Smaller May Be Better



Is it ego, a desire to keep up with the Joneses, or is it a sense that a larger vessel offers more stability and security? 

Whatever the reason, most boat owners follow a progression from small, inexpensive boats on up to larger, more imposing vessels. Yet there are those of us who have been headed in the opposite direction.

Recently, I received this email from one of our web site visitors, asking:

“Why did you choose a 14-ft. boat vs. let’s say a 16-18 ft. model considering the amount of fishing you do?


Here was my response:

Dear Roger:

Where most people move up the ladder from little boats to the larger and more expensive vessels, I have gone in the other direction.

During my days as an offshore charter skipper, I owned a massive 35-ft flybridge sportfisherman type vessel. It had twin diesels and, though it was comparatively economical, it still consumed several gallons of fuel each trip. In addition there was the maintenance, slip rental, etc., all eating me out of house and home.

With the success of my radio show and my newspaper and fishing magazine articles, I was too busy and got out of the charter business, unloading the big boat. It is often said that selling a boat is “the second happiest day.” But, believe me, it was “THE happiest day” when the new owner took that big expensive monster off my hands.

My next vessel was a 24-ft SeaRay Laguna, a great offshore vessel. But soon I’d gotten hooked on flats fishing. Selling the SeaRay, I then purchased a sharp, but quite pricey Silverking flats boat. It was so pretty and well finished, I found myself spending huge gobs of time taking care of every little ding and nick, plus polishing the hull regularly.

It was also at that time that I was getting well known via the radio show and in print. Several guides were eager to take me fishing for publicity. Thus I found myself using that fancy Silverking very little. So that vessel was sold.

I was without a boat for quite a period of time. After a while, however, when I had the urge to go on some last minute fishing trips, I couldn’t. Then one day I went fishing with Tom Merryweather, formerly of 12-Fathom Jigs, in his small, but comfortable 14 ½-foot Johnsen skiff. I thought it was a neat, quite well constructed boat. That’s it, I said, the perfect yet inexpensive vessel I needed.

So Tom put me in touch with the company that makes the Johnsen in Groveland, Florida, and I purchased the same14-½ foot model. One of the bonuses was that it didn’t need a separate insurance policy. With boat, motor and trailer, the cost was under $3500 and thus could be insured under my homeowner’s policy,

Though small, the “Front Porch,” as we have named it, is quite comfortable. It has two bass seats, one fore and the other aft, plus all the room the late Canoeman and I needed to fish. The Johnsen was able to ride through some very skinny water and the fish that we caught don’t know that we’re fishing out of so small and inexpensive a boat. It ran really well using a 25 HP Mercury outboard, which sipped gas. Then when the Canoeman passed away, I decided to sell the boat. However, though some strange twist of fate, my good friend “Fireman John” Litz would up with my old vessel — and I still enjoy fishing with him out of the the original “Front Porch.”

These days, Johnsen boats are no longer manufactured — but many might still be available on the used boat market.

Now there is a down side to a smaller vessel like this. Since the bottom is quite flat, it can beat you the death in a choppy open bay. So, when we wanted to go from “Point-A” to “Point-B” we would just haul it out of the water and launch at a ramp closer to our next spot. It was so small and light and launches very quickly and easily.

But the best part of being in a modest-looking boat is that very few other anglers think you know what you are doing. They rarely drive their boats right up on top of you when you’re fishing. I’m sure they conclude that, since you’re in such a cheap looking vessel, you probably don’t know as much as the guys in those nifty, expensive flats boats with towers and poling platforms. And, frankly, that’s exactly the way we liked it!

Capt. Mel Berman