- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) - When Nathan Garrett bought a house near a Pittsburg, Kansas, strip pit, he wanted a quick way to easily access the water to fish.

“I didn’t want to drag a big boat in and out of the water,” he told The Joplin (Missouri) Globe (https://bit.ly/1GR9YKE ).

In southeast Kansas, that’s a challenge: Strip pits - former coal mining pits now filled with water - don’t usually come with gradual entrances, the kind that allow anglers to back in large boats by truck, and even many small boats still are too big. Meanwhile, a kayak - one of the lightest and cheapest ways to hit the water - can’t hold as much fishing gear and isn’t as stable.

Garrett said he scoured Craigslist and soon found an ad placed by a Pineville, Missouri, couple who sold a unique type of boat: It could be split into two parts, which at 25 pounds and 45 pounds, could each be carried easily. The two parts can be hooked together and used as a one-person flatbottom johnboat with a trolling motor. Or one piece can be used on its own, allowing an angler to fish with legs dangling in the water, wearing swim fins for propulsion through the water.

“You don’t have to have a trolling motor, paddle or oars,” Garrett said. “I knew somebody had put a lot of care and patience into designing them.”

He ended up negotiating a deal not just for a boat, but for their company: In their 70s, he said the couple were looking to retire and could sense Garrett’s excitement about their product.

“It was perfect timing,” he said.

He bought the company in December 2012, named it “Pitt Boss,” designed a website, and began selling the boats across the country the next month at a cost of $499 delivered to the doorstep.

He has had requests from all over, as far away as Japan and Mexico, but says he hasn’t yet tested those waters.

“I have a day job,” said Garrett, who works at Pittsburg State University. “And a family.”

He’s focusing on generating regional awareness, including networking with a fishing club in Oklahoma that’s ramping up efforts to have bass tournaments for boats no longer than 12 feet.

“This is a perfect product for guys in this area who don’t have a lot of money to invest in fishing,” he said. “Fishing has gotten to be a big-money game, and if you want to compete, you have to have a big fancy truck and big fancy boat, plus entry fees and travel costs.

“For guys who just want to fish for the fun of it without breaking the bank, this is an answer.”

Garrett said the bulk of his clientele are older, because the boat is easy for them to manage and lift into the back of a small truck.

Living on a strip pit also opened the door to another product line for Garrett: a dock. He again turned to the Internet, and discovered EZ-Docks in Monett, Missouri. Created in a modular system out of polyethylene, the docks can be customized and are easy to assemble, requiring no nails. After training, he became an authorized dealer and installer.

“There are all makes and models of them. People get married on them; there have been docks used as stages for rock concerts on the water; they’re very versatile,” he said.

He said his company will continue to evolve around life on the water, as more and more people are building homes around area strip pits.

“It’s becoming a lifestyle,” he said.

In the 1930s, strip mining (which began in Kansas in 1876) once again became the preferred method of mining coal in southeastern Kansas. Coal beds too thin to be mined underground were stripped by power shovels, some of which dug to depths of almost 100 feet.

Strip mining leaves the land marked with deep ditches and high ridges. As the shovels removed the overburden, they created trenches up to 100 feet wide and as much as 100 feet deep. Before widespread land reclamation was required in 1969, this land was abandoned and left to grow back to trees and brush while the trenches filled with water.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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