You say you’re a beginner angler new to Chesapeake Bay fishing, and you’re desperate to find a fiberglass center console starter boat that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Never fear, dear developing fish-head. We’ve looked at the field to make three top picks for beginner boats that are capable of fishing the Chesapeake and similarly sized waters, which will allow you to get your initial experience without risking a monster investment and cut your fishing teeth without jumping entirely overboard.
Bayliner T18 Bay
Riding on the Bayliner M-hull, the T18 gets you maximum LOA for the fiberglass buck with a $22,573 starting point that shakes out to a monthly payment barely breaking $200 with $1500 down. The stock motor is a 90-horse Mercury FourStroke and the boat comes packaged with a single axel galvanized trailer. Fishing highlights include rodracks for six rigs in the console, a flip-back cooler seat, elevated fore and aft casting decks, an aft livewell with a second forward well option, and under-gunwale rodracks. We particularly like this model as a starter boat because of the M-hull, which maximizes stability and minimizes rocking and rolling. While it may not be as smooth as a deep-V running in big seas, that makes it easier to gain your sea legs even as a beginner boater.
Parker 1801 CC
The NAP starting point for the Parker 1801 with a Yamaha F115 outboard and a trailer is a bit higher than our first option at $33,573, but that still represents a very low buy-in compared to most fiberglass center console options — and the Parker line is much-beloved by anglers all across Bay country for its no-nonsense fishability and stout construction. Plus, the Parker comes with a number of goodies that would be cost-adding upgrades on other contenders, such as a real leaning post as opposed to a cooler seat, which gains you three rocket launchers on the backrest. Then there’s a 20-gallon livewell under the forward console seat, a raw water washdown, and a Garmin 64CV chartplotter/fishfinder to consider. Other stock goodies include four gunwale rodholders, under-gunwale racks with toe rails, and a fishbox in the bowdeck.
With a NAP starting at $38,295 the Robalo R180 is one of the most full-featured yet affordable bay-competent fiberglass center console boats out there. It comes with a 115-hp powerplant on the transom, which provides a cruising speed in the upper-20s and a top-end in the upper 30s. Fishing features include a leaning post with rocket launchers at the helm, fore and aft raised casting decks with flip-up seating at the stern and a fishbox in the bow, six vertical console flush-mount rodholders, four gunwale holders, and a 15-gallon insulated livewell aft. Sitting on the trailer this boat will easily fit into an average garage, and Robalo builds ‘em tough so you won’t have to worry about banging pilings or missing the trailer a time or two as you work your way through the learning curve. And while this may be the most expensive rig in the running it also has an additional ace up its sleeve: the console houses a head compartment.