I’ve been experiencing boat regionalism the past few weeks. I just got back from a session on the Lake of the Ozarks, where every aluminum fishing boat is of the low-profile, mod-V style. But back home in Oshkosh, where boats have been gunwale to gunwale this week on the Fox River for the spring walleye run, all I can see are deep-V-style boats. We finally got a nice day on the Monday after Easter, and from the bridge I could count 48 boats on the river. Only one was a flat-bottom jon boat.
This makes me wonder why there’s such a pronounced regional preference for each style of boat. Why wouldn’t an angler frequenting the big and often rough water of the Lake of the Ozarks consider a V-style boat? Why don’t I see many mod-V boats in Wisconsin?
For an opinion, I went to John Metcalf, who recently retired as vice president of marketing at Lowe Boats after a 20-year stint at that company, the end of a 37-year career that also included time at Tracker and OMC. Metcalf has not spent his life in the South. He and I met when we both worked at OMC in Waukegan, Ill., so he has a multi-regional perspective.
“I think that regionalism is mostly tradition,” said Metcalf. “You tend to buy the same kind of boat your grandfather and your father had, and the kind of boat others around you have. And in the South, you could thank Johnny Morris for putting everyone in a mod-V.”
Morris is the founder of Bass Pro Shops, who in 1978 introduced his first Bass Tracker boats, 16- to 17- foot-long aluminum mod-V fishing rigs that were very affordable and remain popular today with what could be a third generation of angler. Many of those early Bass Tracker owners moved up from a smaller jon-type boat, perhaps with bench seats and a tiller-steer outboard.
A jon boat, by definition, has a flat bottom, a design Metcalf points out is very easy and inexpensive to build. “It’s really just four pieces, the bottom, two sides, and a transom, in wood or aluminum,” he says. “A lot of them were made at home out of plywood. Before the advent of big impoundments, in the South you did a lot of fishing on rivers, and a jon boat is great for that. It does not draw much water and is easy to pull over snags. The ride is rough, but the water on a river is usually smooth.”
Give a jon boat a little bit of V on the bow as it enters the water, and you’ve got a modified-V hull, which has most of the stability and shallow draft of a jon, but with a softer ride. And the low freeboard puts an angler close to the water, to better lip a bass.
Get north of Iowa –call it the “mod-V line” – and the fishing conditions change. It can be mighty brisk at the beginning and end of the season – there was still snow on the shore in Wisconsin last weekend. There’s more action on lakes than rivers, which means rougher water. The environment puts a premium on a soft and dry ride. You use a net, not your hand, to get a toothy pike into the boat. And, of course, grandpa had a deep-V Lund. So that’s what you want. Boat regionalism? I’d say it’s 50 percent nature, 50 percent nurture.