[by Seth Fields]
WHEN I HIT PAGE 25 OF AMERICAN ANGLER’S 2017 WINTER ISSUE, I knew I’d found “the one.” The story covered fishing muskies on perfect moon phases, but what caught my eyes was an image of a boat, with an angler perched on the bow, performing a figure-eight, and a man at the oars taking in the scene.
I’d spent the previous year searching for a perfect boat, one that was not too large, but not too small; not too expensive but offering unwavering quality. I wanted a boat that handled bigger water, but I needed a shallow draft so it could perform in skinny water, too. And that’s what I saw in the image—a unique boat that could handle the demands my fishing would require. Enter Towee Boats. I liked the boat, got in touch with Towee owner Todd Gregory, and the rest is history. Recently, I reached out to Gregory and dug into his boatbuilding mentality.
What’s your professional background, and why did you create Towee?
Well, I used to work in the automotive industry, on the technical materials side as a director of quality control for several different companies. Even though I got to travel a lot, at the end of the day, it was a soul-sucking job. So I eventually got out and moved down to the Keys, where I was looking for something better to do. Luckily, some very close friends were boatbuilders. My friend Chuck, who later became my mentor, had worked in the industry for a long time, and he had seen it all. He knew all the different designs and technologies. Well, I had an idea about a boat I wanted to create, and he helped me with materials, design, and ultimately taught me boatbuilding. So, we took it from just an idea to a reality. The boating industry has attempted to fill the crossover niche before.
Where does the name Towee come from, and why did you choose to name your company after it?
It’s actually an old Cherokee word and it’s usually mispronounced. There is a creek off the Hiwassee River in Tennessee with that same name, A friend of mine who once had aspirations of building wooden boats at one time, had always wanted to use it and brought it to my attention. He urged me to use it actually. I wanted a name that we could define ourselves with our own quality and performance and this worked out beautifully.
What makes the Rivermaster Calusa different than boats we’ve seen in the past?
In the beginning, I saw a need for something that was missing in the market. Skiffs had just started to get big, but no one was building technical boats. By that, I mean a stripped-down, no-nonsense boat made to get you where you want to go. On the river side of the industry, we had driftboats and canoe–boat hybrids, but neither did the things I needed a boat to do. There were skiffs, which worked well on the flats, but you would never dream of putting them in rivers. Nothing existed at the time that was a credible flats skiff and was also a great river craft. You know, something you could do a lot of different types of fishing with. At the time, I was living a lifestyle where I was often going from the Keys to Tennessee, and up to Wisconsin. I wanted a boat that I could fish all of those places with. We set out to build a boat that did all those things, and did them well. It had to be able to get in skinny water, but also be stable (even with three adults in it). We wanted it to row well in rivers, and pole easily on the flats. But, in creating the perfect crossover boat, our fear was that we didn’t want to create an El Camino. El Caminos look really cool, but it’s a terrible car and an even worse truck. Ultimately, I wanted to have a boat that fit my lifestyle, and I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only one out there who wanted that.
The Rivermaster Calusa is widely popular among muskie fisherman. Why is that?
There are two main reasons. One is the technical nature of the boat. It allows people to do lots of different types of fishing. It allows people to travel. It can be a jet; it can be a prop. And you can take it on big rivers and lakes. That combination just fits the needs of a muskie fisherman. [Second,] this business grew alongside the growth of fly fishing for muskies. We started this brand as muskie fishing came into its own. I started guiding for them a little bit, and then started to learn about others who were guiding for muskies. I met some guys from the Midwest and Wisconsin that were doing it. I eventually reached out to them, and they had a lot of input on some of the original designs and changes we made to the boat. So, I had the input from guys who were really out there doing it. It was very grassroots.
You recently expanded your facilities, the Calusa was featured in the recent Badfish video series, and your boat is popping up in magazines left and right. Is the Towee brand experiencing a boom?
First, let me say that we could sell a lot more boats than we do. It was really hard in the beginning to get a handle on, because if you build your own business and your own brand, you naturally want to see it grow. The entrepreneur in me wanted to grow the brand and make it some huge juggernaut. However, the boatbuilder in me said, Hey there’s a tip – ping point here, and if you go past that, you become a different kind of company. We want to serve as many people as we can while maintaining a level of service where each customer can have a real relationship with us; where I can help each customer select a boat and the custom features they need; and if they have a question, they can get in touch with me directly. You can’t have that kind of service if you’re too big. We’ve found the right production pace, where we can maintain quality over quantity, and we want to keep it that way. We like where we are.
Check out Towee Boats at toweemarine.com. Seth L. Fields is the editor of The Angling Report and digital content manager for American Angler.