buying a cataraft VS a pontoon boat [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: buying a cataraft VS a pontoon boat

01-05-2002, 02:15 AM
Have had this discussion many times on other boards, but had been talking with Pmflyfisher and was suggested I post on here too. I've been running both for quite awhile (sold off all my pontoon boats). I figured I could throw out some suggestions and some goods and bads (and at same time help PM with his delima).

First off, there is a difference between a cataraft and a pontoon boat. Materials used, design, and overall performance distinguish them apart. They both have their places, and both are useful, depending on your needs.

I'll give you some of my insight in this area. Been whitewatering since I was in my early teens. Mostly bucket boats, but handled my first cat when I was about 16. Never had an inclination of using one for fishing. That's what our prams and driftboats were for. I bought my first cat when I was 18 (still have it, Brian/Doublespey has seen it). Thanks to getting married and having kids, had to sell off some of my toys. Got rid of the DB. Almost got rid of the cat too, didn't know when I'd be able to really hit those rough class 4/5's. Luckily, my Dad had made a trip to AK. He saw up there some guides using catarafts to fish out of. Set up in DB fashion. The light clicked and it's been downhill ever since. I had dabbled before with smaller pontoon boats, but found them not to my liking. Tried most of the pontoon boats out there, then finally found someone building true cataraft fishing boats in the 9' range. You'll really feel the difference in handling once you try one over the other.

Ok, here's the differences. A cataraft has a gradual curve or segmented hull design whereas a pontoon boat has rocker hulls. The pluses to the cataraft is you have more hull in the water per foot of tube. You track better, boat moves and rides in water better. You're more stable to stand up. The negatives is that you can't swing boat around on a dime. The pluses to a pontoon boat is that the rocker hull makes it very maneuverable. You can sweep boat back and forth quickly. The negatives is that it's very unstable when you try to dig your oars in (you'll really find out why they call it a rocker hull LOL). Plus you try to stand up on anything shorter then 12' and you'll be swimming (unless you used to do balancing in the circus). Most catarafts have frames built to whitewater standards, whereas pontoon boats are simply made to keep the tubes together. The pluses to the cats is that they're built virtually indestructable, but downside is they weigh more because of this. The pluses to the pontoon boat is they're alot lighter, but aren't as stable (especially in whitewater). Next, the tubes on my cats are built wider in diameter compared to overall length. Usually the longer the tube, the wider the diameter, giving it more stability and weight bearing capacities. Most pontoon boats leave a standard diameter, no matter the length of tubes. An 8' Outcast has same diameter tubes as a 12', and worse thing is, they don't widen frame when they lengthen the boat (bad bad bad stability).

Ok, here's a few things you have to ask yourself before you buy a boat.
1. How many people do you plan to have fish with you? Do you plan to make it a one many portable boat? 2. What type of waters do you plan to run with this boat?
3. Do you plan to fish from boat, or simply float from one spot to another?
4. How much do you plan to spend?

I guess the best way to do this is to go through most of the spectrums here. Bear with me and I'll do my best. First off, once you buy a boat, it's hard to expand it. It's easier to downsize a bigger boat to fish alone then it is to cram too many onto a smaller boat. It's really a key to the whole process.

Ok, here's the checklist. Do you plan to only fish low key water (slow moving rivers and lakes)? Do you only want to float from point A to Point B? Do you want to keep price to below $1000? If you answered yes to all these, then buy a pontoon boat. If you want to fish from the boat (I mean stand up and fish, not sit and fish) or run serious whitewater then step up to a cataraft. I'm very much into buying what you need, not paying for what you don't. A cataraft is a wonderful thing, but overkill is overkill. Why spend over $3000 for a cataraft when a $500 pontoon boat will do you just fine?

Now, big decision, 1 man or multiman boat. Here's my recommendations. If you're buying a pontoon boat, go with an 8/9ft (waterskeeter, outcast, and bucks, plus the tons of others make comparable boats). Then of course, multiman you can step up to the 12' outcast (not sure if the others make a multiman boat). Now catarafts, this is where I really up the stakes a bit. I personally feel (and most of my friends who are cataraft enthusiasts) feel the ultimate 1 man boat would be a 12' cataraft. Why you may ask? Well, first off, you hit big water a 12' will ease you through it easier. Mind you, I've used my old 9' cataraft through the boulderdrop on the Sky and barely kept it upright, and it's a cataraft, not a pontoon boat. We've seen pontoon boats hit same stretch and usually most will flip or frames will buckle. The real benefit of a 12' boat comes with the frame setup. You can have a multipiece frame built. A rowers module and a spare/passenger module. This way when you want to fish alone you just use rowers frame and fish. Then if your buddy wants to come along strap down front module and you're in business. They make up to 18' cats (I've heard that even a few manufacturers may have a 20' one now, YIKES:whoa: I'm running a 16' Aire Ocelot. Now, any of you out there may say "Wait a tic, the Ocelot is only a 14' boat, the Ocelot classic is a 15' boat". Well, I guess that's if you're whitewater people. But as I said, I bought mine 13 years ago, and the Ocelot was a 16' boat back then. I have two sets of frames for my boat. First frame is my whitewater frame, multipiece. It's designed to either punch water or setup as a cargo hauler on whitewater trips (my old designation). My fishing frame is a one piece designed to fish 3-4 people (depending on my seat configuration).

Well, I'm sure I'm rambling now, too much info to give and only so much room to write. But, if you want, any of you can email me and I can answer your questions as best I can, or post here. But I will add that any of the pontoon boats will get you buy, if you only want a vessel to travel from hole to hole. Look for the best deal you can and buy what you like. But when it comes to cats, you'll have to do some research. There are a few manufacturers of complete boats (Skookum/Steelheader, fishcraft). But mostly you'll be buying your tubes, then outfitting it with a frame and the goodies. Tubes, you can go with Aire, Maravia, Sotar, Wing, NRS, and Hyside (plus a few others). NRS has their own website that has tubes, oars, and frames. They also make their own takedown fishing frame. It's pretty nice, but pretty pricey too. It's kind of decieving, you'll see that it's a set price of like $600, but by time you add all the seats and such, it's well over $1700 just for the frame. I'd highly suggest if you buy a cat, to have a custom frame built. This way you can have the exact frame you want built to YOUR standards.

I hope this helped some of you. I know I missed some stuff, any comments? I'm not all knowing, won't claim that. But have done alot of whitewatering. Specialized in cats and kayaks way back when (loved running class 5's like the WAY UPPER Nisqually). I've had alot of fun running cats. I've helped teach people to run them, ran little clinics on them way back when in college. I've also seen the bad side of whitewatering (1st hand in fact). Had boats buckle under pressure, watched big boats get flipped and thrown multiple feet in the air. Had to hear about, and have seen, friends die running whitewater. Just pay your respect to the river gods and stay within your means. Because your boat is built for a certain river level, doesn't mean that YOU can run it. Know your limits and build up.

Ok, enough preaching, any questions???

01-05-2002, 02:42 AM
You bring up great points for anyone considering and wieghing the options between a true cataraft and merely a pontoon boat (Os would be proud). One thing to consider:the portability of any craft purchased. I've had access to (through a friend who is editor of a western fly mag) many small craft in the pontoon class. While they all have thier bonus points, the Watermaster style of boat (Abel is knocking off of it now) is the most versital and durable for packing, floating, and fishing from. Just my opinion, but I've had several styles, from the tote n'flote, to the current model. Pretty bombproof, and they are self contained in their own dry bag (about 25 lbs). Drag them 10 miles up the Queets in Aug and drift out after we can't stand another day without good beer, never had a bad trip.

You seem dialed in on the bigger rigs, just my 2-cents on the small rubber ducks.

01-05-2002, 03:35 AM
Poontoon boats rule and catarafts drewl!!! :razz:

01-05-2002, 09:24 AM
Thanks this information based on real experience really helps !

Looks like it is the pontoon boat for me, single man, no fishing from boat needed, something to go hole to hole, no white water to speak of, lots of tight bend holes on several narrow rivers which require something you can turn quickly.

What about transporting these things though ? I don't think there is any water on the rivers I fish that would flip it, unless of course on a tight bend hole you do not turn quickly enough and you get sucked against a log jam and turned over like I have seen some canoes do on Michigan rivers. Pontoon boat would be much harder to flip over though I think ?

Are they cartop portable or can you you break them down easily and put them together quickly at the fishing site ?

Sounds like you have done some serious white watering out there, thats another item I would like to do more of some day.

Thanks a lot will start looking at the pontoon boats. :smokin: :smokin:

01-05-2002, 10:11 AM
Has anybody seen Fish-Craft's line of boat's ,I think they are made in Bend Or ? Fish-head

01-05-2002, 10:18 AM
I've used the Buck's Bag Bronco for many years, really happy with it for transportation in light to medium whitewater, no fishing desire to flyfish from it but able to run many miles of river easily from spot to spot. Not something you'd want to hike with on your back but easily cartop mobile or at least easily taken down. If you have a pickup truck it rides in the bed easily.

Sh69 - Great review of catarafts vs. pontoon boats, etc. THANK YOU!

01-05-2002, 12:45 PM
Hey C n D, nice to see you on the board. I actually have alot of experience with the smaller pontoon boats. Aftermy Dad remarried, Ii didn't have much of a fishing partner for ayear or so. I wasn't uusing my cat for fishing then, and still had my driftboat. I had seen a couple of thse ponton boats on some lakes Ii was fishing with my belly boat. I started checking them out (God I wish there was the internet back then, wouuld make research SOOOOOOOO much easier). Started caalling friends in my old whitewater club and askd if any knew about the boats. found som people tha had ssom and used them. Back then there were only a few, Outcast, Leighs, and Bucks. Ii opted for an Outcast (mostly because of price). They were all built aalmost I denticle. None of th manufacturers of whitewater grade cats only made down to a size 12' and didn't ant to pend that type of money for another cat when it was only going to be used sparingly during summer fishing.. I've seen alot of the newer boats, I just prefer ones built to cataraft specs. My steelhheader by skokum was an excellent boat. Best 9' boat Ii've seen. Could ndl almost anything (as lonn a you had th experience running whitewater). Vvery stable and you could STAND UP AND FISH!!!!! I would frequently nchor up an stand up and ffish safely without falling over . My last poonton boat, an old pac 9, was very unstable to fish fromm. I tried moifying the frame, movin seat back and makinga standing pltform an still was unfishable standing up.

Hey PM, they're very portable on top of your truck. I'l try an get picture scanned, but I used to put my 16' cat inflated on top of my ful sized blazer. Nice thin is you can takedown the frame on most of those pontoon boats. Ii kno I used to strip down my boat quite a bit when i wanted to foat and didn't ant to drive my truck (becaue of gas mileage). I'd have my outcast packkd up in my old Mercury Comet tha Ii'd drive for for a commuter car.

What's tha about ponton boats rule and cats drewl? Please explain Sparkey. :)

01-05-2002, 01:29 PM
Thanks, yep the Pontoon boat would do it for me, now the R+D process for which one

01-05-2002, 03:07 PM
I think it was C n D, but Ii'd highly suggest the waterskeeter brand of ponton boats. I had a friend of mine I work with who was loking for more of a moderate river and definitely lake boat. I di som checking around for him and found the skeeter one of nicer boats for the $$$. In fact, Cabela's have them, or maybe had them, on salee. If I was to ever buy anothe pontoon boat, I'd probably go with the seeter. But, I digres, I alreay have another boat in the works. :) Ii'm buulding myself a 1 man boat. Will be buying a set of 12' tubes and having a frame built. Actualy, may have a retrofit done on my whitewater frame andthen have apasenger module built to go wit it. This way as I stated above I can run it as a 1 or 2 man boat. My big cat is great for 3/4 people, but when you only run 2, it's to much boat. At this pace, if I get thtadeal on a driftboat, I'l hhavea boat fo almost every water conition. LOL

Oh yeah, one of these days I have to get Sparkey on a real cataraft. I'l ruin him for tose little boats. LOL

01-05-2002, 03:17 PM
wILL CHECK OUT SKEETER, THANKS :smokin: :smokin:

01-05-2002, 10:51 PM
Originally posted by Steelheader69

What's tha about ponton boats rule and cats drewl? Please explain Sparkey. :)

:) We've had this discussion many many times.

I would love to try a Cataraft but you must remember that the whole reason behind a pontoon boat is how easily they breakdown and transport.

When I shell out alot of money for a boat, its going to be a driftboat. I'd still love to row a cataraft one of these days... ;)

01-05-2002, 11:24 PM
Actually Sparkey, depending oon what frame you buy realy dictates how you break it down. My 9' steelheader could breakdown smaler hen my old Outcasts couuld. Mmy buddiies 14' Maravia has a really nice frame tha breaks down small enough that you can transport iin most cars. It's just the frame I haave on my boat is a one piecer without any reaks. I can easily modify it if I wantand can make it collapsable. ut I won't ever need the capaciity to break it down so will kkep i one piece.

For mysel, I've owned a couple DB's. I llike them aan might even get another if I can swing a deal on one. But a cat is way more versatile. Per foot, a cat can carry more people, ides hiigher in the water, and will track better. The downside is it's easier to puncture the hull of a cat then DB. Also a high cold wind comes up you can crank up your heater and duck up under the bow and let the wind fly over, no windbreak in a cat (though I do have aheater for mine). Nothing better then hittin a during low summer flows and being only one floating it. Won't find any DB's on the Nnoch in August. But yo'll find me in my cat though. :)

01-05-2002, 11:36 PM

Found the attached site on the actual assembly of a water skeeter pontoon boat. Looks fairly easy to assemble/disassemble and transport.

What do you do if you lose an oar in the middle of the drift ? Does not look it could be handled with one oar like you can do with one paddle to steer a canoe.

Appears you could put a electric trolling motor on this for small ponds and lakes also. Thats a plus, I guess if you have room for the battery on board.

These are looking better.

Pontoon Assembly (

01-06-2002, 12:05 AM
The chance of you losing an oar is pretty slim. Uusually those boats don't use a standard oarlock. Most have a preatached post tha goes into an open slot in oar towers. But here's what you can do to keep yorself safe. I have on my cat (and any boat including driftboats) oar tethers on my oars. They attach to oar andare attached t oar towers. This way in case one breaks loose, you have i close. If you're worrid about one breaking, then buy a spare tha breaks down.

PM, they're very easy to assemble. When you get one let me know. They're akick in thepants. Nice thiing, if you decide to hit the lakes, you have a quick little boat to use to.

01-06-2002, 08:35 AM
OK, yes that would work. Thanks :smokin: :smokin:

01-06-2002, 03:37 PM
Another option is the Maravia Spyder. ( ) It's a 13' self bailing raft but it's narrower than most rafts (5'6") and it's tube and floor design makes it almost as manueverable as a drift boat. It's made of a "bulletproof" material that can take class V whitewater. Plus you can do multi-day trips with it. I love mine. If anyone sees a teal green Maravia on the water say hello!

01-06-2002, 04:02 PM
Ii actually had been loking t buying a custom set of their multicolored flamed tubes for my 1-2 man cat I'm gonna be building after first of the year. But I'm torn between Wing and a deal I'm getting on a set of Steelheader tubes. Actually, most whitewater boats are built to withstand class 4/5's, it's usually the people in theboats that don't. LOL. I've run my old Aire on the Icicle and took it over a cllass 5, a verticle drop tha almost flipped my boat. Any smaller boat (mine is 16') wouudn't have made it, well unless it was a kayak.

Thanks for theinput GB Skunk, buu what this post was abouut, was the differences between a pontoon boat versus a true cataraft. A raft VS a cataraft are like apple and oranges. Similar to ommparing driftboats to inflatables. I'm probablly one of afew people who've owned and ran just about all boats mentioned (pontoon boat, cataraft, raft, kayak, and driftboat, also not including power boats LOL). Ii liked rafts, used them alot whiewatering, until tha damned day somone introduced me to a cataraft in the 80's. Been ruined for rafts ever sine (9and nwoDB's too LOL)

01-07-2002, 12:35 AM
You might want to stay awat from the WaterSkeeter...
WaterSkeeter Buyer Beware ( :whoa:

01-07-2002, 12:36 AM
If anyone is seriously looking at pontoon boats, I've rowed many of them and unlike Jerry, I wont tell you to buy a cataraft. ;)

01-07-2002, 09:06 AM
I haven't heard alot of positives on the WaterSKeeter brand of pontoon boat (thier lake tubes look kinda interesting...more like a floating lazyboy recliner). I mentioned that I was a fan of the Watermaster, a whole different animal. It started as a "Toten'Flote", made out of hypalon, and is made by the Watermaster company out of Missoula. There is no frame with these boats. They come in several different sizes, can be outfitted with Carlisle Breakdown oars and pack an amazing amount of gear (I've use mine for 4 day floats carrying everything I need for fishing and camping). They look like a raft rather than a pontoon boat, are made out of heavy duty PVC. Options and modifications to these boats are endless. In tight quarters they are a better manuevering craft than pontoon boats, and the whole boat (oars, pump) all fits into one pack. No frame to mess with. It's a huge consideration when wanting to walk in a few miles and float out. I've tried a ton of personal watercraft, and for versatility, durability, and packing capacity these are tough to beat. Also great for lakes. I don't use anything else anymore. I weigh around 240 and carry way too much gear on a regular day of floating and the boat can handle me and lots of gear with ease. We use them easily on rivers like the Queets, Yakima, and sections of the Hoh. I don't they'd be a match for a Skookum Steelheader in certain situations, and frankly I'm not good enough to try. But for the normal Joe, who just wants to hit fishable water without tempting class IV fate....they're perfect. Can be picked up used for anywhere from $350-$600.

01-07-2002, 11:34 PM
Ii know exactly what yyou're talking about. Have you floated the lower Hoh, Oxbow to mouth on them? Have you floated with a buuddy who had oone? I saw two fly guys on the Hoh with them last April. They seem like great little boats.

Now now Sparkey. I never push Ccats, but Ii say if you haave the $$ and are planning to use them hard, you want a cat over a pontoon obat. Like PM, I didn't once tell him he had to get a Steelheader, because it wasn't what he needed. I use my boats hard and wanted somethiing thaat willhandle the abuse. I've rowed quite a ffew pontoon boats, probably as many if not morre then you have :) but I prefer the feel of a true cat. Mmuch different beasts. Not a ford/chevy thing either, this is aa car/truck thing. Two totally different beasts.

I had heard about some probs with waterskeeter recently on another BB. But come to find ouut waterskeeter are great CS people. They expedited repairs to guys boat and reimbursed him for any losses (gear)0 from a malfunctioning seat.

01-08-2002, 06:47 AM
My only contribution to this thread will be to state the obvious. This is your life you could be talking about here (check out the Waterskeeter thread on Pisc. Pursuits page). No amount of refund on busted equipment can compensate, etc. So get a quality made boat that matches the waters you will run, and use a cheap rod. You'll catch just as many fish, and you'll live to tell about it!

01-08-2002, 07:17 PM
Yes I saw that thread last week on piscatorial pursuits about the Water Skeeter first run,seat falling off on a new one, poor fellow almost not making it, after his dunking. Don't worry I will check out all of the options, kayaks, pontoons, cats, rafts, canoes, drift boats etc.... and safety is the number one factor.

Cannot afford a stupid fatal mistake, thats for sure.


11-08-2002, 04:59 AM
We had a fellow fishing lake crowley in one of those waterskeeter float tubes. The one that kind of reminds you of a lazy boy with rockers on it. Flipped the thing over as he leaned forward to net a nice trout, lost the trout and his rod and took a good dunking. There was no wind, just nice smooth water. Bad deisgn, highly unstable.

11-11-2002, 01:36 AM
Thanks for taking the time to share your insights. Much to consider for those considering the numerous options available versus one's needs.

For those interested in catarafts, you might consider Wing Inflatables. There a local manufacturer in my area and aside from manufacuturing RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) for the USN, Seals, etc., they manufacture various high quality whitewater craft such as catarafts. Their website is:


11-30-2002, 02:41 PM
I've recently decided I need a pontoon boat and I thought "hmmmm...where could I get some info..." and here it is! I need something very packable and portable (needs to fit into an A-Star helicopter along with a 14ft raft, a week's worth of gear, and three other anglers :eyecrazy: ) so it will be a pontoon boat, but this cataraft stuff makes me think ahead to another purchase I'll need to make down the road somewhere...

12-01-2002, 05:20 PM
Dana I have a pontoon boat,you've seen me on the thompson blue- silver jimmy.I have a out cast 800.I live in newwestminster,if you want to borrow to try it out e-mail me .jimandre82 hotmail.

12-03-2002, 11:01 PM
thanks for the offer Jim! I'll take you up on it in the New Year!

12-06-2002, 04:48 PM
steelheader69 said it all. this is the exact thinking that i went through last spring. i have a 9' x 16" pontoon boat that is wonderful in lakes and small moving water. BUTT, i wanted something to work down through some spots that put the water in my lap in the small boat.

after lots of conversations with many different vendors, i had a frame made here in portland. two parts, as suggested, a rowing frame with a single bay and anchor system i designed. also another independent frame, single bay with foot rest using a 72qt igloo as the seat. jacks plastic welding, did a set of custom 12' x 19" tubes.

i can lift this alone, onto the top of my PU so no trailer required. i use quality whitewater oars on both of my boats, BTW. the catboat is really a world apart from a pontoon boat. get a ride sometime, you will want one for sure.

oh, total cost? $1,800.