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Heisler boats: aluminum artwork

Prineville couple builds custom welded aluminum drift boats

by: SCOTT STAATS/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Clay and Candy Heisler stand next to one of their boats.

If you are one of the many people who enjoy floating and fishing Oregon rivers such as the John Day, Deschutes, Rogue or Umpqua, then Heisler Boats can make that experience even better.
   Watching Clay Heisler at work in his Prineville shop reminds me of watching PBS's The New Yankee Workshop. However, instead of watching Norm working with wood, Clay works with aluminum.
    Heisler is a true master craftsman, and seeing the final product - a 15- or 16-foot drift boat - is like looking at a piece of fine artwork.
   Heisler and his wife Candy started their business about five years ago and have been in their new shop in the industrial park just off Gardner for about a year. Candy helps out with boat construction and other business duties.
   Originally from the Eugene area, Heisler said he grew up fishing on many of the westside rivers and has been around boats all of his life. He started out building wooden boats (mostly for himself and friends) but soon realized he wanted more durability in a boat without all the upkeep and maintenance - hence the aluminum boats.
    "Aluminum boats are the toughest thing on the river," said Heisler. Much of his early work with aluminum drift boats consisted of building prototypes that fit his needs and those of others. Heisler brings to his business 30 years of experience in metal fabrication and design, and as many years as an angler and drift boat enthusiast. Ever since he was a kid, Heisler was always involved in making something - if not a jack of all trades, then at least many.
   Right now the business consists of just Clay and Candy but with an increased demand, they are thinking about bringing on a few employees, especially anyone experienced in aluminum welding. However, they want to keep the business small, preferring a custom shop over a factory.
   The couple built their last boat in just under three weeks, but most take about a month. The recently finished boat setting in the shop was heading to Alaska that day with its new owner.
   "We almost hate to see a new boat leave the shop," he said with a smile. "We'd like to keep it and go fishing!" But they've been so busy lately that there hasn't been much time for camping or fishing.
   Building a boat involves lots of aluminum welding and lots of labor. When construction is completed, Heisler applies an epoxy primer over the bare aluminum. Next goes speckled Zolatone sprayed on at low pressure followed by two coats of Clear Coat. "This makes for a very durable finish," Heisler said.
   The final product is a highly maneuverable and stable boat that can handle whitewater and is also very pleasing to the eye. The Heislers will soon be offering Flat Bottom Lake Boats.
   Their 16-foot boats start at about $4,995 (guides and outfitters get a discount). Although weighing in at only 350 pounds, the boats have a capacity of 1,100 pounds including people, gear and motor. Heisler also sells Baker boat trailers to customers for their cost of $1,000. The trailers include radial tires, galvanized rims and all wiring.
   One thing that makes Heisler Boats so unique is its standard features. Included are an aluminum diamond plate floor, aluminum fish box, two Fish-on seats on an adjustable front dry box bench, two Sawyer 9'4" oars, adjustable oarsman bench with open storage rope seat, pyramid anchor with 50 foot anchor rope and Dierks 4-point anchor system, just to name a few.
    "We're offering a lot of standard features that you won't find on other boats," Heisler explained. "When you get a boat from me, you're going to get a boat that was built by me and not by a production line in a factory. We are trying to offer a more hand-crafted detailed boat than most others on the market today."
   They also offer a lifetime guarantee on the boat to the original owner, barring any negligence. If a sharp rock pokes a hole in the boat, they'll repair it for free. Their motto is: Best Drift Boat Value on the Market.
   Heisler definitely makes custom boats. He showed me photos of one boat where someone wanted half bass boat and half drift boat. No problem.
   Although the modest Heisler shied away when asked about it, he is also a great oil painting artist as anyone can tell by seeing one of his paintings on his Web site (www.heislerboats.net). Clay is a self-taught oil painter, said Candy, and one of his goals is to paint a scene with anglers out on a river in one of his boats.
   The couple is currently working on a boat for themselves, unless of course it ends up going to a customer.
   Scott Staats is a full-time outdoor writer who has lived in Prineville for the last 10 years. His articles have appeared in local, regional, and national publications. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.