In-Fisherman Magazine


The Near Perfect Option For Shallow Water Rivers, Jet Boats For The Catfish Crowd - by Steve Hoffman

I CAN’T IMAGINE A BETTER SPOKESMAN FOR JET boats than Kevin Turner. He ran a flotilla of jets on shallow, rocky rivers from Minnesota to Alabama for almost two decades before he decided to design & build his own. “Before I knew it,” Turner says, “I had a yard full of boats and a big decision to make. I was convinced that the boat was not only unlike anything else on the market, but also was better, at least for the kind of fishing I do.”


 By the time I met Turner a year ago, he’d already spent several months learning the pitfalls of the boating industry. How difficult it is to compete with the big boys, whose names are as well known in fishing circles as Ford and Chevrolet to the general public. How difficult it is to deliver boats without a dealer network, especially when most dealers prefer to sell boats from larger manufacturers. And most surprising of all to Turner, how difficult it is to educate anglers on the merits of jet boats.

After our first conversation, I knew he was on the right track, but I also knew that the boat he’d already designed and built—a sleek looking bass boat with front and rear casting decks—wouldn’t work for most catfishermen. Turner, though, already was a step ahead, having begun development of another model he believed would light the fire of the small-river catfish crowd. After running that boat for six months, I think he might be right.

Powerful Possibilities
What can a jet do that a prop can’t? “They can maneuver in shallow water,” Turner says. “It’s as simple as that.” From a fishing perspective, he’s probably right. Some jet jockeys choose jets because they’re safer for swimmers and skiers, since there’s no risk of getting hit by a spinning propeller. Others think they’re more fun to drive, handling like a sprint car sliding around a dirt track. For catmen, though, jets are the river equivalent of a four-wheel drive truck.

There’s a downside, too, of course. Some jets are noisier and less efficient, and boat operators with years of experience with prop motors often find it difficult to learn the different handling characteristics. At least that’s the way things used to be. Jets still behave differently than props, but today’s jet motors—particularly inboards and four-stroke outboards—are much quieter and more efficient than those built a decade ago.

“Jets have a public relations problem,” Turner says, “mostly because more outboard jets than inboards are in use today. To make matters worse, many of the inboard aluminum boats sold during the past decade were equipped with car engines. In my opinion, neither of these options can match the performance of light weight inboards like the Mercury Sport Jet® for fishing shallow rivers.”

In-Fisherman Feature, Part 2

Performance Pointers
“Weight is a critical factor for jet boat performance,” Turner says. “The heavier the boat, the faster it has to move to stay on plane. A heavy jet boat still can run through shallow water, but high speeds aren’t safe on many smaller rivers, especially after dark. The weight factor virtually eliminates car engines from consideration for small-river fishing boats, another strike against larger outboards.”

“Comparing the weight carrying capacity of mixed-flow and pressure pumps is sort of like comparing a diesel truck engine to one from a sport car,” Turner adds. “The sport car performs best with light loads, while the heavy-duty truck is affected much less by additional weight. In fact, acceleration and top-end speed of the boats I’ve equipped with Sport Jets changes little, whether they’re full of gas, batteries, and fishing gear or running empty.”

Larger inboards also are easier to maneuver than large outboards, since the wheel on an inboard moves only the nozzle rather than the entire motor. The difference probably isn’t noticeable on open river stretches, but the added maneuverability can be an advantage when running rivers strewn with rocks, logs, and other obstacles. Tiller outboards are a nice option for smaller boats, but they’re less comfortable to operate than console models during long runs.

Most large outboards and some V8 inboards are available with power trim to adjust bow angle, but Turner says this isn’t necessary for Sport Jets. “The flow of water from the nozzle doesn’t have to contact the surface of the water to provide propulsion,” Turner continues. “With an outboard, lowering the angle of the nozzle lowers the bow while the boat’s coming onto plane, while raising the nozzle allows the bow to rise. Both tasks are better accomplished with the Sport Jet’s increased static thrust and trim tabs built into the bottom of the boat’s transom, eliminating extra hydraulic lines and cables that may snag limbs and other debris.”


In-Fisherman Feature, Part 3

Boat Basics
Most of the jet rigs used for catfishing are aluminum john boats equipped with outboard motors. “The real difference between my boat and a john boat,” Turner says, “is the reverse chine / delta pad /lifting strake bottom design. When a john boat’s on plane there’s lots of spray along the side of the boat. This spray sometimes is higher than the gunwales, depending on the size and speed of the boat, and represents unused energy. An advanced bottom design harnesses this energy by directing the spray back toward to the water, creating hydraulic pressure that provides more lift at slow to moderate speeds.

“I intentionally designed my boats with an exaggerated reverse chine to maximize this lifting effect and increase the amount of wetted surface while the boat’s planing,” Turner continues. “Veteran boat builders said that my reverse chine was too steep and wide, which increases drag and reduces top-end speed. They’re right, but I’m willing to sacrifice a few miles per hour from the top-end to increase low-speed shallow-water performance.”

The reverse chine also allows the boat to shut down in shallower water without contacting the bottom. Cut back the throttle on a flat-bottom rig and the boat immediately sinks into the water, even before coming to a full stop. Lifting strakes & reverse chines, though, continues to provide lift so long as there’s forward momentum. 

The point here isn’t to suggest that every catman—even every cat-man who fishes shallow rivers—needs a jet boat. If your fishing is confined to a stretch of river you know like the back of your hand and you’ve never so much as nicked a prop in all your years afloat, you probably don’t need a jet. But if you want to navigate virtually any stretch of any river with the same confidence as local anglers, a jet probably is the right choice.

“I like to think of jet boats as user friendly,” Turner concludes, “but people shouldn’t get the wrong idea about their capabilities. A skilled operator can go almost anywhere in a properly rigged jet boat, but my fishing rig isn’t designed for extreme boating. Run a jet the same way you would a prop and it probably will last a life-time. Best of all, with a basic knowledge of reading rivers, you’ll never have to worry about hitting rocks, sandbars, and other obstructions. If you can’t see it, you probably won’t hit it.”