The Great Lakes can be very rough, with waves getting over 3 feet tall pretty often. Not all fishing boats are properly suited for this, and it can actually be very dangerous. A super low-riding bass boat might not be the best idea, as I’ve seen one completely submarine after stuffing a wave on Lake Michigan.
You can still definitely pull a low-riding bass boat off if you stay in bays, inlets, or only go out on good weather days, but it’ll probably be pretty uncomfortable. Most boats will be somewhat uncomfortable though unless you get a 40 foot Viking or something.
Best overall fishing boat for the Great Lakes
The best overall boat for fishing in the Great Lakes is a center console boat over 20 feet long. They are much more popularly used for ocean fishing in Florida, but they are actually great for the Great Lakes as well. Most over 20 feet with a relatively high hull will do fine, anything smaller will probably have some issues during rough water conditions.
Center console boats will handle the Great Lakes waves much better than low riding bass boats. The ride will still be pretty bumpy in rough water, but it will be much safer and more stable in a center console boat.
Bass, walleye, trout, salmon, and pretty much all fish can be cought from a center console. The one downside would be that it might be a little hard getting your fish over the high hull.
The brand I would recommend for center consoles is Boston Whaler. There are many old used ones available out there, and you could run into a good deal on Craigslist if you’re lucky. Boston Whalers are known for being pretty much unsinkable and reasonably stable in rough water conditions.
Having driven a 22-foot center console Whaler myself, I would agree that they are much more stable than other boats around its size, but it can still be uncomfortable. Big waves tossed the boat around, and although I felt safe, it was still not the best experience I’ve ever had on a boat.
Are big center console boats worth the money?
We’ve all seen the showoff that rolls into the harbor with his three 400hp racing Mercury outboards on his 35-foot center console. Obviously, these are completely overkill, and the people buying them just have loads of money they don’t know what to do with.
So, are more regular center consoles such as twin outboard 30 footers worth the money, or should you just get a single outboard 25 footer? This question completely depends on what kind of fisherman you are.
20 to 25-foot single outboard center console boats will do perfectly fine most days on the Great lakes. Large twin-outboard boats are more for the people who are into deep water salmon/trout fishing or just want something more stable.
One of my friends liked to go deep water salmon fishing before when they were much easier to catch. he had a twin-outboard 30-foot center console, and yes, it was more stable than a smaller boat, but it was still pretty rough. So In my opinion, it’s not really worth the thousands of extra dollars to get a big center console.
Best Great Lakes fishing boats for people on a budget
This is probably obvious, but if you’re looking for a deal, you should buy used. Facebook market place, Craigslist, and Boat Trader are some websites where you can find some good deals. I would recommend getting an old center console, deep V Bass Boat, or maybe even an old cabin cruiser.
Where I live in Wisconsin, there are a lot of old Salmon charter boats selling for very cheap due to the slow Salmon fishing we’ve had.
If you are into bass or walleye fishing, an old and small center console such as the one in the image below might be perfect for good weather days. I’ve seen many similar boats on craigslist listed for less than $10,000.
Sometimes you can even find some old bass boats for under $2,000 that just need some cleaning and work to be done to them. I found a running 1988 Bayliner Bass Trophy with 125 hp listed for $2000 on Craigslist, as you can see below.
Most of the boats you find on a budget will be pretty small, so remember that you need to always check wave and weather forecasts before going out. Waves that are over 2 feet high might start to give these boats some issues.
Deep V Bass Boat
Unlike regular low-riding bass boats, deep V bass boats handle better in rough raves. This is perfect for the Great Lake waves. Although it will still be pretty bumpy, it will be much safer than a low-riding bass boat because you won’t really have to worry about waves going over.
In caparison to center consoles, they are much cheaper and will still deliver a satisfying fishing experience. Most center consoles will be more stable in waves and are generally better suited for the Great Lakes.
One thing to note about deep V bass boats is that during windy days, they might get blown around when you’re trying to fish. The higher hull is safer, but it will catch the wind much more than a lower boat will. This is true in most center consoles as well.
Jet ski fishing
Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, but jetski fishing can actually be a great option for the great lakes. The Sea-Doo Fish-Pro Jet Ski makes doing this a whole lot easier. There is a lot of things they’ve including to make fishing on it actually not half bad.
A Garmin fish finder, long swim platform, and a seat that is meant to be able to sit comfortably sideways are among a few of the fishing perks. The extra space on the back has attachments where you can add rod holders, a cooler, or an extra gas can. There’s even a trolling mode if you are into trolling.
After using this jet ski myself all last summer, the one big downside is that there is no electric propulsion such as a trolling motor. The engines are loud and vibrate a lot in neutral, which can scare a lot of fish away. When I had success, it was from casting as far away as I could. Also, premium gas isn’t exactly the cheapest thing in the world.
If you’re wondering if it rips, the answer is a solid yes. The max speed is around 55 mph, and although doughnuts might not be as tight as other jet skis, you can still whip the tail pretty easily.
The price is starting at $15,599 at the time of this publication, which is pretty expensive when you consider gas as well. You could definitely find a used one of the older model for cheaper to save some money. You will be buying premium gas a lot because of the lack of an electric proportion system, which will end up costing a lot of money (trust me).
Check out this article I wrote if you want to learn more about jet ski fishing.
Why it’s important to get a larger boat for fishing in the Great Lakes
Before I explain, check out this video to see for yourself what it’s like being in a small boat on a rough day.
The 16-foot boat in this video was able to navigate these waves while driving very slowly, but it was still very dangerous and probably wasn’t very comfortable. This is why getting a larger boat (at least 20 feet long) is so important.
One thing to note is if the boat had a higher hull, it would be much safer, even though it’s only 16 feet long. Deep V Bass Boats are a great example of something that isn’t very long but is very safe and stable because of their high hulls.
Additional fishing watercrafts/boats for the Great Lakes
- Pontoon boat
I’ve seen plenty of people catch some nice smallmouth on a kayak on Lake Michigan. As long as you aren’t going out when the waves are too big, kayak, canoe, and paddleboat fishing are perfect for the Great Lakes.
Most people stick to shore and just go for bass. You don’t want to be trolling in the middle of the lake, and a 40-foot yacht comes by that makes you have to adjust so you don’t flip from the wake.
Fishing boats not to take on the Great Lakes
Anything that’s under 16 feet and is very low to the water shouldn’t be taken out on the Great Lakes. These include:
- Jon boats
- Paddle boats
- Super small bass boats