If you like fishing, you may have faced the handling, transportation and storage problems involved with a traditional rigid fishing boat. It’s perhaps one of the biggest reasons for avid anglers to give up their hobby.
Inflatable fishing boats have made the life of fishing enthusiasts much easier though.
In fact, I’ve been using SIBs for fishing for years, and have tried many types of inflatable watercraft during this time.
In this detailed guide, I will list my top picks for the best inflatable fishing boats in 2020. I will also cover the most important factors you need to consider when making your choice.
Let’s get started, the fish don’t wait!
Can You Use an Inflatable Boat for Fishing?
Although inflatable boats are by no means new to the market, older models weren’t tough enough to bear the heavy wear and tear that’s normally caused during fishing.
Despite the comfortable ride offered by some older versions of inflatable boats, they were never the first choice for fishing. Apart from the comparatively delicate fabric, which was prone to get punctured by fishing hooks, these older models were also very difficult to pilot.
However, most of the new generation inflatable fishing boats overcome these shortcomings. They’re not only much sturdier and easier to use than their earlier versions, but even offer some amazing features, like:
- Rod Support
- Accessories Bag
- Mounts for Motor
With the latest technological developments providing these useful capabilities, the inflatable boats are no doubt making inroads into the angling Industry. They’re fast replacing the conventional hard body boats as the new favorites for fishing purpose.
Arguably, the biggest benefit accrued by you from an inflatable fishing boat is its tremendous portability and ease of storage. The storage and transportation expenses saved by you on each of your fishing outings is another advantage that you get. In addition, the inflatable boats are much less costly than the conventional hard-shell ones.
Most of the SIBs can be packed, stowed and transported in large duffel bags that can be easily carried by you. The space occupied by these bags/cases is not much, which allows you to fit in your angling accessories also in your car.
So if you’re asking yourself, “Are inflatable boats good for fishing?” You bet they are!
Types of inflatable watercraft for fishing
Just like their traditional counterparts, the inflatable fishing boats are available in various types having different configurations. Although all these inflatable boats enable you to move away from shoreline towards deeper waters, you need to choose the right model to meet your requirements.
In this article, you’ll find all relevant details about the five basic types of Inflatable boats available in the market. This information is vital for you to make the right choice while purchasing an Inflatable fishing boat.
Cheap rafts are simple toys that are designed for paddling around in a pool. These are delicate and get easily punctured and hence are not suitable for fishing.
On the other hand, a high-end inflatable raft (like the Intex Excursion 5) can be almost as heavy-duty as an orthodox boat, but can cost you thousands of dollars less.
Superficially, you may confuse these with a Kayak or a Dinghy. However, there are a few marked differences – mainly with respect to the configuration and shape. Typically, a raft has an air-filled tube surrounding the flat open base of the boat. The floor can be of different types and may include seats in some cases.
These are one of the most favorite inflatable boats for fishing. With minor variations in the configurations and material, there are various types of rafts available. Depending upon the quality of the raft, these have different prices.
To make a real fishing boat out of a raft, you need to build a hard floor like this one.
Where can you fish with inflatable rafts?
Inflatable rafts are great almost anywhere. The only places you would not want to go with them are the ocean and whitewater. They are not seaworthy or safe on rapids though.
Inflatable Dinghy (aka sports boats)
As I mentioned, a Dinghy is very similar to a Raft. However, you can differentiate them based on the shape.
Unlike a raft, which has an air-tube completely encircling its floor, a Dinghy has a u-shaped bladders. These air bladders are not connected at the boat’s rear end, rather they are connected with a transom.
This arrangement not only provides it extra stability, but also makes it easier and simpler to navigate and control. It’s easier to place a motor on the transom as well.
Although some models of rafts are as stable and comfortable as dinghies (like the Intex Mariner 4), in general, the latter are more stable, seaworthy and comfortable.
The compactness of most dinghies make them easy to transport and store. Therefore, they combine the benefits of a raft with better maneuverability and controls.
Where can you fish on a dinghy?
Wherever your heart desires really. You can even get out and fish on the ocean in a dinghy, as they are rugged enough for larger waves, and their motor will get you back to shore safely.
These are arguably the most preferred inflatable fishing boats in the market because of their numerous advantages.
Pontoons can be used like a dinghy or a conventional boat based on the type you choose. The stability of some larger models is so great that you can comfortably stand while fishing. This becomes a deciding factor, if you don’t like to fish in a seated position.
However, the pontoon boats have a few shortcomings too. They’re not very easy to keep floating in a particular place for a longer time and most pontoons don’t have large storage space on them. Therefore, it’s not a good choice for you, if you like to carry many fishing accessories.
You can purchase inflatable pontoon fishing boats that have a metal frame, and also ones that are frameless.
While most inflatable pontoon boats had frames in the past, most fisherman are now looking for frameless models.
Frameless pontoon fishing boats are
- usually lighter
- easier to assemble
- have larger bladders because they don’t have poles limiting space
- have higher weight capacities because the weight of the frame is not there
While frameless models cost a bit more, the advantages outweigh the extra costs in my opinion. You will have a more portable boat which is easier to pilot.
Where can you fish with a pontoon boat?
Pontoon boats are used in lakes, ponds, and even calmer rivers. Do not use them in the ocean though.
The speed of these narrow, long man-powered crafts is their biggest advantage. The inflatable version of kayaks offer the same agility and speed as their traditional counterparts, while making them easier to store and transport. Some models of inflatable kayaks even allow you to place a motor, thereby further increasing their speed and power.
Kayaks are inherently easier to control and make an ideal choice for those anglers, who like to travel over long distances for fishing.
Types of fishing kayaks
There are two basic varieties of kayaks, each offering a different set of advantages and shortcomings:
- Sit-inside kayak: Has more space for you to carry accessories. However, it’s vulnerable to get filled with water and also puts a limitation on the fishing positions.
- Sit-on-top kayak: This type of kayak is actually a SUP, or stand up paddle board with added features. Most anglers prefer to go for the sit-on-top kayak for fishing
Once you’ve finalized the type of kayak, you need to choose a specific model that suits best for your requirements of speed Vs stability.
Longer and narrower models of kayaks offer you higher speeds but are lesser stable than shorter and wider kayaks.
Where can you fish with a kayak?
Inflatable kayaks are versatile beasts, but they do have their limits. They are perfect in rivers, lakes and bays. However, they are difficult to control on windy & wavy sea/ocean water.
Stand Up Paddleboard Fishing Boat
As I mentioned, SUP fishing boards are also called sit-on-top kayaks. You can choose to stay standing (if you have good balance), or you can put a chair on the board and use it from a sitting position. The best fishing SUPs come with a swiveling chair, you just need to learn to paddle without falling off.
The fishing SUP is lightweight and portable like a float tube, but provides some real advantages.
- Much better propulsion,
- a higher viewpoint,
- less contact with the water if you can stay on.
Manufacturers have started making fishing-specific SUPs. These come with rod holders as an included accessory.
They are also long and wide, so you can fit a deck bag on the nose of the board.
Where can you fish with a SUP?
Larger SUPs are great for flat water, while shorter, more maneuverable ones are made for river fishing. Stay away from rapids or waves in general though.
What is a float-tube? They can be described as improved and strengthened inner-tubes that allow you to comfortably sit with your feet hanging in the water. These small watercraft are actually small pontoon boats, and are the most economical option for fisherman.
Float tubes are too small for a motor to fit and most models aren’t suited to be used with oars.
So how are they propelled?
Float tubes move in the water with the help of your feet. You usually need to wear fins to provide more speed and enable a higher level of control.
Yes, you read that right, you paddle with fins.
The lightweight float tubes are very easy to transport, which is perhaps their biggest advantage. If you are looking only for portability from an inflatable fishing boat, the float tube is a great option for you.
Their small size allows you to maneuver easily into tight spaces and also provides better stealth for movements. However, they’re not very easy to control. The float tubes are also not a good choice if you like to fish in a standing position and don’t like to get wet while angling.
Where can you fish in a float tube?
Float tubes are meant to get you onto the water and fish without moving around much. They are not meant for traveling longer distances. They are great though in calm lakes, ponds and bays.
Best inflatable boats for fishing in 2020
Not that you are familiar with the wide range of inflatable watercraft you can use for fishing, allow me to present my recommendations on the best ones I’ve come across.
Going in order, I will show you my recommendations for the best inflatable watercraft in the following categories:
- inflatable rafts
- inflatable dinghies
- inflatable pontoon boats
- inflatable sitting and standing (SUPs) kayaks
- float tubes
Here they are.
Intex Excursion 5
The Excursion 5 is a very popular family-oriented inflatable raft. It is rugged, has a large capacity and size, so it is marketed to family hobby boaters. I have a detailed review of the raft here.
|Intex Excursion 5 specs|
|Capacity||5 people or 1,320 lbs (600 kg)|
|Size||144″ L x 66″ W x 17″ H|
The Excursion 5 is also a very popular raft among fishermen on a budget!
It is large enough to fit your fishing gear, including coolers and even a trolling motor.
There is a catch though. As with most inflatable rafts, you will need to build a hard floor for it, to make it stable enough to move around on. It makes for a great weekend project, and you’ll get a perfectly capable fishing boat for a great price in the end.
Sevylor Fish Hunter 360
The Fish Hunter is an inflatable raft that was designed to be a fishing boat. It has some nice angler-oriented features, you can read more about them in my detailed review of the raft.
|Sevylor Fish Hunter 360 specs|
|Capacity||6 people – 1250 lbs|
|Size||137″ L x 67″ W|
|Vinyl||heavy-duty 32 gauge PVC|
Sevylor got a lot of things right when they designed this raft. It features heavy-duty vinyl to avoid abrasion related damage, huge capacity to fit all of your fishing supplies, an optional transom to mount a motor, and 2 Berkley quick set fishing rod holders.
Even at around double the price of the Excursion 5, it is a good buy.
If you are even a little serious about fishing though, you will need to build a hard floor for this boat as well. Being a fishing raft, I really think Sevylor should make one and sell it as an extra, but they don’t.
Angler Bay from AIRHEAD
This is one of the most affordable and lightweight inflatable fishing rafts on the market.
|Angler Bay specs|
|Capacity||6 people or 900 lbs|
|Size||140″ L x 66.5″ W x 17″ H|
|Vinyl||heavy duty 32 gauge PVC|
It has inbuilt drink holders, wrap around grab lines and rod holders to let you enjoy your fishing expedition with your family or friends.
Like most inflatable rafts, it does not have a hard floor. You will need to build one yourself if you want improved stability during your fishing trips.
The Angler Bay is value for the money and a real deal for the fun anglers. It isn’t as good as more expensive fishing boats, but it gets the job done.
Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker 10 (STS10).
The Stealth Stalker 10 is another winner from the premium manufacturers of inflatable boats, Sea Eagle. It’s a two person fishing boat and has uses under various situations. It can be easily operated by one person in rough rivers or bays as well as calm lakes.
|Stealth Stalker 10 specs|
|Capacity||2 people or 1200 lbs|
|Size||10’1″ x 5′|
|Air chambers||3 ( port, starboard, and bow )|
|Vinyl||1000 Denier 36 mil, reinforced floor|
The STS10 boasts of amazing stability and long durability and it allows you to enjoy fishing at your favorite spots. The completely enclosed hull of this lightweight inflatable boat provides you the desired stability and adequate space for all your angling accessories.
This boat has wide floorboards, so you can stand and move your supplies around with ease. It even comes with 2 swiveling seats
Besides being very easy to transport and convenient to store, there’s plenty of space inside the boat for all your fishing tools. This boat has two inbuilt 40″ fish rulers and four rod holding attachments to give it a marked edge over its competitors.
BRIS 14.1 ft Kaboat
A Kaboat is a kayak + boat in one. This Bris Kaboat is highly durable and performs exceedingly well in almost all types of waters including rivers, oceans, lakes or bays etc. It is composed of four air chambers, bench seats, an air floor and four tracking fins.
|Bris Kaboat specs|
|Capacity||3 person or 750 lbs|
|Size||14.1′ x 4.3″|
|Air chambers||4 + 1 air floor|
|Vinyl||1100 Denier PVC|
It’s got great water tracking and can be used with the included oars as well as a gas motor or electric trolling.
The narrow and long kayak style design provides the Kaboat high speeds of a Kayak while maintaining the stability of an inflatable. It is very stable, you can easily stand and cast on the high pressure drop-stitched air floor.
Saturn also makes a Kaboat of similar size, but the Bris is better. This has larger tubes, is a bit wider, more air chambers, and it is cheaper.
The Bris kayak-boat hybrid is available is a number of sizes. I tried the 14-foot model, which had good space in it for 2 fisherman plus supplies.
Intex Excursion Pro Fishing Kayak
Intex has really done a great job with the 2nd version of its pro fishing kayak.
|Intex Excursion Pro Kayak specs|
|Capacity||2 people or 400 lbs|
|Size||151″ x 13″ x 18″|
|Vinyl||30 gauge, 3 ply|
It is made out of 3 ply PVC with a polyester core. This makes it lightweight and highly resistant to damage, and also allows higher air pressure for extra rigidity.
It is easy to inflate and deflate, both take around 8-10 minutes.
It has built in fishing pole holders which are set up so you can troll along with them behind you. There is a problem with them though: they are right in front of the rear seat, so they are in the way if you want to paddle from the rear seat. It’s better to sit in front, paddle from there, and set your fishing rods behind you.
The kayak also has a mounting bracket that you can attach accessories to, like GPS or fish finders.
It also comes with a pump, 86″ oars, and 2 seats, which are pretty comfortable thanks to the backrest.
Sevylor Colorado Fishing Kayak
This inflatable kayak has been designed for one thing: fishing.
|Sevylor Colorado Fishing Kayak specs|
|Capacity||2 people or 470 lbs|
|Size||10’9″ x 3’3″|
|Air chambers||3 (2 main and 1 floor)|
|Vinyl||18 gauge PVC with 840D nylon cover, 1000D tarpaulin bottom|
You get a lot of fishing at a bargain price as well, including Berkley rod holders, double walled 18-gauge PVC, reinforced bottom, and plenty of storage space. Even the seat backs have pockets for storing whatever your heart desires.
It is easy to inflate and deflate using the Boston valves, and it has multiple air chambers for safety.
I have used this kayak and can say it was very stable. The tracking fins are great for keeping straight, just make sure you attach them before inflation. The sides are high and rigid, so you stay dry even in waves and currents.
Because of the kayaks size, wind can catch it and force it off course. You should get at least 96″ oars with this kayak though, because it is long and wide. And because the package doesn’t include paddles.
Another negative was that the fishing pole just wiggled in the rod holder. There are 6 rod holders all together, but only 2 Berkley attachments.
A lot of people even add a trolling motor to it by building and attaching a cross brace made out of 1″ PVC pipes. This fits perfectly into the rod rear holder.
Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat
One of the most popular pontoon inflatable fishing boats, the 375fc FoldCat gets its name from its unique folding frame design. This spacious fishing boat for a couple is surprisingly fuel efficient and extremely lightweight, which makes it easily portable as it can fit inside your car.
|375fc FoldCat specs|
|Capacity||2 people or 650 lbs|
|Size||12’4″ x 4’6″|
|Weight||48 lbs without cross boards, 75 with them|
|Vinyl||1100 Decitex reinforced|
The 375fc is simple to assemble – you can do it in just 10 minutes without any expertise. The aluminum frame folds up with the boat, so there is no wasting time with additional assembly.
The pontoon boat is backed by a 3-year warranty, which is a lot in the industry. It is made out of highly durable 1100 Decitex reinforced fabric.
Despite being an inflatable boat, the FoldCat has an incredible stability and rigidity, that’s primarily because of the aluminum under bars and cross-boards, and the pontoon tubes. This allows you to cast your fishing line 360° in a standing position or while sitting comfortably on the swivel seats (which are included in the package).
It has lot of space for all your fishing stores including tackles, lures, batteries etc. The motor mount allows you to easily place your motor and the oarlocks let you put the oars. Hence, this inflatable boat can be motored or paddled to your favorite fishing spot.
Sea Eagle 285 Frameless Pontoon Boat
If you like the stability and high vantage point a pontoon boat provides, but can’t be bothered with the assembly the metal frame requires, you need the Sea Eagle 285 frameless pontoon boat.
|Sea Eagle 285 specs|
|Size||9″ x 4″|
|Weight||30 lbs (42 lbs with floorboard and motor mount)|
|Vinyl||1000 denier reinforced|
This boat has a U shaped pontoon design, which replaces the traditional frame you would expect on a pontoon boat. It is incredibly stable, and has just 4″ draft thanks to the large tubes. You can stand on a pontoon and not have it tip over.
You can even stand up and cast with the floorboard installed. You need good balance though, since the boat is neither wide nor long, so not much room for mistakes.
In fact, it is very compact. It folds down into a larger duffel bag-sized carrying bag, so you can take it anywhere.
Feature-wise, the Sea Eagle 285 has a lot going for it. Swivel seats, full floor carpet, motor mount, fishing rod holders, and generally more storage room than a framed pontoon boat.
Outcast Fish Cat Panther
This pontoon boat from one of the leading inflatable boat manufacturers is extremely comfortable and comes with super-cool features that set it apart from competition. It has an unbelievable 5-year warranty as well.
|Fish Cat Panther specs|
|Capacity||1 person or 400 lbs|
|Size||9′ x 5′|
The low-profile of this boat provides it extra stability in windy conditions, while its unique design makes it easy to maneuver and track. It is quad hulled, so very stable even on rivers and streams.
Obviously breaking down the 6-piece frame is more work than deflating a simple inflatable raft, but you get much more fishing power in return. The frame is constructed using lightweight, but strong aluminum.
This single person pontoon boat is an ideal choice for those lone anglers who want to experience flat water or river fishing alone, and don’t mind spending more time on assembling/disassembling the boat.
Colorado XTS – Classic Accessories
The Colorado XTS is a pontoon style inflatable boat that’s loaded with great features for both experienced as well as budding anglers alike. The removable fishing gear bags allow you to store all your fishing accessories in them.
|Colorado XTS specs|
|Capacity||1 person or 400 lbs|
|Size||9′ x 4’8″|
|Vinyl||840 denier nylon top and 1100-denier PVC|
With transport wheels, it’s very convenient to transport it. The inbuilt rod holders, anchoring arrangement and extra storage space in the rear make it one of the most popular inflatable boats in its category. Despite being easy on your pocket, it offers many advantages and features that even some other premium inflatable boats don’t have.
Its stability and ease of maneuverability along with the ability to house an electric motor make it a perfect choice for lakes. I’ve personally used it with an electric motor and a 60lbs marine battery and it performed very well. You won’t have to compromise on your fishing tools with the Colorado XTS.
Being a framed pontoon boat, there is quite a bit of assembly work involved before you can go out on the water.
PackFish 7 from Sea Eagle
PackFish 7 is one of the most portable inflatable boats in the market. The small fishing craft is perfect for a single person angling expedition. With only 22 pounds of weight, it can be simply carried as a backpack.
The boat is actually an alternative to a float tube. Unlike float tubes, the large air chambers allow for a totally dry fishing experience, but still only have 4 inches of draft.
|Capacity||1 person or 400 lbs|
|Size||9′ x 4’8″|
|Vinyl||1000 Denier PVC coated Polyester, 840 Denier Nylon protective cover|
The PF7 has a frame-less design, which allows it to be folded and packed into a small bag. It inflates in 5 minutes to 1.1 PSI, and you’re ready to fish.
Despite its small size, it has some amazing features like rod holders, storage pockets for your fishing accessories and tackles, fishing rulers etc. The little boat has an optional hard floorboard as well, which means you could stand up in it and cast. It comes standard with an inflatable seat with great back support.
The PackFish 7 just might be the perfect backpack fishing boat.
Cumberland Float Tube
This is arguably the best float tube available in the market. It’s shape allows you to move easily through difficult waters using your legs.
|Cumberland Float Tube specs|
|Size||47″ x 56″|
The cargo pockets provide space for your fishing tools, while your rods can be safely placed in the rod holders. They are not very stable rod holders though, as they are velcro straps. But just so you know, all float tubes have velcro rod holders.
The boat also has drink holders for the party-type anglers. There’s enough storage space on the boat for all your angling accessories.
The construction material used is abrasion-resistant, thereby giving it protection against puncturing. I wouldn’t bang it against sharp cliffs though.
The adjustable seats are extremely comfortable for you to sit and enjoy for a long time.
How to choose an inflatable fishing boat?
In order to select the right inflatable boat for your fishing requirements, you need to weigh your options with a few important parameters.
Storage space in the boat
An experienced angler knows that apart from patience, awareness and knowledge, fishing accessories are important to get a good catch. Your success rate increases with more number of accessories like rods, lines etc.
This fact is clear from the variety of products available on the market. The angling stores have a wide range of fishing gear and other products including :-
- Fishing Rods – different lengths, weights and strength.
- Fishing Line – made of different materials and having different lengths.
- Hooks and Bait – Live or artificial bait.
- Other Accessories – pliers, tackles, reels etc.
A large number of accessories are required even for fly-fishing. Generally, anglers carry loads of such tools like line clippers, flies etc in vest pockets. The space management to accommodate these add-ons inside an inflatable boat is a major challenge. Hence, the top inflatable boat manufacturers cater for lot of storage space.
Your costly reels and rods are kept safe from the oars with the help of the rod holders. You can also have a troll while you’re paddling out.
The zipper compartments allow you to store smaller items and the watertight box can be used to keep your phone, camera, wallet, keys etc safe from getting damaged by water. There’s enough space to keep an emergency medical and survival kit to let you go out fishing alone.
This is an important consideration, if you need to move around on the boat in order to hold tight and fight a strong catch. An inflatable boat with broad cross members provides you the required stability to shift your weight from one side to the other without the danger of capsizing.
However, a broader boat compromises on speed as compared to a narrower craft. So, you need to consider this point and look for your ideal boat with adequate stability and speed.
While you’re out fishing in the water, you may need to cross through narrow portions to avoid damage to the boat. A highly maneuverable boat is helpful in such situations.
Generally, a shorter boat having a smaller turning radius is effective for ease of movement. These boats allow you to take sharp turns around trees or through wriggling water channels to avoid damages or getting stuck in weeds in calm waters.
With good maneuverability and some practice, you can easily steer clear of rocks while fishing in whitewater rivers. In this case also, the trade off is speed as the shorter boats are much slower than their longer counterparts. However, it’s recommended to go for a boat with high maneuverability, even if it can’t achieve great speeds.
This is directly affected by the material used and if you buy a cheap inflatable boat, you can almost rest assured that the manufacturer has used low quality materials. Vinyl boats, for example appear attractively economical, but they’re flimsy and shouldn’t be used for fishing purposes.
These weak boats can easily get damaged by gravel, hooks, rocks or even fish spines. You must select an inflatable boat made using heavy duty and strong materials. Fabric reinforced boats are an ideal choice for angling as they’re strong and yet lightweight.
Whatever material is used to manufacture an inflatable boat, they should be used with care and you must never mishandle it in the same manner as you do with the traditional fishing boats.
That said, the inflatable boats may not be as sturdy as the conventional boats, but can last long enough with due precautions. Keeping a patch repair kit for your inflatable boat is a good idea, especially if you intend to go fishing in an area with underground obstacles etc.
Considerations for Buying an Inflatable Boat for Fishing.
- Type of Fishing Boat: There are five basic types of inflatable fishing boats including Dinghy, Raft, Float Tube, Kayak and Pontoon. Choose the right type for your needs based on the different advantages and limitations of each.
- Construction Material: PVC is the most popular material as it’s not only lightweight, but also strong enough to avoid untimely damages to the boat. These boats are also economical and adequately durable. Hypalon fabric is much more stronger, but boats made using fabric are more costly also.
- Stowage and Portability: Although most inflatable fishing boats can be packed inside a large duffel bag allowing easy storage, you must check its deflated weight and inflated capacity before buying.
- Your Favorite Fishing Spots: If you want to do fishing in a local pond, any type of inflatable fishing boat can be bought. However, if you plan to go in unpredictably rough waters, you must avoid taking a float tube or a raft and should select your inflatable fishing boat with care.