Product Review: Fish Cat Scout

The Swiss Army Boat

Fish Cat Scout -- Frameless Fishing Craft
The first personal flotation craft I got was one of those old-style diaper-donuts with an automobile tire tube for the guts. I felt like I was suspended by a couple of those floatie wing things my kids wear to the pool. And talk about difficulty getting in and out of -- I was tempted to find a way to launch myself from shore and lawn-dart my way into a seated position in the "boat" in order to avoid the awkward waddling fin dance entrance you'd normally have to perform. 

Luckily, over the years, these personal flotation craft have gotten a lot more user-friendly, versatile and comfortable to boot. We went from higher end float tubes to "U" tubes to pontoon boats and now to frameless flotation craft that neither qualify as pontoon or float tube. Between Cheech and I, we've fished from most of these types of boats at one time or another, so when we saw the Fish Cat Scout from Outcast, it screamed out for a look-see.

Before I get into the boat specs and review, let's set the stage on what we normally use these types of boats for -- because for you it might be different. Because we fish big stillwaters, where we need to cover distance and carry a lot of gear, the bass boat is the choice for us there -- for both trout and warmwater fishies. And if we're floating bigger rivers with more rapids, it's probably a bigger raft or drift boat on those occasions. But beyond those circumstances, this style of boat works great for floating all sorts of lakes, reservoirs and less-technical rivers. In other words, it combines the best of a float tube and a bigger pontoon boat in one do-it-all style boat.

Most recently, I had been using a Scadden Outlaw Escape (which is also a great boat), so I have a good baseline to compare experiences with the Scout and this style of boat in general. And in case you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt seen most of the major manufacturers move more to a frameless style boat. Because of this unique combination of features, weight savings and price, I think we'll see more and more people embrace this style of boat unless you're looking to backpack it long distances or really have the need to put a motor on it and rig it with a fish-finder etc.

Before we get to the written review, here's a quick summary by way of review video with Cheech at the helm:

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but we'll summarize the main functional aspects we look at for this style of boat and how the Scout stacked up.

Portability: One of my "non-starters" with any fishing rig these days is whether or not I can carry it
Cheech's new tutu
at least a short distance to the water or pack it onto an ATV. The Scout weighs in at 35 lbs, which is definitely not a deal killer, but probably not something you'll want to backpack in longer distances. My Outlaw Escape came in at roughly 22 lbs, however, due to the way Outcast designed the "carrying" handles at the center of gravity on the Scout, I have an easier time carting it around. We've even carried them up to a mile in very windy conditions.

In addition to being relatively light-weight, I can deflate the boat and put it into a Rubbermaid tote for storage and transportation. Whereas a framed pontoon boat would require much more assembly/dis-assembly, I pull this guy out of the tote and it's inflated in a few minutes with no assembly necessary. That's a huge win for this style of frameless boat.
Stability: I think the only thing I need to say about stability is that Cheech, with his 290 lbs of muscle mass, is perfectly stable on the Scout in even some of the rougher water we've experienced. See the video above for examples. In any case, you feel much safer and stable in this than you would in most tradition float tube style boats (or even when comparing against the popular Fat Cat boats from Outcast).
Durability: Probably one of the most pleasant surprises to me was the quality of PVC skin construction on the Scout. The first thought that went through my head was "hey, I'm sitting on a modified white-water raft". Because of this construction, the boat held its shape very well on the water, with little to no flex or give when moving around. This helps both stability but also speaks to the durable construction. Now obviously, durability is a longer term aspect, but I'd say the chances are good this will stand up to a lot of years on the water.
Maneuverability:  First off, we didn't have the chance to take the boats on any rivers in the past few months. However, I have it on good word that they handle rivers quite nicely, track nicely and make for a good fishing experience. As for lakes of varying sizes, when you combine the fact that you have oars to cover distance and the design and shape of the pontoons, there were no issues maneuvering around. As part of this, I'm mention the seat design because I think that lends to increased maneuverability in the sense that you're seated above the water on a nice air cushion. This reduces the amount of drag your non-hydrodynamic legs are in the water. It definitely made it easier to put into position than a framed pontoon.

I'll also throw in the oars for discussion here. Obviously a huge advantage to this style of boat is the fact that, unlike regular float tubes, you have oars to move around with. While not as big as pontoon boat oars, they get the job done. Plus, they have a great oar "lock" system that will keep them out of your way while you fish.

Price: It's tough to rate the price, but at a retail price of around $650, you're only looking at a few more bones than the Fat Cats (or other "high-end" tubes and substantially less than the Scadden boats of similar size and function.

Fishing Comfort: Comfort may be a bit more subjective in nature, but there are a few things worth mentioning. Like I mentioned earlier, the seat bottom being a nice fat comfy air cushion that sits your butt above the water, I didn't get numb legs or rear-end like I would in previous pontoons I'd owned. The seat itself is a kayak style adjustable seat and is easily the most comfortable one I've used. And just being that far out of the water is going to make you more comfortable regardless of the seat type.

The stripping basket is a clever design that sits at just the right level to contain your line but not interfere with your cast. Plus it's adjustable enough to accommodate a few different positions and is easily removable -- no snapping, attaching or buckling (see the video for how it works). My only complaint there is that I had a couple of instances where I accidentally jarred it loose and it also can get in the way of rowing. Otherwise, it's a great feature.

Also a huge win for the Scout is the very roomy "trunk" for storage. Immediately behind the seat is an area big enough to hold all the gear I'd normally have on my pontoon or tube, including my camera bag, food bag and the kitchen sink. And the nice thing is that it's completely dry and easily accessible. It's important to note that while the Scout comes only with a smallish gear "pocket" attached to it (something I initially viewed as a negative), I much prefer to keep my gear in the same bags and not have to transfer all my crap from my stream or wading bags into the pontoon style saddle or gear bags. Plus, the gear pockets on the Scout work great for rod holders.

Overall assessment:
After having fished in the boat a number of times, packed it up, unpacked it and put it through a couple of big storms, we'd give this boat a solid "A". If you're in the market for a new pontoon boat or float tube, it's definitely time to think about the move to a frameless model. So unless you need to attach a trolling motor or need to backpack it long distances, the frameless models like the Scout are the way to go.