Are Fish Attracted To Boats?

There are many conflicting opinions regarding whether or not fish are attracted to boats. Some anglers state that there are always more fish around boats than far from boats, while others claim that boats do nothing but scare fish away, making them harder to catch. What is the truth of this matter? Are fish attracted to boats, or do boats scare fish away?

While most fish are deterred by boats, some are attracted to boats in some instances. Large predatory fish, such as sharks and billfish, are often attracted to boats due to vibrations and visual stimuli. Small fish and freshwater fish are less attracted to boats. 

There are several opinions to consider, but there are also several instances of research to examine on this topic. The answer is more complicated than anyone initially thought, and there are many nuances to this question. Let’s explore the evidence and studies to determine if fish are, in fact, attracted to boats or not. 

Are Fish Attracted To Boats?

Successful fishing is a combination of skill, experience, equipment, luck, and knowledge. Every angler has their own techniques and their own opinions about how to fish successfully, but not all anglers agree on whether or not boats help to attract fish. 

This question has been asked by anglers all over the world for generations, and there are many conflicting answers and opinions. 

The reality is that answering this question requires us to consider multiple facets of the topic, to ensure that we find the most definitive answer possible. 

There are several types of boats used for fishing. They are used in different types of water and in multiple locations while stationary and moving. There are a variety of fish in the various waters that boats are used on. 

To find out if fish are attracted to boats, we must consider all of these factors and carefully consider the answer. 

With that said, the general consensus among studies conducted by organizations such as the ICES Journal Of Marine Sciences is that fish are attracted to boats. 

There are several suggested reasons for this, but there is no truly definitive answer as to why fish are so attracted to boats. 

With that in mind, let’s explore some of the common questions regarding this topic to learn more about this phenomenon. 

school of fish swimming under boat in ocean

Are Fish Attracted To Boats In The Ocean?

Among the most prevalent findings of the marine studies regarding whether or not fish are attracted to boats is that oceanic fish, especially large fish species, are attracted to boats more than freshwater fish. 

Large fish such as blue marlin are attracted to fishing boats and are commonly found congregating around fishing boats, especially larger private vessels. 

Billfish and other large offshore fish appear to be especially attracted to boats, whether stationary or not, regardless of how far away from shore the boat is. 

However, most oceanic fish are very sensitive to sounds, vibrations, and electrical signals, which means that there are certain engines that drive fish away in the ocean, while boats with different types of engines seem to attract them. 

Oceanic fish are attracted to the visuals of fishing boats as well as the electrical, vibrational, and sonic signals that the boat emits. 

Larger, braver, more aggressive fish seem to be more attracted to fishing boats than smaller fish. Fishing boats tend to catch the biggest fish by baiting as close to the boat as possible, while smaller fish are caught further away from the vessel.  

underwater view of boat in ocean with stringray in foreground

Are Fish Attracted To Boats In Rivers?

Fish are attracted to boats in the sea, but is the same true for fish in rivers?

River fish are not always as large and brave as oceanic fish and tend to be more skittish and less inclined to approach boats. However, many species of river fish are very inquisitive and tend to be drawn to objects for inspection, even if they are unfamiliar with the object. 

Some very large species of river fish are far more likely to be attracted to boats than smaller species, but there is some evidence that suggests that fish are attracted to vessels in rivers as they are in the ocean. 

Smaller fish are more likely to shy away from noisy and spluttery outboard motors, and larger fish appear to be less concerned about boats altogether and will come close if the bait used is attractive to them. 

There have been fewer studies conducted on river fish and the effects boats have on them, but they seem to be less attracted to boats than ocean fish. They are still attracted to specific factors about fishing boats, such as certain vibrations and the visuals of the vessel. 

brook trout swimming just under the surface of river

Are Fish Attracted To Boats In Lakes?

Fish in lakes can behave more like oceanic fish, depending on the prey items and baitfish available to them. There are also more diverse species of fish in smaller areas within lakes when compared to major rivers, and the fish in lakes tend to be more accustomed to boats than fish in other bodies of water. 

This means that fish in lakes are likely to be attracted to boats, particularly if the boat does not have a motor running. 

Large lake fish are likely to be attracted to boats for the sake of finding out what it is, and smaller fish may be attracted to boats for the sake of finding food nearby. The smaller fish also attract larger fish that are not intimidated by the boat. 

Fish in smaller lakes have likely seen multiple boats and are less likely to be deterred by them, but they may be attracted to them if they know that boats are a source of food, chum, or bait. 

Lake fish are more attracted to boats with no engine or boats that do not have an engine running than boats with a running motor. The noise and vibrations of a motor are likely to chase lake fish away from the boat, but a quiet boat can be attractive to lake fish. 

bass fishing boat on lake

Are Fish More Attracted To Moving Or Stationary Boats?

Another important question in this topic is if fish are more attracted to moving boats or stationary boats. 

The answer here depends on the water the boat is used in and the fish that are targeted during the fishing excursion. 

Boats used offshore to catch oceanic fish are more likely to be attractive when in motion. The fish attracted to these boats are typically large billfish, which have a very high movement speed and are not intimated by other fast-moving objects. 

These fish are large and aggressive and are not deterred by the sound of engines and other sounds emitted by fishing boats. Some fish may even be more attracted to moving boats due to the sounds that certain engines make. 

However, boats on rivers and lakes are most attractive to fish when either stationary or drifting freely without the engines running. 

Why Are Fish Attracted To Boats?

We have established that fish are generally attracted to boats, especially large saltwater fish, but do we know why fish are attracted to boats and other vessels?

There has been some research conducted regarded this topic. The primary theory is that fish are attracted to boats due to the sounds and/or vibrations that the boat emits. Studies suggest that fish are attracted to vessels with motors that produce specific sonic frequencies and repelled by vessels that produce frequencies outside of this range. 

Some fish are more attracted to these frequencies than others, especially predatory fish that use electrical and vibrational signals to hunt prey, including sharks and large billfish like blue marlin. 

There are other theories for why fish are attracted to boats. 

Some fish may recognize boats as a source of food, some may be attracted to boats as a place to find shelter, some fish may be simply curious when a boat enters the area, and others are distinctly attracted to the visuals of a boat, especially when the engine is not running. 

There is no evidence to assume that fish are attracted to the appearance or colors of a boat, but the shape of the boat from below and fishing poles hanging from the boat seem to be attractive to fish. 

Some fish have also developed generational knowledge that boats are a source of food, as fishermen will often bait the water with chum, which draws fish in to eat, subsequently attracting larger fish to eat the smaller fish. 

The scent of chum and bait in the water also signals to large predatory fish that there is food to be had. These fish may also have learned that boats provide food and may be attracted to these vessels as a result. 

The exact reasons why fish are attracted to boats are unknown, as specific causes are yet to be proved, but all research and anecdotal evidence shows that fish are attracted to boats, even if we are not completely sure why. 

Are Fish Attracted To All Boats?

This is an interesting question, and there is no specific research on it, but there are many anglers who have experience that can suggest an answer. 

Fish seem to be attracted to larger fishing boats rather than smaller vessels, and most fish are attracted to boats that have no running engine unless the boat is targeting very large oceanic fish. 

When fishing on rivers and lakes, fish tend to be more attracted to quiet boats and still boats. Boats are attractive to these fish while free drifting or anchored, but when the engine runs or when people on the boat are noisy, the fish tend to avoid the boat more. 

When on the ocean, smaller fish are attracted to the boat when it is still and quiet, while larger fish are attracted to the boat when it is moving and running specific engines. 

However, all fish seem to be more attracted to larger fishing boats than small vessels. This may be due to the fact there are more large boats on the water than small boats, so the evidence may be skewed statistically, but this is the experience of most anglers. 

There is no evidence to suggest that boats of specific colors or with specific paint finishes are more attractive to fish than others, as most boats look the same in color when seen from the bottom. 

Glitter, bright colors, decals, and other aspects of boat aesthetics appear to make no difference in how attractive a vessel is to fish. 

view of bottom of boat from underwater

Are All Fish Attracted To Boats?

Are all fish attracted to boats? Will boats bring any type of fish closer? This depends on a number of factors. 

Not all fish are attracted to boats. The typical experience of most anglers is that larger fish are attracted to boats, while smaller fish are scared away by boats, especially boats that are moving or those with loud motors. 

Small fish tend to move away from large objects such as boats, as the vessel is perceived as a threat by the fish. Small fish are always on the lookout for predatory fish and other carnivores and therefore tend to move away from anything that they perceive as a potential threat. 

Larger, predatory fish tend to be attracted to boats, as they use vibrational, sonic, and electrical impulses to find and hunt prey. Boats emit many of these impulses in the water, and these fish may be attracted to them, thinking there may be prey items nearby. 

These very large fish have few natural predators and are therefore more confident and less cautious than other fish, increasing their likelihood of being attracted to boats on the water. 

Are Fish Deterred By Boats?

Fish are often attracted to boats, but many anglers claim that boats are more of a deterrent in the water than something that fish are attracted to. Is there any credence to these claims?

While boats are attractive to some fish in certain instances, especially when they are equipped with specific motors and rigs, boats can also be a deterrent to fish, especially in freshwater. 

If a boat is too large, too loud, and moves too quickly in the water, it is more likely to deter fish than attract them. The way a boat is operated in the water can also deter fish, such as being turned too quickly or maneuvering too erratically. 

This means that boats can be detrimental to fishing in some instances, but they can be a benefit in others. Fish are not always attracted to boats, and many fish would rather avoid loud, fast-moving vessels than come near them. 

Can You Catch More Fish From A Boat?

A common question regarding fish being attracted to boats is whether or not this phenomenon results in more fish being caught on boats than by other means. 

Anglers can typically catch more fish from boats than by other means, but this is primarily due to the mobility and speed that boats provide rather than their ability to attract fish. 

Certain fish in certain areas, such as blue marlin in Hawaii, are more likely to be caught while on a  big fishing boat because these fish are attracted to boats, which proves that in some instances, the attractiveness of a boat to fish can result in more catches, but this is not always true. 

For this reason, anglers cannot rely on boats being attractive to fish to bring more fish to the boat. This phenomenon can be an advantage, but it is far better to rely on traditional baiting and fishing techniques to bring fish in rather than expecting your boat to attract fish on its own. 

fishing trawler dropping nets in ocean

Which Boats Attract The Most Fish?

This is an important question related to boats being attractive to fish. Are there certain boats that attract fish more than others?

There is no sufficient research on the subject. Preliminary findings and anecdotal evidence suggest that boats around 30ft long with trolling motors that hum at a specific frequency, around 460Hz, are most attractive to fish, especially large oceanic fish. 

Small vessels attract fewer fish than larger boats, and fish attracted to vibrations and sounds are most attracted to slow-humming trolling motors. This is the experience of several saltwater fishermen and has been documented in several instances. 

However, when fishing in freshwater, boats that attract fish the most tend to be the quietest boats when the motors are not active. The statement that larger or medium-sized fishing vessels are more attractive to fish is also true in freshwater. 

small fishing vessel heading out


Some fish are attracted to certain boats, and some boats repel some fish. The attraction of a boat to fish depends on the fish species, the size of the boat, the way the boat is operated, and the sounds and vibrations that the boat emits. 

There are several examples of fish being attracted to boats, but there are also many instances of boats scaring fish away. This is not a reliable method for attracting fish, but it can be a good advantage if your boat happens to attract the fish you are targeting.

Tommy Bull
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