Drew Lemberger answers
the call of the
eyes the river for likely fishing spots while leading Jacob Holman
and Jan Carla Johnson on a guided catfishing excursion. Drew’s
Guide Service offers a number of guided trips including sunset and
sunrise cruises, sightseeing excursions and fishing trips. The Rocheport
resident and full-time winemaker also operates Missouri Boat Works
and builds custom boats, primarily for friends and acquaintances.
The reaction is as
predictable as the spring rise on the Missouri River. As soon as Drew
Lemberger trailers his 17-foot dory-style motorboat up to the gas pumps
at a convenience store along Interstate 70, two men approach to admire
the unusual craft.
Although the boat’s
design is reminiscent of high-walled rowboats on the East Coast, the
flat-bottomed wooden craft is clearly ideal for the river. When the
gawkers ask where to buy a similar vessel Drew points to the letters “missouriboatworks.com” tastefully
pasted on the boat’s interior and reluctantly admits he built it himself.
low-key promotion stands in stark contrast with other boat builders, who
emblaze their names on the outside of their products. In truth, Drew
is not looking to sell a lot of boats and he’d rather not do
business in a gas station parking lot.
In the past five
years, Drew has built just seven boats, two of which he still owns.
Drew has settled into a comfortable pattern of building a boat or two
each year, usually for friends or acquaintances, and only after carefully
evaluating a client’s needs.
built this 17-foot Dory five years ago. It was the first boat
he built and he still uses it to guide sightseers and anglers on
the Missouri River.
says they want a boat built I say, ‘Alright, let’s
go have some beverages and let’s figure out what you want,’” says
Drew, who enlists customers to help with sanding and other chores.
more than a hobby, Missouri Boat Works mainly serves as a way for Drew
to combine a love of woodworking and boats. With a full-time job and
another sideline business as a river guide, he has more than enough
work to keep him busy.
By day, Drew is cellar
master at Rocheport’s
Les Bourgeois Winery. On weekends and spring and summer nights, you’ll
likely find him on the river.
An avid fisherman,
Drew competes in catfish tournaments and guides other anglers in search
of lunker cats on the Missouri River. In the spring and fall, he ferries
sightseers and birdwatchers up and down the river from Rocheport.
like to show people what’s out there. There’s a lot of
people who would like to go out but either don’t know how or
their own boat,” he says. “I figured I have all that
a way to make a little bit of money.”
to fishermen or nature lovers, Drew takes advantage of the beauty
and abundant resources provided by a stretch of the Missouri
packed with recreational opportunities. The area is home to
several conservation areas and the federally owned Big Muddy
Wildlife Refuge, where efforts to return the river to a more
natural state have created an angler’s paradise.
|Drew casts a net for bait fish on a small stream near Rocheport.
fishing is outstanding,” he says. “It’s
just getting better and better every year with the habitat
The scenery, likewise,
is some of the best along Missouri’s portion of
the Big Muddy.
“From here to Jeff City is some of the prettiest. In the fall, the bluffs
are just covered in maples. It’s gorgeous, gorgeous
stuff,” he says.
Drew offers a variety
of guided excursions, from $125 sunset cruises to $350 overnight
catfishing trips. Drew supplies all of his guests’ needs,
from sunscreen to fishing tackle. Each trip includes
non-alcoholic beverages and snacks or meals, depending
on the length of the excursion.
enterprises are a natural culmination of his life experiences. He
was born into a family of dedicated boat builders.
His great-uncle was a commercial carpenter who built White
River john-boats. His father was an avid woodworker
who often rebuilt old boats.
“I grew up
with the idea of building boats as something the average guy could
do,” Drew says.
pulls one of his creations, a mahogony rowboat from a pond at
the home of the boat’s
relatives were dedicated sportsmen. Drew began hunting and fishing
at an early age and had plied the Mississippi, Missouri and lower Meramac
rivers by the time he headed off to college. “I think I’ve
always been an adventurous kid,” Drew says.
Drew studied fisheries
and wildlife management at the University of Missouri in Columbia before
leaving school, 12 credit hours shy of a degree.
Drew stayed in the Columbia area and worked as
a bartender, waiter and restaurant manager. He
enlisted in the Army Reserves and trained as a
combat engineer. In time, Drew married and took
a job at the winery so that his work schedule more
closely matched that of his new wife, Sara.
Working at a winery
perched on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River rekindled Drew’s
love for boating and fishing. Five years ago, he built his first boat,
the dory he uses to fish and guide on the river.
a great design. I love it,” Drew says of the boat he
built from plans. “It’s got a
flat bottom and a shallow draft. There’s
plenty of space to put bait wells and live
wells and dry storage.”
More than anything,
though, Drew says he appreciates the fact
that his boat is made of wood. Fiberglass
and aluminum have replaced wood as the
material of choice for boats in recent years, but
nothing beats a traditional wooden boat,
|Jacob Holman points out sights along the Missouri River to Jan
Carla Johnson while Drew pilots his boat during a guided catfishing
got a whole different feel to it,” he
says. “Once you get hooked fishing
out of a wooden boat, whether it be fly-fishing
or catfishing or any kind of fishing,
pretty much ruined for life.”
hand-built wooden boat comes at a price,
especially if the client specifies exotic materials
or finishes. One rowboat Drew made from mahogany
plywood, with a clear finish, was valued at
nearly $2,500. A similar craft, but made from
fir plywood and painted, brought about $1,000.
One of Drew’s
fanciest projects to date was his own 11-foot “drift
pram,” a fishing boat made
of tropical hardwood plywood and
trimmed in black walnut. Although
the boat, which Drew uses on Missouri’s
Eleven Point River, is beautiful
to look at, it is built with practicality
“With one person,
gear for a weekend and fishing
perfect,” he says. “It’s
easy to row. You could spin it
on a dime.”
an acquaintance from Drew’s
restaurant days, ordered a similar,
but larger craft, modeled after
the McKenzie drift boats used
in Montana. While he knew the
boat design would serve his needs,
Sloss says he was also sold on
the allure of a hand-built boat.
can buy the fiberglass or the
pre-molded boats but you don’t
see the craftsmanship in those.
There’s an aesthetic
to it that’s
so much more than you get from
another boat,” says Sloss,
who operates the Eleven Point
River Canoe Rental in Alton.
begins to remove hardware from his 11-foot drift boat while preparing
to make finish repairs. The boat, which Drew uses on the Eleven
Point River, is one of seven the Rocheport resident has built
in the past five years. Drew’s sideline business, Missouri
Boat Works, custom builds boats to clients’ specifications.
boats are based on traditional designs,
his construction methods
are not. He literally stitches
a boat’s plywood parts
together with bailing wire.
The wire holds the members
together until fiberglass
and epoxy resin can be applied,
creating a durable, waterproof
boats with modern methods,
you get the best of both
says. “You get the
feel and handling of wood
but you also get easier
maintenance and construction
times are vastly shortened.
It makes a more affordable
boat but it still has that
individuality that production
of Drew’s boats
is enhanced by the fact
that their owners help
build them. Columbia
real estate agent Chris
Gebhardt recently ordered
a low-slung duck hunting
boat from Drew, in part,
because he wanted to
help build his own boat.
could have gone out
and bought a boat for less
probably than what
I paid in materials, but
it’s mine,” says
helped him do it. We
did all the epoxy work
and the cut outs and
layouts together. I
the cool thing of it.”
he and Sara expecting
their first child, Drew has
his eyes toward his next project — a 30-foot boat, with a cabin to accommodate
his family. Although he’s open to boat orders and recently launched a
Web site, Drew doesn’t
and doesn’t want the business to grow too much.
|Drew pilots his dory up the Missouri River.
perfectly happy with the way the boat company is developing,” Drew
like to build one
to two boats a
year, but I’m
not really trying
to look for business.”
Drew would rather
spend his nights
and weekends watching
the sun go down or
reeling in fish on
the river. And, whenever
possible, he hopes
to include paying customers
on his trips.
“I would like
to take more people out on a more regular basis,” he
that he’d like to see the guide service grow.
to be out there whether they’re coming with me or
not, so it’s
nice to be
able to make
For more information, call (573) 881-6160 or log onto www.missouriboatworks.com.