This simple boat is the workhorse of the Southern sportsman.
Every Southern sportsman knows what a Jon boat is, but ask someone where they got their name and most will start scratching their head. Some say the design came from Norway, others claim the Jon boat is simply a scaled-down flat boat that was so popular on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the early 1800s. One legend has a man named Jon cut the pointed bow off of a flat-bottom skiff and replaced it with a blunt or square bow. The boat design became so popular everyone wanted a boat like Jon’s, thus the name "Jon’s boat" evolved to simply Jon boat or Johnboat. It is doubtful if the precise origin of the boat’s name can ever be verified, but most sportsmen could care less. They know they can count on it for everything from running trotlines to getting them to their duck blind.
The Jon boat proved ideal for leisurely float trips on the White and Buffalo Rivers in the Ozarks. The economy got a boost from visiting fishermen from the East who wanted to experience the excellent trout fishing and beautiful scenery on these and other rivers. Guiding vacationers on float trips lasting a week or more offered new opportunities to residents of the economically-strapped region. Boat builders have a hard time keeping up with the demand for the ever-increasing Jon boat orders from their guide customers. Many who experienced a float trip wanted one of these flat-bottom, square-bow boats to take back home with them. Soon the Ozark Jon boat could be seen in the rivers of different areas of the United States.
With the exception of materials, little has changed from the early Jon boat design. The early versions were made of planking and sealed with pitch. Today, most Jon boats are made from aluminum and are about as durable as any boat can be. Most manufacturers now offer a modified V-design softening the ride somewhat in choppy water, but the old, reliable flat-bottom design is still popular.
Jeremy Roberts with Backwoods Landing in Mooresville ((866) 355-4080 or backwoodslanding.com) is one of the foremost authorities on Jon boats in the country.
"We operate one of the largest Jon boat dealerships in the country and sell Jon boats built by WeldBilt. We have a lot of customers who are knowledgeable about what they need and we simply sell them what they ask for, but we have many who are not sure what they need for what they intend to do with the boat. For instance, there are welded and riveted boats on the market. We recommend the welded design. Riveted boats can work fine, but sooner or later many will leak around the rivet holes. A properly-constructed welded aluminum boat eliminates this problem," Roberts said.
"The Jon boat design is hard to beat for the diversified sportsmen.
"A typical customer of ours buys a boat to bass, crappie and catfish with during the spring and summer, and then will use it to duck hunt with in the winter. A lot of Jon boats are used by deer and turkey hunter to access isolated hunting territory that can’t be reached by road, also. The Jon boat is excellent for bay fishing, too. We sell a lot of the larger Jons to speckled trout and redfish fishermen. Some sportsmen prefer the flat bottom and some prefer the modified V-design. Trotliners, jug fishermen and bow fishermen prefer the flat-bottom. Those wanting a little softer ride like those fishing on larger waters lean toward the modified V. The modified V offers you a little more shock absorption in choppy water. More and more are now going to the modified V. The average sportsmen will probably not notice the difference in the stability in the modified V and the flat bottom, but the modified-V offers a noticeably softer ride in choppy water," Roberts said.
Aluminum Jon boats come in sizes from 10 feet to well over 20 feet with varying hull thicknesses and side heights. Sportsmen in rough choppy water should opt for a deeper boat. Those bass fishing in sheltered waters will tend to prefer less sidewall because the wind doesn’t blow them around as much. Hull thickness, which affects boat weight, must be considered also.
"For the average sportsmen the .080 hull thickness is more than adequate. This thickness is lighter than the .100 thicknesses and requires less horsepower and will go in shallower water. For those who are a little rougher on a boat or use it for commercial purposes will want the .100 hull thickness," Roberts explained.
Width is also an important factor when selecting a Jon boat. Roberts said one of their best sellers is the 16-foot long, 48-inch wide Jon boat equipped with a 20 h.p. motor.
"The trend today is to do away with the middle seat. If you are moving around in the boat, the middle seat gets in the way. You can add a chair if you have another party in the boat. Storage is another thing to consider. Rods, guns, jug fishing floats and other equipment can litter up a boat. Seats with storage under them helps keep a boat clutter free," Roberts added.
Trailering and maintenance are other factors Roberts said one should consider when buying any boat.
"Aluminum Jons are some of the lighter boats for their size. One can pull a fairly large Jon with a small car that just wouldn’t handle a heavy fiberglass model. Also, you don’t have to worry about applying gel-coats on an aluminum boat. The aluminum hull is basically maintenance-free. If you do puncture an aluminum hull, it will cost you less to repair it as compared to patching a fiberglass hull.
For the diversified sportsmen who require a multiple-use boat, one will do well to consider an aluminum Jon boat of an appropriate size.
Ben Norman is an outdoor writer from Highland Home.