Going aluminum on Douglas

As I write this all three of these guys are somewhere far up the French Broad River, fishing from their very tricked out aluminum tunnel hull rigs. The guys, from left, are Sklyar Hamilton, Mike Watson and Ott DeFoe.

Tunnel hull rigs are part of a unique culture here in East Tennessee. The tunnel hulls create more lift, so much in fact, that these three boats all will run in about 3 inches of water.

“It’s more necessity than convenience,” explained Watson, who runs a welding and fabrication business in nearby Bluff City, Tenn. Watson is sought for his skills and expertise in tweaking the rigs to run shallower, faster and generally provide tournament anglers with an edge.

“It’s a whole different world up there [on the river],” added Hamilton, who lives in Dandridge.

“You get about a three-pound average with the largemouth and the smallmouth are bigger than average,” said DeFoe, who lives in nearby Knoxville.

The latter fish is key. The anglers are allowed to bring in one smallmouth measuring at least 20 inches.

Is the risk worth the reward?

It was for DeFoe, who ran his aluminum rig up the French Broad to win the 2014 Open held here.

The difference this week is water clarity. Smallmouth thrive, and bite, in swift, clear water. This week much of the river is running swift and muddy. A deluge from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey dumped lots of rain into the watersheds surrounding the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The runoff is just beginning to show signs of clearing.

So we shall see how the boom-or-bust day goes for the guys running aluminum rigs. Watson, who works on most of the rigs, said at least 8 of his jobs are in use this week.

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