Searching for the perfect saltwater fishing boat can be downright confusing. The top two questions center on two problems. First, do you want to have a boat with shallow running capabilities? Second, are you in the market for a boat that will fish two to four fishermen comfortably on the open bays, in the surf and at the jetties?
The problem with fishing places like Sabine Lake and Keith Lake is that you need different types of boats. On Sabine, it’s almost always best to run with a big and roomy center console. This is the type of boat that handles open and often rough water safely. It can also be used to run the surf, make short offshore trips and fish the jetties.
Conversely, on the type of shallow water you’ll find at Keith Lake and in Bessie Heights marsh, you’ll definitely do best with a shallow running aluminum boat. The average water depth on Keith Lake is 2 to 3 feet. But if you want to access the backwater flats of Keith Lake and the Louisiana side of Sabine Lake, you need a lightweight shallow running skiff with a tunnel.
The most popular center consoles boats on Sabine are Skeeter, Nautic Star, Pathfinder and Key West. Center console boats from 20 to 24 feet in length are the most popular. The bigger the better when fishing open water on East Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake. But keep in mind that the bigger the boat, the more horsepower you’ll need to travel from point A to point B. And that translates into more gas. Something like a 22-foot Nautic Star is perfect for running the bays. It’ll handle up to 150 horsepower.
Another option is to run an 18-foot center console that can be powered with something like a 90 horsepower four stroke Yamaha. The Yamaha four strokes from 90 to 150 horsepower get excellent fuel economy. That’s a very important factor to consider with the price of gas averaging over $3 per gallon.
If you’re looking to escape the big water and get away from numbers of anglers, my recommendation is to buy a shallow running flat bottom, aka a skiff. One of the greatest escapes you’ll find here in Southeast Texas is on Keith Lake. You can put in at Junior’s ramp, crank the engine and run completely out of sight of civilization. The backwater lakes seem to run forever. On Keith Lake, you have the option of drifting or fishing with a trolling motor on the open flats. But if you’re into putting a lure or fly on a tailing red, you’ll need a lightweight boat that can be poled in 8 to 12 inches of water.
When fishing skinny water, a lightweight aluminum boat with a tunnel is an economical option. A 14- to 17-footer will run all day with a 25-horsepower outboard and use only a few gallons of gas. If you really want to get shallow add a jack plate to the equation.
Of course, price is a factor when choosing a boat. The big center console rigs will easily run $25,000 to $45,000. That’s a major expense. But you’ve got to consider the fun it will deliver. With the center console you can fish a lot of water. On Sabine Lake, that includes fishing the short rigs near the Sabine jetties, offshore, the bay and up the Neches and Sabine rivers. That adds up to miles upon miles of water.
An aluminum boat, with a 25 horsepower engine will cost in the neighborhood of $6,000 to $14,000, depending on how much it’s tricked out with seats, center or side console, welded deck, live well, bow storage and polling platform. Don’t forget the trolling motor and a push pole. It adds up in a hurry. But once you’ve got aluminum boat rigged up, it’ll last forever.
Last week I stopped by the Houston boat show and looked at what might be the perfect jon boat for Keith Lake and Sabine Lake. It was a center console 16-foot Alumacraft with a tunnel. The hull weight is 475 pounds. It was powered with a four stroke 50 horsepower Yamaha. The boat show sale price was right around $15,000.
Of course, if you’re addicted to fishing both open water and back water flats like me, you’re going to need two boats, which is what I have. It’s kind of a pain having to keep two boats and two trailers operating, but on the flip side I’ve got the options of fishing just about anywhere I choose on any given day.
By the way, with the economy the way it is and gas prices in the stratosphere, you might check out some of the many boat dealer discounts on new and use boats. There are some very good deals to be had out there right now.