Northern Wilds Magazine
Tillers have more open space for fishing. | GORD ELLIS
Northern Trails

Tiller vs. Console: Which Boat is Better?

Choosing a boat is one of those decisions most people only make once or twice in their lifetime. Buying a boat is a major decision and increasingly is a big-ticket item. In the north, many people have boats that are worth more than their vehicle! So, you will want to make the most informed choice you possibly can. In my career, I’ve had great opportunities to use a wide variety of boats, both as an angler and as a guide. Every season, I run both a tiller boat and a console boat with a wheel. Here are my thoughts on the pluses and minuses of each type, and what to consider when you buy a boat.

Tiller Boats

Most of us likely started our fishing career in a tiller “tin” boat of some kind. The classic tin tiller boat is 12 to 14 feet long, with bench seats and not much else. The motor is run from the back of the boat and the outboard has a stick—or tiller—you steer and control the speed with. Tin tillers are still the boats most anglers have, although they have become a bit fancier in recent years.

The great thing about a simple, tin tiller boat is it can be put into just about any lake, river or reservoir without too much difficulty. If there is no real launch at the lake, a couple strong backs can carry or slide the boat to the water. Smaller tiller boats generally have outboards from 4.5 to 15-horsepower. This size motor can be detached easily and even portaged.

Most tillers are 12 to 14 feet long, but there are an increasing number that are much larger, fancier and more elaborate. The largest tiller I ever fished out of was 20 feet long and had a 200-horsepower motor. That huge outboard had a complex steering mechanism that allowed the person to control that kind of power with a stick throttle. My personal tiller boat is 18 feet long with a 90-horsepower motor. That may still seem like a large motor, but it handles very well and has power trim, so it is easy to find the sweet spot when driving it. The steering can also be tightened down for long runs.

The great thing about a tiller boat is the open floor plan. The lack of a console means there is less clutter. | GORD ELLIS

The great thing about the tiller is the open floor plan. The lack of a console means there is less clutter. Some large tillers don’t have a floor, but the ones that do have a lot of storage possibilities, which means less stuff to trip on. My Lund Pro Guide also has a rod locker that allows for multiple rods to be stowed away, creating less of a tripping/breaking hazard.

The downside of tillers? You are open and exposed to the elements. There is no escaping the wind, rain, and lake spray. If it is cold and crappy outside, you are going to have a front row seat. For families with small kids, that can make for a very short day. I still have nightmares about crying kids who have taken a face full of freezing lake water.

Tillers also don’t generally have any top or cover. A few of the larger ones can have what is called a Bimini top, but it is not as stable or wind proof as a regular top that comes with many console boats.

Console Boats

A console boat is steered by a fixed wheel and speed is controlled via stick shift. Many people feel much more comfortable in a boat with a wheel, as it reminds them of driving a car. Some boats have a half console so only the boat driver has a windshield, but the vast majority have a full console with a windshield. This protection from the elements makes a huge difference in cold, rainy, and generally bad weather.

The wheel/console mix also works quite well when driving larger outboards. Not many people are comfortable with a big outboard that’s not driven with a wheel. Most console boats come with a fabric top of some kind that can help keep the elements out and make a day on the water last a little longer. The top can be stowed away easily if not needed. A console also offers a good place to attach electronics and usually has a storage compartment or two built into it.

The down sides of a console boat? The console itself eats up a lot of space in a boat and the smaller the boat, the more of a factor that is. The console and windshield also weigh a lot, which adds to the overall weight of the boat.

Boats with a console and windshield can protect the passengers and driver from the elements. | GORD ELLIS

As for fishing, if you are using an electric trolling motor when fishing, then having a wheel and stick shift is not an issue as you can run the boat from just about anywhere. However, if you run the boat with the outboard, you will need one hand on the wheel and the other on the stick shift. That makes fishing a little tricky.

One oddball thing I will note is the chance of windshields being broken when trailering. If you don’t trailer your boat much, it’s not an issue. However, those of us who trailer boats a lot should consider a good travel cover. Flying rocks can destroy a windshield and that is an expensive fix.

There is no perfect boat and every manner of them has a plus and minus. One thing is for sure: any boat is better than no boat. Here is hoping you have a boat that you can enjoy the Northern Wilds with this summer.

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