Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bird Dog Boats

I love old bird dog boats.
A true bird dog has the outboard motor up near the bow with a hole cut in the hull so that the prop is in the water. Her stern will have a cut-a-way transom so that a gill net can be flung out the back as you circle a school of fish ... usually mullet.

The beauty of a bird dog boat is that as she comes on to a plane, the bow of the boat lifts up and thereby raises the motor shaft so that the propeller rides up in the water column.
As long as you haul arse, you can zip across very skinny water in a bird dog boat due to that simple fact.
I've driven them and they are wet boats in any kind of chop, plus they steer funny if you are used to normal boats.
I love their uniqueness and the way they evolved to do a particular function well.
Who was that first fisherman who cut a hole in the hull of his perfectly good boat?

The bird dog name probably comes from the fact that you drive these boats from away up at the bow while scanning ahead for schools of fish. When you spot the school, ya point in their direction and yell so your mate knows to get ready to deploy the net ... hence the name "bird dog".
(See ... you are pointing at game ... do I need to draw a picture here?)

Originally, these were net boats. Nowadays, they are mainly used for the clam farming industry least around Cedar Key.

The net ban of 1994 severely limited the types and size of netting that could be used to catch fish, so for awhile, a lot of bird dogs sat high and dry with nothing to do. Once the clam farming industry took off in Cedar Key, many old bird dogs found new life as clam boats.

The skiff above is a wonderfully expansive work boat, but she's no bird dog.

Above and below are shots of an exquisitely beautiful bird dog retrofitted for the clam farming role it now plays.
She has a spray shield added to her bow to keep the driver a little dryer ... nice touch.

A side view of her bow shows how up front you are when you drive this beauty. The motor is tilted up to keep her away from encrusting critters while she's moored.

Just another view of the bow area. The plastic baskets are for the transport of harvested clams.

She has a nice shade cover and work area. The mesh bags piled on the table are clam grow out bags that are used on the clam lease. You can learn more about this process by searching this blog for clam farming ... I've written about it a few times. One post in the past takes you through the whole process.

This boat may have been a roller rig net boat at one time. That rigging at the top looks like the type of winchyrolly device used to net mackerel, etc along the beaches before the net ban.

No critters today ... just a touch of salt.


LauraHinNJ said...

A bird dog boat, but... where's the bird dog?


Pablo said...

Nice post. Nice set of pix too.

I saw a clamming boat when I was in Muscatine, Iowa some years ago. It was an antique, and I couldn't imagine going onto the Mississippi River in it. But some people made a living with it.

Anonymous said...

When you say "a little drier," "little" is the key word. I've been in a bird dog on plane in dead calm water and felt very grateful that my camera was in a gallon ziplock bag ;-)

R.Powers said...

He's sleeping at my feet :)

I suppose they were getting freshwater mussels? Most cultured pearls from Japan start with a bead of freshwater mussel shell from the midwest rivers.

True, true. They are the only boat wetter than my carolina skiff! LOL!

Miz S said...

The bow is the pointy end, right?

tsiya said...

I remember when "Mullet on the Beach" was a signal to shut everything else in town, down, LOL.
Lot's more money around now, but are we happier or better off? I'll vote no on that!
My last boat was a Meyers that I bought from Jack Usina, for 25 bucks. I patched her up some, good as new, for another 15 years.

R.Powers said...

Miz S,
Except in canoes and kayaks. Welcome back!

I remember that too and second your no.

h said...

Pure Florida is at the top-of-the-list after the Google Search Term "Bird Dog Boat".

My guess would be that there was no fisher who intentionally put a hole in his hull to accomodate the motor. Rather, the hull was compromised in some other manner and THEN he decided to experiment.

threecollie said...

Very interesting to us landlubbers!

Dave Coulter said...


R.Powers said...

I noticed that too. I suppose that means there is a dearth of information out there on the net about these boats.

As I find your snow!

Waaaay cool boats.

Robert said...

Growing up in a little fishing community called Horseshoe Beach, FL. these boats were the work horse of the fishing industry. I spent many days and nights working from one of these boats before then net ban. Believe or not these boats could run in as little as 5 inches of water as long as you were on plane. The deeper the water the slower the boat would go. Kind of miss seeing them around.

Kevin said...

Up here in the Panhandle, we use 28ft Bird Dog skiffs to shrimp with. Just another great thing these boats are good for.

Anonymous said...

There's a real similarity to oyster boats here on the La Rochelle coast of France. So cool, those bird dogs...beautiful

Cindy W. said...

My dad bought a bird dog boat when we were in our pre-teen years and for about 15-20 years we fished the panhandle bay areas. It was the most memorable, and exhilarating way to grow up. We were definitely recreational fishers, but grew to know and love the men and women who did this for a living. There was a special bond between man and boat that isn't found with the sport fishing crowd. The "let-go" was one of my favorite jobs, waiting for my dad who stood on the front bow driving. He'd spot a school and his arm would go out to the side. That was my signal to pay attention! You could see the tension in his body as he made ready to ride up on that school, planing in those shallow marsh and oyster bar regions. When his knees dipped and that arm came down, that was my signal to "let go" of the big metal anchor that would start the nets unfolding off the back platform. Then you held on for dear life, because the ride had really just begun! Oh, how I miss those days! So sad that a whole way of life has been eliminated.

Anonymous said...

Oh the memories... Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin Area of Florida, South Tampa if you will. My grandpa use to build Mullet (Bird Dog) boats from scratch... use to go out with him in the mid to late 1970s... those were the days... learned to swim off one... Grandpa threw my arce right out in the bay, and said... Sink or Swim boy... guess I swam.. LOL

Anonymous said...

went to chief land fla...1987...I bought one from mr. dam bird -dog boat ever......well it back to the keys....put 50hp hand titler on it ...ran...400yards gill net out back of it on flats....I had 21/2 mesh...for silvers...of of the keys and bay......cork screw that net around those mullet....what a high that round those fish up in time of my life I had fishing..... I fish my my self.....made .few bucks.......500lbs ...was good day for me...biggest day 1400lbs...dam my hand s..hurt the weeks from everglades turn me on to some fish that day.of of keys in people that voted us out..1994.....from making a honest living on the all same on you.....god fished your bible.......I could go on and on.......oh a fla boy...born coconut grove will never know what it is like to gill net mullet......only us fla boys do.....ahahhaah.........usmc.........