Veteran Fisherman Takes Flats Canoe to Higher Level
By Tim Chapman, The Miami Herald
Mar. 27–Fisherman Ron Hyde of Homestead wasn’t thinking about the environment or conserving fuel when he started designing a new motorized flats canoe with a tunnel hull to fish in shallow water. He just wanted to catch more fish.
Hyde, who has fished in skinny water from the Everglades to Alaska, likes to hunt fish in pockets where they hide in shallow water. That meant he needed a boat that would allow him to run in five inches of water.
No easy task. Also, no quick task.
Twelve years later, he has come up with a 23-foot canoe that gets up on a plane instantly without damaging the sea bottom, uses less than four gallons of gas all day on Keys flats and, according to Florida Keys guide Mike Gorton, who fishes on one of the canoes, “If there is a greener boat, I haven’t seen it yet.”
Gorton, who customized his canoe for the flats of the Lower Keys, easily maneuvered his vessel recently as a passenger caught a 29-inch bonefish and a permit on fly. The custom-designed boat was in fishing waters, he said, he could not get to in his other flats boats.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Certainly, the strange-looking canoe draws some stares.
On one trip, two guys in a high-end flats boat powered with 150 horsepower outboards stared, then smiled, as they passed the long, strange craft. They headed around an island to fish a flat in about two feet of water.
Meanwhile, Gorton cut the power to his “Seminole” canoe and started poling in about six inches of water.
You can easily guess who landed the better catches — it wasn’t the guys with the big horsepower.
Hyde has spent much of his lifetime fishing out of canoes, a passion of his for more than 50 years. Tinkering (actually, a lot more than tinkering) with canoe design has brought Hyde a lot of successful catches — along with a lot of satisfaction. He wanted to take the ancient and versatile canoe design and fit it with the modern technology of a tunnel hull, allowing his Seminole to keep the prop in a bulge of water almost even with the transom and off the bottom in the shallow water he loves to fish. Hyde’s canoe fishing has taken him from Alaska to Everglades National Park.
Gorton, who has been a guide for 25 years, said about the flats canoe, “I can’t tell you how much fun this boat is to fish,” as he poled in shallow water hunting for permit and bonefish in the Lower Keys with friend Armand Boyer.
As Gorton searched for fish by working hidden troughs, he spotted a permit that was not spooked by the canoe. However, Boyer’s cast landed just behind the fish and it moved off. The next attempt to land a catch was aided by the maneuverability of the canoe. The boat pivoted quickly when Gorton ran upwind to get in front of a pod of fish moving fast across a flat. They were not eating, so Gorton whipped the craft back around and worked the tide just off the island.
A permit came within 10 feet of the boat and did not seem alarmed. Gorton said he has had permit and redfish come up under the canoe to seek shade.
“I’ve owned several flats boats and none of them can fish the skinny water like this thing without hitting the bottom,” Gorton said.
HAVING A BLAST
Ned Kaplan, a regular client of Gorton’s, fished the last week of February out of the Seminole with his 8-year-old son and said that in six hours they saw about two dozen bonefish and two permit.
“They saw me, not the canoe,” said Kaplan, who owns his own 18-foot flats boat but prefers to fly-fish with Gorton. “We fished in shallow water, got right up to the fish with less damage to the flats and the boat does not slap while you’re fishing and spook the fish. My son had a blast.”
The Seminole has a 16-gallon gas tank in the bow and Hyde said he can run all the way to Tarpon Bay, fish all day and back to Flamingo and burn about five gallons of gas. Other boats would use almost 30 gallons.
The flats canoe is made of fiberglass and can be outfitted with different configurations, weighs about 480 pounds without the motor and about 1,200 pounds with console, platforms, removable seats, gas and motor.
The cost of the basic hull is about $15,000 without the motor or trailer but can go up depending on what extras are added.
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