Five Great Fishing Boats for 2018

When it comes to avid anglers, certain moments can create a stir inside, including the sudden and startling bend in the fishing rod coupled with a reel handle that can’t be turned. When that is followed by the sound of a whirring a fish racing against the drag, fishing becomes more than an activity, it’s a calling. When you add in the overall atmosphere on a fishing boat, anchored on glassy waters as the sun rises, slips across the sky and then sets, and you have the picture of a quintessential ­day on the water for a fisherman with a love of the sport.

Of course, the necessary element in all of this is the right boat. Choosing the right boat can go a long way to make your dream of the perfect fishing day come true. Whether you’re looking for a boat that just looks great and does an adequate job for what you need, or you want a boat without a lot of bells and whistles that just gets the job done, there is something for everyone out there. We are assuming our readers are looking for a great deal, so we’re not going to look at fishing boats that can cost as much as a house; instead we’re going to look at boats in a mid-range price; crafts with plenty of pizzazz, but which don’t break the bank. Here is a list of five of the best fishing boat values on the market.

Bayliner Element F18

Bayliner’s brand new Element F18 has a lot going for it, starting with its unique “Element M” hull, which has been described as a hybrid of a V-hull and a tri-hull. For a boat that can be had for less than $20,000, including a trailer, it carries a lot with it, starting with its Mercury 90 FourStroke engine. That engine provides plenty of power, so it can reach a 24 mph cruising speed and a top speed of 35 mph. That does not mean there are no signs of cost-cutting to get the price down, such as plastic latches where stainless steel would be better, but anyone can adjust to that. On the other hand,  the Element F18 has an all-fiberglass stringer system and is self-bailing.

This should not be a surprise to anyone. For years, Bayliner, which is owned by one of the largest marine companies in the world has been synonymous with building high quality, family friendly boats, including some of the best ski boats and bowriders in the business, and there is no way they would risk damage to that reputation by building an inexpensive boat with cheap components.  The Bayliner Element brand has jumped into the fishing boat market with both feet, and it shows in this entry.

Getting back to the hull, the new Element M Hull combines the comfort of a glass hull with the stability of a pontoon. The hull features a steep entry point as well as a type of double sponson that falls straight from the gunwales and provides a lot of stability. Since the boat and the motor combined weight about 1,500 pounds, the great fiberglass hull design lead to an excellent ride in a boat that is only 18 feet long.

The layout of the Element F18 is also impressive, featuring a center console configuration with good-sized decks both fore and aft. At the helm is a two-man bench seat, with another smaller bench placed in front of the console. Additional seating is available by folding out the two sides of the rear casting deck, and there is an option of a pedestal seat on the forward casting deck. There is also lots of storage, with space in all three bench seats and three hatches under the floor. There is space in the console for six vertical rods up to seven feet, with horizontal rod storage under the gunwale.  which has horizontal storage for two rods on each side.

The Bayliner Element F18 is ideal for fishing on bays, estuaries and lakes, and it has a lot to offer even the most experience angler. For those who prefer lure casting, the front and rear casting decks are perfect, as is the electric motor bracket. The open design of the deck makes it easy to walk around the boat and it is a pleasure to fish from the many platforms available, while the steady, stable hull makes from a smooth ride. This is an excellent boat for an avid angler, even though it comes at an affordable price.

Key Largo 160 CC

The Key Largo 160 CC is another great fishing boat that comes in at well under $20,000, (many sell it for $16,000). The makers priced it to compete for attention with used boats, and for those choosing between a used boat in the same price category and this one, there is plenty to help you choose this new one. While the stock 40 hp outboard motor won’t likely win you any races with some of the pricier boats on the lake, it is certainly powerful enough to get you out fishing with your friends and feeling good about it. If not, considering the low price tag there’s plenty of room in the budget for an upgrade if you feel that’s warranted.

Despite the relatively small engine, the Key Largo 160 CC does come with many features that make this one of the best boats available any price. For example, it comes with a galvanized trailer, and it is equipped with a large aerated livewell and a flip-back cooler seat with a capacity of 72 quarts. In addition, instead of the standard three, there are four vertical rod holders built into the console, as well as two other rod holders mounted on the gunwale-mounted rodholders. The boat also comes with a bow casting platform, a self-baiting cockpit, a 12-volt charging port, and an SST console grab rail. The flooring consists of Tuff-Kate epoxy-based resin flooring, which is very durable and very easy to clean; made for fishermen. Key Largo promises absolutely no maintenance needed, except an occasional wipe down.

Most agree that the Key Largo 160 CC is the perfect boat for lake fishing, as well to do some island hopping or close offshore fishing. This fishing boat has everything an experienced angler might need, except the rods, reels and tackle. And it’s a great boat for the whole family, with safety features that keep the kids on the boat. The casting deck on the bow is elevated, which makes casting safer for everyone, too. There are plenty of seats for the whole family and the helm is extremely easy to use. The helm seat is reversible, which means you can face the console or the boat’s aft, to make sure the kids are safe. The bow can serve as an extra seat when you buy the cushion package, which runs about $300, or it can serve as a sun pad, for those in the family who perhaps care less about fishing.

For those who wish to provide a little shade, there is a $2,999 T-top option available to go over the console. This may be a better option than a Bimini top because the T-top provides a few extra handholds. In short, as a fishing boat, the Key Largo 160 CC has everything the avid fisherman might need, even though it comes at a price many families can afford.

Tahoe 450 TS

Put simply, as a fishing boat, the Tahoe 450 TS has everything the experienced angler needs in a boat, at a price that makes it one of the best values in the market. The turn-key package comes with a 90-hp Mercury 4-stroke outboard engine and a matching trailer that is sized to fit most suburban garages. This boat comes with a lot of standard features that make it a very attractive fishing boat. For example, it features a hidden tow-line rack on the bottom of the aft hatch lid, as well as under-sole racks for storing running lights away when they’re not needed. A 16-degree deadrise on the 450 TS’ long, wide and deep Powerglide II hull delivers a respectably smooth ride in choppy water, and most describe the handling as easy, even though it seems very nimble.

The whole family will love this boat because it offers a little something for everyone. For example, the boat features an AM/FM Bluetooth-capable stereo with an MP3 port and 2  very nice speakers. There are also eight cup holders, a walk-through tempered safety glass windshield with aluminum frame, adjustable driver and passenger bucket seats with slide and swivel, featuring high-density marine-grade vinyl upholstery with stain-resistant coating. The hardware and fasteners on the boat are made of premium stainless steel, rather than plastic.

For families who love fishing, the bow on the Tahoe 450 TS has adequate space for kids, although the lack of leg space would make it a little tight for adults. The helm features a dash that is very easy to both see and understand. The switches are easily visible above the wheel and the horn button and the 12-volt plug are located on the starboard side of the helm.

Tahoe manufactures their 450 TS with all hand-laid materials in three primary pieces, the hull, stringer system and deck, which makes the boat more durable and makes maintenance less necessary. The overall structure is both very strong and very attractive. The one-piece stringer grid is bonded to the hull and all voids are filled with flotation foam, whereas the hull-to-deck joint is mechanically fastened and chemically bonded and capped with a plastic rubrail with a rubber insert. Buyers can choose from Black Cherry, Victory Red, Onyx or Blueberry gelcoat for the color of the hull. This is a boat that is custom made for fishing with a group or with the family, on the lake, on the bay or close offshore.

MAKO Pro 17 Skiff CC

The MAKO Pro Skiffs have been on many Top 10 fishing boat lists for years, and the 2018 version does not disappoint, even though it costs well under $20,000, even with a 60 hp Mercury outboard and a trailer. Instead of fiberglass, the console is made of rotomolded plastic and the livewell holds just eight gallons, but most who have used this boat seem to love it all, from stem to stern. One reason is the “inverted V” hull design, which is about as smooth as they come in a boat this size. Of course, one other reason boaters love MAKO is because they come with the best factory warranty anywhere, the MAKO Assurance 5+Life warranty.  That includes a lifetime structural hull warranty, a five-year “stem to stern” warranty and a three-year warranty on the gelcoat. This warranty is also transferable to a second owner, which is a unique feature.

These skiffs were originally built as work boats capable of hauling a large number of nets or traps along shallow coastal waters, which is why they feature a nearly flat bottom with a broad beam for the length of the boat, as well as a blunt bow. Recreational anglers appreciate those features because they are favorable for fishing protected waters, where there is less need for a V-style hull, since there is no need to negotiate rough water most of the time.  In short, the MAKO Pro 17 Skiff CC is targeted to anglers who want an open, stable, full-feature fishing platform capable of accessing shallow fresh or salt waters while being powered by mid-range outboard engines. The hull of the MAKO 17 Skiff is built to carry a considerable load with minimal horsepower while maintaining a draft of only 8”. Even with the 60-hp Mercury EFI four-stroke motor that comes standard, and which is the hull’s maximum recommended power, it sports a top speed of 35 mph, with an optimum cruising speed of about 21 mph.

The MAKO Pro 17 Skiff’s center console configuration offers greater visibility and more fishing features than many other models and it does so without giving up the open deck space that many who are fond of skiffs prefer. The one-piece center console is also molded and features vertical rod racks, with trays on top and storage below. The dash is somewhat minimalist, with a tachometer standard, along with space for an optional Lowrance Mark-5x Pro fish finder. There are no additional electronics or gauges offered.

Four Winns H180 OB

For those who can imagine an outboard fishing boat with an integrated full-width swim platform, their dreams have finally come true. Whatever drove Four Winns to build such a feature into its new eighteen-foot outboard-powered bowrider runabout, who knows, but they did. The best part is, while the Four Winns H180 OB comes in with a MSRP of just under $25,000, they didn’t strip out features to keep the price low. The number of features that come standard include some that usually only come with big-ticket boats. In addition to the full-sized walk-across swim platform, there are also a swing-away tongue, and a welded-tube trailer. The H180 OB also includes an Evinrude 90-hp E-TEC outboard, courtesy lights, a tiltable steering wheel, and a Bluetooth-capable stereo with an MP3 port and two great speakers.

The helm on the Four Winns H180 OB features a full complement of engine gauges, which is unusual in a moderately-priced boat, since many manufacturers try to skimp in that area. There is a speedometer, of course, as well as a fuel gauge and a voltmeter.  The center of the dash is flanked by a digital depth gauge and a brace of warning lights. The grab handles are all stainless steel, there’s some LED cockpit lighting and the Bluetooth stereo is located in a glove box.

Those who have tested the H180 OB have said the motor is much quieter and much smoother than others of its type. That doesn’t mean the boat is silent; testers also suggested that ambient noise that filters through the cockpit at higher speeds is considerable. However, for fishing, its features are great. The platform features a skid-resistant surface and Four Winns’ angled, deep-reach ladder with wide-step pads. As found in many sterndrive powered boats, Four Winns has neatly provided a removable back on the starboard side rear seat cushion to allow easy access to and from the cockpit to this platform. If you add the Fish & Ski Package, the H180 OB will have a livewell, trolling motor, fish finder, and more rod holders. This is a great fishing boat, with plenty to offer those in your group who don’t want to fish.

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