First-time anglers at Alaska West could very well look at our guide boats on arrival day and think to themselves “I thought this place was supposed to be a top-tier operation.” Our boats are not the most comfortable, fastest, most tricked-out, or pretttiest boats at the boat show. There are certainly big, beautiful boats out there that make our boats look like go carts – the same way a Mustang looks compared to a Cadillac.
We could drive big bad-ass fast boats – with growling prop drives and heavy-gauge diamond plate aluminum painted with shark’s teeth. Speed envy? Yeah we have that – we’d love to go faster! But size envy? Nope – This is one of those times that smaller really is so much better – really.
We drive 18-foot riveted aluminum flat-bottomed hulls called ‘john boats’. They’re modeled 1852 – 18 feet long and 52 inches of beam. We’ve got a mix of Lowe and Grumman hulls – honestly in this configuration the name is about as important as your brand of butter.
We push them with 40HP outboards with a jet pump at the working end. We cut out the seat thwarts to lighten the boat and to allow more room to move around. We lay a sheet of marine plywood down as a deck. To that deck we bolt two pedestal seats. This gives us as light a boat as we can come up with and still use as an effective fishing platform.
We like smaller, lighter boats because:
- We fish skinny water side channels on the Kanektok and we fish the Arolik. Our boats draw less than a foot of water on step (OK, a lot less than that but we’ll call it a foot for our mechanic’s sake). We fish a lot of water the bigger boats have to hike to – which simply means we get to more fish.
- We boondog for the big-boy bows (rowing the boat down the river, fishing as we drift). Coasting with the current is easy – going slower than the current is not easy. Heavy boats can’t be controlled to do what we do.
- Our boats are light enough and draw little enough that our anchors will hold if we opt to ‘sit on the hook’ and fish from the boat. We have bow and stern anchors on each boat, which allows us to set the boat up for safe and easy casting, no matter which current or which wind.
- Light boats are easier to set up, work on and put away. This might not be something that you think about as an angler, but trust us on this one – if you’re fishing a really remote part of the world, you want your boat to be easy to work on. Well-maintained boats are good.