What to Look for in the Ideal Boat for Inshore, Inlets, and Beyond

If you want to chase snook, redfish, or tarpon inshore or along the beaches, look for boats with these characteristics.
Inshore fishing at sunset
Inshore fishing may be the largest segment of the saltwater fishing boat market, with millions of anglers hitting the bays, inlets, and backwaters coast to coast. Courtesy Pathfinder

Capt. Mike Holliday has been a USCG Licensed Master Captain since 1986, putting clients on a variety of inshore and offshore species around his home base in Stuart, Florida. Depending on the day, you can find him catching monster snook along the dock lines or hooking up with sailfish in the blue. Here’s what he’s looking for in a boat that can brave the sketchiest inlet and provide plenty of fishability.

On Size 

“Where I fish, we do it all. Fishing shallow ­backwaters, along the ocean beaches, or offshore. ­Ideally, you want a boat in the ­22-to-24-foot range to handle all this. You don’t want to be too big because you’ll have a hard time ­fishing the docks, but ­anything shorter is easy to stuff in a rough inlet. You also want as much beam as you can get; it provides more fishing room and helps when the seas are coming at you from the side.”

On Trim Tabs

“Trim tabs are a must. You want to be able to get up and go, but you also need to be able to control the bow when the seas kick up. A good set of tabs will give you more control over your boat.”


“In a bay boat, 12 or 15 inches of draft will get you everywhere you need to go. You can get into the backwaters, and fish the edge of the flats.”


“I’m a live-bait king, so I need at least 80 gallons of livewell capacity. I like clear lids because they let in light so that you don’t stress your bait every time you open the top. You can also keep an eye on everything that’s going on in there without disturbing them. Ideally, you’ll have a sea chest running your livewells. You also want a supplemental aeration system, especially in warmer climates. It does a lot to keep bait lively. And it needs to drain well, so I look for wells plumbed with 2-inch tubing that get the water out in a hurry.”

“I always go with the maximum horsepower that a boat is rated for. I’m not a speed guy, but I like to be able to cruise without ­running wide open, which provides optimal fuel
economy. Having the power in reserve lets me kick it when needed, handling rough inlets with ease and getting ahead of weather systems so that I can make it home safely. My Pathfinder is fitted with a 250 hp Yamaha SHO four-stroke outboard, which lets it jump on plane quickly and cruise easily.”

Jack Plates and Props

“I prefer four-blade props. They don’t cavitate in turns, and they make the most out of available horsepower. Jack plates are great; I use mine mostly when I’m going slow. I can keep my motor vertical so that I don’t lose steering capabilities.”

Trolling Motors and Electronics

“I like Humminbird and Minn Kota because they integrate. I can run my trolling motor off the MFD or on my phone—I rarely use the remote. I have a Solix 15 with the latest GPS/sonar/side-imaging technology, paired with a Minn Kota 36-volt Ultra trolling motor. Whatever trolling motor you choose, make sure it has at least 100 pounds of thrust for boats of this size. A self-deploying option is great, particularly if you fish alone.


“Shallow-water anchor ­systems are another ­must-have. I run twin Raptor shallow-­water anchors, which let me stay right in place if I want. Or I can just deploy one and swing with the current. The Raptors integrate with the Humminbird electronics as well, so I can run them off my MFD.”

Storage and Accessories

“You want as much ­storage as possible. I use my front hatch as storage, keeping everything in well-organized tackle boxes. Make sure you have space for two coolers: one for fish and one for lunch. Look for at least four rod holders on each side, with some under the gunwale if you have long fly rods. You can’t have too many rod holders. A washdown is another must-have to help keep things clean.”