Top 6 Reasons to Own a 12-Foot Jon Boat

From fishing to hunting, a 12-foot jon boat can be the smartest gear purchase you make in your lifetime.

Top 6 Reasons to Own a 12-Foot Jon Boat

The author’s 12-foot jon boat has been an integral part of many of the family’s best outdoor adventures.

Regardless of whether you spell it jon boat or john boat, a flat-bottom boat measuring 12 feet in length is an ideal fishing and hunting tool. I purchased my 12-foot Fisher jon boat in 1982, and for nearly 40 years it’s been the key to many of my most memorable times in the field.

Kayaks have been all the rage for the last decade. And sure, they work well. In fact, a couple years ago I wrote an article for this website called “Top 4 Reasons to Own a Kayak”; click here to check it out. I love my 13-foot 2-inch Old Town Predator PDL kayak; it’s a fishing machine. The downside to a kayak, however, is it’s a solo affair. Yes, a buddy could also fish nearby in their own kayak, but that doesn’t help if you want to share the boat with a beginner, or a child.

Below are the top six reasons to own a 12-foot jon boat.

 

1. Shared Experiences

As I mentioned previously, the downside to a kayak is it’s a solo affair. With a 12-foot jon boat, you can bring one adult with you, and depending on cargo capacity for a particular 12-footer, you’ll probably be okay sharing the boat with two children.

I can’t tell you how many outstanding fishing trips I shared in my 12-foot jon boat with my two sons when they were younger (and each weighed less than 100 pounds). My jon boat has three bench seats, and I’d sit in the middle with one boy in the bow and one in the stern. I could help tie knots, remove tangles, land fish and unhook fish without anyone having to move. My goal was to teach each of my kids to be self-sufficient as soon as possible, and it worked.

A 12-foot jon boat is perfect for teaching young anglers how to fish. You can access small unpressured waters, and because you’re sitting close to each other (unlike in a canoe), it’s easy to help them with gear problems — and take pics of a big fish before letting it go.
A 12-foot jon boat is perfect for teaching young anglers how to fish. You can access small unpressured waters, and because you’re sitting close to each other (unlike in a canoe), it’s easy to help them with gear problems — and take pics of a big fish before letting it go.

2. Access to Low-Pressure Hotspots

You might be asking yourself: Why is the author being so specific about a 12-foot jon boat? Why not 14 feet, or 15? Or 10?

I’ve spent a little time in a 10-footer, and while it was okay for me alone, it’s really too small to share with another person, unless that second angler is a small child. In other words, if you want to share it with a growing family, you’ll soon wish the boat was longer.

I’ve also fished in 14-, 15- and 16-footers. While these bigger boats are good once they’re on the water, the problem with them is weight, plus you really need a boat trailer to haul them. My 12-foot jon boat rides nicely in the back of my Ford Crew Cab (short box) pickup with the tailgate down. If I tried to haul a 14-footer, I’d have to use a hitch extender, which is a hassle. Plus, a 14-footer is quite a bit heavier than a 12-footer. This extra weight isn’t a big problem for two adults, but I’m often hauling it alone, and if I need to drag it 15 yards up a hill after exiting a lake to reach the road, the lighter 12-footer is much easier to handle.

A 12-foot jon boat can be loaded solo, and it fits in a short-box pickup (tailgate down) and then tied in with ropes for safe transport.
A 12-foot jon boat can be loaded solo, and it fits in a short-box pickup (tailgate down) and then tied in with ropes for safe transport.

Fact: Almost any lake that features a carry-in-only access has less fishing and hunting pressure (for ducks and geese) than one with an access designed for boat trailers. I don’t care where you live; look at a map and find those smaller bodies of waters with carry-in access and you’ll find some fishing and hunting hotspots.

I also own a decked-out fiberglass Skeeter multi-species fishing rig; I bought it in 1994. With a bow-mount trolling motor and the latest in electronics (I’ve upgraded through the years), it’s a comfortable and effective fishing machine. That said — and this is not a misprint — during any given open-water fishing season in Minnesota (late-April through late-October), my 12-foot jon boat is used at least 10 times more than the Skeeter. Why? Because if my son and I want to catch largemouth bass, we can take out the Skeeter and go to lakes shared by other diehard bass anglers, and we’ll catch 6 to 12 bass in 3-4 hours. Or, we can throw the 12-foot jon boat in the pickup and hit a nearby lake with a carry-in-only access and catch at least 20 bass. Which would you choose?

The author has learned that owning a 12-foot jon boat is key to accessing unpressured small bodies of water.
The author has learned that owning a 12-foot jon boat is key to accessing unpressured small bodies of water.

3. Ability to Stand

Kayaks are great for accessing carry-in-only lakes, but standing to cast is a challenge. Yes, I can do it in my Predator PDL, but only if conditions are perfect (light winds), and I have to be very careful about balance. In contrast, it’s easy to stand and cast from my 12-foot Fisher. In fact, I can stand and cast at the same time as my 18-year-old son. No, it’s not as comfortable as standing on the carpeted decks of my Skeeter, but it works.

When standing as high as possible is a fishing advantage, such as looking for shallow-water cruising bass during spring, one angler can stand on the seats of my 12-foot jon boat and still have decent stability. I’ve never fallen out of my 12-foot Fisher, and that’s after nearly 40 years of standing on its middle seat casting for bass and muskies, and bowfishing. How many total hours is that? I have no idea, but it’s likely several thousand.

 

4. Hauling Gear

Another way the 12-foot jon boat out-shines a kayak is hauling gear, especially when duck hunting and pursing whitetails via a water access to public ground. Two adults can hunt ducks from my 12-foot jon boat and also carry a decent number of duck decoys. Nice! Similarly, the jon boat works well for carrying hang-on treestands, and when successful, a tagged deer. None of this is convenient with a kayak.

The Alumacraft 1232 jon boat is 11 feet 10 inches in length, weighs 135 pounds and has a maximum capacity of 435 pounds. It features an all welded design for durability.
The Alumacraft 1232 jon boat is 11 feet 10 inches in length, weighs 135 pounds and has a maximum capacity of 435 pounds. It features an all welded design for durability.

5. Reasonably Priced

Kayak prices continue to go up as the number of features increase. Yes, you can purchase an inexpensive 10-foot kayak and it’ll work okay for fishing, but the larger ones that are most fisherman-friendly feature a peddle drive system, such as my Old Town Predator PDL, or a fin system, such as a Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14. These two models are priced at approximately $2,600 and $4,000, respectively.

You can purchase a top-notch, new, lightweight 12-foot jon boat for less than $2,000, and a bit of online searching (Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, etc.) will reveal used ones for less than $1,000. Of course, you’ll have to be careful in purchasing a used one to ensure it doesn’t leak. A buddy of mine spent $500 on a used 12-footer off Craigslist, tested it on a nearly lake for leaks, and it works perfectly. (FYI: Fisher Boats discontinued production in 2009.)

A Crestliner 1232 CR Jon measures 11 feet 10 inches, weighs only 90 pounds, and has a maximum weight capacity of 389 pounds.
A Crestliner 1232 CR Jon measures 11 feet 10 inches, weighs only 90 pounds, and has a maximum weight capacity of 389 pounds.

6. Powered by Muscle or Motor

Depending on the activity, I’ll either row my 12-foot jon boat, or power it with my 40-pound-thrust Minn Kota trolling motor or 3hp Evinrude outboard (1966-model year!). When duck hunting, I use the outboard; when fishing, I like the trolling motor for precise positioning while casting along the shoreline. When I visit lakes where trolling motors aren’t allowed, or when floating rivers, I row. I also row a bit when I’m fishing with the trolling motor attached because it’s the best way to quietly move across weed-choked shallow-water bays.

The author’s oldest son Elliott (right) and his friends regularly use a 12-foot jon boat (see it in the background?) to reach prime out-of-the-way duck hunting spots.
The author’s oldest son Elliott (right) and his friends regularly use a 12-foot jon boat (see it in the background?) to reach prime out-of-the-way duck hunting spots.

True story: While finishing up this article, I paused for a few minutes to help my 18-year-old son Elliott load the 12-foot jon boat in our pickup. He can do it alone but it’s easier with two people. He’s heading out this afternoon and evening with a buddy on a bass fishing mission. My son owns a used 14-foot semi-v aluminum boat powered by a new 15hp outboard, with a bow-mount trolling motor. This is a compact rig, but it’s on a trailer, so he needs a boat ramp to launch it. This spring and summer, he’s fished four times from his 14-footer; I know during this same period he’s fished from the 12-foot jon boat on carry-in-only lakes at least 30 times.

I strongly encourage you to consider adding a 12-foot jon boat to your list of fishing and hunting gear. It will open a tremendous number of outdoor opportunities, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Trust me — you’ll never regret it.

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