MANY AN ANGLER has a dream boat.
Whether it is the tournament ready 22-foot bass boat with the Batmobile cockpit and free racing helmet, the shallow-running bay/flats hybrid with modified tunnel-vee hull, or the go-fast offshore boat with the cigarette hull and trio 350 outboards, there is a vision of THE boat.
Fishermen kill entire afternoons at boat shows, leave pamphlets on coffee tables and bathroom counters for spouses to examine (and ultimately reject). They’ll squirrel away extra cash every month in the hopes of making a dream a reality, only to learn that the only time the transmission breaks, or the air conditioner needs a very expensive part is when you have the money to pay for it.
Life has a habit of throwing deadfalls in the way between the angler and the boat of boats, whether it is financial or practical. The big boat sometimes remains a pipe dream.
Don’t lose hope, however, because you can opt for a more cost-effective, and often more versatile, option than that metal and fiberglass windmill you tilt at.
By definition, any boat that fits on a trailer is a portable boat. Some boats are more portable than others, however. A small johnboat, kayak, canoe, or belly boat is easy to pack up and portage to your favorite local fishing hole. These setups are also easy to unload, launch, and take out by one or two persons.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, Texas has 3,700 named waterways 15 major rivers and 212 reservoirs in Texas. The vast majority of these are accessible with a johnboat. This venerable green aluminum watercraft is as much a part of Texana as a Guadalupe bass or red-eared sunfish. It also seems to play a big part in many families’ stories.
Recent versions of the johnboat are big, roomy numbers with center consoles and large, injected outboards. The 12- to 14-foot “duck boat” is a classic watercraft. So many anglers have drifted in one, down the Frio, Blanco, or San Marcos Rivers. Dozens of the roomy, stable hulls dot lakes such as Falcon, and Choke Canyon.
These boats are also sturdy and seaworthy enough to make it out onto the briny. I see more and more of these boats dotting the bay after a decade-long wane. On more than one occasion, I’ve even seen them puttering around the Brazos Santiago Jetties on calm days.
Drive down to the waters edge with the boat sticking out of the bed of your truck, clamp on a little 9.9 horsepower outboard to the transom, prime the fuel bulb, pull the ripcord, and you’re away. You’ll move at a decent enough clip to get you to a far-off hole in relatively little time—nothing to it.
“I have a banged-up johnboat rigged with an old Evinrude my Grandfather left me,” said All Valley Boat Show attendee Robert Loiselle. “I’ve soldered that hull plenty of times, rebuilt the engine twice, and it’s still a great boat. Every spring break, my boy and I portage that boat up to Choke Canyon and catch crappie and catfish for a week.
“The week after Spring Break, when everyone has gone back to school, I’ll take it down to the coast every day for a week and catch the daylights out of sheepshead in it. That old boat looks like junk, but it does what I want.”
Johnboats are versatile enough that you can use them in even the shallow runs of smaller waterways. They are ideal in drifting trips because the motor provides you with the means to run back upriver to a campsite.
Unlike other portables, johnboats require titles and registration with TPW to be used on state waterways. The same holds true with the small outboards that many use to push the boats. Still, it’s a very small price to pay for the versatility they provide.
Loiselle looked at a display of kayaks at the Boat Show. “My son is getting older, and he’s bugging me to get him a kayak that he can load into the old truck I gave him and take off on his own,” he said. “I guess I’m gonna have to give it some thought.”
Both the kayak and its cousin, the canoe, provide countless Texas anglers with the independence of fishing mysterious waters by themselves. Kayaks have sprung up on every navigable waterway in Texas, and many boys and girls have learned how to use a paddle by sculling a canoe at summer camp.
“Kayaks are as versatile as any other boat, and sometimes even more,” said longtime kayak aficionado Bobby Soto. “I can take my ’yak anywhere and still fish.
“I can fish the deep holes in a river, or I can fish the shallow runs. If the water gets too shallow, I don’t drag a boat. I can pick up my yak and walk.”
Kayaks and canoes not only offer maximum portability for the walkabout angler, but they also provided the added dimension of stealth. A fisherman can quietly scull to overhangs and rocks and sneak up on fish that might otherwise be spooky. The lower profile on the water’s surface also means no shadows or reflections to tip a fish off to your presence.
“It’s ninja fishing,” said Soto. “The fish don’t even know you’re there.”
The kayak is a staple for many saltwater anglers. Its shallow water capability and stealthy nature allows you to reach fish that otherwise only wade fishermen can reach.
A kayak can cruise along mangrove trees for snook and redifish, patrol flats, or even slow troll along jetties for kingfish and nearshore pelagics. I’ve seen some taken offshore for more adventurous quarry. Kayaks are among the most versatile of the low-cost watercraft.
It doesn’t get any easier than that for the walkabout angler.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]