Great ‘Inland Seas’ Fishing Boats

Published in the March 2020 Issue July 2020 Feature Danny Lee

Most waters worth wetting a line in are angled by fishermen aboard boats that share a similar design or features that have proven particularly suitable for the fishery and the conditions it presents.

When I lived in the Florida Keys, most of us multi-species anglers drove “white boats,” a generic term we used for the 17- to 30-foot, outboard-powered fiberglass center console boats that remain popular in coastal areas for their fishability and adaptability – and are still most often offered in a shade of white. If you were primarily a flats angler, you ran a flats skiff. In fishing ports around the Gulf of Mexico, bay boats dominate the fishing scene. On western rivers, dories or ‘drift boats’ of glass, aluminum and wood or inflatable rafts are the craft of choice for float fishing trips, while on the rocky inland lakes of the north country, aluminum outboard-powered boats get the nod, many tiller-controlled for better maneuverability and the option to back troll.

Then there are the sleek, high-speed bass boats that are found wherever bucketmouths thrive – which is most everywhere.

The Great Lakes and the boats that have developed here are no different. While each is unique, the seven water bodies share similar conditions that anglers pursuing walleye, bass, trout and salmon have learned to navigate aboard boats that continue to evolve in design to offer the safest, most comfortable and effective fishing platforms for our favorite waters.

We talked to the owner of Erie Marine Sales ( of Sheffield Lake, Ohio, Brian Zarembski, about what boat features are popular among Great Lakes anglers, who are his primary customers.

“Anglers want a deep-vee hull with plenty of room in the back for trolling, high gunwales around a deeper cockpit to keep you inside the boat when it gets rough,” he explained, “and some type of enclosure to protect them from the weather. These days, guys are fishing for walleye right through the winter when the water is open, and they want somewhere to duck out of the cold.”

Zarembski said that 20- to 24-foot boats are popular with anglers who want to trailer their watercraft, yet have a rig large enough to handle the rough stuff.

“We sell a lot of 22-footers,” he said. “I’d say 24 feet is about as long as most guys want to trailer, and if you are planning to dock your boat, a 24-footer on up is the way to go.”

As for power, Zarembski  says the industry is moving toward outboards, even for the bigger boats, because the technology has gotten so much better, and outboards require less maintenance and are getting more fuel efficient.

To achieve optimum slow-trolling speed and as a safety backup, “Most boat buyers still opt for 9.9 to 25hp trolling motors on their fishing boats, while others rely on an electric trolling motor or troll on their main engine,” Zarembski said, adding that the new primary outboards will slow down to a sub 2hp pace, and anglers can use trolling plates, drift bags or buckets to slow their craft down.

For hull design, he said a deep-vee is the way to go, and many customers prefer a hull offering a reverse chine design to help keep the spray down and to assist with side-to-side stability.

Hull material, between aluminum or fiberglass, is a toss-up, he said. “The tournament walleye guys are leaning toward glass,” Zarembski said, pointing to the popularity of the Warrior Craft brands that Erie Marine sells. “Others prefer the aluminum models for their lighter weight and price point.” He added that the all-welded aluminum fishing models from Hewescraft are among his best-selling aluminum boats.

Whether that deep-vee hull is constructed of glass or aluminum, a good Great Lakes fishing boat needs to have plenty of storage, a quality livewell and lots of rod holders to score points with anglers. Zarembski noted that tracks mounted atop the gunwales flanking the cockpit allow rod holders and other track-mounted accessories to be positioned wherever they are needed, and that rod holder ‘trees’ are popular, especially on smaller boats, to allow one base to support multiple rods. A washdown hose is desirable for easy post-fishing cleanup, and a back-up bilge pump is a popular safety option.

And safety is a key consideration when boating and fishing any of our Great Lakes – which are referred to as the “inland seas” for their size and their ability to kick-up and get downright dangerous to boats of any size in the blink of an eye.

Guide Spotlight: Captain Lee highlights Captain Jim Woods

A lifelong Lake Erie angler, Captain Jim Woods operates Walleye Hunter, Fish & Fowl Adventures out of Lorain, Ohio, with two partners, Larry Weiss and Zack George. The trio team up to offer perch and walleye fishing trips on Lake Erie, walleye fishing charters in the Maumee River and waterfowl hunting trips wherever birds are flying across the southern shore of the Great Lake and Lake St. Clair.

Woods handles the majority of the open water fishing trips and prefers welded aluminum for his charterboats “for its ruggedness” and appreciates the lighter weight and fuel efficiency that goes along with it. His first Hewescraft was 21-foot Sea Runner model, which sold him on the brand.

“I’ve never been on a boat that size that could handle the rough water on Lake Erie,” he said of the 200hp Evinrude E-TEC-powered charterboat.

“My clients loved it. That thing could run through 4- to 5-footers and I’d just trim the bow down and plow through them with no problem whatsoever,” Woods explained of the 21-foot Hewescraft. “I can only imagine what it’s going to be like with my new 27-footer!”

You can find Woods’ Hewescraft Alaskan tied fast to Dock E-13 in Lorain’s Spitzer Riverside Marina this spring, or get in touch with him via their website, via email at or by phone at 440-371-3767.

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