There is a reason they make bass fishing boats, as much as a pontoon can be great for fun in the sun, it doesn’t make for the best rig for bass fishing.
It doesn’t mean that pontoons are unusable for bass fishing though. Quite the contrary, you can still catch a lot of bass from a pontoon boat if you know what you’re doing. Just follow the tips and tricks below and you’ll be on fish in no time!
Use the engine sparingly
The first key to using a pontoon boat for bass fishing is to make sure you don’t turn on the engine very frequently. The majority of pontoons do not come equipped with a trolling motor as it can be very hard to use effectively on a big rig. Instead, they have a high horsepower motor on the back of the boat only.
This engine is going to create a lot of disturbance in the water and make a ton of noise – two things that don’t really lend themselves to bass fishing. Bass will get spooked by the noise and disturbance and likely not bite for at least a few minutes afterwards. And definitely won’t bite if it’s going while you’re fishing.
So use the engine to get in the general area you want to be and then use it very sparingly to just keep you in the right direction or away from hazards. If you’re constantly moving around with an outboard motor, you won’t be catching bass.
Let the water carry you
So you can’t use the engine, how are you going to move around the lake? Bass fishing in general requires some mobility to find where the fish are biting. So you’re going to have to use something else besides the engine to get you where you need to go.
Trolling motors are great, but again hardly ever come on pontoons. A paddle can work, but you’ll have sore arms very quickly trying to move a pontoon with a paddle. So the best answer is just to plan ahead and let the water carry you where you want to go.
This is an art more than a science, but if you point the boat towards the direction you want to go and hit the engine quickly, you’re likely to drift that way for a good while. So pick a good open area that you think bass may be and hit the gas towards it then cut off the motor. You’ll continue drifting, more quickly at first then slower and slower, for a good while. You can fish the whole time and then use your motor to get back out and try it again somewhere else.
Find good offshore structure
Since you are a little less mobile in a pontoon boat, you can forget about getting into the nooks and crannies of a lake. Most bass fisherman target lay downs, stump fields, or boat docks where bass may be setting up waiting for prey. You simply won’t be able to maneuver around these areas as well as others – so don’t even try.
Instead, you’ll be better off fishing where a lot of fishermen miss – offshore structure. Because it is in wide open water you can get into the area a lot more easily. And, if it’s deeper than 15 to 20 feet, you’re less likely to spook bass with an outboard motor when you do have to hit it to get back into the area you want to be.
Plus, bass tend to group up on offshore structure a lot more than on cover near the shore. You can pull one or two bass off a boat dock. Find the right offshore structure and you could catch 10 to 20. If you have a very long anchor – you can even anchor down and just fish the structure until the fish stop biting. Which honestly can be a good hour or so.
Good electronics are a necessity to do this, so hopefully your pontoon comes with a fish finder. But if it doesn’t, you still have options! Think of getting a portable fish finder like this which you can just tie off on the side of the boat and connect to your phone to find areas where fish are holding off the bank.
Use lures that cover big areas
Since you won’t be able to target specific pieces of cover and you’ll need to be fishing larger areas – your lure choice will have to match as well. Don’t try using something like a texas rig which is meant to target specific areas where you think a bass is. Instead, use lures that are bigger, have movement, make noise, or have other things that draw fish in from a bigger area.
If you’re fishing very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, try a whopper plopper. This lure makes noise and leaves a trail in the water which means it can draw bass in from a wide area. It’s also just a great lure that gets more bites for me than any other topwater and it’s extremely easy to use. You can cast it a mile as well, which helps when you are on a pontoon drifting away from where you want to be.
After early morning, you can switch to something like a lipless crankbait or a chatterbait. Both of these are moving baits that you can cast a good distance – again ideal for pontoon fishing. A lipless crankbait is often called a “rattletrap” because of the internal rattle that makes a great noise to draw in bass when reeled. The chatterbait has a blade that makes vibrations bass can actually feel in the water – another great way to draw them in.
Just make sure the lures you choose can draw in bass that are several feet away from where you’re actually casting. You can’t pinpoint bass as easily from a boat, so you need to use lures that bring them in to you. And anything you can cast a good distance will be extra helpful so you don’t have to hit the motor as much on a pontoon.
Consider anchoring down and using live bait
Another option you have on a pontoon is to anchor down in a location you think bass are going to be around and casting out a line and waiting for a bite.
Most people bass fish with lures that are reeled, worked, or some sort of action is performed to make the lure look like a fish, worm, or some kind of easy prey for bass to eat. This is because they are easy to cast in many different areas repeatedly so you can cover a lot of water and find where bass are at.
But you can absolutely just use actual live bait and wait for the bass to come to you. You probably won’t catch a ton this way but you can absolutely still catch bass. And pretty big ones too. If you get a small bluegill or even a shad, you can put them on a hook and bobber and just cast it onto a transitional area like off a point. Then just wait for a hungry bass to swim by and see an easy meal.
The upside to using live bait is that you can more easily trick a bass into biting as it will look, smell, feel, everything like it’s supposed to. So a bass will bite it more quickly and hold on longer as well. So it’s also great for first-time bass fisherman as well.
Troll over schools of bass
If sitting in one place doesn’t excite you, a final option is to troll for bass. Generally, trolling is kept for other species of fish like trout or striper. But trolling can work for a variety of species, bass included. For those who don’t know, trolling is just casting out a lure or several off the back of a boat, and putting it on a low speed and driving around the lake and waiting for bites.
The key for trolling for bass is just making sure you keep the motor low and slow to not spook anything and target the right water depth depending on the time of year. Bass are likely to be around the same depth across an entire lake. So find that depth and make sure you use lures that go to that depth. Then, just slowly drive across areas of the lake that match that water depth.
This can be difficult because if you get too shallow without paying attention, you can get hung up pretty easily and have to start over. So if you’re using lures that are going to 20 feet, then troll around areas that are about 25 feet deep – just to give some breathing room. Usually bass will come up if they see several lures coming overhead and they’re hungry.
The best part of trolling for bass is just driving around the lake and relaxing – so don’t expect this to be the most productive way to bass fish. But it is one of the most enjoyable. If you do catch a fish, try trolling around that area for a good while and see if you can catch a few more. Maybe even anchor down and use the techniques above if you find a spot that got a bite and you want to see what else you can get out of it.
Pontoon boats may not be the most effective solution for bass fishing but you can absolutely still catch bass from a pontoon. Follow the tips and tricks above and you’ll be able to catch bass and have a fun time doing it. My family used to rent pontoons every lake trip before I had a bass boat, and I would still catch bass every trip from a pontoon. So it is absolutely possible.