Bay boats exploded in popularity during the last decade, as many anglers sought to fish the middle zones between blue water and emerald flats. But more and more often bay anglers coveted bluebird days when they could creep offshore. They longed for a do-it-all fishing machine — something that felt more at home in rough seas yet still allowed them to plink around docks and grass flats.
Enter the hybrid bay boat. A few boat manufacturers stretched their models to 25 feet, and then 27 and now, at least one bay boat on the market tapes out at almost 28 feet LOA, and several can be powered by twin outboards. But it’s not just length that sets this breed apart. Some hybrid bay boats offer a full transom while preserving a forward casting deck; some builders have added interior gunwale height, still others have opted for full-height helm enclosures.
Anglers now have an ever-widening range of options. In your search, it might be tempting to simply seek out the best bay boat for the money, but we can all agree that cost is not the only parameter. Most importantly, buy a boat based on your fishing needs. Here are 15 of the best hybrid bay boats that transition from inshore to offshore fishing. They’re listed from the shortest to the longest LOA.
- Grady-White 251 Coastal Explorer
- Scout 251 XSS
- Contender 25 Bay
- Barker 26 Open
- Sea Cat 260
- Yellowfin 26 Hybrid
- Jupiter 25 Bay
- Parker 26 SH
- Regulator 26XO
- Pathfinder 2700 Open
- Sea Vee 270Z
- Tidewater 2700 Carolina Bay
- Everglades 273cc
- Caymas 28 HB
- Blue Wave 2800 Makaira
Grady-White 251 Coastal Explorer
When Grady introduced the 251 Coastal Explorer in 2014, it kept the sharp entry and continuously variable-V hull characteristic of the company’s offshore boats. It also features 20 inches of aft cockpit depth, which is greater than most traditional bay boats. On the other hand, the 251 offers casting platforms fore and aft that convert to seating, and it floats in 14 inches of water.
Scout 251 XSS
Scout redesigned the bottom of the original 251 XS to make it a dual-stepped hull versus single-stepped. The current XSS version also features a proud bow, glass-enclosed helm, and a slightly deeper deadrise than many traditional bay boats. For inshore fishing, Scout offers a casting-deck extension that can convert to a table. The well-appointed 251 also floats in just 13 inches of water.
Contender 25 Bay
Standout standard features on Contender’s bay boat include spacious casting platforms fore and aft, covering boards and bolster pads surrounding the cockpit, two livewells — 40- and 12-gallon capacity — and twin rod lockers. Drawing just 12 inches of water, the 25 Bay floats shallower than most, but its twin-stepped hull makes the boat efficient and fast offshore.
Barker 26 Open
This Michael Peters-designed and patented Stepped-Vee Ventilated Tunnel hull has the lowest drag coefficient of any monohull, which makes it faster with better handling, improved fuel economy and a better ride, Barker says. The 26 Open features a deeper cockpit with a minimal aft casting deck and 60 gallons of livewell capacity. Opt for a full second station for spotting redfish or tuna birds.
Sea Cat 260
With its multihull design, the Sea Cat 260 naturally handles twin outboards and features higher gunwales for offshore capability. But it also offers a large forward casting platform (trolling motor optional) and it floats in 14 inches of water. The twin 25-gallon transom livewells offer plenty of bait storage for offshore adventures.
Yellowfin 26 Hybrid
Yellowfin’s 26 Hybrid offers 21 inches of aft cockpit depth and a sharp 60-degree entry with 20 degrees of deadrise at the transom. Drawing 15 inches of water with a single outboard and 18 with twins, it can drift deeper flats inshore or post up on shallow canals and ledges. Fishing features include large livewells, oversize insulated fish boxes and a second station option.
Jupiter 25 Bay
Jupiter says it applied the lines of its bigger offshore boats to this bay boat to give it the design and functionality to handle challenging seas. The company eliminated fore and aft casting decks, which become unsuitable in any kind of sea. Aft cockpit depth measures 22 inches. At the bow, the deck lies 25 inches below the gunwale. A 40-gallon livewell and 110 gallons of insulated fish boxes top the list of angling features.
Parker 26 SH
Parker says it spent two years creating this hybrid bay boat, giving it ample inshore fishing space fore and aft with broad platforms, yet creating enough beam and gunwale height for added safety when venturing offshore. The 26 SH also features twin 30-gallon recirculating livewells, lockable storage and a large fish box.
The Regulator 26XO features a standard fiberglass hardtop with an integrated windshield, reminiscent of Regulator’s 41-footer. It offers a broad forward casting deck and smaller aft deck with an elevated lip. Cockpit depth aft measures 19 ¼ inches. The 26XO measures more than 26 feet in length and sports 9 feet 3 inches of beam, making it a stable platform and one that’s still capable of floating in under 16 inches of water.
Pathfinder 2700 Open
The double-stepped hull Pathfinder 2700 Open features a true hybrid deck layout, the company says. The aft cockpit remains open like an offshore center console but there’s a raised foredeck for casting and castnetting. Fishing features include a 42-gallon leaning-post livewell and a 22-galllon aft well, plus three fish boxes. Pathfinder’s VARIS vacuum-infusion technology keeps the 27-footer relatively light at 4,934 pounds with engine.
Sea Vee 270Z
In 2014, the 270Z — at 27 feet LOA — emerged as the largest bay boat to date. With its award-winning stepped-hull design, the boat handles open water well; it easily fishes five anglers and remains stable at rest. The broad foredeck rises more than 20 inches above the main deck. The aft casting platform measures 98 inches wide and 42 inches along the centerline. The jack plate and 15-inch draft allow this boat to motor across shallow flats.
Tidewater 2700 Carolina Bay
Tidewater says its stepped-hull 2700 Carolina Bay combines the capabilities of a full-featured center console with shallow-water fishability and the amenities of a deck boat. It features fore and aft casting platforms and an aquarium-style livewell aft of the leaning post. The 2700 can be powered with a single outboard or twins and offers 141 gallons of fuel capacity.
The Everglades 273cc features an 18-inch draft that creates a compromise between smaller bay boats that float in 12 to 14 inches of water and more aggressive deep-Vs that need 24 inches. The 20 degrees of transom deadrise and proud bow assist in offshore capability, and the expansive aft deck offers height and ease of casting inshore. Power this hybrid with a single outboard or twins up to a max of 600 hp.
Caymas 28 HB
A Michael Peters designed hull, the Caymas 28 HB offers a broad casting deck forward and a fishable aft deck. The 24 ½-inch freeboard and the 9-foot-4-inch beam give it security and stability outside the bay, and the 17-inch draft and jackplate allow it to float over inshore flats. The 28 HB can be rigged with a single outboard up to 450 hp; it carries 120 gallons of fuel.
Blue Wave 2800 Makaira
Blue Wave Boats says its 2800 Makaira features a cockpit that rivals many of the 30- to 33-foot center consoles on the market. At the same time, the near-28-footer still manages an aft platform because the deck design lacks a splashwell. The bow wraparound seating easily transforms into a forward casting platform complete with a pitchwell. Other fishing amenities include lockable rod storage and livewells throughout. The Makaira can carry anything from a single 350 hp outboard to twin 300s.