Casey Smartt's Fly Fishing, Photography, & Outdoor Stuff

The Sensible J-16

The day I sold my last flats skiff and bought my first kayak, I swore I would never again own another power boat. Nope, from here on out it was going to be nothing but calorie-powered kayaks and canoes for me. No gas tank to fill, no trailer to register, no flat tires or bearings to fix… what a deal!

But sadly, I am afflicted with the same defect as every other fisherman- we love boats. We can’t live without boats. And no matter how many times we cuss our addiction and swear to our spouses we’re off boats for good, the catalogues start trickling back in, the phone calls start, and we end up buying another one. After all, if we don’t have a good boat sitting in driveway, “Somethin’ just ain’t right.”

So… as an afflicted fisherman with a full garage and an empty driveway, I started making phone calls and researching my next inevitable purchase. I was looking for a small skiff that was simple, clean, and easy to outfit. Because the boat would be dedicated to fly fishing, it needed smooth decks with no line-snagging accessories. I wanted tiller steering to save interior space and eliminate the headaches of cables and moving parts.

You know those badass split rocket-looking flats boats with edgy sounding names? Yeah, well… not even a remote consideration for my budget. Not even close. My next boat had to be inexpensive to buy, insure, and operate. It had to be affordable and sensible (if there is such a thing).

Using those criteria, I reduced my choices down to essentially 2 options- the good old 1650 aluminum johnboat, or a fiberglass Carolina Skiff J16. Having already owned and operated many aluminum boats, I went with the J16.

The Carolina Skiff J16’s have been around for years. Manufactured in Waycross, GA, J16’s are basically no-frills flatbottom fiberglass utility skiffs. J16 hulls weigh approx. 350 lbs and measure 15’8 long with a 64-inch beam. The floor width is 50 inches. The J16 capacity is rated at 1015 lbs (motor/persons/gear). There is no wood within the hull of the J16 (although the add-on decks do contain wood) and the floors are foam-filled. The hulls are stable and reliable and will float in very shallow water, but like most flatbottom boats they’ll bang you in a stiff chop. In short, J16’s are tough and rough.

When I was visiting with dealers, I called my friend Chuck Uzzle to get his advice. Without hesitation, Chuck suggested I talk to The Boat Ramp in Port Neches about J16’s or “J-Boats,” as they called them, so I did. I was pleased. The Boat Ramp had plenty of J16’s in stock, their prices were competitive, and they communicated with me in an up-front and honest manner. That was good enough for me. I pulled the trigger.

I selected a J16 hull with a 20” transom (there is also a model with a 15” transom) and added to it large factory-built front and rear decks. For power I chose the quiet and efficient Suzuki 25 hp 4-stroke and rigged it with a three-blade stainless prop and portable 6-gallon tank. With a galvanized trailer and spare tire, the rig came in under $6500.00.

Like most new boats, the new J16 took a bit of “getting used to” on the water. Speed was no problem. The Suzuki 25 propelled the boat, me, and my gear along at around 28 mph. With a second adult passenger and his gear, the speed dropped down to around 24 mph. That is plenty fast in one of these boats. The biggest challenge was learning how much speed you could get away with in a stiff chop before bow spray started blowing back on you. The J16 has always had a reputation for bow spray, and for good reason- they will get you wet. But, the key is to throttle back. These flatbottom hulls are simply not designed to cleanly tackle rough water. You will get racked and sprayed if you try… guaranteed.

After logging some time in the J16, I started adding on a few extras. I installed 4 Scotty flush mount bases to the back of the rear deck. This way I could pop out the removable fly rod holders from my kayaks and use them on the J16 too. I almost never carry more than 2 rigged rods, but it is nice to have the option of storing 4 rods ready to go. I also installed several small non-line-snagging stainless steel U-bolts through the top plate of the gunnels to serve as tie downs for drift socks or anchors.

For extra seating and dry/drink storage, I rigged out 2 Igloo 48-quart coolers with foam seats. Rather than mount eyelets to the floors to secure the coolers, I bought about 10 bucks worth of no-slip rubber mat and cut it to fit the bottom of the coolers. This way, the coolers could be moved to different locations of the boat and easily removed at the end of the day. Best of all, the floor was left intact with no penetrations to potentially wick in water or condensate over time.

I am currently having a welder friend fabricate a removable aluminum poling platform that will attach to either the front or rear deck of the boat via sturdy turnbuckle style rigging. Although J16’s will float quite shallow, they are wide and flat and by no means “technical” poling skiffs… more like pokeboats. So… a poling platform has not really been an urgent priority.

Fly fishing from the J16 has been comfortable and convenient and the boat can easily and neatly handle two large adults. The front and rear decks sit up high and are roomy and accommodating with no obstructions to snag fly line. Unlike aluminum, the fiberglass hull is quiet and has a solid reliable feel. It also does not get hot in the sun like aluminum.

So what are my thoughts overall? The main negative associated with the J16 is the rough wet ride. It will require you to modify your driving. The fit and finish on the decks of the boat are somewhat crude, but they make up for it in strength and simplicity. One other downside is that while the J16 floats shallow, the long shaft motor requires a jackplate to run shallow. This is a non-issue for me because I don’t motor over shallow water, but some may find it to be a problem.

On the positive side the J16 is smooth, clean and mostly fly friendly. The casting decks are roomy with plenty of storage below. The hull is lightweight, stable, and tough. The J16’s sticker price is low and the resale market is strong. It’s an easy boat to trailer, cheap to insure, and cheap to operate.

The bottom line? In my opinion the J16 is a sensible boat for fly fishing that won’t sink the bank.

13 Responses to “The Sensible J-16”

  1. jason dosher

    did you ever get the removable poling platform? i have a j-16 and am looking for some ideas on one.

    • caseysmartt

      Hello Jason. Thanks for writing.

      Yes, I did get a removable platform for the boat. I made it myself. The platform is made from 1″ galvanized pipe fitted together with elbows at the top. I welded two cross braces at the top to hold the two sets of legs together and provide addition surface to bolt the top. The top is made from 3/4 Luan plywood. It is painted and strips of non-slip tape are applied to the top. Rubber chair leg caps are slippped over the legs. It fastens to the rear deck via a stainless turnbuckle. A stainless eyebolt runs through the deck and a wingnut and large washer holds it in place under the deck. It is rock solid and works great. I sit or lean on it under power. It does not interfere with the tiller arm or steering the motor and can be easily removed.


  2. Brad

    Great boat! I have a bare J16 that I’m getting ready to rig up. Just wondering how the large rear deck is with the tiller steer. Looks like you mounted a seat base on the deck? I have an old Johnson 20 with a pretty short arm. Just wondering if you sit or stand when motoring and if it works well with the large deck. Thanks!

    • caseysmartt

      Hello Brad. The large rear deck worked well for me. It was a light stretch to reach the motor. A high quality tiller extension would have been a nice addition, but I could not justify spending the $ on it when what I already had worked fine. With the small poling/casting platform attached, I sat or leaned on it to operate the motor. With the platform removed, I just sat on the deck and reached back to the tiller arm. The large deck is great for standing and casting. Plenty of room. Another configuration would be to mount a grab bar in front of the deck and then use an extension on the motor. I did not do this on mine because I did not want to penetrate the floor with any screws. The floors are completely sealed and foam filled. Through expansion and contraction in the heat/cold they will suck in moisture over time if the floor has been drilled.


  3. James Widel

    I am an avid kayak and center console fisherman up here in Virginia Beach and I was curious to see if you are still happy with your skiff or would have done anything differently. I am looking at several boats with the J16 seeming to be the most economical choice. I like your exact set-up and clutter free design.


    • caseysmartt

      Hello James. I sold my J-16 a couple years ago. It was a good boat for fishing protected inshore waters. Stable, shallow draft, easy to fish out of. Wet in rough water though… J-16’s suffer from a bit of bow spray in a chop, more than a standard 1650 aluminum Jon.

      I was running a Suzuki 25 four stroke on mine, got around fine. Rigged up simple and kept light and uncluttered, they are pretty slick little fishing skiffs. Perfect for two adult anglers and a reasonable amount of gear. With 3 adults and/or a bunch of ice chests, marine batteries, etc… They get sluggish real quick. Also, probably wise not to penetrate the floor with screws. Foor is foam filled and is completely sealed, but it will inevitably suck water around the screws when it expands/contracts in hot/cold weather.

      If you keep them clean and light j-16’s are great little boats.

      Hope that helps,

  4. Jeff Perkins

    Hey Casey ….I got a great deal on a j16 back in October ..I live on Escambia River 16 miles N. of Pensacola ..tons of slews, lakes , bayous , bays etc close by …can’t wait for a warm day to get some Reds and specks …plan to catfish in the deep holes of the river here , but mostly drift fishing over the grass ….I like your set up …mine has the big deck fwd. but the seat in rear and mid…I may remove the mid. bench seat …plan to fly fish as well …..thanks for the great ideas on the boat …Jeff

  5. Chuck Perry

    Excellent info, very informative. I’ve been fishing out of a Yak here in Tampa for the past 5 years and have had enough of paddling all of the time. Am looking for something with more room, a small motor and won’t cost a fortune and the J16 looks like it. Just curious as to why you sold yours, Casey, was it to move on to a different boat or did you have something you did not like about it (besides the spray)? Thanks again for the information, very useful to someone like myself.

    • caseysmartt

      Hello Chuck.

      I sold the J-16 because I got busy with some new projects at work and didn’t have time to use it enough. Boats need to be used to stay in shape. Wish I still had it. Loved that boat.

      • Chuck Perry

        Sounds good Casey, thanks. I hear you about needing to use a boat often, as letting it sit for a few weeks or a month not good for the boat, especially the engine. Thanks again for your excellent review on the J16.

  6. Burt

    As I was reading this I thought, man,,, I could have written this. I’m on the same path. We always had a boat, then when the financial downturn hit in 2009 I sold the boat and the truck and have been kayak fishing ever since. But the boat bug has bitten and I’m looking to buy something small and simple. I’ve been looking at the J16. But I live in upstate NY and the big water up here tends to be rough a lot of the time so may go with a tiller aluminum V hull. The thing I like about the J16 is the front deck, flush to the top of the gunwale, roomy, and smooth. Still deciding I guess. I enjoyed reading this, nicely done.

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