Jon boats are truly fantastic calm water vessels. They are also great for gaining access to shallow water fishing grounds that other boats just can’t get to. As freshwater fishing watercraft Jon boats are second to none but how do you set up a Jon boat for fishing?
How do you set up a Jon boat for fishing? Attaching an outboard motor is preferable for reaching fishing grounds fast but having a form of manual propulsion on board, such as a paddle, is a good idea for stealth. Attach either permanent or removable rod holders to the boat and stow livewells on deck for bait and catch. If fishing in low light you will need nav lights to comply with Federal law.
Jon boat fishing set up
Below are the essential items you need to fit to your Jon boat to make it a kick-ass fishing vessel.
You will definitely need to fit rod holders to your Jon boat to hold your rods.
Rod holders come in different types. Many are permanent and must be screwed to the boat. However, there are ones available that require no drilling but simply clamp onto the side of your Jon and others that are attached via Velcro so they can be attached and unattached easy within seconds.
I personally prefer to attach only things to my boat that can be removed easily so I can lighten the load when I want to use my boat for a different, unrelated activity. Some of you may agree while others may disagree because using permanent rod holders or removable ones is really just a matter of personal preference.
You will obviously need to have livewells on your Jon boat for bait and your catch.
If you are a big fishing fan and only use your Jon for fishing trips then you may want to build livewells directly into the boat. Again, I personally prefer using something that can be removed from my boat within seconds and so I use one portable livewell for bait and another one for catch.
Some Jon owners just use buckets and that is a perfectly acceptable option.
You can even get collapsible livewells. Though I have never used them myself they do seem like a pretty cool idea and a great way of reducing the space needed for storing when not in use and also for when they are being transported in your road vehicle.
Fitting a fishfinder to a Jon boat is not altogether necessary, especially when fishing for bass and other shallow water fish in the shallows, but it can be a great addition to your set up if you have the budget and/or like to hunt fish that swim in deeper waters.
There are many different types of fishfinders in the marketplace but we have found that the the most popular fishfinder is the most popular one for a reason and many Jon boat owners agree. Of course there is at least one other excellent alternative but you should read reviews of specific models that you think are a good fit for your fishing style and ask other Jon boat owners in your area for suggestions.
Install and setting up a fishfinder is easy. We previously covered how to install a fishfinder on a Jon boat and when you read that article you will see just how quick and easy the process is.
Many Jon boats are used in low light or even at night to hunt for nocturnal fish and fish that avoid direct sunlight. If you do this or plan to do it then nav lights are essential for your boat.
As you probably already know the best times to fish for bass are early morning and late in the evening in low light as bass are out at these times. Bass fish tend to take shelter from the sun during the day and are more difficult to locate.
If you plan to hunt nocturnal marine life like catfish then it is advisable to add a strong deck light to your Jon boat setup so you can not only see where you are going in your boat but so that you can search the waters for fish as well.
Be aware that if your boat is fitted with an outboard motor then it is considered a power boat and so you are legally obliged to follow some guidelines for using the boat at night. When you are using a power boat in reduced visibility you are required by law to display navigational lights on your vessel.
Navigational lights come in all shapes and types and it is easy to attach these lightweight lights to a Jon boat by either screwing them in or gluing Velcro to the boat, and the bottom of the light. I prefer the second option as you can quickly remove the lights when they are not needed or when they need replaced.
Read our Jon boat lights guide here for more information on the best lights to fit to your boat.
When fishing you will need a combination of propulsion aids.
You simply can’t just rely on an outboard motor or a paddle.
When you need speed to reach fishing grounds
You will likely want to fit an appropriate sized outboard motor to your Jon boat so you can quickly move from one fishing ground to another.
Bass fish, for example, are solitary hunters and although younger fish can congregate in groups most adults prefer their own space so you may need to move from spot to spot and a motor is the fastest way to do that. Make sure your Jon boat has the correct sized motor as both underpowering it and overpowering bring their own unique problems.
Of course using an outboard motor is not always a good idea when fishing as the noise and vibration in the water will alter the fish to your presence.
Although an outboard motor is a great aid to the boating angler sometimes a stealth approach is needed.
When you require stealth to approach the fish quietly
Always have some form of manual propulsion on your own Jon boat when out fishing. Manual propulsion on a Jon boat can come in the form of a paddle, oars (though you will need to fit oarlocks to the boat) or a pole.
A paddle is the most common form of manual propulsion for a Jon boat because it is a cheap and effective way for moving the boat quietly.
Oars are fantastic for a quiet approach and many duck hunters as well as anglers will fit their Jon boat with oars. However, oars can have a few drawbacks.
First, oars can be heavy and add to the weight of your boat making it difficult to stay within the boat’s weight capacity when you have a lot of fishing gear and passengers onboard.
Secondly, oars also require the fitting of oarlocks to your Jon boat. This is not really a big deal as oarlocks are both cheap and very easy to fit.
You will have to drill some holes in your boat though to fit the oarlocks – something some die-hard Jon boat fans hate to do – and the oarlocks will need some additional maintenance to stop them rusting and working lose and also to stop them from making noises that an alter fish to your presence. We covered a really neat solution for eliminating all those problems here though.
Oar use is also limited to certain waters.
A Jon boat can navigate waters that are only a few inches deep and if you are fishing these waters then it can be unproductive to try to use oars. Basically, if you can’t use an outboard motor in the shallow water you are in then it i unlikely you will be able to use oars either. A paddle or pole would be a better option.
A pole works really well in a Jon boat that is in very, very shallow water.
Where the waters are only inches deep, and even using a paddle is a pain, then a pole is a fantastic alternative. Using a pole you can punt the boat both propelling it and steering it at the same time with each push.