Buying a fishing boat provides as much joy as it does stress. At least the decision making part that is. Choosing a boat can leave you with a lot to consider and evaluate whether you’re looking for new high end fiberglass boat or an old used aluminum jon boat. Finding a boat that will do most of what you want it to do for where and how you fish, however, doesn’t have to be a stressful process.
Sure you can get by with most any boat that gets you on the water safely and allows you to move around a bit. But if you’re a serious angler who wants to travel around a bunch and fish a lot of diverse fisheries, then there is a little more to consider. I think I have a fairly easy system to help you focus in on what boat makes sense for you with a handful of steps.
I recently sold my 2014 Phoenix 920 ProXP to another great fishing family in anticipation of purchasing my new boat, and I loved being able to share such a good boat that has been so wonderful to me with another great family. It’s an adjustment going from Fiberglass to Aluminum. But I didn’t come to that decision lightly. I just picked up my new Xpress X21 Pro a couple weeks ago. So, I thought I’d share my boat buying process while it was fresh on my mind.
Those that know me already understand that I’m pretty analytical when it comes to things and I have to weigh the pros and cons of everything, especially when it comes to spending my money. I am also an “uber-loyal-relationship” type of guy. So relationships mean more to me than products do generally speaking.
Having said that, I spent a lot of time researching options when I was looking to get into a newer boat this past fall. Of course I couldn’t have picked a worst time to consider buying a new boat as COVID, shortages, and labor issues made buying any new vehicle of any sort a real chore. And candidly, I loved my Phoenix and the people that make them even more. So I had a lot of reservation about making a big switch.
But at my core, I have a sense of exploration that always compels me. I don’t listen much to dock talk. I follow lots of fishing groups but take most of what is said there with a grain of salt as I’d rather spend the time myself experimenting and exploring. I’ve enjoyed traveling a bit more to fish the last couple of years with the down cycle we experienced on Kentucky Lake, and that got me thinking about towing a boat and traveling to more unfamiliar waters.
I also had some general boating / boat owner issues that were compelling me to experiment with some new materials and options. Nothing against any one company, but more in general boat building practices and the general wear and tear you deal with owning boats for several years.
So I decided to sit down and chart the pros and cons of fiberglass vs aluminum bass boats as I saw them for my own personal fishing. And then in doing that research, what did I believe would best fit what how I planned to fish going forward.
FACTORS IN DECISION
Why are we still putting carpet in boats? Questions like that were some of the precipice for my change. Phoenix makes an excellent boat. But it currently only offers a carpet option. I have been looking to move away from carpet for several years after fishing on SeaDek and just general issues with carpet wearing faster than I would have liked.
I’ve replaced carpet in my boats over the years (this is my 8th boat) and I always get tired of the hassle of keeping it from looking and getting worn. Getting wet, slimed on, sun baked, cover cooked, etc. all leads to carpet declining. If your boat sits in a garage, your carpet will look nice for a good long while. But if it’s on the water, fishing and traveling and being under a cover for any period in the summer, it’s going to decline a lot faster than other materials.
Same can be said with fiberglass. You can keep it looking nice, wax it, polish it, etc. But it’s going to nicked, scratched, oxidized if you fish as much as I do. Then you’re into stripping, re-coating, buffing, waxing and costly gelcoat and fiberglass repairs.
How about towing? How hard is one boat to tow versus another. How hard is it to load and unload by yourself, coming from someone who fishes alone a lot.
What about ride, drivability, and stability of the platform? Fiberglass boats do have advantages and disadvantages compared to aluminum boats in this arena.
What about layout, storage and options? All things have to be considered and compared so that you can weigh what matters most to you and how you will fish.
MEASURING PROS AND CONS
So I sat down with a legal pad and outlined pros/cons for both fiberglass and aluminum bass boats. Then I compared the two and measured those against how I like and intend to fish. I listed a ton of things as pros for fiberglass like stability, speed, storage, aesthetics, sturdiness of the platform for add-ons like Power Poles, awesome layouts, lots of room, handles big water well, lots of color options, and great resale value among others.
I listed a ton of pros for aluminum boats as well like lighter, fishes in shallow water better, gets on pad easier in shallow water, SeaDek options, easy to maneuver, easy to tow, can be beached, repairs easily, more dealers, etc.
Then I compared all of these pros and cons against what my issues have been in the past and how I intend to fish in the future. Generally I fish out of a boat 4-5 years. I generally will update just because I do this for a living and like to stay somewhat current for filming. But I also like to get a boat setup exactly how I want it and then fish out of it a good while without getting to far out of my motor warranty. And re-powering is a nightmare right now.
So knowing all that, I crossed off the pros and cons that didn’t matter as much to the way I fished and came up with a list of the most important things to how I fish and made a choice there.
I CHOSE TO FISH WITH AN ALUMINUM BOAT AGAIN
I decided I wanted to fish out of an aluminum again for a variety of reasons of which I’ll share a few. I haven’t ran an aluminum boat in more than 16 years, but a lot has changed in the aluminum boat space as there are many equally competitive aluminum options for fishing at a high level including Xpress Boats, Lund Boats, Crestliner Boats, and more.
Fishing the last few years for me has also changed. Partially because the bass fishing took a nose dive on Kentucky Lake and partially because I’ve had declining health issues. We also at the same time have been trying to add more crappie content to Wired2fish, so I’ve taken that responsibility on personally to help grow that content library on our site.
So I came up with a list of things that would be important to me in choosing my next boat. Things like getting up and down 50-70 times a day to fish. The way fishing has been, you have to run around and hit maybe 50-80 pieces of cover in a day to catch fish. That’s a lot of up and down running and gunning. So a boat that can get up quick and hop around easily would be important.
I wanted something other than carpet on the deck. I was really set on having SeaDek on my next boat and that pushed my decision a lot. I have rheumatoid arthritis which is a fairly aggressive type of arthritis. I also have been dealing with two bulged discs and one herniated disc for going on 3 years now. And surgery is likely in my near future. So something a little easier to stand and get up and down on factored into it.
I have been fishing shallow a lot more, and I wanted something I could get back in the thick stuff and maneuver around easily in inches of water. While I’m a good deep water fisherman, I grew up fishing shallow and have fished shallow a lot more recently because I can’t take the abuse a lot of times on the main lake when it gets up. So I will tuck into a creek and fish there all day running around and hitting every piece of cover in there.
I wanted low maintenance. I don’t want to worry about scratched and dinged up fiberglass. I don’t want to have to worry about hard water oxidation, overheating and rash under boat covers or carpet burning, getting stained and drying up. I want to be able to pull up on a bank if I need to and not worry about destroying my fiberglass when I do.
I have been traveling to fish more. Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Mississippi and beyond. So having a boat that was easy to tow down to the next lake was a big consideration too.
There were other factors I considered, but these were some of the most important to me at this time.
WHY I CHOSE XPRESS
While I’ve fished or been in just about every bass boat out there, I had a lot of decisions to make once I settled on aluminum. I reviewed just about every aluminum boat out there. Ultimately I chose an X21 Pro from Xpress Boats out of Hot Springs, Ark.
I’ve been around Xpress Boats a bunch working with their pros and at their events and was able to pick a lot of people’s brains about the boats before hand. I’ve been able to run their boats since they were created and have liked that they drive like performance speed boats but are also built to withstand rough water. And we all saw what Bill Lowen and Jason Christie did in those boats this year on tour.
I actually ordered my boat last year before Christie and some others came on board this year. So I was already looking forward to making the switch before Bill and Jason showed the world what those boats could do.
Xpress builds an all-welded aluminum boat, with the original padded hull, so you can handle rough water and hang big motors on them. And every year they are incorporating more innovations and improvements into their boats spurred by on the water experiences. They have tons of storage, handle rough water really well, and drive like race cars. Not to mention they were the originals offering an all-welded boat with padded hull and a SeaDek option.
They also come with the Yamaha VMAX SHO, and I was excited about the prospect of running the new SHO. That motor has already been very impressive, and I’m barely through break in.
The boat tows, launches and loads really well and I’m already enjoying that part of it. I actually drove to Arkansas and got it and brought it back to my dealer, The Old Bait House in Paducah. So it’s had some miles on it already. As an aside, I don’t recommend towing them with the dealer cover on them. Talk about halving your fuel economy.
I chose a custom color and custom SeaDek for my boat. I outfitted the boat with a Garmin Force Trolling Motor, Garmin GPSMAP units with Livescope and the new GT56UHD-TM HD transducers for maximum image quality. I also added Dakota Lithium 12V 100AH batteries to power my trolling motor and Garmin electronics.
The boat is sleek, functional and fun to drive and fish. I love its low sides, making casting and swinging fish a lot easier and more fluid. I knew I was going to be getting up and down 50 times a day on some days, and I’m already loving how easy it is to hop around, make a few casts and takeoff in this boat to run a bunch of water efficiently.
I’ve only been in the boat a couple weeks, but I’m already very happy with my purchase. I buy my boats. I don’t do memo deals and swap every year. I liked to buy a boat and motor and run it for a while and own the boat so I can set it up how I want and catch a lot of fish out of it before having to mess with changing and rigging again. Plus I think this is how most fishermen operate and it makes my content more genuine if it’s my boat and I paid for it.
I’ve already had good fishing luck catching some giant crappie including one of the bigger hybrid crappies I’ve ever caught on my first couple of outings. So I’m excited to see what comes bass fishing and crappie fishing this fall and winter.
So that’s how I came to my boat buying decision and what I factored into that decision. I’m really happy with my choice and my purchase and am looking forward to sharing a lot of fishing content with folks in the new rig. Hopefully this experience helps others get through the boat buying process a little easier.