BASS pros spend their days jettisoning around America's lakes and reservoirs aboard sleek 20-foot-plus fiberglass boats and powerful 250-hp Mercury outboards — a far cry from their fishing roots.
For 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Michael Iaconelli, it was a 12-foot polyurethane Coleman boat with a trolling motor. In Edwin Evers' case, it was a one-man kick boat that he propelled with swim fins before later adding a 2-hp motor.
Although they have moved up considerably in class and power, both still fondly remember their primitive, small boat years.
"I had a lot of good times in that little boat and learned an awful lot about fishing," says New Jersey pro, Iaconelli. "It was perfect for all the small electric-motors-only lakes back home. I fished out of that boat until I was 21 or 22 years old and won a boat as an amateur in a Bassmaster Top 100 tournament."
Growing up in Texas, Evers spent every free hour honing his skills from atop his little kick boat in lakes like Fork, Worth, Bridgeport and Possum Kingdom. "Later, when I was in the eighth grade, dad bought a Bass Tracker," the 29-year-old pro recalls. "We'd put my little kick boat on the back deck of the Tracker and when we got to a spot, I'd put that boat out in the water and start fishing around. I had a bigger boat at that time, but I still chose to fish out of that Fishin' Pal because I felt I fished better out of it."
Both accomplished pros understand the beauty of small boat fishing. And there are thousands like them, including famed big bass hunter Doug Hannon. The vast majority of Hannon's more than 500 10-pound-plus bass were caught from a 14-foot highly personalized camouflaged johnboat.
"The small boat is something that I consider in a large way responsible for all of the fish I have caught," Hannon says. "I think the small boat fisherman has an advantage over big boat fishermen when it comes to catching big bass.
"With the pressured lakes of today, the biggest problem you face with a big fish is not having it realize that there is a fisherman in the area. A small boat allows you to not only reach fish in remote areas where the bass are less molested; it also is subtle enough that you are not so apparent when you approach a big fish. It presents much less of a presence in the water because it's small and light, which also means that it takes less power to move the boat around. That means less disturbance in the water. Everything has to be right to catch a 10-pound bass, but it begins with being as inconspicuous as possible."
The charm of small boat fishing has survived and flourished since the sport's infant days. Despite the popularity of the fiberglass big rigs, small boats (particularly aluminum) continue to dominate the annual sales figures.
It is the reason small boat clubs have popped up all over the country (like the Fort Worth Mini-Boat Club, Longhorn Mini-Boat Club, Small Boat Bass Club in Omaha and the Florida Pond Jumpers), where big boats and motors are not allowed. Attend one of their tournaments and you will likely see aluminums, inflatables, hard plastic miniboats, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and even tubes.
These little boats are perfect for situations like Florida's extensive network of canals, farm ponds in Georgia, floating Tennessee smallmouth creek streams, and shallow water tidal conditions all along the marshy coastal areas.
There is plenty to like about small boats, particularly their cost, ease of transportation to the lake and stealthy maneuverability on the water. Not to mention the lessons they teach.
"One of the things it will teach you is to figure out how to catch fish because you don't have the luxury of running all over the lake," says Evers, a four time Bassmaster Classic qualifier now living in Oklahoma. "A small boat makes you a better angler because you have to develop a way to catch them wherever you are. That's where you're stuck for the day, so you've got to figure out a way to get them to bite.
"It taught me a lot about patience and fishing slow. There are a lot more fish in an area than you realize. A lot of times people go through an area in a big boat and catch one or two and just keep going. In that small boat, you kind of work that area all day long, and you find that there is a whole lot more fish in any given spot than most fishermen realize."
Evers credits his Fishin' Pal boat with enabling him to catch numerous trophy-class bass that he never would have reached in a full-size boat.
Jim Haynes can relate to that. A member of the Longhorn Mini-Boat Club, the electrical contractor from Mesquite, Texas, often carries his little boat aboard his 20-foot fiberglass craft and then launches it to penetrate the heavily timbered sections of various Lone Star State lakes.
A growing number of knowledgeable fishermen now take a two boat approach to their favorite lake or reservoir. They use a larger, faster fiberglass boat to get to the more remote upriver sections of the impoundment and then switch to an aluminum boat to penetrate the smaller sections where most anglers fear to tread.
That maneuverability has become more evident in recent years on the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, where aluminum jetboats are showing up more often in river tournaments. Last April, Randy Howell won the inaugural CITGO Bassmaster Elite 50 event on Lake Dardanelle by using a Triton 1860 aluminum and an 80-hp Mercury jet-powered outboard to reach an inaccessible pond loaded with spotted bass.
"I learned an important lesson in that tournament," the Alabama pro notes. "I plan on keeping this boat as a backup for tough, shallow water tournaments. It amazes me how these boats can get you to water that you never dreamed accessible."