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 another. 

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 the double.

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 paddling.

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 www.riverridgecustomcanoes.com.


Phone: (507) 288-2750 · Fax: (507) 280-0029
5865 River Ridge Ct. N.E. · Rochester, MN 55906

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