July 05, 2023
It was an early-season hunt taking place in Utah’s Cache Valley in October 2022. Jeff Clines was hunting ducks with his friend, Sky Olsen and Olsen’s son. It was only the second hunt for The Barge. The hunters drove 45 minutes from Clines’ house to the ramp, followed by a 10-minute boat ride. They set two dozen decoys on an average, 30-degree morning. After setting up panel blinds in the reeds to hide them, they parked the boat well away.
“It was the first hunt for my female yellow Lab, Sage,” Clines said. “It was a bluebird day with clear skies, but ducks were coming in without a care. They decoyed mainly one at a time and we just picked at them, letting the dogs take turns retrieving. Sky has a female black Lab. In about 45 minutes, the ducks stopped flying. We made coffee and sat around talking for a couple of hours before packing it up. It was a great test of the boat and great for the dogs.”
First Things First
Clines’ first homemade boat, Utah’s Indestructible Icebreaker, was featured in the Oct. 2017 WILDFOWL Boats and Blinds Column. It was a 14’x48” welded aluminum boat with 20” sides powered by a 22 horsepower Predator Engine with a Blackwater Longtail drive.
His new boat, "The Barge," is 20’x48” with 30” sides powered by a Mud Buddy HDR 40 horsepower mud motor engine. Mud motors are necessary for running in 6 inches of water at WMAs, lakes and rivers, including Bear River, which runs through Southern Idaho and Northern Utah and enters Great Salt Lake.
A 33-year-old machinist, Clines lives in Preston, ID and began hunting waterfowl 12 years ago. He shoots mostly Canada geese, mallards, gadwalls and various diving ducks. His decoys are mainly Divebomb silhouettes and Tanglefree floaters. His shotgun is a Beretta A 400 Xtreme Plus loaded with whatever ammo he can find. After boating to a hunting site, he either hunts from the boat hidden in reeds between a pair of Tanglefree panel blinds or sets up the panel blinds on the bank and anchors the boat an eighth-mile away.
“In 2019, I had been hunting in my first boat on Utah Lake with a friend when the wind picked up and blew really heavy,” he said. “We were crashing into waves and about 1,000 yards from the ramp when the battery came loose and the bilge pump stopped working. Waves started coming over the bow until the boat almost sunk. Water was within 4 inches of filling the boat when we finally got the bilge pump hooked back up and we also bailed with a bucket. We barely made it back to the ramp. That’s when I knew I needed a bigger boat.”
The Boat Build
Having no welding skills before he made the first boat, Clines watched online videos to learn how to use a MIG welder. It only took him 50 hours in March and April 2022 to fabricate The Barge. Building it cost approximately $3,500. Estimates from custom boat manufacturers to build a similar boat were around $24,000. The boat was registered in Utah as a homemade boat and weighs 475 pounds. The skin is 1/8” 5052 H32 aluminum plate. The frame is 1½” square aluminum tubing. It is all-welded construction except the floor, which is removable.
Clines took the stringers to a metal shop and had them bent into shape before he welded them to the bottom. He then took the boat to a friend, who used a press brake machine to bend the side angles and chines where the gunwales meet the bottom. The components were then squared up, clamped, and welded together.
Duck Boat Materials List
- 8 - 4 'x10' sheets of .125 aluminum
- 10 - 24' lengths of 1.5"x1.5" aluminum square tube
- 2 - 24' lengths of 1"x1" aluminum square tube
- 1 - 24' length of 1.5” aluminum round tube
- 5 - 43"x83" sheets of Hydro-Turf
- 20 cans of spray paint
- 80’ of wire
- 2021 Mud Buddy HDR 40 Anniversary Edition
- Shark Eye navigation lights
- Max It Out LED stern light
- 4 - Flush mounted LED pods
- 42” light bar
- Garmin 93sv graph for navigation
Total cost without motor: $3,500
The tops of the gunwales have 6-inch-wide aluminum catwalks. Beneath them are 6-inch-wide gear shelves. The stern has an 18-inch hunt deck with an extended transom to keep the engine out of the work area as well to make it easy for hunters to enter. A 6-foot bow deck with a hatch creates storage for 6 to 10 dozen floating decoys. Clines sits on the transom to steer the boat. Others use seats, buckets, or ice chests.
White flush-mounted LED pod lights illuminate the water 360 degrees. Green LED strip lights illuminate the cockpit. The battery is mounted inside the rear hunt deck. The electric panel is on the rear driver’s side (starboard) gunwale. The switches operate the LED’s and navigation lights and the panel also has 2 USB charging ports and a power port.
Clines’ wife, Katie, helped paint the boat. The couple hand sanded and spray painted the hull a base coat of dull grayish brown using Rust-oleum cans assisted by trigger handles. Redleg camo stencils were used to create a camouflage pattern. The Floor was attached to the stringers with rivet nuts to allow removal and inspection of the foam insulation board underneath it that serves as sound attenuation and flotation. Hydro-Turf flooring in Swamp Camo pattern was glued to the decks. The bottom was coated with Wetlander Slick Bottom to make launching easy and help the boat slide over sandbars and vegetation.
The first trailer was free. Cline found it across the road from his home, abandoned in a cornfield. He disposed of the boat sitting on it at a landfill. After losing a wheel on a fishing trip, he found and rehabilitated a galvanized trailer.
“We have had it out in 6-foot waves and always know we will make it back safely,” he said. “We have also loaded other hunters’ 12-foot johnboats on top of it to get them home safely in rough conditions. When I make the next boat, I am still going to make it 6 inches wider because you always need a bigger boat.”