Custom Canoes, Rivers, and Smallmouth
By Jerry Carlson
It is not every day that an
invitation to go smallmouth fishing flies out of the blue and lands in
your lap. But that is exactly what happened to me.
The smallmouth invitation came from a
gentleman named Bill Plantan, the owner of River Ridge Custom Canoes.
Plantan resides near Rochester, Minnesota and works the smallmouth on
the nearby Zumbro River.
Having grown up in Southeastern
Minnesota, I was very familiar with the Zumbro. It was a river that
provided our family with many bank fishing memories that mainly focused
around suckers, carp, and catfish. Occasionally, there would be an odd
species thrown in the mix, but never smallmouth. As might be expected,
I was eager to give this a try.
Our adventure started at Sportsman’s
Park in Zumbro Falls. This park has become the starting point for quite
a few canoe float trips down the river. In fact, there is a small canoe
rental business set up just for this purpose.
When Plantan arrived at our
rendezvous, he informed me we would be putting the canoe in at a
different location and ending the trip at the park. En route to this
‘catch and release’ stretch of the river, he started to tell me about
his canoe business.
His explanation went on to describe
his frustrations with fishing out of standard canoes. Although he was
able to successfully catch fish, he always felt that something was
lacking in the layout. As is often the case in today’s world of
inventions, frustration with one product led to the development of
When we arrived at the landing,
Plantan unloaded a wide 13 foot canoe complete with interior lights and
a stereo. Once that was done, Plantan started loading up this
specialized canoe with his custom, built-in features.
First came the deep cycle battery and
solar charger. After that he fastened rod holders for six rods to the
sides. Then there was the chairs complete with umbrellas in case it
rained or got too hot. After the trolling motor was attached, Plantan
added the “cheese tray” that doubled as tackle holder. The last item he
installed was the slatted floor.
I have seen a lot of canoes in my
fishing years, but I have never seen a canoe that was laid out with so
much thought. This rig looked like a fishing machine with all of the
comforts of home; and it performed the same way.
As we pushed off from shore and began
our downstream journey, Plantan instructed me to concentrate on fishing
and not touch my paddle. It soon became apparent that the electric
motor was all we would need.
As we floated and talked and worked
the bass, it took very little time for me to realize this was not the
same Zumbro I had fished so many years ago. This river was clean, clear
and full of smallmouth. It was not unusual for us to see a half dozen
fish at a time swimming around the boat.
One of the best parts about being
able to see these fish was watching them bite. Several times when one
of us had a fish hooked, we would allow the bass to fight in the
vicinity of the other fish. This misunderstood frenzy would excite the
smallmouth so the other angler could cast and set the hook to complete
As our day continued, the importance
of the electric motor became very apparent. With the aide of this
motor, we could slip with the current, hold steady, or even go upstream
to rework a productive stretch of river. And all of this with no
It was five hours later when our
little craft hit the landing in Zumbro Falls. During the entire trip I
never once picked up a paddle nor felt any sensation of instability.
Without a doubt, the trip down the
Zumbro had been a huge success. We caught fish on jigs, crankbaits, and
top water. In addition to the fishing, I also had experienced the
enjoyment of a leisurely float in a well designed craft.
The final touch to a wonderful
adventure came when Plantan invited me back for a repeat effort on
another day. This open invitation was about the best ending a person
could have hoped for.
More information on River Ridge
Custom Canoes can be found on their website at