Pontoon boats are increasingly popular for fishing. Here are the pros and cons


Roominess and amenities are key pontoon boat features

There’s no denying pontoon boats have grown increasingly popular on Canada’s rivers and lakes. Once dismissed as little more than glorified party rafts, pontoons have evolved to become truly versatile, comfortable and capable boats. And they’ve caught on with buyers, with the National Marine Manufacturers Association noting they now represent approximately one third of all boats sold in Canada each year. Or in other words, nearly one in three new boats leaving dealer showrooms today rides around on hollow aluminum tubes.

It’s easy to understand why. With their big, flat floors and plush upholstered seating, pontoons are exceptionally comfortable, offering plenty of room for the whole crew to spread out. Amenities such as galleys, barbecues and refrigerators add to the comfort, while the wide, swing-open doors mean no one must climb over seats or step precariously on the gunnel to come aboard or leave.


As well, pontoons can accommodate both wheelchairs and baby strollers with equal ease, making them a real hit with multi-generational families. And let’s face it, the incredible stability appeals to everyone, so it was only a matter of time before someone began to look at pontoons as potential fishing platforms.

There are times and places when a pontoon boat is awfully tough to beat, with the pros often far outweighing the cons

Today, most pontoon builders offer a range of fishing models, with standard features such as rod holders, tackle and rod storage, fishing stations, aerated livewells, swivelling pedestal-mount seats, high-end electronics, and provisions for an electric trolling motor. And since pontoons are big, roomy boats, there’s space to add just about any kind of bolt-on goodies you can imagine, from downriggers to planer-board masts to shallow-water anchors and more.

But what’s it like to actually fish from a pontoon? As a full-time boating writer who travels all over the map each year attending new product launches and test-driving new models, I’ve fished from a huge number of different boats—walleye rigs, bass boats, 14-foot tinnies, big offshore trollers, drift boats, canoes and even a couple of luxury yachts. I once even trolled for walleye off the back of a Great Lakes freighter. Pontoons had remained a mystery to me, however, so I made it my mission to fish out of as many different models, in as many different places and situations, as I could.


My overall take-away? There are times and places when a pontoon boat is awfully tough to beat, with the pros often far outweighing the cons. It all comes down to how you prefer to fish.



Pontoon boats provide plenty of space for more than one angler to fish comfortably


Pontoon boats are known for being comfortable, but when it comes to their capabilities as fishing craft, there’s more to that comfort than just the big poofy seats. Pontoon boats can be surprisingly comfortable to fish from, and their wide, open footprint is a big part of that.

With two or three parallel tubes supporting their patio-like deck, pontoons simply don’t slosh around in the breeze the way V-hull boats do, which makes them outstanding casting platforms. They’re big and wide, so you can fish side-by-side with a buddy or two and never bump elbows. And you can throw big jerkbaits for pike and muskies without fear of an unexpected gust of wind redirecting your partner’s Suick into the back of your neck. Two anglers can even fly cast from the deck without piercing each other’s ears. These are all very good things.

What’s more, the deck arrangement makes it a terrific platform for pitching in shallow water. You’re elevated a little more than you are in a bass boat, so it’s easier to whip out smooth underhand throws, dropping your offering into the prime spots with nary a splash. Being a little elevated makes it easier to judge distance, too, and easier to spot underwater features and fish—again, all good things.

Some pontoons now have dedicated fishing stations

The other benefit of the big deck is you have plenty of space for your feet. No longer do you have to gingerly step around tackle and multiple expensive rods strewn about everywhere as you perform the casting-deck fandango, that intricate on-water dance that’s all too familiar to anglers who regularly fish from bass boats.

The big, wide hull pays dividends when trolling as well, making it a cinch to keep the lines well separated, whether you’re flatlining, using planer boards or pulling leadcore. And the fact pontoons track like they’re on rails makes boat-control a joy.

Need to troll crazy slow? Backtrolling in a pontoon boat, pushing the blunt end of those big tubes through the water, lets you clock speeds so slow your GPS can’t even measure them accurately because they fall within the margin of software error.

Pontoons lets you cast away while other family members sprawl out to work on their tans

Got a gang of kids bugging you to take them to a perch tournament? Nothing fishes a whole bunch of people better than a pontoon. They’re great family boats in that you can cast away while other family members sprawl out to work on their tans, or enjoy the day under the shade of the Bimini top. On some boats, you can even install a Porta Potti with a collapsible privacy enclosure for added comfort and convenience.

There are other more direct comfort elements to consider. Standard Bimini tops do much to keep you feeling fresh by offering a nice break from the midday sun, for example. Add a camper enclosure and a small space heater, and you can stay perfectly comfy while starting and ending your open-water season earlier and later in the year. And no matter when you head out, having a pedestal-mount barbeque on the swim platform can’t be beat. Why resign yourself to cold sandwiches when you can have a fresh burger or a nice hot steak-on-a-bun instead? We’re anglers, not savages, after all.


Thanks to the higher deck on a pontoon boat, be prepared to use a landing net


One of the great advantages to fishing from a pontoon boat—its size—is also one of its biggest bugaboos. If your idea of fishing means navigating through shallow, stumpy bays for largemouth bass, and into the kinds of places where the weeds are so thick it’s hard to tell where the water ends and the shoreline begins, you’re not going to be at your happiest in a pontoon. If you think one hull can be a tricky thing to work through heavy cover, you’ll find two or three parallel tubes that much more difficult. Pontoons may be a lot of things, but weedless isn’t one of them.

Pontoons aren’t friends with the wind, either. Their higher profile and extensive vertical fencing make for tougher boat control on windy days. You’ll spend a lot more time with your foot on the electric, and you’ll likely need to run it on higher power to maintain control, meaning a louder, less stealthy approach and reduced battery life.

One final beef. While the higher deck of a pontoon makes for easier casting, it also means there’s a much longer reach to land fish by hand. In most cases, buying a pontoon boat means you’ve lipped your last bass, and embarked on the path to becoming an expert with the net. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something you do notice pretty quickly.

Pontoons are NOT big-water trolling boats—especially on rough days

As much as I have come to appreciate fishing from pontoon—and I really do appreciate them—there’s one situation where they aren’t my choice at all. Simply put, they’re not big-water trolling boats, and especially not on a rough day. While V-hull boats slice through swells with comparative ease, pontoons float over top, making for a lot more vertical movement in big waves. It’s a less comfortable ride in rough conditions, and in heavy waves the driver needs to pay constant, close attention to avoid stuffing the bow.

The other issue with pontoons as big-water trollers relates to downrigger placement. The most secure place to mount riggers is directly to the stern swim platform, but on some pontoons, the height of the aft seating makes it hard to see the rods.

So, the bottom line? Unless you spend most of your time kilometres from shore or poking about in the stumps, you’ll find pontoons have a lot to offer. They’re spacious, comfortable and versatile, and offer great value. Is a pontoon your next fishing boat? Maybe. Take a closer look and may just be surprised.