The Xpress Boats H20 Bay boat may be the smallest vessel in the Hyper-Lift series, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Florida Sportsman’s Sam Hudson met with Clay Connor, Bobby Bittinger and other crew from Xpress Boats to test out the 20-foot aluminum bay boat on the Indian River Lagoon. As opposed to a bass boat, which is mostly used on open water, a duck boat must be built to also navigate canals and channels and to maneuver among trees.
About a half century ago, some of today’s most popular duck boat manufacturers began building aluminum, utility-style boats in Arkansas. The boat design was a hit with hunters because it allowed them to weave between trees and through swamps.
Along with War Eagle, other major duck boat manufacturers that call Arkansas home are Xpress Boats of Hot Springs and SeaArk Boats of Monticello. What also has kept the duck boat manufacturers tied to Arkansas is that many hunters consider the Natural State to have the best duck hunting across the globe. Although duck manufacturers hit choppy waters during the Great Recession, the industry is reporting that orders for boats are piling up and it needs workers. What Hunters WantIn addition to the shotgun, decoys and duck calls, the duck boat is a vital piece of equipment to a hunter. McCarley, 38, started hunting when he was 5 and averages about 50 hunting days a year and uses a Weldbilt boat.

If a hunter hits a wave or choppy waters, the V-bow design will deflect the water and help keep the water out of the boat, Ward said. A good, aluminum duck boat should last for years, if not a lifetime, said Henderson of SeaArk, which manufactures about 1,200 boats a year.
ChallengesDuring the Great Recession, War Eagle had to deal with people keeping their wallets closed tight. Ward declined to say how many boats are manufactured a year, although, the company employs between 100 and 120 people. Xpress does not release sales figures but Herndon said the company has seen a steady climb in sales over the years. Arkansas' duck hunting magazine featuring articles and photos showcasing Arkansas' rich duck hunting tradition Everything from ducks to dogs, geese to guns. The aluminum hull—that’s right, Xpress Boats are all-welded aluminum boats—allows for a fast holeshot and sharp turning radius. Top features include two fold-down fishing seats with 13-inch extensions, two stern “jump” seats, built-in lockable rod boxes, leaning post and loaded fiberglass center-console with baitwell. The team from Xpress was on a cross country trip, touring its new boats from their headquarters in Arkansas. And over the decades, those manufacturers that launched the duck boats have stayed and grown in Arkansas.

Other Arkansas-based producers include Weldbilt Commercial Boats of Benton and Southfork Custom Boat Manufacturing Inc. The popular designs are about 16-21 feet long and have a V-shape on the bow, so if the boat scrapes a tree, it will dodge the blow and keep going. The company, which has 180 employees, manufacturers its boats in Hot Springs and produces about 3,000 boats annually, with about 300 to 500 being duck boats, he said.
And there seems to be a wave of young people coming into the market, which will require them to have their own boats, Ward said.
Testing the boat on a nasty day, the boat handled the chop while running wide open, yet it was quiet during drifts for seatrout. Xpress Boats first made a name for itself in bass fishing, and has now crossed over into the saltwater arena.

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