Love Affair with the Jet
Love Affair with the Jet
By Bill Vanderford
With no more than six inches of crystal-clear water separating us from the rocks on the bottom of the tiny stream, I marveled at how easily our guide drove the big, jet-powered aluminum boat up the fast flowing tributary to a secret spot that teemed with Arctic grayling. We were in Alaska, but the wheels in my head were already working overtime, because I could easily see this principle applied in our part of the country.
Upon my return to Atlanta, I immediately started questioning manufacturers about the possibility of building a 16 to 18 foot aluminum boat with a tunnel hull to keep the motor above the rocks when powered by a jet outboard. I was quite surprised to find that most of these larger companies had little or no experience with tunnel hulls or jet drives, and basically advised me that such a configuration wouldn't be feasible.
Thanks, however, to my connection with the Sports Center in Perry, Georgia, they put me in touch with a small company in Carrabelle, Florida that made Weldbilt aluminum boats. The owner, Tommy Bevis, had spent years perfecting a design that incorporated both the tunnel hull and the jet outboards, so I contracted him to build me a "dream machine" that would "do-it-all"!
The finished product is an 18-foot aluminum boat with an 82-inch beam made of 1/8th inch thick welded aluminum. It has a double hull with two 4-inch aluminum beams welded the length of the boat on the inside, and four 2-inch beams or runners welded on the outside. In other words, the boat is built like a Sherman tank, but is considerably lighter. Every compartment and the center console is fabricated from the same top quality aluminum and covered with a high-grade outdoor carpet.
Despite the obvious strength of the boat, it has enough internal flotation in sealed compartments to keep it afloat if a puncture occurs and it fills with water. The design is a masterpiece of engineering, and the welding throughout is like artwork.
The power for this ultimate fishing machine comes from a specially designed 80 horsepower, jet outboard, which when trimmed all the way down is still 3 inches above the bottom of the boat. This configuration is possible because of the Ventura effect of the tunnel that forces water up to the intake on the bottom of the motor faster than water is actually passing the outer sides of the boat. Therefore, it is impossible for the foot of the motor to ever come into contact with rocks or other unseen debris.
The overall width and length of the boat allows it to float easily in less than six inches of water with three people and all their equipment aboard, and when running on a plane, it easily glides over obstacles that are 2 to 3 inches below the bottom. This extremely shallow draft and freedom of movement, without fear of destruction, has allowed me and my clients to enjoy fishing that we would have never imagined in the past.
I usually begin each year by catching walleyes in the upper shoals of the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier in January. During the early spring, we catch plenty of white bass and striped bass in the upper Chattahoochee River, and when the water is clear enough between rain storms, we land quite a few spunky spotted and shoal bass. I've even utilized the jet to allow wide-eyed nature lovers to observe our bald eagle family that lives in an area of fast water above Lake Lanier.
I have used the boat to land numerous world record-sized fish on a fly rod from Lake Lanier to the Florida Keys. The freedom provided by the jet boat has allowed me to catch snook around the mangrove islands of Marco Island, big bonefish in the Florida Keys, colorful oscars and peacock bass in the canals of Miami, bass and bream in the Everglades, rare Suwanee bass in the shallow, swift, crystal clear waters of the Sante Fe River in Central Florida, redfish, trout, and ladyfish around the sugar-white sandy flats off the panhandle of Northern Florida, and now I'm taking clients to enjoy the great trout fishing in the cool waters of the "Hooch" below Buford Dam.
My love affair with this jet boat, however, has just begun. I'll probably continue lovin' my new found freedom with this marvel of technology for a long time to come!