Ott DeFoe loves fishing out his full-sized tournament bass rig, but the boat he turns to most frequently in the fall is a customized 17-foot Tracker Grizzly aluminum that he can take nearly anywhere.
“(There are times when a) standard bass boats can’t access certain areas, but I can run this boat in 4 inches of water and can cross even less, just depending on how far I have to go,” DeFoe says of his tunnel-hulled Grizzly.
DeFoe’s home near Knoxville, Tennessee puts him in a prime area for shallow-water river fishing with an aluminum boat, but having a boat like this can pay big dividends in almost any region of the country.
“There are a bunch of guys fish out of one in East Tennessee and there are pockets around the country where guys are running them,” he says. “Missouri and Alabama have some good rivers for it and places like Pennsylvania have some great options. There are more and more guys fishing out of small aluminum boats, but still plenty of untapped places.”
The stock boat that DeFoe customized is a 17-foot Tracker Grizzly 1754. His current boat isn’t his first riverboat, but he’s settled on the Grizzly 1754 because of its size for maximum performance and comfort navigating shallow rivers.
“The Grizzly model is basically a stripped-down version of a Bass Tracker,” DeFoe says. “It’s a ‘no bells and whistles’ boat: you get a boat, motor and trailer. It also comes with a bilge pump, navigational lights, and a livewell and that’s about it.”
Bass Pro Shops has a nationally advertised, no-hassle price of $19,495 for this model with a Mercury FourStroke 60 ELPT.
Compared to his Nitro, DeFoe’s Tracker is much smaller and made from a different material, but DeFoe uses much of the same equipment. He even added some Nitro bass boat seats for added comfort.
“(The Grizzly) has a 36v Ultrex and a Humminbird Helix 9 front and back,” he says. “Instead of Talons, I use a Minn Kota DeckHand electric anchor winch on the bow because most of the rivers I fish are rocky and an anchor works better.”
DeFoe turned to friend Mike Watson in White Bluff, Tennessee, to help him fully customize the stock Grizzly 1754.
“He builds boats and does a ton of custom boat work,” DeFoe says of Watson. “There’s no one else I’d trust to do it. He did all of the metal fabrication, like extending the front deck to have a rod box and more storage. He also did the fuel tank swap, making it 18 gallons instead of the nine that came standard. He also added storage under the driver’s seat and raised the seats.”
Watson fabricated a new transom, turning the boat into a tunnel hull – that structure change (along with a 60hp Mercory jet) allows DeFoe to access extremely shallow water.
“Mike put in the tunnel, installed the jack plate and hung the motor,” DeFoe says. “The original product of this boat was 60-horse with a prop, so it was tournament legal and had two jack plates – a T-H Marine Atlas mini and standard size to get shallow with a prop. We also had a convertible tunnel so you could lower the engine and close the tunnel in open water to get more speed, and then open the tunnel and raise the jack plates to get in shallow water. Now we just run the jet on the Mercury with the tunnel hole open.”
DeFoe calls his boat ‘a labor of love’ because of all of the time and work he’s put into it. Even decked out like DeFoe’s, a boat like this will cost less than a fiberglass model (but not cheap by any means).
“It’s like everything else in fishing: the final cost is going to depend on how far you want to go with it,” DeFoe admits. “All of the additions and customization will add up, but it’s a very fun way to fish.”