If you’re looking for the perfect affordable, small hunting and fishing boat – something that is durable, portable and versatile, Jon boats will likely fit the bill for your boating needs. Jon boats are typically seen on fresh water lakes, inland waterways, swamps, rivers and ponds. In these environments they excel due to the fact that they can operate in very shallow water with small outboards or trolling motors, limiting disturbance to the surrounding underwater habitat and ecosystem. In this guide we’ll cover the basic design features and characteristics of Jon boats and the different models that anglers can choose from.
- Jon Boats Overview
- Origin Of The Name
- Types Of Jon Boats
- Jon Boats Equipment
- Kings of Shallow Draft Fishing
Jon Boats Overview
Above: A 2022 Lowe Roughneck 2070SC Jon boat for sale on Boat Trader by Water Werks Boat Sales in Country Club Hills, IL. Photo via Water Werks Boat Sales.
If you’ve been searching for the perfect versatile fishing machine for freshwater and calm, inland brackish waterways, you’ve hopefully already checked out our Fishing Boats Guide. By now you should be aware that there are specific types of boats designed for specific fishing situations, as most anglers know. Fishing the shallows is one tactic that garners a lot of attention because it’s popular throughout the fishing world in both freshwater and saltwater venues from coast-to-coast. Shallow water requires shallow draft boats – like Jon boats – that are quite often flat-bottom boats or boats with hulls similarly designed to access those skinny water hotspots without running aground. If you’re looking for something rugged to boot, Jon Boats might be better depending on your scenario than flats boats.
Although they’re designed largely for fresh water Jon boats can also be used in saltwater marshes and brackish water environments as well. However since these boats ride over the waves and not through them, they are definitely not designed for heavy seas or any significant waves really. Thus Jon boats should never be used out in the open ocean.
Jon boats generally have a flat bottom, unlike boats with V-bottom hulls, meaning they will not cut through the waves and will not handle chop or rough seas well at all. On the flip side, the advantage of a relatively flat-bottom hull is an extremely shallow draft and added stability on calm water. With a flat bottom, a boat won’t rock back and forth as easy as a small V-bottom aluminum boat may, making them more stable for casting in the shallows. Additionally, flat bottom Jon boats tend to have a broad bow area that is a great feature for casting and angling in tight spots, although it does make for a rougher ride, especially in chop.
Origin Of The Jon Boats Name
So how did Jon boats become known as “Jon” boats – was there an innovative boat builder named Jon, you may ask? Probably not. In fact, there is much debate over the origin of the name Jon boats, with various theories on how Jon boats got their label. The most popular theory seems to indicate the name originated around the Ozarks in the shallow Missouri Valley waters. Early vessels in this area were made of Jack wood, and as John is short for Jack, they became known over time as John boats, eventually dropping the “h” from the name.
Types of Jon Boats
The term “Jon Boat” encompasses a huge number of makes and models, and is often used more or less as a catch-all to include small boats that are open and have a flat (or nearly flat) hull bottom. There are other forms of flat-bottom boats that aren’t necessarily Jon boats (such as some skiffs, rowboats, and houseboats), but most Jon boats are by definition also flat-bottom boats.
Some Jon boats are simple utilitarian platforms that can be used for everything from clamming to construction work, while others are designed specifically for fishing. Many can be used in both freshwater and saltwater environments, though certain varieties are more commonly found in one or the other and some select models are made with hardware specifically designed for the marine environment while some others are not.
Taking these features into account, we can break Jon boats down into six basic categories:
- Hunting Boats (And Duck Hunting Boats)
- Aluminum Jon Boats
- Fiberglass Jon Boats
- Utility Jon Boats
- Wooden Jon Boats
- Jet Jon Boats
Looking at Jon boats designed to fit specifically into one of these categories or another, most models will share a lot of commonalities. Although they aren’t the most luxurious boats in the world, there’s a lot to love about their overall simplicity. Since they’re far from fancy they tend to be quite affordable, and in comparison to many other types of boats, are downright cheap.
Almost all Jon Boats utilize outboard power plants, so they’re reliable, easy to operate, and easy to maintain. And most Jon boats are also portable. Small ones can fit right in the bed of a pickup truck and even large Jon boats are usually easy to trailer, so you can head for distant waterways and test your fishing skills in a wide range of lakes, rivers, and bays. In addition to these broad categories, we can also break down Jon boats by characteristics like use-specific designs and construction materials.
Here are is a rundown of the more popular types of Jon boats for sale on the market today:
Hunting Boats (And Duck Hunting Boats)
Above: A 2018 G3 18 DK Duck Blind Jon boat for sale on Boat Trader by Kirk Brothers PowerSports LLC in Greenwood, MS. Photo via Kirk Brothers PowerSports.
Many outdoorsmen who enjoy both fishing and hunting opt for Jon boats, since one that’s rigged for hunting can also be used for fishing. Their flat bottom makes it easy to not only pull the boat up on a bank and brush into a waterfowl blind, but also to fish the shallows. Jon boats enjoy excellent stability for staking out in a cove or setting and retrieving goose and duck decoys. And their adaptable nature makes them perfect for mounting items like pop-up blinds, gun racks, and shell holders. A popular feature on Jon boats used for duck hunting is a duck blind and there are various camouflage packages available from some of the best Jon boat brands and manufactures on the market today.
The vast majority of Jon boats used for hunting and duck hunting in particular are aluminum boats, since they tend to be much lighter than fiberglass boats, and can be easily pushed through the marsh or dragged up on a bank. They can also be poled through shallow water, making them excellent swamp boats. These aluminum Jon boat models are available in advanced, custom camo-painted patterns that seem to disappear in the brush.
Aluminum Jon Boats
Aluminum flat-bottom boats are without question the most popular type of Jon boat around, and in fact, this is one of the most popular types of boats in general. Aluminum boats hold a number of advantages over those made with fiberglass, wood, or even plastic (yes, there are a number of roto-molded plastic Jon boats on the market, too). Their light weight is the key – it makes them trailerable with relatively small tow vehicles, easy to move around by hand at the dock or in the marsh, and lowers power requirements to attain the same performance benchmarks as heavier boats.
Aluminum boats are also inexpensive as compared to most boats built with other construction materials. And aluminum boats are incredibly rugged. They tend to dent or simply bounce off docks, logs, or rocks, in case of impact. Fiberglass, on the other hand, can shatter, and repairs are often far more expensive than they would be for aluminum boats.
If aluminum is so great, why aren’t all Jon boats made with it? There are some down-sides to consider. That advantageous light weight also means aluminum boats are easily influenced by the wind and waves, so fiberglass boats tend to ride better and drift slower. You can’t easily mold aluminum into complex forms, as you can with fiberglass, so many aluminum Jon boats have fewer integrated features. And bare aluminum is excellent at transmitting noises and vibrations. Some hulls sound like a drum when running through waves, and others broadcast fish-spooking sounds right into the water. That’s why many anglers who fish the shallows – where stealth is important – get a boat with a vinyl-lined or carpeted interior.
Fiberglass Jon Boats
Above: Fiberglass Jon boats like this 20-foot 2022 Shawnee 48 Jon boat for sale on Boat Trader aren’t as common as aluminum Jon boats, but they do have their own set of advantages. Photo by Sunrise Marine Center in Searcy, AR.
While Jon boats are usually aluminum boats – aka tin boats – they can also be constructed of fiberglass, albeit that material is less common for this type of vessel. However, if you want the best ride possible for a Jon boat, then a fiberglass hull may be a good choice because the extra heft can help them shove waves out of the way. Even though they still are not designed for use in the open ocean this can be a nice bonus. Plus, there’s an added advantage to having a fiberglass hull on a Jon boat: while flat-bottom boats, as a rule, are very stable platforms regardless of construction material, the extra weight of fiberglass certainly makes them more stable than an aluminum model of the same length and beam. Remember, however, that the additional weight comes with a certain cost and trade-off: your trailer-ability and portability will be decreased due to the added weight.
Utility Jon Boats
As the category name implies, utility Jon boats are aluminum vessels designed more for utility purposes than fishing or hunting, and are used more for hauling equipment around calm, freshwater waterways than for angling or exploring. The deck layout is minimal and specified towards certain tasks. There may not be any casting decks or pedestals for fishing chairs onboard. Some may even have pilothouses for protection while performing the intended work tasks, like the above pictured utility Jon boat. Equipment that is being transported onboard may be anything from backcountry supplies, food and hunting gear, to oyster traps, moorings and other fishing apparatus. These kinds of boats are ideal for remote hunting lodges that can only be accessed via a river or creek, or one in which delivering equipment to is easiest via water. They retain their lightweight Jon boat hulls, making them maneuverable and portable while allowing them to be solid transport platform.
Wooden Jon Boats
Setting aside those of historic nature, wooden boats of any type are mostly limited to custom builds in this day and age. There are certainly benefits of wood boat construction, but unless it’s wrapped in fiberglass and resin, the extra maintenance that wood boats require can soak up more time then you actually spend out on the water. Owning a wooden Jon boat is a labor of love for people who enjoy the extra effort they require, and often these boats can be considered works of art.
Aside from custom rigs, if you’re looking at used boats you may run across an older wood boat that’s been fiberglassed over, or a wooden Jon boat someone built in their garage. In fact, many people who decide to build a wood boat of their own stick with the Jon boat design simply because it’s simple and doesn’t require creating compound curves with the wood.
Jet Jons or Ski Jon Boats
One rather specialized form of the Jon boat that’s popular in inland waterways is the jet jon. Also referred to as jet ski Jon boats, or Job boat hybrids, these unique vessels have become increasingly common on many inland waterways and rivers. In many cases, the hull and interior of the boat is no different than any other Jon boat, but the outboard mounted on the transom has a jet drive instead of a propeller. These are ideal for running through boulder-strewn rivers, where prop-strikes on rocks are a common occurrence. Some unique models even have tunnels built into the hull, while allows the jet drive to be mounted at the hull’s level to reduce the chances of smacking the lower unit into a rock.
Why is the use of jet Jons mostly limited to rocky rivers? Because jet drives do not have fragile moving parts below the waterline. Jet drives create thrust by spinning an impeller and blasting water through a nozzle, which is less efficient than spinning a propeller directly through the water – in some cases, by up to 25- or even 30-percent. So jet drives require larger, heavier power heads to create an equivalent amount of thrust. They burn more fuel to attain similar cruising speeds and generally have lower cruising and top-end speeds when comparing them to propeller-equipped drive units powered by equivalent horsepower ratings. So it only makes sense to own a jet Jon if you regularly run through those risky rapids.
Jon Boat Equipment
Every Jon boat, no matter what it’s made of or how large or small it may be, will need some equipment to go along with it. Obviously, the number-one issue is making sure you have all the required safety gear. You can find a full accounting on what you should have aboard in our Boat Safety Guide.
In addition to safety gear, what you equip your Jon boat with depends entirely upon how you plan to use it. Hunters, for example, may want to get a pop-up blind that mounts on eye-bolts which can be added to the bow and stern. Anglers will obviously consider adding fish-finding electronics, a net, a livewell, and fishing rod holders. And everyone will need things like navigational equipment, a cooler for drinks and food, and cupholders. While many of these items can be integrated into fiberglass boats, much of it will need to be added to aluminum rigs. Fortunately, many of these have built-in track-mounting systems along the gunwales, which make it easy to purchase aftermarket add-ons and lock them in place.
Overall, again thanks to their simplicity, equipping a Jon boat is usually much less expensive than equipping many other types of boats. In fact, many people who own Jon boats which have nothing more than bench seats built-in don’t do any equipping beyond carrying aboard whatever they may want for a single outing on the water.
Kings Of Shallow Draft Fishing
The bottom line is, for serious shallow-water anglers, in many cases a Jon boat, flat-bottom boat, or a flats boat is going to be the ultimate pick. Jon boats are the unofficial king of inland shallow water fishing, and you will find this type of boat all across the country on nearly every kind of body of water there is. So if inland shallow water fishing is the type of fishing you enjoy the most, there’s a good chance that ultimately, you’ll have one of the above types of Jon boats sitting on a trailer in your own driveway.
Editor’s note: This article was last updated in March 2022.
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