This is boat decision season

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

What kind of boat will you be using when the next open water fishing season rolls around?

Winter is the time when anglers do some serious boat shopping. The January through March outdoor sports shows and boat shows are great places to see a wide variety of the newest fishing boats. You probably will not buy your next fishing boat at a big show, but you can at least get a good idea of what you think you need.

Will you be shopping for your first boat? Will you upgrade to a bigger boat, a faster boat or a fancier boat? Maybe you are looking for a more fish-able boat.

One of the first things you should get straight in your mind is that there is no perfect all-around fishing boat for our region. Probably the closest thing to it would be a 14-foot aluminum semi-v boat with a motor no larger than 20 hp. This does not mean a car top 14-foot boat. A sturdier, wider boat with higher sides is best. Still, this boat would be suitable for Lake Erie fishing only when waves are a foot or less, and only close to launches.

For fishing the Allegheny River, a 14-foot semi-v is not suitable at normal summer flows. It drafts too much water.

Of course get a jet boat if you are a river specialist. Talk with someone who has one.

A 14-foot semi-v is perfect for the inland lakes in the region, including the Allegheny Reservoir, Chautauqua Lake and smaller lakes. With a motor no larger than 20 hp it could be used at some state park lakes, most notably Pymatuning Lake and Lake Wilhelm.

If you are not concerned with the river and lakes with horsepower limitations, then a 16-foot to 20-foot semi-v boat with a larger motor is very good for the Allegheny Reservoir, Chautauqua Lake or Lake Erie.

I realized many years ago that I can not get along with only one fishing boat. For a while I had three, counting the canoe. Now I have two 14-foot boats, a jon boat with a 9.9 hp motor and a semi-v with a 20 hp motor.

If you want a jon boat for river fishing, get a 14-foot boat that is rated for at least 9.9 hp. Jon boats rated for less horsepower generally are not very stable

Winter shows are poor places for new or inexperienced boaters to shop for boats. The reason, be alert for ‘Show Specials’ than can not deliver the kind of performance you may expect. Show Specials typically offer seemingly low prices. The only way to determine whether the offer is a good deal is to examine the components of the boat package. Boat sellers sometimes cut corners by using inferior or marginal components, most notably motors and trailers.

Check the weight capacity of the trailer. It should allow for the weight of the boat and motor with plenty to spare for gear the boat will carry. Also the trailer should have adequate bunks to make loading the boat easy. Bunks should guide the boat onto the trailer. You may have to adjust the bunks.

Check the data plate on the boat for maximum horsepower. The motor need not be maximum recommended horsepower, but it should be close. Try to stay no more than 30 percent below maximum rated horsepower. Any less and the boat will not be responsive. The motor may not provide enough power to lift the boat onto plane. Most fishing boats less than 20 feet in length, and many over this length, have planing type hulls.

If you will be doing a lot of trolling, get a 4-stroke outboard motor since they generally perform better at trolling speeds than 2-stroke motors. Note that 4-stroke motors are more costly than 2-stroke motors.

As with most things we might buy, any deal that seems too good to be true almost certainly is. Businesses have to make profit.

The most economical way to get into a nice fishing boat is to buy a used aluminum boat in good condition, then buy either a new outboard motor or a gently used motor.

You should be aware that older outboard motors are not intended to be used with ethanol added gas, whereas newer motors are. Gas without ethanol is available in this area, and there are additives to eliminate the bad effects of ethanol.