of the day.


   For a link to another article about lake fishing for trout CLICK HERE.


  Terminal Tackle;  This means lures and or attractors as in trolling, you are trying to attract the fish to come to your lure, in doing this, an attractor of some kind is attached onto the line ahead of the lure itself.   The thinking here is that since fish are normally a schooling fish, and that if they see other fish together, they may think that food is found.  These attractors are usually a spoon type wobblier or a series of large spinner blades.


  Lures & Attractors ;   This will depend on the lake, your method of fishing and what specie you are really targeting.  For trolling, the following lures are a start.

             Wedding Ring or Double Whammy spinner using worms for bait
             Rooster Tail spinner, or #1 Vibrex spinner in gold/orange body
             a Fly, trolled 100' back on top of the water
             Flatfish, Maglip 2.5" or  Rapella plug
             Heidebrandt double blade spinners in size 6 or 7 with a rudder ahead of a  Flatfish, Power Bait  or shrimp/worm about 12” behind   
             Pop Geer gang troll spinners with the above bait combinations
             Small dodger, or Fish Flash with a Apex Kokanee Special plug, either red or chrome, or a small rubber squid
and scent
                a 1 oz sliding sinker is enough for fishing the top 20 or 30 feet of water


    The Pop Geer brand of gang trolls are made in length sizes of 17", 28" and 36" with most coming with their own keel.  One nickname for the longer ones of any brand is a "Yard and a Half".    Other old time spinner attractors are the Ford Fender and Doc Shelton.    In the photo below, you will note that all have a rudder or (keel) attached to the front.  Guess which is the Ford Fender.   These rudders are so that with these large blades spinning that it does no twist your mainline.  It is also best to be sure you have a swivel at the end of your mainline as added insurance of less twisting.


Here we see a few different gang trolls of the many available


  Bait ;  This can be as simple as a angleworm, or salmon egg, a grasshopper etc.   As mentioned in the bank article, hook size could go up a size or two, and range from #4 to a #2 as these fish that bite a trolled bait do not have the time to mouth it, in deciding to take it or not, therefore a slightly larger hook will increase your hookups.  If bait is used, the leader from the attractor to the hook can be + -12".   If a lure, is used, you need it far enough back behind the attractor to allow this lure to achieve it's wriggle motion, usually 16" to 20" or more.   For most lures you do not also add bait to them, but possibly a scent.



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Originated 06-10-2017, Last updated 04-16-2021
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