Small boats, big fish!

Why is this man smiling? Meet the Georgia angler/entrepreneur who is working to build the sport of jon boat tournament fishing.  

This Gainesville angler is building Decked Out Jon Boats out of love for the sport. If you think electric only fishing tournaments are not the ‘real’ thing, read on.

by David R. Altman

When GeorgiaBigSticks caught up with the Gainesville (Ga.) resident, we found him editing videotape of one of the recent finals in a jon boat club tournament.  He was also getting ready to fish his first tournament of the year with the High Voltage Bass Anglers, which will try to figure out Stone Mountain Lake this coming Saturday, Feb. 15th.

Brett Cummings is on his way becoming Mr. Everything to jon boat clubs across Georgia–and beyond.

If you want to know the best way to deck out your jon boat, go to his Decked Out Jon Boats’ page. If you want to watch some great video of guys catching big fish from small, electric powered boats, go to Decked Out Jon Boats. If you want to find out what tournaments are coming up, go to Decked Out Jon Boats. If you need advice on batteries, electric outboards, trolling motors, building platforms, that’s right….you guessed it…go to Decked Out Jon Boats. If you’re reading this and you live in Maryland or North Carolina or just about anywhere, check out this site, as it might be one that begins to connect the thousands of jon boat anglers across the U.S.

Brett, a long time tournament fisherman who at one time fished big reservoirs in a Skeeter, is now driving a totally decked out jon boat in which he has caught dozens of bass over ten pounds. But it’s not just the tournaments he loves–he is now building toward a greater goal; that is, to connect the world of jon boats and electric only tournament fishing.

In many of these tournaments, Brett has six cameras in eight boats and then, out of love for the sport, he goes through each camera to edit them into package that he posts on his YouTube channel. It’s a labor of love.

GBS:  Brett, you’re really dedicated to promoting your sport, which is great. But how long does it take to edit those videos?

Brett:  Most of the time, I just have to go through each of those videos. I will sometimes go and watch the video in real time for the guys that won the tournament, like if they say something that was a game changer, I want to make sure that gets in. The other boats I am just checking on the fish-catching action. It’s a lot of hours of footage to go through. (Editors Note: you can find videos at Brett’s YouTube channel or Facebook page at Decked Out Jon Boats. It’s very impressive–you feel like you’re watching MLF or a big tournament–only the boats are smaller).

GBS:  Most of the guys don’t know how much work goes into that.

Brett:  That’s true, but it’s something I really enjoy. I’m working on finalizing the Classic from last year and we’ve got the Total Electric Championship (TEC) coming up next month, so it’s always busy.  I try to watch the guys who won the tournament in ‘real time’, in case they say something about their patterns.

GBS: So how long have you been fishing?

Brett: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama and fishing has always been in my blood. My Dad fished in tournaments even some of the bigger ones. It’s something I’ve always had a passion for. My Mom tells the story that when I was a baby in diapers we went to a hotel that was on the lake and I had little fishing rod and they would tie a rubber worm on the end of the line with no hook–and I would stand on the pier and fishing with my rubber worm and get sunburned and they would have to hide my fishing rod (laughing).

GBS: So you fished lakes and rivers growing up?

Brett:  We lived close to the Coosa River, so when we moved from Alabama when I was eight years old, Lake Lanier was a big change and was not an easy lake to fish. But I fished a little creek in my back yard and caught bream. Later, I found out about tournament fishing and started to fish in places like Sandy Creek and Little Russell in Mt. Airy near my home [in Commerce].  My first tournament was down at Yargo–and there are two ramps there.  I went to the one at the Campground and they were putting in at the one down by the bridge.

The infamous ‘other’ ramp at Fort Yargo State Park, near Winder.

So I was waiting around and said ‘where in the world are these people’–so when I got half way back there they said you can still fish but you need to find the club president and check your live well. I sort of said ‘well, I’ve never fished a tournament by myself so I will just fish this one and see how I might have done”….

GBS:  Uh oh…I bet I know what happened…

Brett:  You guessed it (laughing)!  I would have had big fish and I would have won the tournament!

GBS: What tournament clubs have you fished?

Brett:  Well, I’ve fished with High Voltage, which is one of the oldest electric only clubs in Georgia and when I started fishing with them we could fish small lakes like Sandy Creek and [Fort] Yargo. We’d have, like, 10 or 12 boats every tournament.  Well, they created a web site and it just sort of blew up! We got to where we could not go to the smaller lakes because there were just too many boats.  We were consistently making the Top 4 [which qualified for the classic] and so I started fishing bigger tournaments and bigger lakes. I had a 16 1/2′ Astraglass and then I bought a 19 foot Skeeter. I did okay on Club Events and larger charity events.  But, before I left electric only, I had bought a 1448 jon boat and I had two 107 (thrust) trolling motors on the back and a 76 pound thrust on the front. I had eight batteries in that boat…

BGS: I bet you were flying past those other boats…..

Brett: Everybody back then was joking that my boat was so fast that you could ski behind it!

BGS:  That would about put you up on plane, wouldn’t it?

Brett: (laughing) I was down at Lake Horton [electric only) one time and the Game Wardens were waiting for me at the ramp. I thought they had stopped me for fishing after dark, but they said ‘no, you didn’t make a cast, but we thought you were running a gas motor so we are here to check it.”

GBS:  They just saw that wake you were making and assumed you were using a gas engine!

Brett:  That’s exactly right. So I went back to the big lakes, and put my electronics from my big boat on my Jon boat. I was practicing my electronics and wanted to hit my waypoint on every cast and trying to be a better angler.  So, the more time I spent on the little lakes the more I realized how much I missed it. I decided then to go ‘all in’ on the little lakes. I bought an 1860 Express and built it up over time–with a Ray Electric [outboard] 60 volt on the back and a Minnesota Ultrex 112 on the front. I’ve got Talons and three Hummingbirds, two nines and a ten.

Check out Brett Cummings’ and own decked out jon boat. Note the two Talons surrounding his 60 volt Ray electric outboard. And those graphs up front are impressive.

GBS:  That’s a great looking boat. And you are right, learning to use those electronics and graph the small lakes is so important come tournament time.

Brett: I’ve done a lot of drop-shooting over the years and you have to use them for that.

GBS: So you went to fish the big lakes for a while?

Brett: I did fish a few big tournaments around, but never the BFL because of the travel associated with that. Mainly, I fished Hartwell, Keowee, Burton, I just love Burton, Lake Chatuge and others.

GBS: I’ve never considered those north Georgia lakes much for fishing–there are a lot of beautiful houses on them but I’ve always thought of them more as recreational/boating lakes rather than fishing lakes.

Brett: I will tell you, if you go to Lake Burton in the spring and the bass are bedding, you will see more 10-pound plus fish than you have ever seen in your life. I caught a 10 pounder there once on the bed. I was fishing for that fish and out of the corner of my eye I saw three more swimming up to that fish and I could feel the bite so I set the hook and I’m still not sure whether I caught the one on the bed or one of the ones that swam up (laughing). After I caught that one, my buddy went up there and cast a shakey head up by the pier and about 8 ten pounders swam out from the pier and were looking at it.

Brett says Lake Burton is often overlooked as a great largemouth lake.

GBS: That’s incredible. Maybe they just don’t get the fishing pressure up there.

Brett: Well, that lake [Burton] has a few things going for it. They have blue back herring and it has trout in it. Another thing about Burton is that if someone weighs in an eight pounder it could be a spot or a largemouth.

GBS: So tell me about your Decked Out YouTube channel?

Britt:  It’s been two years now. I started my group on Facebook first and I wanted to share an affordable way for people to get out and bass fish. They can take it to whatever level you want to. For example, there are a lot of people who don’t know that you don’t use pressure treated wood on an aluminum boat because one of the chemicals you use to pressure treat that wood is copper and copper and aluminum have a chemical reaction. That’s why a lot of older boats if they replace the transom they’ll find some holes in there due to the chemical reaction.

GBS: I didn’t know that. So you learn about the technology. I notice a lot of people are asking each other questions about how to build out a Jon boat. You’ve created quite a community.

Brett:  That’s what I am trying to do, bringing people who don’t have the knowledge together with the people who do have the knowledge.

GBS: Clearly, it’s working.  How do you decide what clubs to fish or not to fish?

Brett:  There are a lot of clubs out there. What happened was I decided to go back to electric only fishing and literally every weekend there is a tournament. With my job [Brett works at TenCate Geosynthetics in Pendergrass, Georgia] I work every other weekend. So, there are two main clubs, Dixie Jon Boats and High Voltage Bass Anglers and they fished opposite weekends. So I rotated between the two clubs. I ended up fishing with High Voltage and had a good finish.  About that time, the Total Electric Championship (TEC) came along and I was lucky enough to qualify for that–but that was five clubs that got together and they asked me to do videos of their championship. So, that really helped get Decked Out Jon Boats to the next level, so not only am I promoting electric only fishing but I’m also promoting the TEC and it brought a lot of interest to my channel.

GBS:  I saw your interview with Merrick McClure–and he sort of started the TEC up again?

Brett:  Yes, Merrick is the president of SWAT (Small Water Angler Team) and they they fish Lathem, High Falls, Rocky Mountain and lakes further north. That’s one of the five clubs that make up the TEC, which includes High Voltage, Dixie Jon Boats, Five Alive and Dahlonega Jon Boat Anglers.

GBS: So you could qualify for the club championship if you finish in the Top Six but you have to finish in the Top Four to make the Total Electric Championship (TEC), is that right?

Brett: Yes, that’s right. This past year, I finished in sixth place in the High Voltage club, and that allowed me to fish their Classic where, by the way, I lost a ten pounder at the boat–right at the net! And the winners–this was at Black Shoals–boated 22 pounds on top water baits. Anyway, since I wasn’t in the Top Four I didn’t qualify for the TEC, but I will be down there promoting and videotaping the tournament.  It’s being held this year at Hard Labor Creek at the end of May.  It’s got a lot of space and parking available so it’s a natural for the TEC to have it’s Classic there.

Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir is about 40 miles east of Atlanta near Social Circle. At more than a thousand acres, it’s attracting a lot of attention as a popular stop for electric only fishing and big tournaments, including the Total Electric Championship (TEC).

GBS:  Tell us about Hard Labor–I’ve heard it’s going to be a great lake.

Brett: Yes, it’s going to be the premiere lake in Georgia. They stocked Florida strain largemouth in there and the habitat is very diverse. There’s also a big population of bait fish. It takes 20 pounds to win a tournament there.

GBS: Tell us what’s special about electric only fishing.

Brett:  First, you have the most diverse environments in any lake. You can go to Hard Labor and see all this flooded brush and timber. You can go to Juliette and catch spots, largemouth and hybrids. You can go to Lathem which is always deep and clear or the  Commerce watershed which is always stained. Let’s say you were pre-fishing for a Florida tournament and you wanted to fish a grass lake, you could take a jon boat and find one in Georgia.  The other advantage is that we have to learn to fish the water in front of you and not run around and look for the fish all day.

GBS:  I guess that makes your strategy even more important.

Brett:  That’s right. If I decide to go way up a creek arm, I’m probably committed to that area for the entire day.  If I decide to leave it and head back toward the ramp, I probably wouldn’t have enough battery power to go back late in the day and fish it again.

GBS: Have you ever run out of battery power during a tournament?

Brett: I have not. I run 60 volts on my boat, which are five, 12-volt golf cart batteries that weigh 85 pounds apiece. I’ve got one battery for my accessories, my graphs and live well and things like that. And I’ve got my Ultrex up front that runs on three separate batteries up front. 

GBS:  What do you tell people who might want to start with a jon boat and electric only?

Brett:  So, it’s a great way to get out on the water. You can experience everything the Bassmasters experience on the water.  With $400 you can find a cheap jon boat–and then add a battery and even a graph. Along with a live well–which many of us make out of coolers–you can get entry into almost any tournament. The way I kind of look at it, I can spend the money on the toys and the technology that I want to because I’m not spending that money on gas.

GBS:  Do more electric boat only tournaments have electric outboards or do they use multiple trolling motors?

Brett:  I would say its about 50-50 right now. The electric outboards are becoming more prominent but they are more expensive–and it’s about $5,000 for one of those. Of course, if you buy a 107 pound thrust trolling motor, you’ll spend more than a thousand on that. One other thing is that a trolling motor is not made for going wide open for as long as it takes you make those morning runs. Eventually you’ll wear them out and have to get another one, while the electric outboard is made just for that sort of propulsion.  Ray says the first ones are still out there on the water.

GBS:  How do you assess the electric outboard market?

Brett:  Well, you’ve got three companies with electric outboards right now. You have Ray, which has been around for more than 50 years. It’s an air cooled motor.  The Ray is built to be an electric outboard with a bigger two blade prop.  Plus, the Ray is 60 volts and that extends your range and power. The Elco is another, and they are sort of built like a gas outboard, water cooled with the engine on top. They have a three bladed smaller prop and so just having that larger prop on the Ray makes it more efficient. The Elco folks buy Yamaha motors and put their power head on it. The Torqueedo is another electric motor that has its motor in the foot of the trolling motor. That has both benefits and issues. One thing is that the motor is quieter that way [below the surface] but you also have to be careful not to get your fishing line tapped around the motor or you could lose one. 

GBS:  Are you ready for your first tournament this weekend at Stone Mountain? What’s your thinking going into it?

Brett: Stone Mountain is a little weird. It’s a challenging lake for me. There’s some grass up one of the creek arms but to be honest it’s kind of a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde lake for me (laughing).

GBS:  So what about your favorite lakes to fish in the spring?

Brett:  Well, if I was going to take a kid fishing in the springtime, I’d probably take them up to Little Russell (in Mt. Airy), Yahoola [Dahlonega] or  maybe Lathem.  All of those lakes you can catch good numbers and they are clear and you can see the fish in them.  If its a more advanced angler and he was going to catch a big one, I’d go to Hard Labor Creek. Like I said, it takes 20 pound sacks to win a tournament out there. I’ve heard of a nine pounder weighed in out there but I’m sure this year there will be some ten pounders caught.

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Lathem Reservoir, at about 330 acres, is located near Cherokee and Dawson Counties. It’s deep, clear and has plenty of bass to offer electric only jon boaters.

GBS:  Tell me where you want Decked Out Jon Boats to go from here?

Brett: What I’m looking for is to become the central hub for jon boat bass fishing, whether that’s building the boats, fishing the tournaments and others. I now have the ability to do remote interviews. I have a relationship with the Jon Boat Club of North Carolina and I talk to the guys up in Maryland and there’s a big group up there. I’d like to bring them into the Decked Out site and create a larger community and bring their love for electric fishing together. 

GBS:  Brett, congratulations  on all you’re doing to promote electric only fishing. We really appreciate your time.

Brett: You’re welcome.

Brett Cummings is not only the king of Decked Out Jon Boats–he’s a Georgia Big Stick. Think you can’t catch giants out of electric only boats? Think again!

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