The Question We All Ask – Do I Want a Drift Boat?
After a fantastic trip to a legendary western tail water many questions were asked concerning floating, buying and owning a drift boat…
First off, do it!!! If it has to be a 6′ kick boat…That’s a start. You won’t regret it. There is no comparison between sweating your cohones off hiking a trail wade fishing and floating a river with your buddies and enjoying gravity’s greatest achievement, flowing water. When the fly fishing gods created some of our most treasured rivers and placed them in the great state of Colorado, surely they had the drift boat in mind. Without such a vehicle some of our Colorado rivers are mere shadows of themselves with riffles pools and productive water separated by substantial distances.
“Where do I start?” you ask.. Join the club..
We’ll break it down into two categories really: rafts, and drift boat/dories. There are now rafts that blend the two and a variety of one and two man kick boats that are essentially rafts so lets keep it simple.
Lets be honest with ourselves and answer a few easy questions. How often do you fish? Where do you fish? Are you willing to learn some more fly fishing skills?
How often do you fish?
Are you out there every chance you get? Girlfriend an afterthought, house plants shriveled, coworkers asking questions? Aspiring guide, fish tattoo, vanity plates reads “TMC100”, favorite non fishing activity, tying flies.. Are you kidding of course you’re ready. So that takes care of the why you need a boat.
Where do you fish?
More of a geological question than anything else. Will you like high running freestone rivers with boulder gardens galore? Medium to small rivers with varying flows throughout the season? You laugh at anything below class 3 rapids? Do you like rivers lower in a watershed, lower gradient equals less rapids? Do you want a float season that can extend year round? All questions to ponder when thinking ” Do I want a hard bottom or raft?”. They both have there pluses and minuses.
The size and average flow of the rivers you want to fish are going to determine beyond anything which you will choose. So careful here. Big lowland tailwater rivers ideal for a hard bottoms can still be done with a raft but, its like driving a 4×4 lifted jeep around town all day, a bit rough on the arms. Narrow canyon, high gradient rivers can be suicidal in a drift boat or at the very least only done once. Some rivers have a very short floating season for drift boats like the Gunnison, due to depth, width and flow, so advantage raft. Like going to the back road rivers, wilderness multi day floats, think Smith River Montana, advantage raft. Big western river with hoards of goretex and wide open runs and riffles, and you want to take your quiver of ultra fast graphite rods, think Missouri River near Craig, advantage hard bottom.
Skills? Yes, you’ll need to acquire some rowing skills. The obvious advantage goes to raft – they are almost indestructible. Hitting a rock or two in one is nothing, do that in your buddies drift boat you’re buying beer or worse… walking. There are some design advantages that drift boats have over rafts that do make them easier to row over the course of a long day but to the beginner it’s no contest, raft. If you go the hard bottom route, fish and float the easy stuff first and get those skills down rather than destroying your ride. Drift boats are tough, but can sink surprisingly fast, rafts will never sink.
Both styles of boat come in a variety of lengths and widths. Aluminum, fiberglass, rubber, framed and un-framed, high side, low side. You can get them used or new with a trailer ready to go. Price will run just about the same for either but slightly lower in the raft category, and kick boats a real bargain, advantage raft. Maintenance for the drift boat is minimal, keep it clean and out of the elements when storing and it’ll last a long time, rafts take a bit more assembly and inflation involved, advantage dory.
The long and the short of it is get out there. Take advantage of either style, or the multiple single man configurations. Fish it well and safely, stay within your limits, and have fun!