The Ultimate Vacation
On June 1st, my family and I
set off on a month-long camping excursion that took us through
eleven states. Our trip took us to Louisiana bayous, Texas canyons,
Colorado mountain lakes, and beautiful streams in Missouri’s Ozarks
and Tennessee’s Cumberland Valley. Strapped to the top of our popup
camper for the entire 4,922 miles was my Native Watercraft Ultimate
14.5. This boat transformed our vacation from a nice trip to a truly
Initially, Katie (my wife) was against
bringing the Ultimate along on our trip. “It’s going to be a pain to
load and unload”, she said. She was wrong about that. The Ultimate
took under a minute to unload and about five minutes to get strapped
onto our popup camper. “You are going to take off in that boat and
go fishing while I’m stranded with our three kids!” was her other
prediction. OK, she nailed this one, as I did manage to sneak off on
two solo outings.
I was able to
sneak away for an hour or two on the bayou that feeds Lake Bistineau.
The one person I saw complimented my "pirogue"!
What Katie failed to predict was just how
often both she and the kids would use the Ultimate. They used the
boat as much as I did, which is shocking because Katie really
dislikes canoes because they can be so unstable. After her first
outing in the rock-steady Ultimate, we had to armwrestle to decide
who got to take the kids out fishing or paddling. As usual, she won.
Katie and I were even able to enjoy a couple “grown-ups only”
paddling trips, where we took in breathtaking sunsets on Colorado’s
Writing for American River Fishing, I have
primarily used the 14.5 for solo fishing and paddling. It’s been a
great solo boat and has handled every river fishing situation under
the sun. This trip was my first opportunity to really use the boat
extensively with my kids (ages 7, 5, and 4). I really want my kids
to get into fishing, paddling, and the outdoors so I chose the
Ultimate 14.5 with them in mind.
Alligator hunting before breakfast
Needless to say, they loved it. In
Louisiana, my daughter (age 7) and I woke up at dawn each day and
,still in our pajamas, cruised near the shores of Lake Bistineau in
search of alligators. Later in the day, the boys would take turns in
the front seat as we fished for bluegill and shellcracker in this
beautiful, cypress-filled lake. The design of the Ultimate 14.5
takes a lot of the hassle out of fishing with small kids. When I
took one of my sons fishing, I’d simply turn the front seat around
so we were facing one another. This made baiting hooks, untangling
lines, and conversation a lot easier. When they get big enough to
use a kayak paddle and don’t need their hooks baited by me anymore,
I guess I’ll turn the seat back around!
Lake Bistineau shellcracker
Our next stop was Caprock Canyon State Park
in northwest Texas, where it reached 108 degrees and the wind was
constantly 20 mph with gusts up to 30. This makes for very shaky
nights in a popup camper. While we didn't fish here, the hiking was
great and kids can always find stuff to do if you just take away
electricity and throw them outside!
Pretty Texas canyon
Hope finds a friend
Santa Fe, New Mexico was next and we all
loved downtown Santa Fe. The highlight was our trip to Bandelier
National Monument, where we climbed up the cliffs and explored the
caves that served as homes to the ancestral Pueblo people.
After New Mexico, we picked up some family
in Boulder, Colorado and headed up to Steamboat Lake for a week at
8,500 feet. Here we paddled, fished, biked, cooked out, caught
crawdads, and generally had a blast. We had two inches of snow on
"If you take one more picture, I'm gonna use this knife on you!"
Paddling on Steamboat Lake
Wiley Melton with dinner
June 15th. This ain't Georgia!
In Colorado, we enjoyed some fantastic
fishing on the small mountain lakes near Steamboat Springs. My
5-year old and I caught our limit of rainbow, brown, and cutthroat
trout on a day so windy that canoes were being blown all over the
lake. The Ultimate rides so much lower to the water that we were
able to fish and maneuver effectively while everyone in canoes and
kickboats was forced to fish from the bank. It’s got to be a pretty
cool feeling to catch dinner for the whole family at age five! On
another windy day, the trout would only strike lures trolled behind
the boat. This meant a lot of paddling for me, but we wouldn’t have
caught a thing without the low-profile, easy-paddling Ultimate
(well, a motorboat might have worked!).
Loaded up and
headed to a mountain lake even farther up the mountain!
First trout of the day!
Another fishing trip. Oddly enough, these mountain trout in the
lakes loved a bass lure- the Shad Rap!
On our way back to Georgia, we were able
to camp on Missouri’s Meramec River. It was here, on this sparkling
Ozarks river that we figured out how to get the entire family on the
river at the same time. We simply tied a couple rafts behind the
Ultimate for the three kids, and Katie and I paddled them all
upstream to a series of small islands, where we played and swam all
day before drifting back downstream with the kids in tow. On the
island, we simply took out the seats and used them as beach chairs
while the kids played and swam. Those chairs are awesome!
immediately prior to asphyxiation
A cave spring on
Missourians know how to enjoy a river!
A nice Meramec River smallie
The view up front...
...and the view behind
In Tennessee, the whole family floated a
section of the Harpeth River. Since this was a long float, I decided
to rent a canoe so that the entire family could ride in a boat of
some type. Big mistake. The kids were perfectly happy in their rafts
tied to the Ultimate. Unfortunately, one grown-up was needed to
paddle the canoe. Since I lost the arm-wrestling contest, I got the
canoe while Katie got the Ultimate and all the kids. And to add
insult to injury, she still managed to catch more fish than I did!
All told, it was a great vacation made
even better by a fantastic boat. We were able to experience so much
more at every stop along our journey simply because we brought along
the most versatile boat I’ve ever seen: the Native Watercraft
Did I mention I really like the seats on the Ultimate?
Back in Georgia, A self-portrait of sorts