Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 29, 2013

Bob Gwizdz: Custom river boat boat perfect for steelhead fishing

ALLEGAN — Miles Hanley is a bass fisherman and, as you night guess, spends a lot of time in a bass boat. But when autumn arrives — and the steelhead begin heading upstream — Hanley is glad to switch gears and target the rainbows.

The bass boat is not exactly well suited to the technique he prefers, running plugs back in the current. And, with well-appointed river boats costing nearly as much as bass boats, well, a guy can’t afford two top-of-the-line rigs, now can he?

So Hanley — a boat salesman at D & R Sports Center in Kalamazoo — went in another direction; he decided to build a river boat, starting with a heavy duty johnboat (a 17-foot Tracker Grizzly). He fabricated a front/center console, built a structure for rod holders for the stern, put a 40-horse jet drive Mercury on it, a winch on the front for the anchor, and wound up with what he describes as an “affordable” river boat.

“This one, as rigged, is about $18,000, but I’ve got a lot of expensive accessories,” Hanley explained. “I’ve got a $700 fish finder, a $1,500 trolling motor and even the rod holders cost $95 apiece. You could save money by going with a prop (outboard). You could get by with less — around $15,000.”

Hanley invited me to check out his creation on the Kalamazoo River recently, where he’s been beating up on steelhead this season. So on a cold, rainy, pre-deer season day, I joined him.

We ran plugs; Hanley was using Brad’s Wigglers, West Coast crankbaits that bear a strong resemblance to Wiggle Warts but are available in some colors that Storm doesn’t offer. That was the key; “sometimes color makes all the difference,” he said.

It started slowly. For two hours, beginning shortly after dawn, we did nada.

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