On A Budget
w . w . w . r e d c h a s e
r . c o m
Skiff J16 rigged and ready for the marsh.
To Fish Skinny Without Breaking The Bank
I have been getting quite a few questions about a dilemma that faces
many anglers with shallow water ambitions "What kind of
boat do I need?". A statement of not wanting to spend the
family fortune on what for all intents and purposes is a small boat
usually predicates this question. While there are a number of
practical means to reaching very skinny water, including canoes,
kayaks, johnboats, and pirogues, for the purposes of this article, we
are going to focus on flat-bottomed johnboats. While I will make
no claims that you can achieve the kind of performance and comfort
that you get from high end skiffs such as those made by Hells Bay,
Maverick, and other top manufacturers with a simple John Boat, I
can share with you my personal experience that with a little planning
and ingenuity, you can rig a john boat to fish exceptionally well in
skinny water without breaking the bank.
time you are in the market for a boat, the primary concern after
budget is what you will be using the boat for. There is an
adage that you should follow the 90/10 rule for purchasing a boat.
Get a boat that is suited for the type of fishing you do 90% of the
time, not a boat designed to do what you only do occasionally.
There is no one boat that handles all situations well. Most
boats are designed for specific uses at the expense of
performance in other areas. Most skinny water boats are
relatively flat and light, and as such aren't great in rough water.
Bay boats can take a chop, but can't follow a flats boat into 6
inches of water.
you decide that you want to spend your time fishing in skinny water,
and are directing your boat purchase in that direction, you have
several options. There are of course the high end and even mid
ranged flats boats, that come pre rigged with just about everything
a fisherman could want in a flats boat, including dry storage,
cushioned seats, walk around gunnels, electronics, poling and
casting platforms and more. Then there is the budget rout.
There are very few craft that can actually be poled in shallower
water than a flat-bottomed johnboat. Johnboats are light,
often proportionally wide and, by nature of their flat bottom, draft
very little water at rest.
after having gazed lovingly at a high end flats boat, an angler may
return home wanting to throw rocks at his aluminum or fiberglass
flat bottomed boat. Don't fall into this trap; there are a few
simple steps you can take to convert that old johnboat into an
awesome fishing machine.
you need to consider some of the options available to you in flat
bottomed Johnboats. There are many manufacturers offering well
built, inexpensive boats in a variety of lengths, in both fiberglass
and aluminum. For the purposes of illustrating this article we
have pictures of 2 such options. Ty Southerland's 14"
aluminum Johnboat that he has rigged for the flats. And my
fiberglass Carolina Skiff J16. Surprisingly enough, when I was
shopping boats, I found there to be very little difference in weight
and cost of the Carolina Skiff J16 I ended up purchasing, and most
quality welded aluminum boats of a similar size. So which to
choose? Each material offers it's advantages. Fiberglass
tends to be a little quieter in the water, while a flat bottomed
Johnboat will have some hull slap regardless of what it's made of,
the fiberglass reverberates less than aluminum. A light
colored fiberglass boat is also much cooler and less likely to fry
your thighs when you sit on the seat after a day in the hot sun.
Aluminum on the other hand tends to be rugged, and is more easily
and affordably repaired than fiberglass.
the most important thing to bear in mind when rigging a boat for
shallow water is weight. If you don't need it, don't add it.
If you do need it, ad the lightest one you can find. There are
several other important factors to keep in mind when
rigging your flats boat, one of which is layout. When
rigging a boat for fly-fishing large decks are a plus.
You want a decent sized casting deck that is clean with nothing
protruding up from it that your fly line can foul on.
Several things that aid in keeping the deck clean are lights,
cleats, and push pole holders that pop up, and trolling motor
mounts, and other accessories that are removable or flush mounted.
Unfortunately most accessories of the "Pop Up" type aren't
cheap, but they may be well worth the money. Often if
accessories are located far enough to the sides or back of the
deck they may be less likely to encounter your fly line.
If you think that most people fishing in your boat will be right
handed, moving objects to the right side of the deck make them
less likely to catch your line because right handers strip line to
their left side. A large rear deck can also come in handy if
you are fishing by yourself from the poling platform, or for those
times when 2 people are fishing and using a trolling motor.
one feature that defines the classic look of a flats boat is the
Poling Platform. While not an absolute necessity, once you get
comfortable and adept at poling a boat from a platform, you'll never
want to do without. The first and most obvious of advantage of
the poling platform is visibility. You can see much more of
the marsh you are fishing from the elevated vantage point. You
can also see into the water better because your elevated position
cuts down on glare. Poling from a platform is also easier than
from on the deck. When you are elevated on the platform, you
are much less likely to knock or bang the engine or rear of the boat
with your push pole, potentially scarring fish. Your elevated
position on the platform also reduces the leverage of the poles
length working against you so it is less tiring than poling from the
rear seat or deck. Many manufacturers offer platforms for the
boats they make, in fact Carolina Skiff makes one that is designed
to fit the transom of my boat. After doing a little research
however I found a good welder who was able to build me a platform
for about half of what Carolina Skiff wanted for theirs, and I
prefer the design of the one I had built. On Ty's aluminum
boat, he was able to get a welder to build one out of scrap
materials for only $150, that's about a fourth of what
pre-manufactured platforms sell for.
platform is built out of 11/4 inch aluminum pipe with a platform of
1/8 inch aluminum plate with the edges folded up for extra
rigidity. My platform bolts onto the rolled edges of my boat,
with the bolts going through pieces of aluminum plate placed under
the rolled edges for strength.
Details of my Carolina Skiff J16
Bow light-pop up stainless steel by Accon
the bow light on line here
motor bracket by
the trolling motor mount on line here
Rod holders from Bass
Pro Shops, mounted
to the inside of boat with 3m marine
adhesive. 1" PVC tubes mounted into rear
face of front deck serve as rod tubes.
the rod holders on line here
Poling Platform - Custon Built out of 11/4
inch aluminum. Email me and I'll be
happy to send you the
Adjustable Jack Plate by Cajun Jacker -
Note, this jack plate adjust with just one
bolt, making it easy to adjust on the
cajun jacker jack plates here
Southerland's platform is built of 11/4"
pipe, and the platform deck is
of 1/4 inch aluminum plate. The
of Ty's platform bolt to the rear
braces of the boat, and the rear
The front legs of Ty's platform are
closer together than the rear.
can also provide yourself with a decent perch from which to pole
without the trouble or expense of building or buying a poling
platform. For years I fished out of a 14 foot Monarch, standing
on an ice chest placed on the back seat, and held down with shock
few other useful additions to a budget flats boat, are an ice chest
mounted amid ship to act as a center seat. I screwed some stainless
eyes to the bottom of the boat, and secured the ice chest with shock
cord. I also have a very large rear deck on my boat, which combined
with the setback of the jack plate I have, has me sitting a long way
in front of the engine. I made an extension for the outboards tiller
out of pvc pipe. I installed rod holders onto the sides of the boat
and made rod tubes out of pvc that extend well under the front deck of
the boat. To install the rod tubes, I used a drill mounted hole
saw to cut appropriate sized holes in the dropdown face at the rear of
the front deck. I then drilled corresponding holes into a piece
of marine 2x4, and hung the 2x4 down under the deck about a foot and a
half back. The pieces of PVC were then run through the holes in
the face of the deck and through the holes in the 2x4 and secured with
final touches for achieving good fishing performance on the water can
often be in simple accessories. For example, having a convenient
place to quickly put your push pole if you are fishing by yourself and
need to cast, or if you need to get down of the platform to assist another
angler. I have a push pole holder mounted to the top of my platform
that the pole snaps into. I also wear a push pole holster on my
belt. Keeping your rod at ready when you are poling the boat and
alone is another challenge. A good tall stripping basket is a great
solution here. Before getting up on my platform I strip a good bit
of line off my reel, make a cast and strip the line back into my line
tamer stripping basket. I then stand my rod up in the stripping
basket and place it in the center of my rear deck right in front of the
poling platform. If I'm poling and see a fish, I just hook the push
pole in my belt holster, grab my rod and cast. Another thing I
learned when I used to run my little Mon Ark boat was that if you don't
have a lot of front deck space, a stripping basket that can be worn around
the waist can keep your line under control.
The push pole holster holds the
push pole while I cast.