Three years ago, I sat in my new jetboat at anchor with 2 buddies enjoying a lukewarm beer under intense Ohio summer conditions. We were several hours from home, the fishing was more of an exploration than anything, and in the usual fashion, the discussion was firmly centered on the next trip. North or South? Warm water or cold? What never came into the discussion was the potential quality of fishing. It just wasn't important.
Every now and then we have someone tell us that "You did it wrong" or try to impress upon us that they catch more or bigger fish than we do. Well guess what: You've got us all wrong.
It was in that spirit that we found ourselves sitting around a campfire on a sand bar in Southeast Ohio drinking Jameson, 30 miles up a river during a storm front, watching a river rise and blow to brown, and not caring in the slightest. A great adventure is it's own reward.
Much of our spring here in Ohio has been a complete shit show for weather and Memorial Day weekend was no different. Several days in a row of light rain that saturated the entire state was polished off on Friday night with a massive storm cell that dumped multiple inches of rain over 2/3 of Ohio causing nearly every reasonable river to blow off the scales. Guides cancelled trips, friends bailed on weekend plans, but here at The Jetboat Chronicles, we simply revised our goals, and loaded up the truck. The new plan? Have no plan.
The next morning we dove back roads & dirt paths, followed rivers we had never paid any attention to, even stopped at an autocross track and had a conversation with the owner about using his track hoe to make a ramp out of the back of his property into a river that had no access. At one point we had to back up the trailer almost a full mile when a single lane road dead ended. In the end we followed blue lines on a map for 9 hours, finishing our trip a mere 2 hours from where we started.
We eventually launched the boat just up from the confluence of the Ohio River, and ran over 35 miles upstream in a river with a chalky green color and nearly 3' of visibility. There's something exceptional about running water you've never seen before. Every stretch of river is new, and the mind races with the possibilities that new water holds. Each uncharted wood filled bend is as much a chance for optimism about fishing as it is a death trap. It's the duality that keeps it interesting.
At the end of the day, fish were caught, beers were drank, and laughs were had, and we did it while people who surely knew more stayed home. There's always someone who has more knowledge, more experience, or more success... But I don't know many people who have more fun. We posted up on a sandbar, made camp, and laughed about the days adventures over a fresh bottle of whisky, and talked about how we wanted to approach the river in the morning.
While we camped, mother nature took hold and several more storms upstream washed copious amounts of mud into the river. We woke the next morning to water that had crept up its banks and worse, taken on the color of chocolate milk. Fishing was toast, but we hadn't made the run for the fishing. We made the run to be the first people to put a boat into the "Butts Run" tributary... But that's a story for another time.
In the end, don't lose sight of WHY you head to the river. Some people are always on the hunt for the biggest fish, others head out to make a living, but far more seek a moment of quiet and solace that only being in nature can provide. No matter why you fish, do it your way for your reasons. Just remember the next time you're boasting about your knowledge: You're saying you're smarter than people who spent 2 days, and over a hundred miles by truck and jet boat in un-fishable conditions to find Butt's Run. You're smarter than that. Congratulations.
Several years ago I took my first real fly fishing"vacation". A few quick flights & one water taxi later I found myself on Ambergris Caye, Belize. With luxury accommodations at El Pescador, I spent my days on the front of a Panga with my guide Luiz Paz chasing tarpon & bones, and bellied up to the bar telling tales of the days adventures through the evening. For a week, in my mind, I was Ernest Hemingway.
That's why a few years later when asked by my buddy Jeff if I wanted to head South to Florida and do some fishing, I quickly answered "Hell yes"... I figured having been led by the hand to fish by a 3rd generation professional guide, and eating catered breakfasts every morning in Belize, I was a pro.
I should clarify that Jeff is an experienced salt water angler. He has more hours in small craft on big water than I had in any boat period, so I assumed I was in responsible, tenured hands for this trip. I learned a lot about Jeff in the Everglades but those are tales for another time.
20 hours non-stop driving through the night and we found ourselves at the ramp in Matlacha for some "warm-up" fishing before heading further South. We dropped my 13' gheenoe in, fired up the mid-1970s Johnson outboard, and we were off. 3 days were spent running mangrove creeks, chasing tailers in low tides, jumping sunrise baby poon, and pounding mangrove banks for snook... Never more than 2 miles away from the nearest water front bar or inhabited area. With spirits high, we packed up the gear, trailered the boat, and headed to the Everglades. We met some friends for beers at the Everglades International Hostel after arriving in Homestead and in the morning headed into the park towards Flamingo.
It's almost impossible to explain the feeling of the Everglades; the silence of Florida Bay or the sense of isolation back in the mangroves. As we wound our way into the back country, mile after twisting mile of mangrove creeks into Hells Bay, I realized that we were without cell phone coverage and had been for miles before we were even to the boat ramp. We had no detailed map as one doesn't exist. The everglades change after every storm, an ever evolving labyrinth of living mangrove highways.
We had ourselves, fly rods, a small hull to stand in, and a few gallons of fuel.
At first a sense of panic came over me. We were surely lost, no way of finding our way out. I'd never see my wife and kids again. Then I realized that although any number of things may be true in time, the one thing that certainly was true in the moment was that I was no longer in control of it all. The Everglades gave me something in that moment that I had never had in such a large dose before: Perspective.
So we fished.
It's clear that we did indeed find our way out of the back country. But, that lesson of living in that moment was one that has stuck with me long after we escaped the mangroves. Put down the cell phone, don't worry about the next bend in the river, worry less about what's coming tomorrow and focus on what's happening in front of you right now.
We fished several more days out of Flamingo both inside the maze of the park, and outside in expanses of Florida Bay. Each day was an adventure, sometimes because of incredible fishing, and others due to breathtaking views. Every day we were rewarded with something. No day in the Everglades is ever a wasted day.
On our final day in an effort to squeeze in every minute possible of fishing, we fished until twilight, loaded the boat, and drove straight home through the night directly from the ramp. I've been back to the Everglades every year since that first trip, and every year no matter the weather or fishing conditions, I always leave with a fresh batch of perspective to see me through the year.
I was told long ago that the surest way to destroy the pleasure of a hobby is to make if a job. There's a lot of honesty in that statement. There are countless examples of individuals who thrived & excelled at a skill and made the move to monetize their time only to find themselves years later unhappy & disconnected from what got them started.
It was with those lessons in the forefront of my thoughts as I responded to a question from a supporter of our group who asked: "What are your plans with The Jetboat Chronicles? Are you guys planning to start guiding or what?".
My answer was simple: "The Chronicles are about connecting, not charging."
Sure, we've been asked to do guided trips before, and every time we've given the referral to our favorite fly shop. Those guys make a living on the water, and it's not an easy one. The last thing they need is some know-nothing asshole like me calling myself a guide and taking bread off their table. Besides they owe us money for old bar tabs... so tip big folks.
That act of connecting people is something that I hope The Jetboat Chronicles becomes known for. Want to fish trout in Tennessee? We know a guy. How about tarpon in Florida? We got him too. How about killer graphics on your boat? Her name's Alisha, and we can get you her cell phone number. I've found many of my most meaningful adult relationships though and around fly fishing, and I want to create a culture movement around that.
At the heart of who I hope The Jetboat Chronicles grows up to be, is the simple principle of honesty. Trying to sell fishing trips or push our new spring fashion line will only get in the way of that. We never want someone to wonder if something we created was meant to push a product, or influence an opinion. We create because we want to, not because a marketing agreement requires it.
We are here to give you a video to talk about with friends. We're here to give you a referral to someone who can help you learn to become a better fly angler. We're here to connect people within our amazing sport.
We're also selling t-shirts... Because beer ain't free.
A footnote about our "Sponsors":
How can we say that we're not here to push a brand or product when we're promoting brands on our website & mentioning them in our videos? The answer is simple. These are people & companies that have supported our core message and get behind who we are. They haven't paid for the spot, and there's no marketing dollars being funneled our direction. It's just our way of saying "thanks".
For those that don't know, the jet boat featured in out videos is a 2015 StealthCraft Power Drifter. Some of the original options on our sled included 16'x54" hull, kevlar liner bottom, matte carbon veil, full drift boat interior layout, 9'6" Sawyer V-Lam Oars, Minnkota Power Winch, and a Mercury 60/40 jet with the big tiller option.
She was lovingly named "The Plaid Kraken"
This boat has served us incredibly well, and honestly has been about as bullet-proof as you could expect based on how we ran it. It made treks into Northern Michigan, and as far south as Flamingo & Florida Bay in South Florida. It did it all, and did it well. But this season we knew we were going to as more from her than we did in seasons past.
So the first thing that needed to happen was we needed sone additional floorspace. The drift boat interior was great in some applications, but what we really found we needed was versatility. The rear seat box had become less used for storage & sitting and more of a nuisance. The seat was used as a grab bar during hairy runs and that's about it. We sent it up to the boys at StealthCraft who cut out the back seat, and re-gel coated the rear deck. When they were done it looked like it had never been there, & it gave us options for rigging based on what adventure we were planning.
Next up was an upgraded anchor mount post, and a switch from direct pull to a pulley system. The original Minnkota was only rated for up to 40 lbs of anchor weight, and some of the monster water we've got on the schedule just isn't going to work with that small of a boat-stopper. This new set-up lets us hang a 65lb pyramid off the front of the boat.
Next up was addressing the oars. We had been faithfully using a set of composite shaft 9'6" Sawyer V-Lams. To be honest they were great for bigger deeper water, but we found the long thin blades resulted in not much bite when it was needed most for us in shallow fast moving water. To top that the oars seemed a bit short, meaning that they had a pretty steep angle of attack in the water. We opted to go with something that was new to market but has been getting RAVE reviews: a Pro-Lok 10' oar system. For those unfamiliar, these oars are a completely different setup, and the full composite shafts and ride in a synthetic bushing assembly. What's even more amazing is that the entire shaft and blade assembly is something in the neighborhood of 3 pounds. That's not a typo.
The Jetboat Chronicles has ever pretended to be an alcohol free group, and in that vain we realized that there were not NEARLY enough places to set a beer when we made runs that didn't include leaving the leg braces in place (as each leg brace has 2 cup holders on it). We installed cup holders on the fore and aft decks. Seems simple, but honestly it's one of the best decisions we made. From holding pliers, shot, nippers... These things are the most effective & inexpensive upgrade we have done to date. We also went ahead and mounted our faithful bulldog beer opener onto the side of our Yeti to further ease access to bottled adult beverages. Twist caps are for hard lemonade and wine coolers.
So this piece isn't really an upgrade, but maybe should be considered more maintenance. The only shiny thing on this entire sled is the gorgeous gloss black Mercury outboard. Its cosmetic appearance has taken some serious abuse over the years. Most notably in 2016 when we attempted to take this 80" wide monster through some seriously backwater mangrove tunnels during our everglades trip. Between push pole scrapes & rogue mangrove branches she looked like a high schooler's jeep that had been keyed by an angry girlfriend. We broke out the orbital polisher, wet sanded the entire motor shell, and went to town. She still has some scars, but the results were definitely worth the time. While we were at it, we did an oil change, and cleaned up the jet foot grates and deep water fins.
But the upgrade that everyone seems to have lost their mind about is the Marine Mat flooring. A while back I met a guy by the name of Alex Russell, who was operating out of the Everglades International Hostel. While the conditions of that trip are for another time, some years later Alex began working with Joe Welbourne and the team at Carbon Marine in Florida. Carbon Marine is a dealer for Marine Mat, a closed cell PVA foam material that is non-skid, and looks flat gorgeous. I reached out to Alex and we figured out how we could get a custom layout done for my StealthCraft even though we're here in the frozen North, and they're sipping Coronas in the sand.
So the work is done, the Plaid Kraken is as clean as she'll ever be, and the 2017 season looks like it is breaking early with 65* weather in mid-February here in middle America. It's going to be an amazing season.
We Now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
It's been a hell of a winter. We've been working hard on a lot of "behind the scenes" work, but we miss doing what we started this whole adventure for... Friends, Fly Rods, and Fast Boat insanity. That's why we feel like it's important to tell you we're getting back to it, and back with a passion.
The Website launch, the Middle America Fly Fishing Swap Meet, & the Online Shop all were very needed things, and winter in Ohio is a great time to do it. But in the end we want to be on the water fly fishing and filming with friends.
We've got one last upgrade, and that's the final touches to the StealthCraft jet boat that will be wrapped up this week (Our partners at Carbon Marine shipped out new Marine Mats today), and immediately after you'll get part 2 of the jet boat walk through (Check out Part 1 here if you missed it) and then we're going to be back on the water for winter hybrids, winter pike, spring steelhead, and of course, our annual everglades trip.
So honestly, this event consumed us. Although we hosted it, it was the brain child of a good buddy of the Jetboat Chronicles, Scott Smallwood. Scott's a good dude, and pretty well plugged into the Fly Fishing Community here in central Ohio. He was able to quickly pull together a few great organizations to join us; from Project Healing Waters, to Central Ohio Fly Fishers (C.O.F.F).
All of his work, combined with our connections on organizing a venue and marketing the event was done in under 4 weeks, and we ended up with roughly 150 people through the door. Beer was consumed, gear was traded and sold, & the only real winner was the brewery we rented who made BANK on some seriously enthusiastic beer drinkers.
In short, it was an amazing event that did exactly what The Jetboat Chronicles is designed to do... bring together the community for some laughs & fellowship.
Because of this success, we've decided that it needs to be it's own "thing". For full information on the 2018 event, check our the social media page over on Facebook. Based on what we've heard from everyone surrounding the event. it's only going to grow. See you in 2018. Click below to follow along with updates as the 2018 event is planned.
The Jetboat Chronicles is proud to be organizing and sponsoring the Inaugural Middle America Fly Fishing Swap Meet. Just announced this week, the event will be the first of it's kind in the area.
Middle America Fly Fishing Swap Meet
When: January 28th, 2017 @ 10am - 3pm
Where: Zauber Brewing 909 W. 5th Ave, Columbus, Ohio 43212
Winter here in the midwest is a tough time for fly anglers, and with the annual Fly Fishing Film Tour usually making it's appearance in early March, it seemed logical to plan something to unite the community between the start of the cold season, and that event.
With the partnership & support of fellow sponsorship from Smith Fly and Mad River Outfitters, we're hoping for a great turnout. Be sure to check out the event page on Social Media, and the websites and social media of the other key sponsors.
- Mad River Outfitters - www.madriveroutfitters.com
- Smith Fly - www.smithfly.net
- The Jetboat Chronicles - www.thejetboatchronicles.com
We're having some issues with the ordering system we set up, and because of that we've pulled down the web store. Sorry for the delay, but until I'm 100% satisfied that every single person wanting gear is taken care of with no issues, I'm not comfortable having it up. Hopefully we will be back online in the coming weeks!
- Frenchy -