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This week's Feature Blog

The 1866 Sportsman

At Fishing 411 TV boats come and boats go. Every year our team rigs new boats which are in turn displayed at the winter boat/sport/fishing shows. Those same boats are then the focal point of our spring, summer and fall filming efforts. Come winter, those boats are put on the market and new ones are rigged to start the process all over again.

The 1866 Sportsman is a versatile boat. This particular model can be rigged with either a prop drive or jet drive outboard making it ideal for a wealth of fishing situations.

In my long-standing career as a media guy I’ve owned nearly 40 different fishing boats. I’ve said many times over the years that I don’t get too emotionally attached to fishing boats. That’s only partly true, because some boats do get me excited.

A few years back I took a shine to a utility boat known as the Starcraft Freedom. Available in a 180 and 160 version, the Freedom is a simple and straightforward design and that is a big part of what attracted me to the boat. The floor plan is wide open, the boat is easy to trailer, control and keep clean. I liked everything about the Freedom, but as luck would have it someone offered to buy the boat, I agreed and quickly started to regret that decision.

Recently I found a replacement for the Freedom 180 that served me so well. The boat is called an 1866 Sportsman produced at the Smoker Craft, Inc., facility. The first time I laid eyes on this all welded hull I liked what I was seeing.

The Sportsman is 18 feet, 7 inches long, features a 94-inch beam and a maximum horsepower rating of 90 horses. Available as an 1866 and also a 1666 model, anglers can choose from either a tiller, side console or center console models. Besides being an ideal boat for fishing rivers and inland lakes, the layout lends itself nicely to other uses like duck hunting and also as a gear hauler for wilderness camps.

The hull is a Modified V design with a full 20-inch transom, a deep splash pan and plenty of room to mount either a gasoline kicker or a transom mounted electric trolling motor. The floor plan is wide open and you can pick from seat boxes or pedestal seats.

The floor and bow casting platform feature high grade vinyl. The layout is idea for casting or trolling situations. On the bow a diamond plate nose provided plenty of room for mounting both a MotorGuide Xi5 electric motor and an electric Anchor Wizard winch which will come in handy when chasing river steelhead. The Anchor Wizard is wired directly to the same deep cycle batteries that run the electric motor. A remote switch for controlling the Anchor Wizard is mounted at the back of the boat. Another feature that attracted me to this model is the built-in gas tank. Most utility boats in this class require a remote fuel tank that simply takes up room in the boat, gets in the way and seriously limits how far the boat can range.

The 1866 has a built-in 32-gallon fuel tank which is huge for a boat of this size. The extra fuel allows me to make long runs or to fish for multiple days without having to refuel.

The maiden voyage for the Sportsman 1866 was on the Michipicoten River in Northern Ontario. The boat performed flawlessly with a full tank of fuel and three anglers on board, reaching about 30 MPH top speed.

I opted to go with a tiller model and decided on a bullet proof 90/60 Evinrude G1 with Jet Pump to maximize the useable space inside the boat. For river fishing I’ll be running the jet pump and I also purchased the Evinrude prop drive for the boat that will be ideal for fishing inland lakes, large rivers and wilderness fisheries. To facilitate switching from a jet pump to a prop drive, I added a six-inch jack plate that can be easily adjusted for the perfect engine height for both drive options.

Next came the need for electronics. I mounted a 12-inch Lowrance HDS Live sonar/GPS unit at the back of the boat rigged with structure scan and a 9-inch HDS Live unit on the bow with broad beam and chirp sonar. This sonar/GPS set up will be ideal for trolling, casting, jigging, back trolling and drift fishing situations.

Next, I replaced the tiller seat base with a Smooth Move Ultra suspension seat to smooth out the ride in rough water. The boat is setting on a Trailmaster Deluxe tube frame trailer that features four bunks, guide-on rails, disc brakes, the Trailguard finish, LED lights, mag wheels, swing away tongue, heavy duty winch and also the high capacity jack stand.

Soon I will be covering the flooring of the boat with a snap-in version of the popular Marine Mat flooring. Marine Mat is attractive, durable and insures positive footing even in freezing conditions.

Targeting wild chinook salmon with Brett Robinson seemed like the perfect test for the 1866 Sportsman. This Modified V has a ton of fishing space and can be used for a host of fishing and hunting ambitions.

A boat of this caliber deserves a custom travel and mooring cover. I worked with Brad’s Custom Covers to create an unique cover that protects most of the front of the boat from stone chips caused by trailering on gravel roads. The same cover doubles as a mooring cover for those times when the boat will be docked.

The 1866 is serving the author well as a river boat, but it will also see lots of action fishing smaller inland lakes, wilderness destinations and some duck hunting adventures as well.

The 1866 Sportsman does a lot of things well and even tripped out like mine, the cost is a fraction of what most aluminum fishing boats go for these days. This time around my intention is to listen to my heart and keep this boat as a permanent member of Fishing 411 TV.

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