Daily Archives: March 12, 2009

Smith Brothers Prams

I took this article from Duckworks Magazine, Im thinking of restoring a Smith Brothers Pram and set it up for fly fishing. There is something especially charming about a wooden boat.

The epicenter of San Francisco Pelican activity in the Pacific Northwest is a small white house on Samish Island, not far from Mount Vernon, Washington. For forty years, Fred and Don Smith were the premier builders of the Bill Short-designed 12-foot wooden lug-rigged dinghy. Don died a few years ago and Fred, who’s about to turn 80, sold the original jig to a boatbuilder named Owen Huffaker, but he’s still the local historian, construction expert and all-around guru to San Francisco PelicanViking Fleet III, based primarily in Puget Sound and Oregon.

The Smith brothers lived in Mount Vernon and spent their summers on Samish Island. Sometimes, young Fred would ride his bicycle the 15 miles from Mount Vernon just to lie on the beach and daydream about the boats that he would own someday.

The boys moved to Samish Island full-time in 1945. Don joined the Merchant Marine and Fred oystered for a few years and then got a job at a filbert farm. He built his house in 1949 and supported a family on a salary of $1.00 an hour. They fished and clammed, grew their own produce and bartered for the rest. Fred admits that “sometimes the money got a little tight.”

Although they had always lived around water, neither of the brothers had ever built a boat. In 1960, they decided that it would be nice to have a shallow-draft boat that could be beached on the mud flats out behind Fred’s house, so they built a 24-foot plywood catamaran in their spare time. In the process, they discovered that, according to Fred, “We were bad designers and good builders.” The catamaran was fine, but it was hard to get to during high tide, so they moved it out to a buoy and set about building themselves an 8-foot pram with plans that they bought for 50 cents from U.S. Plywood. When the neighbors came around asking the boys to build more prams, the Smith brothers found themselves in the boatbuilding business. They could easily turn out two boats a day, but they soon ran out of neighbors to buy them, so they contracted with sporting goods stores in the area to sell the boats for them. The prams were available in 8, 12 and 14-foot lengths and they were perfect drift boats for fly fisherman and duck hunters. The boats were so popular that the brothers quit their day jobs and began building boats full-time. “Besides,” Fred says, “It paid better than the filbert farm.” Smith’s Boat Shop was in business.

In 1963, Fred read an article in Rudder magazine about a guy down in California who was building small wooden sailboats with a sampan bow and a lot of freeboard. He paid $35 for a set of Bill Short’s plans and the Smith brothers built their first Pelican, hull #41, in two weeks. Fred says of the stubby little boat: “The Pelican is sort of an ugly duckling. But it’s like our own child. You got to love it.”

Although they had done very little sailing and no racing at all, Fred and Don loaded the Pelican onto a trailer and entered the 1964 West Coast Pelican Championships on San Francisco Bay. They finished in first place, sold the boat and went home to build more Pelicans. To prove that the first win wasn’t a fluke, they entered again the next year and proceeded to win by over three minutes. They won the championship three years in a row and retired the George Ingram Pelican Association Perpetual Trophy. “It was a pretty good way to sell boats,” Fred says. The Smiths added a kickup rudder and a heavier tiller to the basic Pelican design, making it more suited to Puget Sound’s shallow launch and recovery sites.

A year later, Bill Short offered the Smith brothers the Pacific Northwest franchise to build and sell Pelican sailboats; their territory eventually expanded to include California, making them one of only five Pelican boatbuilders in the United States. It took a week for Don and Fred to build a Pelican; Don was left-handed and Fred was right-handed, which meant that they could work in perfect synchronization. Fred still has his original copy of Bill Short’s plans and a logbook containing information about every one of the 580 Pelicans that have passed through the Smith Boat Shop.

The Smiths never spend a cent on advertising. “It’s all been word of mouth,” says Fred. “Even the boat shows didn’t sell our boats. If you don’t believe in your own product, you won’t stay in business.”

Fred and Don built their first El Toro sailboat in 1965. “We needed more work,” says Fred, so when a sailing friend suggested the 8-foot pram, the boys added the El Toro to their inventory. Designed in 1940 as a training sailboat and yacht tender, the little boat was simpler to build than the Pelican, so the Smiths could easily trailer 10-14 boats a month to California, where the El Toro was popular for clubs and youth programs. At one point, the brothers were the largest El Toro producers in the country. “We stopped counting after the first thousand,” explains Fred. They supplied El Toros to the Olympia and Everett Parks Departments and the Seattle Parks Department for use on Green Lake. The Oak Harbor Yacht Club still relies on El Toros for their youth sailing program. For a number of years, Don was the regional representative for the El Toro Association and a keen racer. He used to bring a six-boat trailer and a gang of kids from Samish Island to the Green Lake El Toro races so that they could learn first-hand about sailing and sportsmanlike behavior.

In 1972, the Oklahoma City Boat Club ordered a flock of 12 Pelicans, the largest single order the boys had ever filled. Don and Fred made two trips to Oklahoma, pulling a boat trailer loaded with bare hulls, hardware and completed boats. Wooden Boat magazine ran an article about Fred and Don and their Pelicans in 1978. Fred says they got so many orders that folks had to wait months for delivery. A rumor got around that the Smith Boat Shop couldn’t produce. Never one to mince words, Fred put out the word that there would be at least a year-long wait for boats, so a lot of people cancelled immediately. Problem solved.

An article in Sailing magazine describes the Orcas Island Pelican Project, in which a group of 9 high school kids built their own boats and sailed them 250 miles down the east side of Vancouver Island. The Smith brothers fabricated parts for the boats and spent two days instructing the kids on fiberglassing techniques.

San Francisco Pelican Viking Fleet III came into being when a group of Pelican owners began getting together to cruise the San Juan Islands on Sunday afternoons. Someone finally suggested that the sailors try racing their boats in Samish Bay. This backyard regatta eventually grew to include as many as 100 Pelicans and El Toros and over 280 skippers and crew. Days were spent rigging and racing and evenings were devoted to eating Fred’s barbecued salmon and telling boating tales. Don applied for a fleet number and Viking Fleet III was born.

Viking Fleet III cruises all summer and races in the winter and spring. The cruising season opens officially with a Mother’s Day Cruise to Pelican Beach, which is a free Department of Natural Resources campsite on the northeast side of Cypress Island, where the Smith boys camped as kids. Pelicaneers have been pulling their boats up on the sand and camping on this site for 35 years. In 1983, members of Viking Fleet III banded together with the DNR to built a picnic shelter. When Cypress Island was turned into a Marine Park complete with mooring buoys, picnic tables and toilet facilities, the DNR made its nickname official. Pelican Beach is one of Fred Smith’s most gratifying achievements. “I feel like I’ve left my mark on the earth,” he says proudly.

In August of every year, Fred leads a week-long cruise through the San Juans, ending at Turn Island, just outside of Friday Harbor. A highlight of the cruise is the Annual Pelican Single-Handed Turn Island Circumnavigation Race, complete with spectators walking the perimeter of the island, cheering and shouting advice to the racers. Fred holds the distinction of having come in first and third in the same race: “I finished so far ahead of the other boats that I went around again,” he says cheerfully. “Of course, I knew the currents.” He takes part in the Wednesday night Pelican regattas on Whidbey Island and still finishes at the head of the pack.

When Don died in 2003, Fred reorganized and reopened the shop under the same name. These days, Fred and his son-in-law Ron, who lives next door, build custom 8 and 10-foot prams. There’s no time frame – the boat gets done when Fred finishes it. As he says, “We’re retired and we’re as busy as we want to be.” The workshop, actually a large shed, is still heated by a woodstove. The small space is crammed with hand tools, bits of hardware and cans of varnish. It gives the impression that nothing has been moved since the boat shop opened in 1961. Fred’s salmon smoker stands by the back door and his little motorboat lies on the mud flats, waiting for high tide.

Fred Smith is a happy man. He told me that he’s had a good life, “not a rich life, but a good one”. He’s proud of the fact that every boat he ever built was paid for before it left his shop and he’s never in 40 years gotten a bad check. Customers become family – when they come to pick up their completed boats, they often stay the night at Fred’s house and enjoy one of his mammoth fresh seafood dinners and then return the favor whenever he’s in their neck of the woods. Fred enjoys nothing more than hosting a gathering of Pelicaneers in his backyard, which looks out over Padilla Bay toward Hatt’s Island. Folks often bring their boats with them and do a little sailing before supper.

He’s very pleased that the San Francisco Pelican is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. “I’d have felt like a failure if the Pelican died before I did,” he says. Thanks to the Smith brothers, that’s not ever likely to happen. ~ Jim Brown.

WOW… it’d been almost a year since I published this blog, but I ended up buying a 10′ Smith Brother’s Boat today and joined the fraternity of Chuck G., Jim T., and Thao T., I must admit; while wood is not the best material for a boat, it is the most romatic. Trust me… I’ve owned them all: plastic, aluminum, and fiberglass, but I must confess that I’ve always admired the wood boat from afar. Probably the most notable was Carlo N’s. boat in B.C., his father handmade that pram for him with a strip Cedar process and its a work of art. I think that fishing from most other devices is unjust to the trout.

Many will argue of the maintenance and the usability of wood, but nobody can deny the charm, allure and the beauty. This beast that I picked up today was in need of an extreme make over.  I was a bit ambitious at first, but when I counted the time that I would spend stripping the whole boat, re-epoxying or glassing the boat, and then re-varnish both the interior and exterior, I thought it’d be best to take it to Fred and have him heal her.

I never knew the idea of wood being alive, but it is. There is no other material that can be molded, shaped, and formed other than from our Lord’s own gift. Mahoghany. Mahoghany. I love you, Mahoghany.

Keep posted on the details of the restoration…

And, btw… Smith Brother’s Boats have not done ANY advertising as their sales have been completely via word of mouth. Fred mentioned to me that normally this time they have a standing backorder of boats and folks are on the waiting list. With the exception of Thao T’s. 8′ in the shop, it was void. My 10′ restoration will help, but they wouldn’t mind a few more orders.

Funny… how things come around. I tried to find a phone or website or something for Fred Smith, but came up with nothing, except for my blog post. I realized that I can help him out by posting his PHONE NUMBER here, so with his permission, here is the contact for Fred Smith. His son in law Ron helps him now with the builds, but all the history and charm of Don still lives with each one of these masterpieces. God bless him.

Fred Smith: 360-766-7667

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Steelhead Train

So a buddy of mine knows I love to fly fish and said his brother has the sickness as well. He shared with me this unique experience, has anyone fished the Willowa river or have had any good experiences with this fish by train opportunity? Steelhead Train.

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Stillwater Report, Eastern Washington: March 11th, 2009

So, I was supposed to hit Beda yesterday with Gil C., but he had a flu bug he’d be fighting since coming back from Thailand.  I ended up switching my appointments around and ended up getting out there today, with or without anyone else.  I needed to satisfy my stillwater addiction after hearing of Rex T’s. stellar report. He’d fished it last week Thursday and ended up landing 54 trout and hooking 90+ of them~!  I was a bit in disbelief, but Rex is a pretty honest fisherman and doesn’t exaggerate his fishing reports, so I had to see for myself.

I ended up not leaving my house until a little after 9 a.m.  Beda is a bit further than most of the closer lakes that are more popular: Lenice, Nunally, but I think its agood, since all the folks can hit those closer lakes and take some pressure off this gem of a lake.  In order to get there…one has to drive past the town of George towards Moses Lakes and exit on Dodson Road.  From Dodsen Road, its southbound to the 2nd Public fishing sign, look for the big cell phone tower.  If you pass it, you’ve gone too far.  At the Public fishing sign, take a dirt road about a mile and it will dead end at the parking lot.  From there its about a 75 yard jaunt up a little hill and then past two gates to reach the launch.

The temperature at Snoqualmie Pass measured 16 degrees, the temp on my car also measured 16 degrees.  NOTE TO SELF… ” I should listen to my car and obey what its saying…”  Details on that at the end of the report.  When I left the house it was 26 degress, BRRRRRR!  Rex T. had indicated that I’d likely have to bust through the ice at the launch and through the channel as it was an expected low of 11 in Moses Lakes! BRRRRR!  I was a bit concerned today since I was doing a couple of new things.  First of all, I had sold my Toyota Tundra last week, yes, sad but true.  I decided to slim down from two vehicles to one as the maintenance and the cost of insurance, gas, and the economy dictated that it was time to let her go.  My plan was to sell my wagon and then buy an SUV to serve double duty for fishing and for daily driving.

When I found out Gil C. couldn’t go, I was hot to trot and ended up having a class 2 hitch installed on my wagon.  So, part of this trip was to test the hitch and see how the wagon pulled my pram for 200+ miles.  The second concern I had was how was I to launch the pram since the distance between the parking lot and the water was 75 or so yards, plus it was a sandy and uneven surface.  Normally I am able to manage my pram by myself, but I have a handy dolly that I brought along, when place under the pram, it acts like a wheelbarrow and a single person can haul the 100+ lb pram around some what easily.  My pram weighs in at 100 lbs, but that doesn’t include the two anchors, the rowers seat box, the gear (lunch, water, net, cameras, tripod, and extra stuff) one needs to spend a comfortable day on the water.  I wanted to make sure that I was comfortable as the daytime temps were supposed to hit the mid thirties. BRRRR!

I was happy that I was able to make use of the dolly and wheel my pram to the shoal and launch successfully.  Once I got into the water it was 11:30, I quickly got my bearings and plowed through the ice channel.  It was nice to see another vehicle in the lot with a drift boat trailer.  This proved to be extra nice, cause the two fellows who were on the lake had broken up the ice and had made their way to the north end of the big part of the lake.  I had remembered from Rex’s report that he had success with stripping his nymphs and didn’t do well with chironomids.  So I proceeded to rig up a new line, the RIO lake full intermediate on my 6 wt. 10′ GLX Loomis.  I first started with an Olive rabbit fur leech with hourglass eyes.  I slow worked the south shoreline, from where the ice ended and the clear water started, just placing the rod in the Scotty rod holder and rowing about 30′ from the edge in 9-12′ of water according to the Hummingbird depth finder.  The water temperature had measured 41 degrees at the launch but warmed up to 42 at the south end of the lake.

I kept trolling for a while and I had my first fish on, a feisty Rainbow which was video’d and released.  The wind was kicking up at this point and I wasn’t getting the action I was expecting, so instead of trolling with the oars, I decided to allow the pram to free drift in the wind and throw the line and strip instead.  That proved to be a good decision as I ended up picking up another nice trout.  I did however want to explore the lake periphery, looking for drop offs, and wandering fish, so I continued to row along the whole south edge, up between the grassy island and along the NE portion of the lake, with very little success on the troll.  When I glanced over at the two guys in the Hyde driftboat, they were anchored up and consistently catching and releasing fish on the north end of the lake.  I decided to try the same.  I found some 9′ water where it dropped off to 12′ and anchored up.  Within the first few casts, I had a fish on!  Cast after cast was successful until it slowed around 1 pm.  I decided to switch up flies to my hot head bead black rabbit fur leech.  I was in the same location, but that color change ended up driving the fish nuts.  The lighter red beadhead with the black fluttering leech ended up boating more than 20 fish within an hour and 47 minute timeframe.  Once it slowed down, I decided to pull anchor and proceed to the NE end where it was a little calmer and sheltered from the wind.  I only ended up picking up 7 more fish there and decided to proceed back to my hot spot halfway between the island and the north shore grassline.

I also decided to switch up to a white version of the leech since it was pretty bright out at this point and I thought a little color change would be a good idea, to pull in some more fish. That proved to be a nice choice, as I landed many more fish and LDR\’d many more.  All in all, I boated 42 nice Rainbow trout between 18″-22″, I estmate their weight from 3 lbs to 5 lbs.  You could tell that they were all recent hatchery plants due to their rounded tails and some missing their pectoral fins.  I released all of them, but kept one as my wife wanted to have a fresh trout for dinner. Personally, I don’t like the taste of trout after eating so much, salmon, halibut and recently some fine Dorado, Snapper and Sierra Mackeral, but its fresh, and I’d caught and released so many, I figured it’d be ok.

When I’d cleaned the fish, the meat was the greyish color, not like the Beaver Lake trout that were nice and orangey.  I have a feeling that this one is going to taste like mud…  =(  I’d had enough and my right wrist was getting sore from all the hook sets and playing, I’d even switched to casting, stripping and setting with my left hand just to get some practice.  I called it quits around 5:30 and proceeded back to the launch.  There was still ice around the channel, this timewasn’t so thick as the a.m. only 1/8″ vs. 1/4″ that I had to literally smash my oar ends in order to dig and row through.  At least it was a sunny day, but my hands, fingers and rod guide were frozen.  The ice had to be broken off the guides so that the line would shoot through, even the line itself iced up with micro slivers.  My hands took a beating with being wet, tanned, cold and worked., but it was all worth it…

I snapped off a few photos, took alot of video and enjoyed a nice coffee break once I finished loading up the boat, car and prepared to leave.  I’d thought that things were ok fuel wise because the gauge showed over a quarter of the tank when I’d parked, but for some strange reason it was showing as empty and REQUIRING FUEL soon.  Note to self… “Listen to your car”.  Maybe its the man in me but strangely I thought that I’d make it back to the Safeway in Cle Elum to fill up.  The light still registered off through George, Vantage, and was showing critical 10 miles left before hitting Kittitas, then 8….6….5….1…0!  I could see the lights of Ellensburg and I’d even passed up the Kittitas exit with the Shell station within eyeshot.  Just as the remaining miles read 0, I had this bad feeling in my mind.  Just then… putt putt putt hesitate, dead!  I thought, “My goodness, what an idiot!!!”  I shifted the car into neutral and tried to coast as far as I could on the emergency right lane and then coming to a stop just 2 miles before Ellensburg.  DOH!!!  An hour an 15 minutes later the AAA tow driver came with spare fuel, I primed the pump a couple times and she fired right back up again.  I was sooooo relieved because running out of fuel could be a really bad thing if air is introduced in the fuel lines.  Sometimes it doesn’t get out if one tries to crank the motor over and over again in desperate hope of trying to spark a vapor of gas fume.  I just shut it all down and didn’t bother cranking it, knowing it could get worse.  Modern cars fuel pumps are also typically cooled by the surrounding fuel  in the tank, so if the pump is cranked without fuel surround it, it might overheat and burn out the fuel pump.  All these thoughts were going through my head, of what if the replacement fuel doesn’t end up working and I have to tow the car AND boat back to Seattle and have the whole fuel system primed, filter replaced, and who else knows what?????

Luckily it all worked out and I was able to get fuel and proceed on my way.  Im glad that I have an understanding wife and didn’t get in too late.  I still wanted to crank out the report since one rarely sees those kind of numbers in a day of fishing.  I have lots of proof that this wasn’t a fluke, see the photos and video clips.  All the video and photos were taken by me, i’d brought along my tripod and did self timed images. There is a funny one of a feisty trout being camera shy, maybe I should submit that for a fishing blooper photo. I do want to hit it again soon as the news is likely to spread quickly and the secret might be out.  I do request that you keep this report to yourselves as I’ve kept it password protected for a few weeks until things settle down over at Beda and the fish get smarter and start feeding on Chironomids.

Here is a report from Les Korcala on an outing that he did a couple days after me. He did well with over 40 fish landed, however he was almost exclusively fishing Chironomids and did very well.

Categories: Fish Porn - No Skin Just Scales!, Fishing Reports | Leave a comment

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