I DON’T REMEMBER exactly once I purchased my johnboat. Earlier than the children have been born, actually. Earlier than my first canine. However after I married Julie, which was in 1991, and this I do know as a result of as an alternative of spending the cash I had laboriously saved for a number of years to purchase a ship, I bought an engagement ring. It sported a central solitaire flanked by two smaller diamonds. To this present day, she calls it “Eddie’s boat, motor, and trailer.” To this present day, I don’t suppose that’s humorous.

However as soon as I did purchase my johnboat—a 16-foot double-wide Lowe hull with a 25-hp Mercury motor—there was no trying again. I don’t suppose I’ll half with it. Though I got here shut.

Damnation, what freedom appears to attend such a easy, easy craft. There’s something concerning the sound of water on an aluminum hull—sure, I do know it spooks fish, but it surely additionally appears to thrum with the entire unseen life beneath. You possibly can really feel every ripple within the water underfoot. Driving it with a tiller-handle outboard jogs my memory of blasting down a childhood hill in a go-cart hammered collectively of spare wooden and previous lawnmower axles. It’s primal. Elemental. Foundational.

And now, some 30 years after I introduced her house, I’m realizing what a life she’s had—and allowed me to have, chapter by chapter, every one not like any of the others.

Little Huge Boat

The boat was first pressed into service as a duck boat, to not hunt from, essentially, however to get my pal Lee Davis and me far sufficient down rivers and up creeks that we may depart the larger, heavier boats behind. We’ve hunted waters so skinny we needed to push the johnboat by hand, and coastal waters so large and gnarly the slop came to visit the bow in nice drenching waves.

Subsequent, I rigged the boat for the famed runs of shad and striped bass on the Roanoke River, in my house state of North Carolina. I jerry-rigged fly rod holders with PVC pipe and employed cinder blocks as river anchors, as a result of we knew we’d lose them within the craggy bottoms of the Roanoke.

After which there was a darkish decade in our relationship. If aluminum had a coronary heart and soul, I might apologize profoundly. Sooner or later, coping with the boat turned a problem. I’d purchased an even bigger boat and was working ocean waters extra usually than rivers and creeks. I drained the gasoline from the outboard motor, greased up every thing I may grease on the boat, motor, and trailer, and backed the johnboat into an previous hog farrowing barn on my deer lease. It sat there, 12 months after 12 months, like an enormous steel storage bin full of deer stands and deer carts, its trailer tires dry-rotting away.

I pulled the boat out of storage when my son, Jack, was sufficiently old to deal with it by himself. We’d fallen right into a small home on the coast, and he had huge desires of aspect cash as a crabber. That lasted a couple of years, till he was sufficiently old to deal with our heart console by himself. A 15-year-old child goes to go for the 150 horses over 25 every single day of the week.

Then, one of many saddest chapters within the lifetime of that previous boat—sadder, maybe, than being stuffed in a wasp-filled hog barn: Throughout a hurricane, the johnboat full of water and the burden smashed the springs and bunks of 1 aspect of the trailer. It then sat in our aspect yard for 3 full years, itemizing to at least one aspect, sprouting weeds, aggravating the neighbors.

“When are you going to do one thing with that previous boat?” Julie requested, incessantly. “For those who’re going to depart it within the yard, possibly it is best to put an previous couch or washer in it. At the least that may full the look.”

An excellent day on the johnboat throughout the spring striper run. T. Edward Nickens

Usually, I used to be on the verge of promoting the johnboat. It did look fairly janky on the market by the road. However I couldn’t let go of my reminiscences of all of the locations it had taken me. And I couldn’t let go of considering that in the future I might repair it up, return to all these locations, and make a couple of extra reminiscences.

As Good As Ever

Fortunately, these are glory days as soon as once more for that previous soldier. I not too long ago put in a no-skid ground and decked the seats and bow deck with marine plywood. (And I did this all on my own, which required 4 and a half weeks of trial-and-error carpentry and a dozen journeys to Dwelling Depot.) I repowered the ship with a Yamaha 4-stroke, with one of many wonderful innovations of maritime historical past: electrical begin. It’s nonetheless a stripped-down kicker. Tiller deal with. Handbook tilt. No jack plate. However a person’s shoulder can solely take a lot of a rope-pull begin, and mine had notched too many pulls already.

And this time of 12 months, my previous john is again into heavy-duty use. The shad are within the rivers, and the stripers aren’t far behind. They’ve been there all alongside, after all, together with the shadbush blooms and the prothonotary warblers flitting streamside and the turkey gobbles that echo throughout the large, boulder-strewn river. It was me that left. And each time I shove that boat again into the river’s circulation, I do know I gained’t ever depart once more.  

Gear Tip: Secret Weapon for the Johnboat


Chico Fernandez calls Hardy’s Zane fly rod in a shortened 8-foot 8-weight his “sawed-off shotgun,” and I not too long ago watched him fireplace off fast, tight loops as we prospected the Indian River shoreline in Florida. Load that diminutive size with a brief head fly line like a Rio Outbound and casting heavy or giant flies turns into a lot simpler. The rod can also be superfast to deploy, slipping out of under-the-gunwale rod holders with ease. The rods is available in a normal 9-foot size as effectively, in line sizes from 6 to eight.

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