It continually amazes me how things have changed since the days of my youth. Faced with the modern-day diversions of cell phones, video games, text messages, personal computers and myspace accounts, it is a wonder kids of today ever look to the outdoors for entertainment.

Fortunately for those of my generation, few of these distractions existed when we were kids. If we wanted entertainment or adventure, we had to create it for ourselves.

Somehow most of our adventures always seemed to involve a small pond or lake and the elusive largemouth bass. Armed with a closed-face spincast reel, a pocket full of artificial lures and a braided nylon stringer, we wore the tires bald on our bicycles exploring the countryside for the next largemouth honey hole.

Most of our fishing options for largemouth bass were limited primarily to casting from the shoreline or wading in the shallows that weren't too infested with snakes. However, some of the larger farm ponds tempted our adventurous sides with an old aluminum johnboat stashed somewhere along the bank. These small, oftentimes leaky, boats allowed us to fish areas that were inaccessible from the shoreline or by wading.

As we got older, and could afford pricier toys, we immediately fell into the "bigger is better" trap. After all, no self-respecting bass fisherman would be caught dead in anything less than a big, shiny, metal-flaked bass rig, loaded with every modern electronic gadget available and pushed along at breakneck speeds by an outboard motor with more horsepower than the average family car.

Recently, we have begun to see a return to simpler fishing. Instead of a $40,000 bass boat, many anglers are downsizing their vessels - and with great fishing success. By using smaller boats many of these anglers are rediscovering the small, fish-filled potholes of their youths.

Whether you prefer a canoe, a kayak, an aluminum johnboat or a small two-man plastic pontoon, Mississippi has an abundance of small-water bass fishing opportunities. The Magnolia State boasts close to 400,000 acres of small ponds, thousands of miles of small rivers and streams and numerous oxbow lakes and swamps. These small bodies of water are legendary for giving up big bass. They generally don't get much fishing pressure, so the bass grow big and aggressive.

Let's take a closer look at each of the small-boat options available and see how they fit into the various small water bass fishing scenarios the state has to offer.


On a recent fishing trip to Alaska, I was introduced to the pleasures of fishing from a canoe. Mike Adlam, my guide and longtime friend, insisted that we pack in a couple of canoes and paddle our way through a portion of the Kenai Canoe Trails. The Kenai Canoe Trails is a wilderness canoe system consisting of 70 lakes and more than 106 miles of interconnecting waterways and portages.

While we did catch a few rainbow trout and got to experience one of the most fascinating wilderness areas on earth, I was even more intrigued with our mode of travel. When fishing from a canoe, powered by your own strength and a wooden paddle, you quickly realize that tactics lend themselves to the finesse approach.

"A canoe provides both portability and stealth," said Adlam. "For accessing the most remote bodies of water with the most ease, canoes are hard to beat."

A lone angler can easily transport all his gear and canoe down dense trails and for moderate distances without much difficulty.

"I prefer using a canoe while fishing small rivers and streams," Adlam added. "It is much easier to maneuver a canoe through the stumps and logs in a flowing stream than it is with other types of boats."

Most of the smaller streams and many of the backwoods swamps and lakes in the Magnolia State are custom made for bass fishing from a canoe. A canoe can provide access to the most inaccessible waters.


Until Bass Pro Shops opened their store in Pearl, few Mississippi fishermen had ever seen a kayak they could actually lay their hands on. To most of us, a kayak looked more like a canoe on steroids than a boat you could fish from. After all, don't they use kayaks to shoot the white-water rapids in Colorado?

Maybe so, but thanks to two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Hank Parker, kayaks may become the new bass boats for Southern anglers. Sure Parker cut his tournament teeth power fishing and covering lots of water. Today's giant bass boats are designed specifically with that aggressive type of bass fishing in mind.

However, Parker, who was recently named the seventh-best professional bass angler of all time by ESPN Outdoors, sometime trades his pricey and powerful bass boat for a kayak.

"Kayaks give you accessibility to skinny water," he said. "It's fun, absolutely fun, a whole new approach to fishing."

First convinced to give kayak fishing a try by his close friend, NFL Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith, Parker is hooked on the small pedal-powered kayaks. What's more, Parker even has a kayak model bearing his name: the Hobie Mirage Hank Parker Signature edition Outback Fisherman.

"It has great stability," said Parker. "I jump in the kayak with no problems. I've yet to capsize, and I've been in some hairy situations."

Much like fishing from a canoe, it's all about accessibility. With access to otherwise unfishible water, it is easy to understand why an angler would climb out of his fancy bass boat and into a kayak.

"For an investment of around $1,000, I'm accessing water I've never been to," said Parker. "I can launch it at a legal access point, then pedal and paddle it to fish from an otherwise unreachable bank. Sometimes I'll strap the kayak on my bass boat, run up a river or lake, and then fish the shallow coves that I can't get my bass boat into."

And when it comes to getting kids involved in fishing, kayaks may very well be the answer. Kayaks are easy to master and a blast to fish from.

"There are so many lakes and ponds accessible to kids," said Parker. "And with a kayak, you don't have the logistics of maintaining even a battery. Plus you don't have to shell out $100 on gas every time you want to go fishing."

While few anglers will replace their high-tech bass boats for a small, human-powered kayak, it wouldn't be surprising to see a few of them give the kayak a try and discover it does indeed have a place in bass fishing.


My first "bass boat" was one I purchased second-hand the year I graduated from college. It was a 12-foot johnboat that I hauled around to my favorite fishing holes in the bed of my pickup.

Although I wouldn't realize it for several years to come, that little aluminum johnboat set a precedent for my future bass fishing. Although I finally graduated to a fancy gel-coated tournament rig, I never got rid of my old faithful johnboat.

As I became more proficient at bass fishing through the years, I realized that it mattered very little how fancy of a boat I fished from. It became apparent that if you can't catch fish from a small boat, you're probably not going to catch them any better from a larger one. However, because of increased accessibility, a small boat can help you catch more fish by putting you in locations that a big bass rigs dare not venture.

Brent Chapman, a 35-year-old professional B.A.S.S. angler, knows first-hand the effectiveness of a johnboat in the right situation. Chapman got very creative in achieving victory at the Louisiana Central Invitational Bass Tournament on the Red River.

Wanting to fish where the big bass boats couldn't go, he called on his sponsor at the Skeeter plant in Kilgore, Texas, to get him an aluminum boat with a small Yamaha engine that he could push-pole over stumps and obstructions to gain access to otherwise unfishable water. This move to a flat-bottomed johnboat enabled Chapman to reach waters that put a $42,000 paycheck in his pocket.

But you don't have to be a tournament angler to reap the benefits a small aluminum johnboat has to offer. Heck, you don't even need a giant lake or reservoir for that matter. Any of the thousands of obscure farm ponds and small state lakes are the types of remote fishing waters that are perfect for a small aluminum johnboat.

"There's a lot to like about these small impoundments," says Bill Dance, host of Bill Dance Outdoors and designer of several bass ponds and lakes across the Southeast. "As a youngster, I got my first taste of bass fishing in a pond, and I still enjoy fishing them whenever I can."

Most small ponds require nothing more than a sculling paddle, but the larger impoundments are better exploited with an electric trolling motor mounted to the bow of the johnboat.

Even today, my first "bass boat" lies on the bank of my favorite fishing hole waiting to be launched. Each time I see that old johnboat, I respond to it with that innate joy you get when an old friend walks into the room. Johnboats, farm ponds, and big bass just naturally go together.

Mini bass boats

I have a saved the best of the small bass fishing boats for last. While the others certainly have their place, none can compare to the effectiveness of the plastic mini bass boats.

Bass Hunter Boats is credited for being the originator of this category of fishing boat. The company was founded in 1977 with a boat not only small and easily transportable, but also incredibly stable, a concept that was new at the time.

Nowadays there are dozens of models available to meet the needs of the most discriminating small-boat bass angler.

Constructed of thermoformed high-impact ABS plastic, these small boats feature a durable scratch-resistant hull that is foam-filled for safety and stability. One of the newest models utilizes a Roto Cast manufacturing method that produces a one-piece seamless boat with "expedition level" strength and agility.

Convenience is designed into every mini bass boat. From the elevated swivel seats to the molded drink holders and tackle trays, these boats have everything a bass fisherman could want. Add the optional boat carrier wheels, and one person can easily roll the boat to his favorite fishing hole with all his gear aboard.

Most of these boats are 48 inches wide and vary in length from 6½ to 9½ feet. Depending on the model, they can weigh anywhere from 60 to 130 pounds. The compact size and light weight make them easy to transport in the back of a pickup truck.

"While rated for up to a 5-horsepower outboard, most anglers who purchase our boats prefer a small electric trolling motor to get them around in those quiet backwater areas," said Mike Neely, national sales anager for Bass Hunter boats. "And since these boats require only 4 inches of water to float, they can fish areas that big bass rigs can only dream about."

Fishing from a small boat has definite advantages, primarily in accessibility, ease of transport, low cost and in the angler's ability to stay low to the water surface.

While it is very hard to argue with the success today's fisherman have with modern bass boats, your chances of catching a monster bass are at least as good (if not better) in a smaller boat as they are in a large boat.

"The first tournament I ever won was with an 11.15-pound bass that I caught out of my 14-foot aluminum boat," said Richie White, a professional guide with the experience of landing hundreds of 8- and 9- pound bass, dozens of bass over 10 pounds and five bass over 12 pounds. "Whether I would have gotten her in a bigger boat, I'll never know. I'm just making a point that you don't need a large boat to catch large fish.

"A big boat will sometimes keep you away from the fish or running across the lake too much. You can often do just as well out of a canoe, a johnboat or even from the bank."

Getting smaller is not for everyone, and it doesn't work all the time. But under conditions that are very normal for springtime bass fishing in Mississippi, it can pay real dividends.