Bay boats are among the most versatile, popular fishing boats on the market today. There are many types of bay boats and dozens of manufacturers, which we’ll discuss in detail. As we do, make a list of the styles and features that rank high for you, personally.
Different Types of Bay Boats
While there are many different types of bay boats available, all of them have some basic characteristics in common. They are usually 18 to 26 feet long and run fairly shallow to reach a wide variety of different spots on the water. Most have layouts that are similar, including fore-and-aft casting decks, a center console, big livewells, and plenty of storage for gear and equipment.
The main differences between the best bay boats are the specific features and amenities included by the boat brand. Some brands build their bay boats purely for anglers, while others focus on models the whole family can enjoy. The best bay boat for you will depend on how you intend to use the boat and what features you consider critical.
Best center console bay boats for fishing
When looking to fish and fish hard, there are specific features to keep in mind. Most bay boats are designed to have a shallow running draft, but not all are created equal. If you intend to fish in creeks, weed beds, and flats, you want your boat’s draft shallow enough to reach them. Once you get there, elevated casting decks will give a better vantage point for sight-casting.
For an efficient fishing experience, consider bay boats with integrated fishing features like live wells, raw water washdowns, fish boxes, and plenty of built-in storage for rods and tackle. A basic rule of thumb is that there should be three rod storage spaces for each angler on the boat. Features that should be considered a plus include lighting for the storage compartments, advanced electronics, a bow-mounted electric trolling motor, and integrated fishboxes with macerated pump-outs.
Some of the best bay boats for fishing include:
Blue Wave 2400 Pure Bay – Blue Wave is one of the original bay boat builders and their experience shines through in the 2400 Pure Bay. A draft of one foot means you can sneak into the skinniest of waters, and every fishing feature from dual livewells, to insulated fishboxes, to locking rod storage boxes is aboard.
Contender 26 Bay – Contender may be known more for building offshore deep-V fishing boats than bay boats, but their 26 Bay is primed for shallow-water fishing. It has a relatively svelte console to maximize deck space, comes rigged with a jack plate, and boasts a whopping 52 gallons of live bait capacity split between 40- and 12-gallon livewells.
Pathfinder 2300 HPS - Riding on Pathfinder’s High Performance Step hull and constructed with vacuum infusion to minimize weight while maximizing strength, the 2300 HPS is designed and built for top-tier performance. On top of being rigged with all the fishing features you demand it’ll catapult you to the hotspots at speeds in excess of 60 mph.
Ranger 2360 - The smallest bay boat in Ranger’s lineup, the 2360 gives anglers a relatively affordable way to get into a serious fishing boat that has most of the features and amenities found on larger, more expensive models. Standout features include a 240-quart integrated fishbox, both fresh and raw water washdowns, and a swing-away tongue trailer with hydraulic surge brakes.
Sea Hunt BX 25 FS – For those who like to keep their shrimp away from their shad, the BX 25 FS has two separate livewells - one in the aft casting deck and a second in the leaning post. The boat is also unique in its seating arrangement, with three different flip-up jump seats integrated into the aft deck.
Photo credit: Contender Boats
Aluminum bay boats—more affordable
If you want the most affordable bay boats on the market today, consider choosing aluminum bay boats. These boats are usually less expensive than boats of the same size made from fiberglass, and their lower weight results in lower power needs and higher fuel efficiency. Aluminum bay boats also require less maintenance than their fiberglass counterparts, and repairs tend to be cheaper.
Basic aluminum bay boats are a great option if you’re on a budget, but there are also models with integrated high-tech features that cost a bit more. The wide variety of models available lets any boater find the right model and features for their needs.
Some of the best aluminum bay boats include:
G3 Bay 20 GX – Featuring an entire interior coated in Tuff Coat spray-in liner, this rugged model also comes with elevated fore-and-aft casting decks, vertical rod racks and tackle stowage on the center console, and a standard Bear aluminum trailer with a detachable tongue.
Lowe Bay 22 - One of the most affordable bay boats in its size range, the Lowe 22 Bay features a massive forward casting deck integrating four storage compartments and a trolling motor mounting area. It also boasts dual livewells with 46 gallons of total capacity and port and starboard locking rodboxes that can handle rigs up to 7’6”.
Ranger RB190 - Yes, Ranger makes aluminum bay boats as well as fiberglass models, and the RB190 is their smallest, least-expensive offering. It comes with an aluminum trailer and boasts Rawhide non-skid interior coating, eight-foot rodboxes, and an 80-pound-thrust Minn Kota electric trolling motor on the bow.
Photo credit: Lowe Boats
Best hybrid bay boats
If you want a vessel that can handle both inshore and offshore fishing, then a hybrid bay boat may be the right choice for you. These vessels tend to be bigger than traditional bay boats to provide a smoother ride on rougher waters, and while they may need a bit more water to float than a standard bay boat, still draft less than boats with a full deep-V.
Hybrid bay boats can be found up to about 30 feet, but the most popular size is around 26 to 28 feet long. They come with a wide variety of features for fishing, and most also have some family-friendly touches. Look to the cockpit and casting decks to see if a specific model tilts more towards inshore or offshore angling. Those with larger cockpits and less elevated decking are generally better for tactics like trolling in blue water, while more raised deck area equates to more space dedicated to casting in the shallows.
Some of the best hybrid bay boats available today include:
Barker 26 Open – Made with vinylester resin and composite coring, this sturdy vessel comes with a deep cockpit and a minimal aft casting deck, 60 gallons of livewell capacity, bench seating in the transom, and a standard aluminum trailer.
Caymas 281 HB – Packed with fishing features, this model has large non-skid casting decks, 35-gallon livewells, and abundant storage for tackle and gear. Thanks to the twin engines it also provides a level of confidence when running offshore.
Everglades 253CC – Featuring a 91-square-foot cockpit, this model has a spacious aft casting deck with two foldaway jump seats, a 69-gallon insulated fish box, a 26-gallon livewell, locking rod storage, and tackle storage compartments.
Pathfinder 2500 Hybrid – The 2500 Hybrid offers an optional upper station, making it incredibly versatile for inshore fisheries ranging from casting for reds to sight fishing for cobia. This is also a vacuum-infused boat, and it can blast to speeds in excess of 60 mph.
Regulator 26 XO – At 17 degrees the Regulator has more transom deadrise than most bay boats, and while this does increase draft a bit (to 1’4”) it helps tame the waves and means you can go fishing on windy days when boats with less V in the hull stay at the dock. And as far as fishing features go the 26 XO is fully outfitted for both inshore and offshore action.
Photo credit: Everglades Boats
Best small bay boats
If your boating excursions include just you and one or two other people, consider the small bay boat options available. Small bay boats under 22 feet are easily managed by one or two people. They are more affordable and fuel efficient than larger bay boats, and their small size makes them easy to trailer and store.
Some of the best small bay boats include:
Bulls Bay 2200 – Measuring 21 feet, 8 inches long, this model comes equipped with rod lockers, fish boxes, rod holders, livewells, and ample console storage. Added bonus: this is one of the most affordable fiberglass bay boats on the market today.
Yellowfin 21 Bay – Topping out at 21 feet, 9 inches, this high-quality model features impressive acceleration, a spacious bow casting platform, plenty of livewell capacity, and ample dry storage. Standard features include a Ameratrail aluminum trailer with electric-over-hydraulic surge brakes.
Sportsman Masters 207 - At 20’4” long and 8’0” wide this is a compact fishing machine, but it’s as fully-featured as any with twin 20 gallon livewells aft plus a forward 10 gallon well, two flush-mount gunwale rod holders and four rocket launchers on the leaning post and T-top, and locking rod storage for 10 rigs. It also comes equipped with high-end features like a Garmin GPSMAP 943xs fishfinder/chartplotter, USB and 12-V ports, and hydraulic tilt steering.
Photo credit: Yellowfin
Best bay boats for families
Some bay boats are specifically designed to be best for family excursions. These vessels have all the characteristics of a traditional bay boat with features and amenities geared toward family fun whether that’s fishing or watersports. Family-friendly bay boats also tend to include lots of seating to carry more passengers comfortably.
The best bay boat for your family will depend on how many people it includes and what features will make them comfortable. For example, some have an option for a tow pylon to pull the kids around on water toys, and others include a cockpit picnic table, forward-deck sun pads, or stowable lounge seats.
Some of the best bay boats for families include:
Boston Whaler 250 Dauntless - Boston Whaler’s 250 Dauntless features all of the fishing must-haves, like a 35-gallon livewell, locking rodboxes, and six flush-mount rodholders. The boat also has a mere 1’3” draft. Creature comforts include a huge lounger in front of the console, and forward loungers with pop-up back rests. Just as important it’s built with Boston Whaler’s foam-fiberglass-foam sandwich, resulting in an unsinkable boat. That gives parents a serious feeling of security even when the weather turns south.
Grady-White 281 Coastal Explorer – The newest and largest Grady-White hybrid bay boat, the 281 carries either a single Yamaha F425 or twin engines to 600-hp, total. It’s rich with family features like a forward console lounger, electrically-actuated backrests on the bow seats, and a fold-down side swim platform. Yet it still maintains 100-percent fishability and has all the angling features found on its competitors.
Robalo 266 Cayman - The Robalo 266 Cayman has gobs of seating, including two forward loungers with removable backrests, a forward console seat, a leaning post, and double-wide folding bench seat in the aft casting deck. It also has a long list of goodies the kids will love, like a USB charging port at the helm, a wireless cell phone charger, and a Bluetooth stereo system.
Scout 251 XSS – Featuring a bow that converts between a casting platform, seating, and a sunpad, this model also offers spectacular performance including top-end speeds exceeding the 60-mph mark. Plus, it has a three-sided enclosure at the helm, offering more protection for you and your passengers than most bay boats can. Fishing highlights include livewells under the leaning post and in the aft deck, pre-rigging for a bow-mount electric trolling motor, and a Garmin 943xs chartplotter/fishfinder with a B60 transducer.
Photo credit: Scout Boats
So: have you found the perfect bay boat for your needs in this bunch? Maybe, but maybe not. There are plenty of other choices out there and every angler has his or her own priorities and tastes. Any way you cut it, however, one thing is for sure: bay boats are ideal for a huge swath of the angling public, and if you love tempting those tarpon, wrangling for redfish, searching for speckled trout, or flinging lures for flounder, there’s a good chance a bay boat will prove ideal for your angling adventures.
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