How Shallow Can A Bass Boat Go?

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If you plan on fishing for bass or any other similar fish, you may have invested a good deal of money into a modern bass boat.

These often come loaded with all of the bells and whistles you need for fishing. That said, as is the case with all boats, bass boats have their limitations, with water depth being one of them.

So, how shallow can a bass boat go? Generally speaking, you can expect a bass boat to be able to go as shallow as 10 to 24 inches, depending on the type, size, weight of the boat, draft, weight distribution and water current.

7 Factors That Affect How Shallow Your Boat Can Go

bass fishing in shallows

Alright, so we already discovered that at the very least, your bass boat is going to need 10 inches of water to float, and in some cases, you may need up to 2 feet.

So, what are the factors that determine how shallow your bass boat can go?

1. The Type of Boat & Shape

One of the main considerations here, in terms of how deep your boat can go, is what type of boat it is and what kind of shape the hull has.

Of course, bass boats are ideal for shallow waters, as they have a very flat hull with almost no keel that extends down into the water.

This flat and keel-free design allows a boat to float very high up on the water without sinking down very far, which is in part due to the shape, as well as because the shape allows for very even weight distribution. The shape of the boat causes it to not displace very much water.

This is not like a sailboat or yacht that has a long keel that comes to a point and extends down into the water, and therefore does not require the water to be very deep.

Other good boat types for shallow water include bay boats, flats boats, jet boats, and small aluminum fishing boats.

2. The Weight & Length

The second thing that is going to affect how shallow your bass boat can go is how heavy it is compared to its length.

It’s all simple physics really. A short and heavy boat is going to displace more water and sink deeper than a lighter and longer boat.

Simply put, a 1,600 pound bass boat that is 17 feet long, given the right conditions, may only need a foot of water, whereas a boat of that same length that weighs 2,200 pounds, is likely to need two or even three feet of water.

That said, if you have two bass boats of equal weight, but one is much longer and wider than the other, the wider and longer one is going to require deeper water.

3. The Draft

The draft of any boat refers to the line on the boat where the water reaches.

To figure out how much water your boat needs to float, at the very least, measure the draft line or look it up in the manual for your specific boat.

The draft line is usually directly related to the type and shape of the boat in question.

4. Weight Distribution

Yet another thing that will affect how much water your bass boat needs to float is how well distributed the weight on it is.

The trick here is to keep the boat as flat as possible, and to keep the bow close to the water.

The reason for this is because if there is too much weight at the stern (the back), then the bow will tilt upwards and force the rear of the bass boat deeper into the water, which results in the engine prop being pushed even further down, and therefore requires more clearance.

The more evenly you can distribute the weight from front to back, the less water the boat will require.

5. Obstacles & Water Clarity

The next factor that will affect how shallow a bass boat can go is how clear the water is. Simply put, if the water is murky, you won’t be able to see obstacles or lifts, which can result in a nasty crash and damage to the hull of your boat.

You just cannot venture into super shallow water if you can’t see what’s down there. Of course, rocks, stumps, and other submerged obstacles need to be considered as well.

6. Water Current

If there is a strong water current, it affects how deep you can go due to the danger which that current poses.

Simply put, a strong current can quickly pull you off course, beach you, or cause you to crash into underwater obstacles.

7. A Motor Jack Plate

How shallow your bass boat can go will also be influenced by whether or not you have a motor jack plate, something that we will discuss in more detail further below.

How To Stay Safe When Fishing in the Shallows

Let’s now go over the ten most important tips that you need to follow so you can stay safe when using your bass boat to fish in the shallows.

Stick With Good Weather

Bad weather, particularly wind, can be very dangerous when fishing in the shallows.

You don’t want to fish in the shallows on a windy day, because that wind can end up pushing or pulling your boat into obstacles or can beach it on the river or lakebed.

Try Sticking To Calm Waters

On that same note, shallow water fishing is best done on calm or very slow moving waters.

You don’t want to fish in shallow water that is moving quickly, such as a fast flowing and very shallow stream or river.

That current makes it difficult to navigate and can quickly end up sending you into obstacles or the river bank.

Use A Jack Plate

One of the best tips to follow when fishing in shallow water is to use a jack plate. This is a special kind of plate that you equip under your motor.

A jack plate allows you to easily lift the motor and the prop up out of the water.

In the event that you hit super shallow water, at least you can pull the motor and prop up out of the water to prevent the propeller from digging into the river or lakebed, and thus allowing you to avoid getting stuck and/or damaging the motor and prop.

Do Research On The Underwater Topography

It’s always a good idea to do some research on the area that you plan on fishing in.

Some areas have really good topographical maps of the underwater landscape, ones that you can access online or even with the right fish/depth finder.

If you know where the areas are to be avoided, as well as where the obstacles are, it will be much safer right from the get-go.

Use A Depth Finder

Another thing that you can do to stay safe while fishing in the shallows is to use a depth finder.

These are great tools because they will tell you exactly how deep the water surrounding your boat is, plus they can also tell you if there are fish nearby.

Always Have A Person On The Lookout When On The Move

When moving through very shallow waters, you always want to have one person on the bow of the boat looking forward and down.

Sometimes there is just nothing better than a good pair of eyes to spot depth changes and obstacles in the water.

Know Your Boat

Next, you do just really want to know your boat, especially what the draft of it is like.

If you know how much water your boat needs to float properly and safely, you are one step closer to being safe when fishing in the shallows.

Take it Slow

When bass boating in the shallows, one of the worst things that you can do is to go fast.

Sure, going fast is fun, but when it comes to changes in depth and obstacles, if you are moving too fast, you won’t see them, and if you do happen to see them, you’ll be moving to fast for it to make a difference.

Remember, boats have really slow reaction times, and it takes quite some time to slow down and to maneuver.

Take it really slow, slow enough so that you can reverse out of a situation in case one arises.

Don’t Overload Your Boat

The heavier your boat is, the more water it will need to float properly. Therefore, to be on the safe side of things, only load up what you need.

Pay Attention To Tides

If you happen to be boating anywhere that sees tidal events, such as rivers, lakes, or anything connected to the ocean, be sure to pay attention to the tides.

Tides can cause massive changes in water depth. You don’t want to venture inland at high tide, only to realize a few hours later that the tide has gone down, the water is gone, and now you’re stuck.

Benefits Of Fishing In The Shallows

There are a few key benefits that you get from fishing in the shallows, so let’s take a quick look at these.

You Can See the Fish

One big advantage to shallow water fishing is of course that you can see the fish.

Instead of having to rely on knowledge, intuition, a depth finder, and some luck, if the water is shallow enough, you can actually see the fish, which of course makes it much easier to find them and to catch them.

Fish Cannot Get Away as Easily

When you do find that big fighting fish, if you were in deep water and your line snaps, that’s it, the fish is gone.

However, in shallow water, although it can still happen, a fish is much likely to get away.

Even if a fish does snap your line, if the water is shallow, you can use those eyes of yours to follow it and to give chase.

You may even be able to leap out of the boat with a net and catch it that way, something you certainly cannot do in deep water.

Some Fish Prefer the Shallows

There is also the fact that many fish out there prefer shallow water, particularly when it comes to feeding time.

A lot of those small feeder fish and insects, as well as frogs, that fish eat, also like the shallows.

If a fish wants to eat, it has to go where the food is, and that is usually in the shallows, particularly around sunrise and sunset.

It’s Easy to See Under and Around Cover

Not only do many fish like shallow water, but many also prefer being in cover, whether within weeds, around stumps, or under other obstacles.

If the water is shallow, and you get your head close to the surface, it offers you a good angle and vantage point to potentially see under cover.

Who knows, you might see the tail of a fish popping out from under an old tree stump or log.

You Don’t Have to Move Far from the Shore

Although this advantage is not huge, shallow water is usually always close to the shore, which means that you don’t have to travel as far to catch fish, plus in the event that there is an emergency, you should never be too far from dry land.

It Allows for More Relaxed Fishing

Finally, shallow water fishing is just a bit more relaxing too. It’s usually less windy in the shallows and if you fall in the water, at least you can stand up.

What Are The Best Bass Boats For Shallow Water?

Let’s take a quick look at a few examples of some great shallow water bass boats.

  • Bass Cat Puma
  • Nitro Z21
  • Tracker Pro Team 19 TX
  • Crestline 1750 Bass Hawk
  • Ranger Z520Ci



As long as you know what you are doing and you take the proper precautions, bass boating in shallow water should not be an issue.

The most important thing here is that you are intimately familiar with your particular bass boat.

Photo credits:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife/FlickrCC
Jkbigbass, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons