By Sam Webb  

     By now I am sure you have seen them bobbing on your favorite lake or reservoir, or floating past as you fished your favorite river. No doubt about it, pontoon boats, or personal watercraft as they are often called, are sweeping across the west and are significantly changing the way people fish. It seems that every time I go out I see more and more of them.
I suppose that three things have combined to cause this phenomenon: design, price and fun.

     Pontoon boat design and construction have dramatically improved. PVC tubes and thermo-welded seams make the  pontoons virtually indestructible and the new all aluminum, powder-coated frames are completely rust resistant and extremely light in weight. The craft are so well built that most carry a three year warranty and the more expensive boats carry a 10 year warranty on all welded seams and construction.
     Also, many models have been designed specifically to float safely and easily on the big rivers, opening up miles of water previously inaccessible except to the big drift boats.

     Prices have dropped so much that many pontoon craft are no more expensive than a well built fly rod. Prices range from right at $400 (for a wide range of boats built by several companies) to about $1,800 for the new Outcast PAC 1200, which seats two people, carries up to 600 pounds and is rated for rivers with serious white water. 
     If you are thinking about buying a pontoon craft, don't just buy the cheapest one you can find. Consider what you will be using it for. If you are going to float rivers, you will want a bigger, better built (and consequently more expensive) boat than if you are only going to use it on flat water. If you are even thinking about floating one of the rivers, buy a boat designed for that purpose. That way, you won't end up buying a craft you aren't satisfied with, or worse, using a pontoon craft designed for flat water on a big river.

     Ok, so why did I finally buy a pontoon craft. Simple really, because they are so much fun! Don't tell anyone but I enjoy floating the rivers almost as much as I enjoy the fishing. Combine the floating with the fishing and I can't imagine a more fun or exciting fishing trip.
     I chose the Outcast PAC 1200 because I wanted the option to take a second person with me on the same craft. My wife, Drew, is an avid flyfisher and we thoroughly enjoy floating and fishing together. It's also fun to float and fish with my kids. They have a great time and I don't worry about them like I would if they were in their own pontoon craft.
     If you are a serious fisher that enjoys working every inch of water, buy a personal craft and learn to maneuver it with fins. With both hands free it's easy to cast, maneuver and fish, all while floating downstream or while working your favorite lake or pond.

     Rowing a pontoon craft is work and doing it over a six or seven mile stretch of river is hard work. Finning (using fins instead of oars) a craft on your favorite lake is even more work and finning for six or seven miles down a river will wear you right out. 
     Before taking your craft on a river, get it out on a lake or pond and practice. Practice rowing forward and backward. Use your fins and learn to steer. Keep at it long enough to find out what kind of shape you are in.
If your legs get tired and start to cramp up after just a few minutes. You'd better get into shape before you plan any serious trips.
     I went to the gym and rowed a rowing machine, hard, every day for a week and a half before my first trip. It paid off. Get into shape or it won't be fun!