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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 memorable one! 

     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 Steamboat Lake.

     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 June 15th!

"If you take one more picture, I'm gonna use this knife on you!"

Improvised seesaw

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!

Lightnin' bugs immediately prior to asphyxiation

A cave spring on the Meramec

WooHooooooo! 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 Ultimate 14.5!

Did I mention I really like the seats on the Ultimate?

Back in Georgia, A self-portrait of sorts





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