Fishing

Best Inflatable Fishing Boats 2018 – Inflatable Pontoons, Rafts/Dinghies & Kayaks

To help you narrow your search for the best inflatable fishing boats, our on-the-water experts selected four of the best inflatables in the three main categories: fishing pontoon boats, fishing dinghies (rafts) and fishing kayaks.

Our Top Picks for each Category of Inflatable Fishing Boats

 Inflatable Pontoon BoatsInflatable Rafts/DinghiesInflatable Kayaks
sea-eagle-285fpb-inflatable-pontoon-boat-fishing-sOutcast-Osg-Striker-Inflatable-Fishing-Raft-Dinghy-sSea-Eagle-380x-Explorer-Best-Inflatable-Fishing-Kayak-s
NameSea Eagle 285Outcast OSG StrikerSea Eagle 380x Explorer
Our Rating
PriceCheck Price & ReviewsCheck Price & ReviewsCheck Price & Reviews
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Once inflatable boats began to flood the recreational market after World War II, some of the air was taken out of the fiberglass, wood and aluminum boat makers—pun intended.

As technology marched on, these easy to pack, comparatively light floaters continued to suck a little air out of the hard-hull market, especially the sport-fishing sector.

Inflatable Fishing Boats - Reviews, Comparison Table & Buyers Guide 2018

The discovery of new synthetic materials for the shells and frames of these space-efficient and economic boat options continues to revolutionize the fishing boat arena.

Today, you can even mount a 15-25 horsepower motor to the back of some inflatables and ply the sea to take on salmon, bottomfish or other saltwater fish of choice. Alternatively, you can squeeze a paddled version into a large backpack en route to a high-altitude, trout-fishing paradise.

The choices are nearly as many as the types of fish you wish to pursue. You only need to determine how much space you have in your rig (or backpack) to take it where you want to fish and on what kind of water you prefer to fish with it.

Best Inflatable Fishing Pontoon Boats – Top 4 Reviews

1) Editor’s Pick: Sea Eagle 285 Frameless Inflatable Fishing Pontoon Boat 

Our Rating: 

Best for: Fishing any lake or reservoir and any type of stream and protected saltwater (i.e., inlets and bays).

Pros:

  • Quick 5 minute setup
  • Easy for one person to handle in and out of water
  • Optional accessories include motor mount, wood floor bottom, electric motor
  • Tough, hard-to-puncture hull and floor
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Only seats one
  • Can get a little wet in river riffles

Why is the Sea Eagle 285 on top of our list?

Because this one-person craft is basically everly angler’s boat—excluding off-shore sea anglers. Nearly not a pontoon boat, the U-shaped Sea Eagle 285 proves easy to store in the smallest of trunks or hatchbacks.

It’s easy to set up (inflates in five minutes and no frame assembly required). It’s steady when standing to cast, especially if the wood bottom is inserted. It is compartmentalized efficiently for fishing gear and accessories such as a fish finder.

Moreover, it tracks so well on the water. Its four-inch draft allows this 9×4 foot inflatable to skim over river rock, avoid beaching on high sand bars and minimize water drag when opening the throttle to get to where the fish are hitting.

Finally, it is built with durable, abrasion resistant materials (1000 denier hull and 1000 denier reinforced floor) characteristic of commercial rafters and the Sea Eagle brand, a manufacturer of inflatable fisher craft since 1968.

Weighing only 42 pounds, it can be thrown onto a bigger boat, in a trunk and easily carried to the shore of lake, river, bay or inlet—its ideal habitats. It comes with a carrying bag, inflatable seat, foot pump, aluminum step bench or foot rest, four carrying handles, two built-in Scotty rod holders, a clip-on storage pouch for the bow, two 5 ft., 2 in. oars and a repair kit.

2) Classic Accessories Colorado XT Inflatable Pontoon Boat 

Our Rating: 

Best for: Fishing any lake or reservoir and any type of stream and protected saltwater (i.e., inlets and bays).

Pros:

  • Easy to assemble
  • Features removable storage bags
  • Transport wheel included
  • Three oar-lock positions
  • Seat and footrests adjust to a wide variety of leg lengths

Cons:

  • Hard to inflate manually
  • Not easy to navigate in very windy conditions

Though a bit spendy for a one-man pontoon craft, this framed floater will endure a serious angler’s habit with a tough build and adjustability when it comes to comfort and casting—all while storing more gear than the average one-man craft.

The Colorado XT even features removable storage bags—providing as many as 20 pockets—along the gunwale. You can join them to create one large bag with all your gear included.

Two insulated cup holders, a wire basket for storage or electric-motor battery astern and the foldable, rotating seat allows you to reach all the storage compartments (and circumnavigating fish on your line) with ease.

Its seven-foot oars, couched in 360-degree oarlocks, help to navigate waters with current and push off of protruding structures or lake/river bottom.

Though a one-man show, it can tote up to 400 pounds of angler and gear combined. The fully adjustable seat mount and foot rests allow nearly all sizes of anglers to find their comfort zone.

This reinforced PVC-bottomed craft of nine feet in length proves rugged and agile enough for streams not exceeding Class II, as well as for slow-flowing saltwater channels or a small bay’s tidewater.

It serves as the catbird’s seat for any lake or pond a fly fisher wishes to engage with an easy to manage anchor system included. At 77-pounds, it proves just light enough for the solo angler, especially with the assist of its transport wheel.

3) Sea Eagle 375fc Foldcat Inflatable Fishing Boat

Our Rating: 

Best for: Anglers casting or fly fishing on lakes, bays, protected inlets, reservoirs and mild-current streams.

Pros:

  • Patented, multi-staged, aluminum standing platform that folds up with the rest of the boat
  • Great versatility for casting
  • Strong aluminum frame
  • Adjustable comfort for both anglers
  • Heaps of storage space
  • Can carry as large as a 3-horsepower gas motor

Cons:

  • Its length will require a registration process similar to hard-hull boats in many states
  • For extra lengthy anglers, seat pedestals higher than the 7 in. ones included may be needed

If portabilitly accompanied with stability in a two-angler, inflatable pontoon boat is your desire, the Sea Eagle 375fc Foldcat is emblazoned with your name on it.

Because it is a two-person craft with a frame, it is heavier than our Sea Eagle editor’s pick, but still quite weight efficient (75 pounds) for its capacity (650 pounds), length (12 feet) and composition.

Its patented, aluminum, folding frame offers a light but extremely strong and stable platform from which both anglers can stand and cast. Just beneath the platform runs an elevated, full-length fabric floor to store an electric boat battery or other fishing gear and accessories.

Both seats, accoutered with rod holders starboard and port, fully swivel to target a rise or surfacing fin. All of this amenity folds up to a 56x21x10 in. package that easily rolls out when assembling. Simply insert four underbars under the aluminum cross-boards and inflate the boat to get on the water in fewer than 10 minutes.

By looking at the 375fc Foldcat, you can tell it’s meant to last. Durable, reinforced 1100 Decitex comprises the hull, complemented by quadruple, overlap seams. Molded nose cones at the tips of the pontoons stand ready for rocky caroms.

4) Outcast Fish Cat 13 Pontoon Fishing Boat

Our Rating: 

Best for: Anglers, especially fly fishers, whose variety of fishing waters ranges widely.

Pros:

  • Sturdy and stable
  • Light for its size
  • Convertible from two to one seater
  • Lots of storage
  • Takes on wide variety of waters, including rapids

Cons:

  • Not great at tracking on flat water due to lightness
  • Like most open pontoon boats, anglers are prone to getting wet in rough water unless clad in chest waders

Long, strong, versatile and convertible, this multi-use pontoon inflatable sports a price commensurate to its appeal.

Not quite as thrifty to assemble as the other picks, the Fish Cat 13 includes an 11-piece frame that supports a 13-foot long and nearly 5-1/2-foot wide inflatable.

Its manageable weight of 170 pounds does not reflect its dimensions. Moreover, for its volume, it proves relatively quick to set up and break down, while fitting inside the trunk of a sedan or on car-top cargo racks.

Meanwhile, it ranks as the most capable of our picks when it comes to water varieties. Its 1000/1000 PVC fabric and one-way Summit II valves that prevent inadvertent deflation complement strong aluminum framing and eight-foot oars ready to take on most any whitewater environment.

However, its lightness hampers its tracking on calm waters. That said, lakes, sloughs, ponds, bays and tidal inlets or lagoons are easy pickings for this two-seater that converts to a one-seater with ease.

Best Inflatable Fishing Rafts / Dinghies – Top 4 Reviews

1) Editor’s Pick: Outcast OSG Striker Raft 

Our Rating: 

Best for: Those who fish strong currents on major rivers or glassy waters and don’t mind setting up at home to tie this inflatable down on the bed of their pickup or the cargo racks on the top of their SUV or van.

Pros:

  • Light for a nearly imprenetrable, partly framed, two-person inflatable
  • Not much framework to erect
  • Innovative, frame-free, inflatable lean bar for casting
  • Swivel casting seat at bow
  • Easy to store at home or strap on for the ride

Cons:

  • More expensive than many brand-new, 15-horse outboard motors
  • Cramped for extremely long-legged anglers

This two-person, angler-instensified portable dinghy or fishing raft weighs around 100 pounds, depending on number of accessories. Further, it rolls up into a four-foot diameter ball, sans oars and seats, that easily fits on the shelf in your garage, a large closet or under the bow of a larger boat.

It is a more serious river boat (white-water ready) than our pontoon boat editor’s pick, while also serving brilliantly for lake or bay fishing. It sports one swivel seat near the bow for your fishing partner and a stationary seat near the stern for the rower or motor attendant—i.e., skipper.

Built of nearly indestructible 1100 PVC material with welded seams, this framed floater features a self-bailing floor and strength to mount a small gasoline motor astern. The Outcast OSG Striker responds swiftly to maneuvers on moving water and tracks well under power rowing or power motor.

Two built-in holder mounts, one near passenger and one near the skipper, are complemented by an innovative, inflated lean bar on the bow to accommodate precision when plug-casting for bass or flycasting to a rise.

Mind you: This boat is very compact, only a foot wider and half-a-foot longer than the one-man Sea Eagle 285. A 6 ft., 4 in. or taller angler will find leg space less than comfy: These anglers need to be quite angular.

Its bounce-a-boulder-off hull is more ready for river structure than even our editor’s pick. Four air chambers ensure great safety should something of speargun proportions pierce the boat. Call the OSG Striker efficient, bomb proof and agile, for a noticeable price tag, however.

2) Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker (STS10) Frameless Inflatable Fishing Boat

Our Rating: 

Best for: Reaching pockets, drifts and fishing holes in general over shallow water and anglers who don’t mind compact quarters that are nonetheless fully accommodating and durable.

 

Pros:

  • Lots of free board to navigate shallows and fish hard-to-reach water
  • A three-year warranty
  • Tough and able to tackle saltwater, river rapids and large lakes
  • Two swivel seats
  • Heavy enough to accommodate a 4-horsepower gas engine
  • Offers three enhanced STS10 options—two that include a canopy

Cons:

  • Though minor, side handles in addition to the fore and aft handles could provide easier portaging for two anglers, if not more ties for tethering or hanging a wet bag or two while afloat

The Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker stacks a lot of boat inside its 10×5 foot dinghy hull, but this is hard to know by merely picking it up. The two-person basic package weighs only 77 pounds with the floor board and engine mount included—only 37 pounds inflated without these attachments.

Its three enhanced options: the Stealth Stalker 10 Pro, the Stealth Stalker 10 Motor Canopy and the Seasnake Motor Canopy weigh in a bit heavier with more rod holders, accessories and canopies. Regardless, carrying handles at bow and stern allow for easly portages.

Like other Sea Eagle inflatables, its body consists of tough, abrasion resistant 1100 Decitex with quadruple overlapped seams to deflect whatever comes its way. Its assembly and inflation of three air cells requires about 15 minutes.

The STS10 features a full fabric floor with an H bar in the middle. Side struts and the marine plywood floor provide enough stability for anglers to stand and cast without teetering. All of this squishes into a very packable 31x24x12 inches to easily ride inside a trunk, atop a luggage rack or to store inside a closet over winter.

Its freeboard compares to its pontooned cousin, the Sea Eagle 285, with a draft of only four inches. This makes for a boat capable of skimming over waters that other inflatables dare not tackle. It therefore functions well in swift streams with shallows and lakes or reservoirs dotted with sunken islands and gravel bars.

The STS10 performs as well in bays and for near-shore fishing at sea as it does for fly-fishing only streams or lakes. Think of the STS10 as the soldier of inflatable fishing dinghies, ready to respond to any angler’s demands.

3) NRS Outlaw 142 Self-Bailing Inflatable Raft

Our Rating: 

Best for: Covering lots of water on lakes, reservoirs and rivers of all sizes.

Pros:

  • Tough and stable
  • Capable of adding a motor and other accessories of choice

Cons:

  • The standard option comes with no accessories
  • You must option upward to make it a fishing craft

Look at this water warrior as a foundation to your fishing palace. Its strength and durability excel due to its PVC hull composition and a floor weight/denier ratio of 68/4000.

However, you must order a fishing package option or choose the accessories yourself to make this a full-fledged angler’s empire.

Want to tackle an eight-mile long lake in British Columbia or on the Kenai Peninsula? A bay or inlet along Lake Michigan?

The NRS Outlaw 142 serves as your well-armored blue knight for sleighing big fish in big water without resorting to a hard-hull fishing craft.

By adding 360-degree oarlocks and an anchor system, you are ready for most any type of river or lake fishing. You are paying a commensurate price for a well-constructed raft that needs an angler’s trimmings when choosing the NRS Outlaw 142.

4) Hydroforce Voyager 1000 Inflatable Raft

Our Rating: 

Best for: Casual fishing adventures on mostly calm waters that don’t require standing while casting: lakes, ponds, small bays and inlets.

Pros:

  • Quick inflation and setup
  • Durable
  • Built-in rod holders
  • Extremely light to pack or carry
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Sparse on angler bells and whistles
  • Restrictive for casting due to the void of swivel seats
  • Restrictive oar locks preclude any thought of using the boat in swift streams or heavy current in general

Compared to our other dinghy picks, the HyrdoForce Voyager 1000 represents the dressed-down yet effective means to reach your favorite fishing hole.

Its construction: solid.

Its accommodations: spartan.

Made of three-ply, reinforced vinyl PVC, the Voyager 1000 endures through the rigors of UV exposure, rocks, gravel and emerging structures. Fishing amenities, though sparing, include built-in rod holders and two fairly rigid, removable, inflated seats that lend stability to the floor and sides of this frameless inflatable.

The ribbed floor contains enough air to support two anglers’ gear and accessories easily while on the water. Its total passenger-cargo capacity reaches nearly 600 pounds, enough to support a motor mount for either a 2-3 horsepower gas motor or electric with battery.

However, the Hydroforce Voyager 1000 is best relegated to a rowing craft when seating two anglers. Have a child? You can still fit a pint-size angler between you and your angling mate in this 9-1/2×4 foot boat. Your kid might even be able to carry or pull this extremely light craft of 33 pounds to the beach.

If you simply want an inflatable boat of solid build to get you into lakes, slow-moving channels, sloughs and backwater, while paying less than a good pair of hiking boots, the Voyager 1000 fits the bill.

Best Inflatable Fishing Kayaks – Top 4 Reviews

1) Editor’s Pick: Sea Eagle 380x Explorer Inflatable Kayak 

Our Rating: 

Best for: The angler who likes to go solo and navigate parts of rivers rarely visited by anglers, but equally enjoys a fishing buddy on calmer waters.

Pros:

  • Unmatched ruggedness
  • Versatile
  • Great tracking
  • Self-bailing drain valves
  • Removable swept back skeg for flatwater paddling
  • Great value on the dollar spent

Cons:

  • Can use more angler amenities with standard package and more D rings

The Sea Eagle 380x Explorer rises to the top of our list because it can be a solo angler’s intense Class-IV whitewater conduit to drifts and pools that few anglers otherwise fish, or a sociable two-angler drifter on lesser currents, lakes or bays, straits and sounds.

First, it is Sea Eagle sound with guide and commercial quality denier 1000 hull material. Tree snags, gnarly jagged rocks on the beach or under water pose no obstacle to the 380x, capable of toting up to 750 pounds of anglers and gear, just not in whitewater where it is wiser to keep the boat as light as possible.

Despite its rugged build, the 380x weighs only 38 pounds and it inflates in 15-20 minutes on average with a foot pump; about 5 with an electric pump. This light, 9-1/2 foot inflatable is made for portaging around obstacles and dodging branches on trails.

It doesn’t come with many angler amenities, but Sea Eagle offers several options to create a more angler-ready kayak. Stow bags designed for bow and stern, additional D rings for attaching fishing gear and strapping your rod to the hull, as well as backed seats are highly recommended.

2) Saturn 13’ Pro Angler 2 Person Inflatable Fishing Kayak

Our Rating: 

Best for: Calm-water angling over long bodies of water and types of fishing that require a good view for rises and cruising fish because of its high-seated benches.

Pros:

  • Strong aluminum benches for seats and other fishing accessories
  • Heavy duty PVC material hull
  • Light for its length

Cons:

  • Not self bailing
  • Not meant for rapids

The Saturn 13’ Pro Angler looks a lot like a narrow pontoon boat for two anglers, but it is all kayak in performance, sans whitewater.

This 13-foot kayak of 33 pounds and a weight capacity of 700 pounds one-ups its angler readiness when compared to the Editor’s pick: It comes with two removable aluminum benches that can accommodate two higher sitting seats or accessories like rod holders or fish finders.

The Pro Angler can also be complemented with a motor mount for flatwater fishing. Unlike our Editor’s pick, however, this is not the fishing kayak that will take you to rapids-buffered fishing nirvanas. It will handle slow currents but it is suited better for lakes or the surf. Even then, you need to avoid excessive wade because this is not a self-bailing craft.

The Pro Angler’s forte? Its portability and relatively light weight (43 pounds) for ist 13-foot length.

3) NRS Pike 1 Person Inflatable Fishing Kayak

Our Rating: 

Best for: A solo angler who likes to carry a lot of gear and fish on either flatwater or slow-current streams and rivers.

Pros:

  • Roomy for one angler
  • Self bailing
  • Plenty of angling and storage amenities
  • Solid flooring for standing and casting
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Daisy chain straps located awkwardly behind the rower

Call the NRS Pike Fishing Kayak well appointed at the cost of a higher-end home theater system.

This is perhaps the most logically designed and functional pick among our four kayaks. Designers kept the angler foremost on their minds in this 12 ft., 8 in. inflatable kayak, featuring a collapsible seat, 32 stainless steel D-rings, an inflated yet sturdy PVC floor for standing and casting, a bow web for securing a cooler, gear box or dry bags.

It also features two stretchy nylon daisy chains attached to the top of the hull, near the the stern, for clipping small fishing implements. Meanwhile, it doesn’t ignore function and performance with two removable fins to enhance tracking and an abrasion-resistant PVC hull that is self-bailing.

The kayak comes with a pump featuring high and low pressure settings for the rigid floor and the hull’s air cells, respectively. At only 35 pounds, this 400-pound capacity boat is easily handled by a solo angler.

4) Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2 Person Fishing Kayak

Our Rating: 

Best for: Lake fishing with a partner, whether casting or trolling.

Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Plentiful storage compartments
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Not ideal for swift streams or standing up

The Sevylor Coleman Colorado provides a good starting point for the entry level angler in regard to inflatable kayaks. It soundly accommodates the angler who likes to fish with a partner, but doesn’t want to stretch the pocketbook.

For the dollar, its angling bells and whistles are numerous: storage clips for your oars, tubes to keep inactive rods, a trolling motor harness, web storage pockets to the fore and aft inside the hull, Berkley quick-set rod holders for each angler and 11 D-rings to attach other angling items.

Its 18-gauge PVC hull with a 1000 denier tarpaulin bottom provide resilience to rough bottoms and submerged obstacles. This 10 ft., 9 in.kayak holds up to 470 pounds of anglers and their gear. If angling solo, you will have no problem carrying this 41 pound inflatable to the beach or back to your rig.

Get your gear ready! Check out our Top 7 Fishing Jackets  and the Best Chest Waders reviewed by our experts here….

Best Inflatable Fishing Boat Reviews

Image credit: Alan Kotok/flickr (CC-BY 2.0 license) – Fishing from an inflatable boat at Clopper Lake. Seneca Creek State Park. Germantown, Maryland

How to choose an Inflatable Fishing Boat – Buyers Guide 2018

Simply eyeballing an inflatable fishing boat may seem enough to determine whether it will suit your angling purposes. It isn’t!

Weight, packability, draft in the water (i.e., amount of freeboard or free-tube in this case), tracking performance and ease of rowing all come into play, beyond the picture your eyes see.

Compared to yesteryear, a wide variety and designs grace the inflatable fishing boat market. The main genres include inflatable pontoon boats, rafts (dinghies) and kayaks.

Each category of inflatable can float you, your fishing gear, your accessories and perhaps a fishing partner to most of your favorite fishing holes, whether river, lake, stream or saltwater. What most can’t do is provide complete cover from rain, wind, snow, sleet or other elements concocted my Ma Nature.

If an inflatable poses such compromises, you might wonder why you should even buy an inflatable. Words from the wise (our outdoor equipment field experts): There are plenty of reasons, some absolutely impossible to cite in the hard-hull variety of fishing boat.

So, Why an Inflatable Fishing Boat?

An inflatable fishing boat obviously contains a much lighter substance than metal, fiberglass or wood: air. You can’t compress such hard materials enough to fit inside a trunk, a closet, a pickup bed, in most cases, or even a shelf in the garage.

Do we need to say more? If so, let’s just say the inflatable is a portable, easy to store and lift fishing boat.

Oh, did we mention cheaper than most hard-hull boats?

Portability:

This alone drives an angler to choose an inflatable.

Unlike hard-hulls, you can actually assemble them on shore, carry them to the beach for launching and return to your rig at the end of the day with inflatable in arms or on your head to pack it back up and tuck into your trunk, your pickup bed’s utility box or tied onto your vehicle’s luggage rack.

When you get home, you simply pick it up and put it in its designated cubby of the garage or your living area. In fact, many inflatables are compressible enough to stuff in your backpack and head to one of your favorite mountain lakes, accessible only by an ascending hiking trail.

Light as Air:

If you choose to transport your inflatable fully assembled in the bed of your pickup or atop your luggage rack, you can easily heft it to its proper place, depending on the weight and volume of accessories attached to it.

If you need to lighten the load, accessories such as fish finders, rod holders, engine mounts, floorboards and even oarlocks can be extracted with ease before hoisting it atop your rig or into a truck bed.

A bare bones inflatable might add as much as 20-30 pounds to a backpack, but still light enough to tack one more essential onto the holy Ten Essentials. Some, as a matter of fact, could be used as a high-country shelter, in lieu of a tent, during the summer season.

Family Budget Saver:

Okay, your spouse is fine with your $250 float tube, but hesitant to rubber stamp a full-fledged boat at this hour in your family rearing life.

What to do?

Most inflatables, depending on the style and length, will range anywhere from a few hundred bucks up to $3,000 (without the addition of a motor).

Checked the price on a 14-foot aluminum Lund, Smokercraft or Aluma Craft or Lowe these days? What about a Boston Whaler, Seaswirl, Striper, Bluewater or Grady White? You get the picture.

And, Where Can I Use an Inflatable Boat?

In many cases, an inflatable covers more types of water than a hard-hull boat. If it is something more than a float tube (i.e., dinghy, kayak or pontoon), it can likely handle streams, lakes and some saltwater. Not many hard-hulls are made to navigate both stream and still water safely.

You no doubt see inflatables attached to the sterns of big pleasure crafts and yachts. The reason? They are safe and dependable as carries during offshore mooring or as emergency lifeboats should the worst happen on your megaboat.

In many cases, an inflatable is not only more easily moored, launched or retrieved on the water than a hard-hull, but also safer in particular situations.

For example, if one air cell becomes punctured, there are one, two or three more that will remain inflated to safely keep you above the water’s surface. The same can’t be said for a hard-hull with a chunk of its hull missing. Once enough water fills it, even styrofoam-filled seats and other deck compartments will eventually sink below the surface.

Some hard-hulls, including canoes, kayaks, drift boats, jetboats and the like, will take on both river and lake or bay. But the common cartopper aluminum or trailered fibgerglass with cutty cabin or similar flounders in a river’s current to the point of inviting disaster.

The short answer to the main question: Many inflatables are designed and constructed to bounce off river rock and saltwater or reservoir gravel bars without endangering their inhabitants.

Some aren’t. They are those which lack 360-degree oarlocks, sufficient denier levels and seaming, or simply take on too much draft while in the water.

Important to note regarding safety and an inflatable in current: Overloading its weight capacity or even challenging it can result in disastrous consequences when navigating riffles, rapids or slots with oars. In swift water, the lighter your load, the more able the boat.

So, Which Kind of Inflatable is Right for You?

Of the three main types of inflatable fishing boats, each poses its unique advantages for an angler. Examine each on its own merits.

Inflatable Pontoons

A pontoon is an inflatable that floats on essentially two fuselages of air, like a pontooned aircraft. Pontooned inflatables are essentially free of a stern or bow, with some exceptions (such as the Sea Eagle 285 frameless which sports a stern or transom).

Essentially a catamaran, these track easily because there is less rubber on water than that on a more donut-like raft. Depending on the size, the oarlocks and draft, many pontoon inflatables navigate rivers very well—at least those not exceeding Class III water.

Meanwile, they perform perfectly on your favorite fly-fishing lakes or saltwater bays and inlets. Pontoons, in fact, are more greatly associated with fly fishers rather than other types of anglers.

Inflatable Dinghies (rafts)

Unlike a pontoon boat, dinghies or rafts provide a one-in-all hull with built-in floor and fully surrounding sides. A hardwood floor, motor mount, frame with 360-degree oar locks, swivel seats and other additions often accompany the main body of the raft.

Two-man inflatable dinghies normally contain more air cells than pontoon boats. Normally, they better protect anglers from splashing or spraying when on the water.

As already mentioned, they make great emergency or intentional shelters when needing to stay overnight in the backcountry should you be a high-lake angler. If without a flooboard, a raft is often used for still-fishing, trolling or spincasting.

With a wooden floor inserted, they work well for fly fishers or those sight casting for fish beneath the surface. If rigid enough to accept 360-degree oars, the inflatable dinghy can be a seafaring boat, a river boat and a still-water boat all in one.

Inflatable Kayaks

Of course, any kayak—hard-hull or inflatable—compromises the angler when it comes to stability. Just like a canoe, its lack of balast when one stands up can result in a cold, wet angler who ultimately finds it hard to climb back in after falling out.

However, a kayak’s shape alone will better handle headwinds than a pontoon or dinghy style inflatable. It will course rivers more precisely, especially when needing to find slots while navigating swift but small streams.

Kayaks come in two varieties: high-seated and low-seated.

The former is more commonly used by anglers because it is more conducive to casting and lends a better view to where one is casting. A higher center of gravity, however, exposes the angler to more teetering than sitting low in the kayak.

Some kayaks can be accoutered with an electric or small gas motor, but inflatable kayaks are mostly a paddling show. They travel large bodies of water—as in miles and miles of chain lakes, for instance—and streams with equal ease.

Want an easy to haul and portage angling craft for Minnesota’s Boundary Waters or the Bowron Lakes Chain in British Columbia? Bring your inflatable kayak. However, even though they pose less mass to catch the wind than other inflatables, all inflatables will be more greatly affected by wind than many hard-hulls.

Your final criteria

If you are undecided on which type of inflatable to buy in order to feed your fishing habit, think about how many trips you make a year and how many of them are stream-centered, lake-centered or saltwater-centered.

Consider how many times you fish with a partner.

Do you like rowing or do you prefer to let a motor do the work?

Will you ever need to carry the inflatable a long distance once you exit your vehicle?

Can you carry and hoist a fully assembled inflatable atop your rig or into your pickup bed?

Do you need a fishing partner to help you do it?

Lots of questions to ask yourself, but they will lead you to finding the inflatable that doesn’t leave you dry.

Inflatable Fishing Boat FAQs

What material is used for inflatable boats?

Inflatables are most commonly comprised of either polyurethane, Hypalon, neoprene, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The latter wins the popularity contest for it relative durability and lightness without the accompaniment of a hefty price tag. How tightly such fibers are woven determines their level of resilience to obstructions and UV light. The materials used in good-quality rafts are usually measured in denier, explained below. The relatively heavy hypalon proves to be hardier—a material made for constantly exposed inflatables. The lighter weight PVC fabric keeps technologically evolving to the point of competing with Hypalon’s bar of excellence in strength.

What does “denier” mean?

Denier refers to a unit of measurement for the thickness of fibers in a given material. Standard textiles run from 40 denier to 600 denier. Outdoor gear—tents, backpacks, dry bags and the like—run at 100-600 denier. Your inflatable should rest around 1000 denier if not greater. A tag on such material may be listed as “1000d.” A microfiber contains less than 1d.

Does my inflatable need cleaning?

Virtually every inflatable should be cleaned before folding up or storing. Hose and wipe off the film and particles it collects from not only the lake, stream or sea water, but from mere air pollution and pollens. Allowing an inflatable to accumulate such micro debris can weaken the hull material and compromise your safety on the water. A light-to-medium bristled brush helps to cut through the layers of debris.

Hard floor or inflated floor?

Inflatables often come with inflatable floors or floorboards (i.e., plywood or synthetic wood), but sometimes come with both in order to give the angler an option. An inflated floor is softer on the knees, which often find contact with the bottom in a raft. A high-pressure air floor of 8-9 psi (pounds per square inch) offers just enough rigidity to provide ample tracking on flat water. It also offers quicker and easier assembly.

Though it adds carrying weight and assembly time to an inflatable, a hard deck or floorboard maximizes rigidity, thereby optimizing the boat’s speed and efficiency relevant to energy expended, whether through oars, paddle or motor. Beware of fingers being pinched, however, if a floorboard does not fit snugly on the bottom.

What are the most trusted brands of inflatable boats?

The field of expert manufacturers continues to grow. The stalwarts—Zodiac, Sea Eagle, AIRE, Aqualine, Sevylor, Intex, Hydroforce and Saturn—join a swarm of other makers since the invasion of pontoon inflatables and fancified float tubes. Buck’s Bags, the Creek Company, North Fork and Outcast are among the newer players who offer sound, high-performance inflatable fishing crafts.

How much can I expect to pay for a decent inflatable?

Depending on where you take your inflatable, how many you want to seat and how much you plan to use it, the price can range from as little as $300 to as much as $2,500 or more. As with most products, you usually get what you pay for, but by sharply defining your criteria, you can find the level of quality and sticker price that meets said criteria.

The final word: don’t compromise on safety

No matter the reason(s) you choose to fish from an inflatable, don’t let a basement-bargain price pursuade you to compromise on safety.

Make sure your craft of choice is made of one of the materials cited in this guide and nothing less than 900 denier; that it contains multiple air chambers; that it also provides self-bailing capacities and 360-degree oarlocks if you’re plannning to tackle swift water with your new acquisition.

Once the safety standards are met, the fun and convenience of fishing from an inflatable begins.