To most people a SIB (Soft Inflatable Boat) is merely a tender, it’s only purpose being to transport crew members and equipment in sheltered waters. I, however, have spent the past couple of years discovering the potential of these incredibly convenient vessels and proving the SIB to be a versatile and capable angling platform.
Not so long ago I was a dedicated kayak angler, paddling up and down the Cornish coast in pursuit of specimen fish and travelling the nation to participate in competitions and meets. I would always marvel at the pedal powered kayaks such as Hobies, with their ability to reach the best marks at a fraction of the speed and effort required by a paddler. I wanted that and I was prepared to pay the price for it! My mind was pretty much made up until one day I had an epiphany… what if kayaks weren’t the only craft that could be transported with ease and operated on a tight budget?
A SIB seemed the obvious choice given that they are far lighter in weight than a solid hulled RIB and a fraction of the price… could this be adapted into a fishing platform? How would an inflatable boat stand up to the many ‘sharps’ encountered while sea angling such as hooks, knives and fish spines? Through years of trial and error, multiple SIB set ups and a hell of a lot time spent on the water I believe I can now give a balanced perspective and introduction to SIB fishing.
The variety of SIB set ups is vast and particular to the requirements of each user. Popular brands such as Honwave, EXCEL, Quicksilver and Yamaha manufacture boats ranging from 2.8m in length to 4.5m featuring either an inflatable air deck or slatted aluminum floor boards. Broadly speaking 3.5m is considered the optimal length for accommodating 1-2 anglers plus equipment. Larger SIBs offering space for more anglers or equipment and improved sea keeping come at the cost of transporting simplicity.
This is a crucial aspect to consider… will the SIB be transported on a trailer, folded in the boot or roof rack mounted? Recently there has been an increase in SIBs coming to the market with high pressure air decks. This drastically reduces the weight of the boat in comparison to the more traditional aluminium boards that slot together. There are arguments for and against each deck design, the main points being that an aluminium deck provides more stability and resistance to sharps over an air deck which provides ease of set up and pack away as it can be rolled as one unlike aluminium boards which must be dismantled.
Outboard motor choice is largely influenced by the SIB and each manufacturer will actually detail the maximum horsepower of which the transom is rated to. Single cylinder 3.3hp-6hp outboards are low cost and easy to transport yet unlikely to plane a 3.5m SIB. This is fine when operating on inland waters however the right SIB set up is capable of travelling at speeds north of 20 knots which enables you to effortlessly reach the best fishing spots. To achieve planing speeds 9.8hp-20hp outboards are most commonly used.
My SIB set up consists of an IBF Hydrus 3.7m air deck powered by a Tohatsu 20hp 4 stroke efi (fuel injection) engine. This combination weighs around 110kg. I transport the SIB from one venue to another either deflated and folded which is compact enough to fit in the boot of an estate car or inflated on top a roof rack for short distances. I chose an air deck over aluminium boards because I wanted the ability to quickly set up and pack away. The air deck model weighed almost 20kg less than the aluminium counterpart which makes my life a lot easier when lifting the boat onto roof racks and wheeling up and down the beach. The 20hp Tohatsu pushes the SIB along with ease. I have recorded speeds of 27 knots when travelling solo however cruising at lower speeds results in excellent fuel efficiency… on one 26 mile round journey I burned 10.4L of petrol whilst cruising at 18 knots. That makes for an incredibly cheap day out angling in comparison to the more common day boat.
I have accommodated 3 adult passengers on my SIB for short fishing trips and river cruises. This can be done comfortably whilst retaining the ability to travel at planing speeds however the majority of my time spent at sea is solo allowing space for all kinds of modifications and gadgetry! There are so many mods available for SIBs but in my opinion there are only a handful that are really important. Launch wheels mounted to the transom are key for solo launch and recovery. Different styles and brands are available depending on the SIB as some feature trim tabs. Broadly speaking the pneumatic folding variety are better than the plastic folding type. I have found my SIB set up easy to transport on hard sand and concrete but I do struggle on shingle and soft sand. To overcome this, the un-laden SIB can be wheeled to the waters edge and the outboard carried or wheeled separately.
I have fitted rod holders around the SIB, this keeps my deck space clear for other kit and reduces the risk of hooks getting caught in the air filled chambers. Two vertical tube holders are mounted to the transom with an additional two Scotty rod holders fitted to the sponsons (tubes) for trolling and bait fishing. Electronics such as chart plotters and fish finders are not essential but they are damn useful! I have mounted a watertight plastic case to my bench seat which houses a 7amh 12v battery. On top of this waterproof battery box sits a Garmin Striker 5 Vivid with the transducer being temporarily mounted to the transom using a transducer arm. The addition of a fish finder/ plotter helps identify reef systems and fish marks whilst aiding navigation of the vessel. All additional equipment such as anchor, rope and chain, first aid supplies, VHF radio, spare clothes and fishing tackle is stored in dry bags and fastened to strategic points of the vessel.
SIBs can be quite a wet ride and it’s not unusual to take on a bit of water hence the use of dry bags. A 3.5m SIB powered by a 15hp outboard is extremely seaworthy, despite its short length the sponsons provide unrivalled buoyancy and these boats will push through some impressive swell if balanced correctly. Achieving the correct balance comes down to weight distribution which is unique to each set up and user. I have found that my SIB sits best with the 12L fuel tank and emergency equipment dry bag fastened right at the bow. That’s about 30kg keeping the nose down and allowing for a comfortable ride. Balancing equipment throughout the boat is of vital importance to a dry ride.
My SIB has taken me to some fantastic fishing venues, from the infamous Eddystone Lighthouse to the sea lochs of Scotland such as Loch Etive. The ease of transportation and shallow draft allows a SIB to be launched from just about anywhere offering huge potential for accessing some of the best fishing our coastline has to offer. As with all seagoing craft a basic nautical understanding is essential! This can be acquired through various avenues but the simplest is a RYA Powerboat Level 2 course.
This should be combined with knowledge of the area in which the SIB will be making passage. Local expertise and experience is invaluable! Whenever I fish a new venue I carry out extensive research on the area through online resources and the Navionics chart app. I combine this with suitable weather and tides to plan my approach.
I have targeted many species from my SIB such as tope that have physically towed me along the North Cornish coast and behemoth pollock from the wild waters of Lands End yet I consistently find myself focusing my efforts on lure fishing for bass. I have found the SIB’s characteristics perfectly suited to targeting these predators on inshore reef systems.
I like to identify areas of shallow reefs and exposed rocks, where the tide is funnelled and flowing at a significantly higher speed to surrounding parts of the coastline. These natural bottlenecks push baitfish over the shallow ground creating the perfect ambush point for bass. The SIBs manoeuvrability and shallow draft allows me to fish right in close to rocky structure without fear of coming aground.
Using a medium spinning outfit which typically consists of an 8ft rod with a casting range of 10g-30g paired with a 4000 fixed spool loaded with 20lb braid I can fire a lure into hot spots where the bass are just about guaranteed to be lying in wait for an easy meal. My choice of lure will vary on the day. Sometimes a shallow diving hard plastic will get the fish competing and on other days a simple metal will out fish any other offerings but one lure I’ll always have to hand is a sand eel mimicking soft plastic as I truly have the most success with this style of lure!
I put this down to its versatility enabling me to fish the lure hard on the deck, mid-water or nice and shallow. Working the lure properly is just as important as the choice. It has to move as naturally as possible and to do this I use the tide to my advantage. I will set up a drift or shelter from the tide behind rocky outcrops and cast the lure uptide. It is then retrieved at varying speeds and depths until I get a hit. I have found the majority of takes happen just a few meters from surface structure where the depth starts to drop off a bit and the tide really flows.
It’s not unusual for me to be fishing an area like this with larger boats that just cannot run the risk of getting so close to rocks or shallow ground and the difference in catch rate is quite significant at times. It is fair to say the odd envious comment is made by these larger boats. It’s a really exciting way of bass fishing that gets the adrenaline going and the reel screaming yet caution must be used at all times!
Of course you can fish from a SIB in many other fashions, and I really look forward to sharing those with you in the future. If SIB fishing is something you fancy looking into then I strongly recommend searching through the wealth of information online through avenues such as Facebook groups and forums. There are a growing number of SIB specific YouTube channels now too, of which I have my own. It is a bit of a project to which I have been adding to in the time I’ve spent at sea in my little inflatable boat… which is certainly no tender!