johnboats equipped with crowfoot bars and "mules"
Photograph courtesy Illinois Natural History Survey.
Historically there were three types of small boats that were used for fishing and waterfowl hunting: the skiff, the flatboat, and the canoe.
The skiff is characterized by a pointed bow, a flat or square stern, and flat bottom.
The skiff is of European origin and was built on American rivers by the first English settlers by the early 1800s. The French settlers also had a flat-bottomed boat they called a bateau, not to be confused with the smaller skiff.
Skiffs were used in fishing, hunting, and ferrying people across rivers and as tenders to larger boats. Usually small boatyards, such as the Warren Boat Company, built and sold skiffs. Skiffs often took the name of the town in which they were built. Early pine skiffs leaked and had to be tarred, but later the use of cedar and cypress improved the quality of skiffs.
Fishermen and hunters on the Illinois Rivers and its lakes would often row twenty of more miles per day on the rounds to their nets and traps. In the 1920s outboard motors became available and fit on the stern of the skiffs.
The flatboat is also known by the name johnboat, joe boat, and scow. Its characteristics are, in general, a flat bottom, oblong shape, blunt bow and stern that raked up out of the water. Flatboats were usually made by the owner of cheap materials and construction. They were easily maneuvered and could be used with a
mule (underwater sail)
for clamming with crowfoot bars.
Larger flatboats averaging 28 feet in length were an evolution of barges and could be adapted with inboard motors. They became very popular with commercial fishermen into the 1950s.
The Canoe or Duckboat
The version of a canoe that became popular on the Illinois River is called a duckboat. it is pointed at either end, made of wooden planks, and is rowed or paddled. It is used in swampy areas such as backwater lakes for hunting and fishing. The Kidney & Son Boat Factory also manufactured the Dan Kidney Duck Boat, a wooden boat popular to the area.