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.