Absolutely the best no-risk guarantee in the business! An entirely new spin on buzzbaits and spinner baits

Jon Boat Conversion Project
a.k.a. the “Olive Drab Floater”

Do-it-yourself anglers, this page is for you. Before you leave, learn about the Secret Weapon Innobait™ Tackle System and customize a kit that provides you with virtually unlimited options. Modify your spinnerbaits and buzzbaits right on the casting deck in seconds, without tools. Produce exactly the right configuration for every cast. Save space, weight, and money and improve your catch at the same time.

Olive Drab Floater, 2005

In the winter of 1996, I decided to retrofit the Olive Drab Floater (ODF) — my trusty 14 foot Tracker® Sportsman jon boat. That boat’s wide beam — 60 inches across the gunwales at the stern — makes it ideal for a decking project. I have fished out of many jon boats with partial or full decks, and I wanted a design that improved on storage space, ease of access, and usable deck space. Here’s what I came up with.

The Tracker Sportsman has two bench seats: one in the center with a livewell and another in the stern. There is also a small elevated deck in the bow, which is too small to serve as a casting platform. My plan was to add a deck that spanned between the middle bench seat and front deck and then build a deck that covered the fuel tank/battery compartment behind the rear bench.

ODF finished, showing hatches First, I carefully measured every dimension of the Tracker and drew top and side views using a computer drafting program. That turned out to be a huge benefit, since I was able to add and refine several ideas without ever touching a piece of wood or hand tool. I was also able to identify all the components I would require to do the job, and I purchased or scrounged everything I needed before I started drilling and sawing. I ordered a boat carpet kit from Bass Pro Shop, but most of the other supplies were already in my workshop or could be found at the Home Depot and a marine supply store.

One problem with previous jon boat upgrades I’d helped with was limited access to under-deck storage. My solution was to make the front deck from three plywood panels, arranged so that two of them could serve as large hatches, enabling me to easily store and retrieve gear. The three panels are hinged at the two joints so that the hatches swing inward, like gull-wings. This has several advantages over positioning the hinges along the gunwales:

1. When I swing open the hatches, rods and gear roll into the center of the boat rather than over the gunwales and into the lake.

2. Easier access when the boat is on its trailer. I avoid having to get into the boat to get to my gear in storage.

3. Wider opening. If I hinged along the outside, I would have probably attached the hatches to two tapering plywood decking strips, which would have reduced their width.

4. Easier to design and build.

Jon boat decking project Using the side panels as gull-wing rather than having an opening in the center of the deck also enabled me to create a 6-1/2 foot long rod locker on the starboard side, where I can lay rods with their tips extending under the bow deck.

In an earlier jon boat conversion project, I had used 2 x 4 wood bracing, but it added too much weight to the boat while reducing storage space. For the ODF project, I chose to use 1/8-inch thick, 1x1-inch aluminum L-frame. All aluminum-to-aluminum attachments were made using aluminum pop rivets. For steel- or wood-to-aluminum connections, I used stainless steel bolts or screws.

My middle bench seat was three inches lower than the short, front deck on my Tracker jon boat. I wanted to span between them with plywood decking to create a large casting platform with two hatches that could be opened to access the storage space below deck, and I wanted it flush with the middle bench seat. I had to decide if I wanted to slope the plywood up to the level of the front casting deck or make it parallel to the built-in surfaces, and I settled on the latter.

After I had sealed the plywood with a couple coats of Bondo® polyester fiberglass resin, I cut and glued marine carpet on the three panels as well as the middle bench seat and front deck. I then riveted the aluminum L-frame braces in place.

The thickness of my plywood decking plus carpet (wrapped around and glued/stapled on the bottom surface) is 5/8 inch (with carpet compressed). I measured that far down from the top of the bench seat, marked the level, and riveted an inverted aluminum L-frame brace across the entire front of the bench seat.

In order to make the brace at the same height across the back surface of the front deck, I measured down, marked my level line, and then riveted the aluminum L-frame brace in place as a right-side up L.

jon boat deck aluminum brace detail With the front and back transverse braces in place, I then turned my attention to the four longitudinal braces. I needed two parallel ones in the center, spaced the width of the center deck panel, and two more to attach to the gunwales. I cut the two center ones to length, trimmed the ends, and riveted them to the transverse braces. I then made sure I positioned the outside pair on the same plane as the center longitudinal braces and then riveted them at both ends and to the ribs that extended up the sides of the boat. The aluminum L-frame stock doesn’t flex, of course, so I couldn’t conform it to the bend of the gunwales. That turned out to not be a problem; I just trimmed the aluminum so it fit into place and then riveted everything together. Oh, yes... the “L” was inverted there, too.

To add rigidity, I cut four short studs from my aluminum stock, trimmed the ends, and then riveted them to ribs at the bottom and to the two braces already in place. That done, a 350-pound man could safely walk across my deck without it sagging under his weight. (I weigh only half that, so that’s a pretty safe margin for error.)

Last, I laid my carpeted, three-panel deck in place, drilled holes though the center panel and through the two middle braces, squirted some epoxy into the drilled holes to seal the raw wood edges, and then bolted it down with stainless steel nuts and bolts. I added recessed rings that swivel up to present a handle for lifting the hatch. One of the best features of this design is ease of access to all the under-deck storage while the boat is on the trailer. When afloat, I just reach in from the center bench or fold the hatch flat on the center panel, get what I need, and then close it back.

jon boat rear deck This configuration has worked out very well, but if I were to do the job differently, I might consider attaching it so I could remove the center bracing and panels as a single unit. That would mean using eight wing nuts — four to attach the vertical braces to the ribs, and four to attach the two center braces to the transverse braces riveted to the bench and casting deck. Simply unbolting and lifting off the panels and bracing would restore the boat to its original configuration if I decided to crouch down low in the boat for duck hunting.

For the back hatch, I decided to use the back inch of the bench as support for the plywood hatch. I screwed aluminum L-frame brackets to the wooden transom and trimmed the plywood panel to fit. After studying on it awhile, I decided to take on some extra weight and added another plywood panel on top of the rear bench seat. It overhangs the front edge by about two inches. That ensured the rear deck was flush all the way across both panels, and it also resulted in a much more secure surface to later anchor my seat pedestal receiver. I’ve had a few heavyweights set the hook on big bass while sitting on that pedestal seat, and the base remains solid feeling — which I doubt would have been the case if I had just anchored it to the thin aluminum sheeting of the bench seat

Jon boat conversion illustration As with the front sections, I sealed the plywood with resin and attached carpet before bolting everything in place. The hinges are stainless steel, and the lift handle for the rear hatch is a low-profile aluminum gate handle. Still on my to-do list is to add three locking latches to protect my storage compartment contents while the boat is unattended.

With all the carpentry completed, I ran trolling motor and lights wiring up the port channel and sonar wiring up the starboard channel. By using separate channels I hoped to avoid electrical interference. Gray electric PVC tubing was a snug fit, but it makes a neat job and keeps the wires protected and out of sight.

The red dot you see and the black receptacle underneath that are 12-volt accessory outlets for my spot light and UV light. I also have a receptacle at the stern so I can run two black lights when fishing with a partner at night.

Finishing touches were addition of a circulating pump in the livewell and a bilge pump next to the drain plug. Toggle switches for them are mounted under one of the rear corner deck braces where they won’t be kicked but are easy to reach.

I also used short sections of closed-cell pipe wrap to cover the metal edges around the rod locker to protect my rods’ lacquered finishes. Rod socks prevent tangling and protect the rod tips as well.


Jon Boat Conversion Project Materials Cost

Ok . . . what did all this end up costing? Even though I had a few parts and materials lying around already, and I bought others at discount, I still had to shell out some money for this project. Below is a chart with actual costs (or estimated cost for stuff I already had on hand).

Parts

Cost

Big Foot trolling motor switches (2)

$21

Auxiliary power sockets (2)

$6

40-amp circuit breaker for trolling motor

$7

12-volt trolling motor connector - male

$7

12-volt trolling motor connector with cap - female

$8

6-amp multi-strand electric line; 16’ red, 16’ black

$10

Stainless steel bolts, nuts, and washers

$4

3-piece pedestal set (swivel and 11" post) (2)

$56

Fold-down seats (2)

$20

Marine plywood, 1 sheet 4 x 8-foot, 1/2-inch, salt-treated

$25

Bondo polyester Fiberglass resin (1 gal.) and hardener

$15

1/8-inch thick 1 x 1-inch Aluminum L-angle for deck braces & supports

$50

Bilge pump

$16

Hose for bilge pump

$3

Aerator kit for livewell

$13

Bow and stern lights, sockets, wiring

$41

Hatch kit (hinges, lift ring) (2)

$26

Stainless steel fastener kits (2)

$22

Pole storage clips for bow and stern lights (4)

$10

Boat carpet kit from BPS

$100

Total

$401

Homemade Trolling Motor Mount

The Bass Tracker jon boat has a two-inch high rail on the bow deck. I decided to use a stern-mount 36-pound thrust trolling motor and attach it to the front to free up casting deck space.

The trolling motor brace I fabricated is made of scrap steel bracing, a few stainless steel connectors (for attaching it to the deck), and three steel bolts (to attach a short section of pressure-treated 2 x 4), which I found rummaging around in the workshop. A buddy welded them up for me, and I bolted it on the deck after laying the carpet. Lock washers seem to have done the trick — I’ve used this brace for four years now and it’s still as sturdy as the day I mounted it.

Trolling motor mount bracket. Note position of carriage bolt
Trolling motor mount bracket - 3D view

I also cobbled together a spring-loaded version from spare parts in my workshop — two heavy-duty springs, an exterior door hinge, some steel plate and blocks of wood. The advantage of this design is that is swivels when you run the trolling motor into stumps, saving wear and tear on the motor (and keeping you in the boat). I never got around to mounting it on the boat or trying it out, but in the shop it performed well.
spring mount - side view spring mount - back view

Getting Started On Your Own Project

Let me offer a word of caution: not all jon boats are created equal. Some are wide enough to be suitable for elevated decking, but most are too narrow and tend to roll dangerously if the occupants’ center of gravity is too high. Do not add a casting deck with pedestal seating if the boat is not at least five feet wide. Also, some jon boats already have limited freeboard (the sidewall area that’s out of the water), and adding heavy plywood decking makes them ride too low in the water to be safe. However, even if you have a narrow jon boat and need to stand on the floor or sit on seats attached directly to the benches, there are still plenty of things you can do to improve comfort as well as functionality.

Half of my fun of the Olive Drab Floater project was in doing the research and planning. Since every model of jon boat is different and what you want to do with the boat after you’ve finished modifying it is unique to you, then you need to dream, measure, plan, and draft or sketch the modifications that are right for you.

Links of Interest for Boat Conversions

In addition to the ODF page, there are several projects documented on the Internet today. You can find plenty by doing a Google search for the terms "jon boat conversion." I’ll save you a few steps and suggest some sites you might want to visit:

New! Henry Hefner did an excellent job customizing a small V-bottom boat. The Minnow Bucket offers fabrication details and photos of this first-rate conversion project.

Ty Wall’s Jon Boat Conversion photo journal takes you from bare boat to finished project.

Mike Evans’s Jon Boats Conversion & Bass Fishing Page does the same. (Note: be sure your motor has a kill switch and that you use it. Read Mike’s “Miracle on Lake Travis” if you need convincing.)

Another good resource, with photos, is Hampton Roads Jon-Boat Modifications page.

Probably the best-publicized source of information is the HydrillaGorilla.Com site. They will be glad to sell you their book and plans, and the results are entirely satisfying. While your’ there, be sure to see Julie’s page.

Another extensive source of information is the Aluminum Boat & Repair Board

Last but not least, you should spend some time at the Glen-L marine designs: Wood & Plywood Information site.

Good luck to you, and enjoy your project. And if you’re the kind of angler who likes to modify and improve his equipment to get the most out of every moment on the water, be sure to stop by the Secret Weapon Lures site to learn of the biggest change in spinnerbaits in the last 50 years. We take the manufacturing process up to the shoreline; you complete it when you have the target in sight by making the final, critical modifications — in seconds, without tools — that ensure you will be casting the perfect spinnerbait for every water, light, and cover situation. And to really upgrade your capabilities, take a look at our Recoil Rig — new for 2009.

Tight lines!

Joe Haubenreich
Secret Weapon Lures

Copyright © 2006, Secret Weapon Lures®
P.O. Box 1672 · Brentwood, TN 37024-1672
P: 615-469-5710     F: 615-469-4706
Toll-free: 866-391-6108

Made in the USA

Secret Weapon Lures® is a registered trademark of
Secret Weapon Lures, Inc. Spinnerbait design is protected by
U.S. Patent No. 6,675,524 2B. Artwork is the exclusive, copyrighted
property of Secret Weapon Lures® or used by permission.