Published Feb 6. 2016 - 1 year ago
Updated or edited Jan 14. 2017

Boat or belly boat?

Do you choose an inflatable and compact belly boat or a real boat, canoe or kayak for your fishing? There is another option.

I've been hunting pike on the fly for over 10 years with a passion. Three years ago, I joined the local fishing club in Munich and the water I was eligible for as a newbie was a still water that is fed by a mountain stream with plenty of big pike. I had high hopes. As soon as the ice melted in March and the venue opened for club members, I was up at 4am and raring to go.

The set up

After three trips I had to concede defeat. It was very difficult to fish effectively from the bank with a fly rod. It is a beautiful lake because it's also a nature reserve but in reality, this means that the grassy banks are all overgrown and pretty much left to nature for the nesting birds. When you wade into the water it gets worse. The margins are mostly soft and silty because of all the vegetation and it's very sticky to walk and cast in. Not to mention, there are no footpaths close to the water so dog walkers and hikers do not get too close to the nests. I tried casting from almost every part of the lake but those first three trips resulted in two small fish and lots of cursing.
So, being the ever-optimist, problem solving fly fishers we are, I had to think about how to get ON the water. But I am no sea dog and had no experience of owning a boat. I'd only ever hired rowing boats before so I had to think about my options carefully. Simple, no? It has to be either a real boat or a belly-boat.

I had to think about how to get ON the water

Pros and cons

Let's look at the pros and cons.

  Boats Belly-boats
Pros
  • Hard boats can be beautiful things, especially wooden ones and you glide over the water singing away the hours gleefully with a rod in hand and a flask of whisky for company.
  • It fits in your car, you are stealthy, mobile and close to the action!
  • Cons
  • You need space to store a boat. Munich is short on storage space and it's very expensive.
  • Boats can be expensive. Like, really expensive.
  • Boats need proper care and maintenance.
  • You need to transport a boat with a trailer. Expensive. Then you'll probably want a shiny new 4x4. Expensive.
  • You are limited to fish locations with a boat ramp or at least good access points for your expensive trailer.
  • Did I mention boats are expensive?
  • After walking into the water backwards wearing flippers, holding your boat, rod, and net hoping no one comes to ask “what on earth you are doing?”, you're basically sat in the water with only leg power to swim against the wind and currents.
  • Even with neoprene waders and thermal underwear, let's not kid ourselves, you will get cold.
  • Being so low on the water does affect casting ability to a degree.
  • For a good quality one, they are 400+ Euros or 500 USD.
  • The ones I have seen are actually quite thin outer and pike fly hooks are big, sharp and angry. With one gust of wind after a big haul, I would worry a little about a sharp 4/0 puncturing the tube.
  •  
    So, after deliberating on the pros and cons above and researching my options, I concluded I was looking for something in the middle. Mobile but sturdy. I wanted to glide over the water with my whisky but without the hassle of a ‘real' boat! What to do?

    I was considering going to view some pontoon style boats which looked ideal but they too posed some storage and transport issues and cost around 500 Euros. But then by chance, after discussing my predicament to a boat-loving colleague at work he mentioned he had a small, good quality inflatable boat he would sell to me for 200 Euros. I was skeptical but also curious. He brought it to work so I could take a look. After pumping the it up I could see instantly that this cunning plan might just work. My mind was racing at the possibilities. Sold!

    Enter the Bombard AX-Mini!

    Small, tough
    Small, tough
    Ian Wilson

    The Bombard AX-Mini is small, tough inflatable that was designed for a hard life on the sea, ferrying passengers up to 120 kilos from a larger boat to the beach but in many ways, this is the perfect fly fisher's craft.

    Let me explain. Firstly, you're mobile on the water. The space problem is solved. It rolls up to fit nicely in a car boot and weighs only 13 kilos or less than 30 lbs. It's thick walls make it durable and I felt instantly comfortable and ready to give it some action. Like a belly boat, having two chambers, it only takes five minutes to inflate and you can easily carry it to the water at least 100m before it starts to feel like hard work. From arriving to fishing takes me just 15 minutes to set up and the only extras I needed to purchase was a life jacket (60 Euros) a small 1.5 kilo anchor (10 Euros), 30 meters of 5 millimeters polyester cord (12 Euros) and the inflatable thwart (that's boat talk for a seat I learned) was 30 Euros new from eBay.

    Packed and ready to go!

    Everything packed
    Everything packed
    Ian Wilson

    Everything packed nicely in the car the night before a trip. Just the boat, paddles, anchor, pump, lifejacket, rucksack, rod & net.

    Inflatable thwart
    Ready to go
    After 15 minutes
    Ian Wilson

    I sit on the inflatable thwart pictured here which is comfortable to row on. You can't really stand and cast in the Bombard but that's fine. I just needed to get on the water to cover fish. To fish, I kneel on the thwart which is comfortable and I have a great upright casting position at the front of the boat. Interestingly, if you look at the small space between the front of the boat and the seat - I actually fill this with an old blanket and then cover it with the boat's own waterproof cover. This then functions as my line tray and soft unhooking mat!

    The only con here is it can get a little tiring on the knees after a few hours, so my old snowboard knee-pads have come in very handy but as long as you remember to break every hour or so, it's no problem. I look at it like a workout. You get out what you put in. Anyway, a day fishing a river is not easy either so if you have bad knees maybe this would not be ideal, but then a belly boat would also be out of the question too I think.

    Feet up
    Tea time
    Tea time
    Ian Wilson

    Taking a tea break. (I'm English after all). The motor mount even doubles up as a perfect leg-rest. No flippers required. Knee pads make the whole affair much more comfortable. This thing is small but awesome.

    Personal best
    The big bend
    Big bend, big fish
    Ian Wilson

    I realise this is not a great photo and actually it prompted me to purchase a Go-Pro camera so I never miss such an epic moment again but it's proof, none the less, of my new PB of 13.4 kilos or a good 29.5 lbs! My row of records goes something like 2, 3, 4, 13 kilos!

    Taken on a chartreuse fly, it looked like a crocodile when I hooked it. No hook-set necessary! This fish was caught in September, 2015 and she made all the work worthwhile. She was longer than the actual boat is wide and my fantasy about a big pike towing me around the lake leaving a wake trail were unfounded. Anchored up she just put a serious bend in my rod!

    This lake is closed over the winter (it often freezes over) so I have to wait for post-spawn in the Spring until I can get out again but man, I can't wait.

    Summary

    I just wanted to put this out there because maybe there are other anglers that are in a similar position and the Global FlyFisher site has always provided me with such useful information. Maybe you have space for a canoe or a hard boat, in which case this probably seems a bit of a strange enterprise. For me though, it made my fishing more enjoyable and productive. It was a funny idea at first and I had some advice on a fishing forum who had experience basically said “go for it, you'll be fine”.
    He was right.
    I feel safe on the water in my Bombard and it does exactly what I need it to. I'm sure I'm not the first to use such a craft. Feel free to comment below to let me know I'm not crazy for wearing knee pads while fishing.

    Extra info

    Alain Bombard website

    He said “go for it, you'll be fine”.
    He was right.


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