Jun 10, 2015

Outcast Commander vs. Outcast Pac800

Outcast OSG Commander

Frame-less vs. Frame! Do I need a frameless boat?

With the recent resurgence of frameless personal watercraft like the Outcast Commander, Stealth Pro and Fish Cat Scout, many anglers are wondering what the advantages are of a frameless boat compared to a more traditional framed pontoon boat like the Outcast PAC 800. I recently took a trip down the river with an old friend so we could test out the capabilities of each type of boat.

Outcast OSG Commander:

I spent the day rowing and fishing in the Commander. I took it down a small, technical river and then later kicked around a local lake. Why Frameless? I chose the Commander with a specific purpose in mind. There are a couple of rivers that a motivated angler could get a boat into some great water without having to commit to using a traditional boat ramp… I can think of three of four places where dragging a boat in would give me a nice option for a short float that people with drift boats wouldn’t consider going. At 35 pounds, the Commander is easy to manage and handles technical whitewater well.
Got to be motivated to get here!

What I like about the Commander:

It’s quick and easy to set up. It takes about ten minutes to get it from packed in an Outcast Kayak Bag to completely ready to go. I like that I can keep a small collapsible cooler, small dry bag with extra clothing and my fishing gear all behind the seat. There are convenient webbing loops along the seam where the floor meets the tube to tie your gear down. Remember to always “rig to flip” and tie all your gear in.

The boat handles really well. It is very easy to get moving and can handle very technical water with ease. It has a low, narrow profile which makes it easy to get through little chutes and between rocks. I don’t want to mess with class IV whitewater in general, but feel confident that my boat will get through the class II water that we have around here with ease, especially in the summer when the water is low.

One reason I like these frameless boats is that an angler can pull onto a gravel bar and just stand up and fish. The boat does not get away from you as you are standing within it. It is light enough that it does not pull on you much when you are working your way through a spot with the boat holding in the current against your legs. This makes it easy to quickly fish small buckets ad move on to the next spot.

The ability to mount accessories is wonderful. The Stealth Pro and Commander both have two pads that can hold a cargo pocket or a rod holder. It is an easy way to keep your rod and fishing supplies available for quick and easy access.

The ugly:

Effective but different than standard oar lock systems
There are a few things that I don’t like about the frameless boats, all very minor. The first is that the oars and oarlocks. You cannot ship them (pull them in) or feather them (twist the blades as you stroke). As someone who has rowed thousands of miles, my rowing habits (good and bad) are already formed and I don’t like having to change my stroke just for this boat. All of the frameless boats on the market have the same features, and I don’t see them changing it at all. It is really just a minor inconvenience, but it is something I wish were different. I do understand that it would significantly raise the price of the boats to develop a new system.

Another feature that I dislike is the pocket; more specifically, the placement of the “frameless cargo pocket”. There are two pads that are glued onto the boat that accessories (like the pocket or rod holders) can be mounted to. The Stealth Pro comes with one pocket, while it is an accessory for the Scout and the Commander. The pocket is long enough that it gets in the way of the oar on the Commander, but only when you are trying to stow the oar.

The Stealth Pro has the ability to move the pad into three positions. After talking with Greg about his Stealth Pro, he told me that the pocket only gets in the way when the pad is moved into the “forward” position. I have not spent any time in the Scout, but I would imagine that it is a concern also because it is in a fixed position similar to the Commander.

PAC 800

This is a more of a traditional single man pontoon boat. The pontoons are beefy 16” diameter and they have a good rocker. The rocker is the curve on the bottom boat. A bigger rocker reduces the amount of surface area on the water and makes it move faster along with easier navigation. The urethane bladders are a superior material that provides peace of mind (more on that shortly).

Get to places previously unreachable

What I like:

This is a solid boat that is easy to navigate along with sturdy construction that is unlikely to fail. The storage capacity is great. I would feel comfortable with enough gear for a light overnight float. The platform on the back is great for latching and securing gear. It is easy to navigate and sits high in the water. A bigger profile means that it draws less water than smaller boats. More surface area is harder makes it easier to float.

Another benefit is that you sit higher in the water, so your butt is less likely to constantly be wet. This few inches can give you a better vantage point for scouting rapids and spotting fish too.

There is far more versatility with rigging options on a pontoon boat. An anchor is no big deal on a framed boat, while it is possible, but not as convenient on a frameless boat. There are more surfaces and bars to attach straps and gear to, so taking more gear down the river is easier to rig and easier to secure. I would feel comfortable taking enough gear for an over-night excursion on a PAC 800.

The Ugly:

Framed boats are heavier than frameless boats (Stealth Pro and Commander - 35#, PAC 800 - 52#). That is why frameless boats were developed in the first place. There is also more weight to get moving, so you are using more energy for rowing in the first place.

Outcast Wheel System
Another point is that you have slightly less accessibility with a pontoon boat. An angler is more limited where he can take it. Even with the Outcast Wheel System there are places that the PAC 800 would be difficult to get to that would be easy for a frameless boat. The Commander can squeeze through tighter slots and rapids than the PAC800. Chris and I are both extremely accomplished oarsmen and he got the PAC 800 stuck in the middle of a rapid where my Commander fit through just fine.

A boat that sits higher in the water is also more susceptible to being blown around in the wind. The PAC 800 is no exception; windy conditions make it more difficult to row. I once took a pontoon boat out on a lake without the oars (just fins) and ended up having to leave it on the other side of the lake and walk way too far when the wind started blowing so hard I could not kick against it any longer. I had to come back and get it early the next morning.

So do I need a frameless boat?

Storage solution - Outcast Boat Hoist
Well that is up to you. A PAC 800 or PAC 900 are both solid choices, as well as either the Stealth Pro and Commander. I choose these four boats because they have urethane bladders. There are tons of choices out there, but a urethane bladder is the key to a high quality boat. Urethane is much more puncture and tear resistant than Vinyl (as seen in many alternative boats). Urethane also lasts longer and can take a higher psi. Someone asked me if the single bladder on the outer part of the Commander is an issue. Absolutely not! There is only one bladder because the chances of it failing are so poor that it is not an issue. Cheaper alternatives have multiple bladders because there is a greater chance of a failure.

Who is a frameless boat better for?

  • Anglers that use questionable or non-traditional access points.
  • Anglers that want quick set-up if they have to break down the boat
  • Anglers that bring minimal gear
  • Anglers looking for a low-profile, lightweight boat

Who is a pontoon boat better for?

  • Anglers that tend to use more traditional access points. 
  • Anglers that carry a lot of gear
  • Anglers that do overnight or multiple-day floats. 
  • Anglers with a truck/ or a trailer to leave the boat rigged up OR
  • Anglers that can take a few extra minutes to set up and take down

A boat is a big purchase for any angler. It opens up so much more water and opportunity, plus it is just darn fun to run a river. Rowing and navigating is another skill to master that increases your fishing prowess. Learning how the currents come together and being able to float over fish and structure can only give you insight on how to be a better angler.

We are always happy to help you make tough decisions with your precious fishing gear. Please give us a call if you ever have any questions.

Andrew Perrault
Gorge Fly Shop | Product Specialist

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