Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Fishing Boats I Have Known
I did fish from boats before the 1960s, but they were always somebody else’s boats. Mostly they were “Jon” type boats constructed from a few pine planks with square bows, a couple of plank seats and sometimes a livewell. They usually also leaked profusely. I could sit in the bow and skull around small ponds while wielding a flyrod.
Major Magid’s boat was different. I didn’t (and don’t) know exactly what it was, but my recollection is that it was like a 20” aluminum canoe with 8” cut off and replaced with a small transom. He carried it about on top of his car and powered it with paddles or a little 1.5 or 2HP outboard. The outboard only appeared when we were on a river float and needed to power back up river at the end of the “float”.
The first boat that was really mine was the wonderful Sport Yak II. She was rigid, 7’ long, with capacities of 3HP and 700lb. She weighed about 35lb and was easy to toss on top of a car or into the back of a station wagon. I spent many hours paddling, electric trolling or zooming about with my wonderful Johnny JW-13 3HP at about 7mph. She was limited to protected waters, though I had her on the Mississippi at ice-out one Spring. That was the biggest water I took her on, but I never felt insecure in her. I tested her by filling her to the gunnels with water and driving her away with the Johnny humming along on her detachable transom. She explored the Everglades into places no other boat could go. Finally, she was a wading pool for my children and a pool for my geese in Summer and a sled in winter. The Sport Yak II had no name, but she lived with the family for 12 years before suffering from being stored in the sun too much and opening a seam.
While I still had the Sport Yak II I bought a 14’ semi-vee tinny and powered it with an 18HP Johnny. We took it on a few Northern IL lakes and on the Mississippi, but I was not happy with it. It was rated for 14HP, Max. It was fast, but the vibrations of the deck/bottom from slight ripples scared me, so I sold that and bought a 16’, heavy duty Big Jon that was rated for 30HP. Found a Scott 30 in a basket at a garage sale and put it together. Boat was a barge. Safe enough, I guess, but maneuvered like a barge. I hated it.
By this time we had moved to Texas. I decided a Bass Boat would fit my style of fishing and the places I fished so I bought a 15’ Fisher Bass Boat, based on an aluminum jon hull. OMC gave me one of their new Johnny 15s out of a training center for training their Instructors and I put that on the Bass Boat. Not a rocket ship, but it would plane and it got me around Grapevine Lake, where we lived and moored the boat in a floating boat house.
One morning son and I went to the boat house, planning on some crappie fishing. The boat was gone. . .chain cut. By the time we got back to the house the Corps had called. They found the boat, swamped, on the other side of the lake. Transom chain sawed to get the motor off. Glad I had insurance, I took her to the Fisher Dealer. They fixed her and mounted a pre-owned Johnny 25. She was rated for 40HP, but the 25 did a great job. We took that boat on one of our summer trips to northern Wisconsin in search of muskies. Not at all a suitable boat for a north woods lake in a moderate gale. Scared the heck out of the wife looking up at water on both sides of the boat.
Traded that boat for a car for daughter #3's HS graduation. Moved back to Northern IL.
By this time I was getting serious about fishing for big fish in big water. A news story got my attention. It was late Summer of 1967.
This was the time of the first run of pacific salmon (coho) in the great lakes, particularly Lake Michigan. People were doing incredibly stupid thing like going out on the lake in small skiffs and even canoes (!!!) to catch them. The lake was crowded with amateurs who had no notion of the risk they were taking.
The worst possible thing happened. A squall line rushed across the lake with gale force winds. Many fishermen lost their lives and many vessels were swamped or sunk.
One thing caught my attention. Five vessels survived the storm by running across the lake to Chicago. All were 16’ Boston Whalers. No Boston Whalers were lost in the storm.
The next day I was in the local Boston Whaler Dealer. There were no “plain Jane” boats left. Only a leftover 1966 Sakonnet. . .top of the line. I bought her on the spot. $3100 seemed a lot of bucks at the time. When I sold her in 1983 for $6500 I really felt I had gotten more than my money back. She is probably worth that $6500 or more today.
This was the start of my love affair with Boston Whalers.
To be continued...
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(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)