BlogJune 2024

And The Best Columbia River Fishing Boat Is...

And The Best Columbia River Fishing Boat Is...

By Ken Schultz

Jun 19, 2024

Diverse species, fishing techniques, and water conditions make it hard to pick the best Columbia River fishing boat, but here are some options

There is no perfect boat for all types of fishing. Every boat is a compromise in one or more (usually more) ways. I’ve been down this road myself when I was primarily a freshwater angler, and then when I became primarily a saltwater angler. So when asked recently about the best Columbia River fishing boat I had to answer none….and also, it depends.

Depends on what? In the case of the best Columbia River fishing boat question, it depends on what fish species you’ll be targeting, where on the river, at what seasons, under what conditions, and with how many companions or family members. Because of this waterways diversity, Columbia River fishing boats run a wide gamut.

Bass boats. I know Columbia River anglers who only fish for smallmouth bass and do so out of 17- to 20-foot fiberglass bass boats powered by big-horsepower outboard motors. But that really wouldn’t cut it well for open-water walleye trolling, salmon fishing, crabbing, or sturgeon fishing on the lower Columbia, or shallow water boating in the upper reaches. Not to mention that a bass boat is generally not a great fishing vessel for a group of anglers, in case you’re thinking of taking a few pals or the entire family out.

Jet boats. Another common boat here as well as on various Pacific Northwest Rivers, is a jet boat, or jet sled. These are flat-bottomed aluminum boats with jet-drive inboard or outboard motors and designed for negotiating the shallowest waters. Jet-drive motors have no propeller; water moves through an impeller-driven pump that streams water backward and pushes the boat forward. These are good for upriver adventures but don’t handle well in open water, and are not very utilitarian when it comes to trolling and bucking big waves.

Deep-vees. Many Columbia River anglers are keen on large deep-vee aluminum boats due to the big-water conditions that can exist here. These have higher profiles (i.e. a higher gunwale) than bass boats, make for a smoother ride in big waves, and are well suited to bottom fishing and trolling, which makes them more amenable to multi-species and multi-technique fishing activities.

Deep vee aluminum boats are mostly available as tiller-steered models, with 17 feet a minimum length up to 23 feet, and some are especially designed for both deep and shallow water boating. Unlike some other boats, they are also amenable for the attachment of downriggers and other trolling-related hardware. So for overall utility, some type of deep-vee boat is most practical, and maybe these are the best boats for fishing the Columbia River.

You can, however, fish on the Columbia in certain places out of a kayak, canoe, PWC, even a jonboat, so there are many things to consider no matter what vessel you choose. If you’re wondering about the best Columbia River fishing boat, remember to consider what type of fishing you’ll be doing (and most often if you’ll be doing varied types of fishing), where you’ll be boating and fishing (near the mouth, in the main stem, way up in the shallows, etc.), and how many people will be joining you.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is