Float Fishing Gear Guide — Part 2: The Gear you need and the gear you “need.”

Chris Opfer

 

You’ve gone and created your “river craft” savings account at your local bank and you’ve saved every month until now. Maybe you’ve sold some of those unnecessary items around your house like your lawn mower, your hot water heater, your car, your wife’s wedding ring, or one of your children. You’re ready to go purchase a boat to crash down a river so that you can go after those fish that no one can get to . . . except all those other anglers with boats. The boat is in your garage, and you’ve moved your wife’s car out to the street. In addition to needing a divorce attorney, you now need to outfit your new river craft with all the best necessary and unnecessary gear. This article will walk you through those necessities and those “necessities.”

In no particular order, here are some things you will need for your new fly fishing machine:

Life Vests (PFDs)

They’re hot and often uncomfortable, but they are necessary both as a new rower and on many sections of river throughout the country. PFDs really do save lives and they could very well save yours. Neil Corvino, our senior advisor at our Minturn Lone Tree shop often reminds new anglers that river speed is measured CFS (Cubic Feed per Second). A cubic foot of water is about the size of a basketball and weighs just over 62lbs. So, if you’re river is flowing at 600 CFS, you have 600 62lb basketballs flowing down the river every second. That ain’t nothing as my family would say. You don’t need to cheap out on the old orange brick-looking PFDs. NRS and Astral both make excellent PFDs that are designed for fishing with pockets and vents. If you can find a PDF that doesn’t have the floatation pad on the middle of your back, this will make it more comfortable to wear while rowing. Also, please, if you have children or pets in your boat, get them life vests as well and make those PFDs mandatory on your boat.

Gear Bags

You’re going to need a place to stow all the things you think you need but will never actually use. But, like the Boy Scouts, you’re always prepared. Don’t worry, I have two boat bags that I truly have no idea what is in them, but I still take them with me. Generally, you’re going to need a bag for the boat that has your fishing gear in it along with a rain jacket, glasses, etc. Some guys just carry the sling pack they use for wading; that’s fine too. A boat bag, though, is usually waterproof and rain-resistant. Orvis, Simms, and Patagonia all make good bags. Since these bags are essentially all large cubes, they don’t roll around in your boat and can fit under a bench if need be. Measure before you buy, though.

As for the other gear bag, this one stays in my Jeep. It has things for trailering the boat, extra parts, etc. You don’t really need this one, but I like having everything in one place so that I can grab it and throw it in the trunk and I’m not searching around my garage for the various items that I so thoughtfully placed when I got home at midnight from the prior trip.

Pumps (Large and Spare)

This is only for those guys who are “rubber pushers.” You’re going to need two pumps, generally speaking. One is a larger air pump that you use to inflate your craft at the put in. You want this to be larger because you want it to take less time and effort. If you can afford it, go for an electric pump that you can plug into your car or a spare battery. The NRS Bravo is pretty sweet and automatically shuts off when it has reached the desired pressure. I’ve seen people get pretty winded and tired pumping up their boat at the ramp and we both knew that they had 10+ miles of river rowing ahead of them. If you’re buying a manual pump, get one that has a pressure gauge so you aren’t guessing at the correct pressure.

In addition to your larger pump, you really should have a smaller emergency pump. The most popular is the K Pump. These are tubular and store easily. You’ll need the ability to inflate an air chamber during an emergency or after a repair. Sometimes, you didn’t account for the water cooling the air in your inflatable boat, and your pressure drops after you set it first thing in the morning. One little bonus item that I really like is the TRIB airCap pressure gauge from NRS. This is solar-powered and will tell you the pressure of that particular chamber while on the water. If it gets too high, you simply let some air out. If it’s too low, pull over and pump it up. It stays in while you float so you can periodically glance over at it if you’re a worry wart like me.

Squirt Gun Water Cannon

This is both fun and practical. These are the tubular guns that you dip into the water and pull back the handle to fill with water. This way you can spray your friends in their boat or those other anglers who cut you off in your drift. Please don’t do the latter. Anyway, they’re fun, but these water guns actually serve a greater purpose. If you’re running a hard boat or a raft that is not self-bailing, you can use this water gun as a manual bilge pump. Throughout the day, you’ll be getting in and out and bring water with you or maybe you hit a big wave and took some water over the bow. This will allow you to suck the water out and you can still spray your friends. Additionally, you can use it to rinse down your boat if you need to. I like these better than the actually manual bilge pumps because they don’t have all the extra handles and hoses; less to store and less to break.

Repair Kit, Medical Kit, and Tools

This probably goes without saying, but you’re going to need an emergency kit of sorts. If you’re in an inflatable, this will include a full repair kit with patches, valves, valve wrench, and glue. Often, the manufacturer will give you one of these with the boat. These repair kits can mean the difference between getting your boat home and not.

You’re also going to need a medical kit for when you pierce your friends hand during an errant cast (which I’ve done) or you get your hand caught in the trailerwinch at the takeout ramp and have to stop the bleeding long enough to get to the urgent care for stitches (which I’ve also done). Depending on where you’re floating, you may want to carry snake bite kits as well.

Lastly, you’re going to need a few minor tools in your boat. I carry a wrench and a screwdriver. These two tools allow to adjust any hardware on the boat itself. Don’t go nuts because you don’t want to add too much weight, but if you’re lean bar starts to come loose or a seat is now swiveling where it shouldn’t, you’ll be glad you had these tools. More often than not, I’ve actually used these tools for other peoples’ boats while on the river.

Throw Rope

You don’t really carry this for yourself, but for others. This is a specifically designed rope in a bag. You hold onto the rope itself and throw the bag when someone is floating in the river who shouldn’t be. Maybe someone fell out of your boat or someone else got into trouble in another boat. Either way, this allows you to quite literally give them a lifeline. Hopefully you never need it, but it’s a piece of safety equipment that everyone should have. I’ll note as well that some rivers and states require throwable life preservers if your boat is over a certain length; usually 16’. Know your regulations.

Rowing Gloves

I’m going to catch some flack for this one and I don’t care. Rowing gloves are awesome. These are fingerless gloves specially designed for rowing. They take the wear instead of your hands. Are these for wusses? Absolutely not. If you’re rowing for multiple days, you’re going to be real glad you’re not ripping your blisters open each day, because you probably won’t have blisters to start with. Full time river guides often don’t wear these because they have built up the callouses. I’m not on the water every day, so I’ll stick with my gloves. Simms, Orvis, and NRS all make great rowing gloves. Sometimes they are called “guide” gloves; I love the irony.

Oars, etc.

Float Fishing Gear Guide — Part 2: The Gear you need and the gear you “need.”, brown detailed wooden oars positioned in a tan float fishing boat

Yup, you’re actually going to need something to push and pull you down the river. Shocker, I know. Oars, in my opinion, are a buy-once-cry-once item. Good oars can make for a great day on the water by you forgetting about the fact that you have good oars. Bad oars will remind you after every oar stroke that you have bad oars. Good oars are light, often counter-balanced, and durable. Bad oars are flimsy and heavy. Cataract and Sawyer are the top premium oar manufacturers for river craft. I have both currently. I run the Cataracts on my inflatables and Sawyer square tops on my Boulder Boat Works drift boat. I could probably write an entire article on oars alone, but I’ll spare you the crazy details in this article. You’re also going to want a spare oar. Some river sections require it and others, you’re just going to want it. The blades of the oars matter too. Most anglers seem to like eh shoal cut blades as they allow you to row in shallower water than the whitewater blades.

You may also want to think about oar tethers if you’re in white water. Oar stops and oar rights are also good to think about. The oar stops are just that, they stop the oar from sliding out of the oar like. Oar rights keep the oar oriented in the direction that you set initially. I personally like oar rights as I don’t have to think about my blade position, but the oar rights that I run are convertible, so I can flip up the locking tab and then I just have a basic oar stop; best of both worlds.

Oar locks are also something to think about. Cheap oar locks can cause you to pop out an oar. I had cheap oar locks on my first raft and it bent the second trip out. I didn’t hit anything, so I don’t know why it bent. Quality oar locks can literally outlive you. Sawyer and NRS are the best manufacturers in this realm. I run theSawyer Cobras on two of my setups and the NRS aluminums on my light setup.

Dry Bag

This is not the same as your boat bag. This is simply a roll top or zippered dry bag to, well, keep your stuff dry. It’s good for storing jackets, spare clothes, phones, or anything else you don’t want to get wet. They often float as well, because they will always hold some air, so if you just so happen to flip your boat, you will at least have some dry clothes and hopefully a dry phone. The really thin tent-material bags aren’t actually waterproof, but the really thick bags are just unnecessary and heavy. Try to find one in the middle.

Cell Phone / Key Carrier

Wait, didn’t I just say to put your phone in a dry bag? I sure did, but often you may not want it in the same bag with all of your clothes because you’re going to want to take pictures. You can shove your phone and keys in your waders or a PFD pocket, but you may want them to be more protected than that. I have a water tight bag from Yeti that I mounted to the seat in front of me. It easily allows me to grab my phone for those necessary pictures, but I know my keys and wallet will be dry when I get to the boat takeout. It also makes it so I never have to hunt for those items at the ramp when other boaters are eating on me to get out of their way.

Fly Patches

If you’re fly fishing from a boat, you’re going to need a place to put flies. Don’t overthink this one. The Fishpond Fly Dock is great and it sticks pretty much anywhere. I also really like the magnetic setups from LidRig. At the end of the day, you just need a place to put your flies as you switch them out. As a bonus, if you don’t have an attached bag or rower’s bench with storage next to you, you’ll want to buy a small fishing pack to hold your fly boxes, tippets, nippers, forceps, etc.

Drink Holder and Coozies

A lot of manufacturers of boats have drink holders built in, but many do not. Not only do you need to stay hydrated, there are very few things better than an ice-cold beer while floating down a river (drink responsibly).There a are a ton of aftermarket options for drink carriers. NRS makes some as does Down River Equipment for those in rubber boats. If you’re in a hard boat, you’ll need to see what will fit in your boat if you don’t have them already. Also, warm beer isn’t good, so make sure you have enough coozies to pass around to your buddies.

Anchor, Rope, and Carabiner

This one probably should have been right after the PFDs because it’s pretty necessary for any floating adventure unless you’re in a one-man craft and even then they aren’t always a bad idea. You need an anchor, a way to attach that anchor to some rope, and some rope to attach that anchor to the boat. Anchors come in different weights ranging from a few pounds to over forty pounds for river craft. River anchors are different than your normal lake or ocean anchors. A river anchor is generally meant to be let out behind the boat with the boat farther downstream. These anchors don’t hold you in place by sheer weight, but rather by an edge or two digging into the river bottom. Ocean anchors are similar, but these have wedges that dive into the ocean floor. You don’t want that on a river, because it won’t come undone.

Call the manufacturer of the boat and ask them what weight anchor they recommend. Keep in mind that faster rivers generally require heavier anchors. Personally, I run Tornado anchors. These things are absolutely amazing. They have discs that dig into the river bottom. As one YouTuber described, these things are like having power disc brakes on your drift boat; I totally agree. Tornado anchors are a hair more expensive than your average drift boat anchor, but the few extra dollars are worth every penny. Plus, the rounded edges won’t damage your raft either. These are VERY well designed and you can get a cradle for the anchor to attach to your trailer.

You’re going to need a good climbing carabiner to attach the anchor to the anchor rope which will allow you to easily put it on or off. I say “climbing” because you don’t want some cheap carabiner from the car key section of Walmart. These won’t last and they will leave your very expensive Tornado anchor on the bottom of the river. You’ll also want some sort of lock on the carabiner whether it is a screw lock, pin lock, or twist lock. Essentially, you’re trying to prevent it from randomly unclipping because it bumped a rock.

Lastly, you need an anchor rope. Most guys I know run a 50’ rope, but this will depend on the size of your boat and the depth of where you are fishing. Make sure you get the correct size for your anchor system and also make sure it is either “anchor rope” or braided marine rope. You can use other ropes, but these other ropes often don’t have the characteristics that you need in an anchor rope like durability and flexibility.

One last note on anchoring. Do you knot or not? This is a big debate and I’ve done it both ways. The question is whether you tie a knot at the end of your anchor line so that it won’t slip through your anchor system. Many rowers will tell you no knot because if you accidentally drop your anchor in some rapids, you can swamp your boat if it gets caught on that not. I agree, although I didn’t used to. I’ve also seen anchors and ropes on the river bottom of super calm sections because I’m sure someone accidentally released the line. So my rule is this, I tie a knot at the end of the rope on lakes just in case the lake is deeper than my rope is long, and on rivers, that have any speed at all, I have no knot in the end.

Cooler

Do you want cold drinks and sandwiches that haven’t gone bad? You’re going to need a cooler. In many boats, including certain drift boats and most rafts, you can have one of the seat pedestals (usually the front) be a cooler. This is a great setup as it doesn’t really take up any more space. If your boat can’t accommodate this, just buy a soft cooler (I personally prefer Yeti), and keep it in the back of the boat with your lunches and drinks. Pretty simple.

Boat Net

You may have read my other article about nets and if so, you know more than you’ve ever wanted to know about nets. However, if you didn’t, all you need to know is that you will want one, maybe two, nets in your boat. The main net is your “boat net.” These are generally nets with longer handles that allow you to reach out over the gunnels of the boat to get your fish. The Fishpond mid-length is about as short as I would go and I actually run a Fishpond El Jefe Grande which is just over 4 feet in length. I can usually net an anglers fish from the rower’s bench use to prove my rowing prowess. I will also often carry a smaller net for those times that we all get out and wade. If you’re in a smaller craft, a mid-length net will be just fine for you. Orvis, Simms, and Fishpond all make great nets.

Fly Rod Storage

If you bought a dedicated fishing raft or drift boat, it likely already has built-in rod storage. If you didn’t or your river craft doesn’t have one for some reason, you’ll need a place to put your fly rods. There are all kinds of options ranging from the Scotty Mounts that will easily attach to many boats including your Outcast boats or you may want to look at Riversmith’s Swiftcast rod holder. Maybe you even reword to bungee cords or slap bracelets (thanks Levi). In any case, make sure you have some ability to store or, at a minimum, attach rods to your sweet new river boat.

Spare Tire, Tire Jack, and Lug Nut Wrench

Man, a lot of people forget about these things. If you’re using a trailer to haul your boat around, you may have just realized that you did not get a spare tire, a jack, or a lug nut wrench with your trailer like you did with your car. Well, you’re not alone. Manufacturers of trailers either have these as add-ons or not an option at all. Buy a spare tire for your trailer. Remember, we don’t usually float in urban areas. You’ll need a jack that will work with your trailer. Maybe the one for your car will work, but double check. You’re also going to need a way to get the lug nuts off. The trailer lug nuts are not likely the same size as the one on your car.

GPS and River Maps

These fall under one of those things that you don’t need but that you “need.” People have been floating rivers for millennia without maps or GPS. However, in today’s day and age where we have this technology, it can serve two pretty important purposes. Some states, like Colorado, allow land owners of river-adjacent land to also own the river bottom (I’d not that there was a recent Colorado Supreme Court case that dealt with this and it’s rumored this will be appealed to the United States Supreme Court).

This means that if you drop your anchor on the river bottom, you could be trespassing. This is why GPS and maps are good to know. They can also give you an idea of distance and time to make sure you’re not hitting the takeout at midnight. I like the maps in the Trout Routes app as well as those made by Map the Experience, River Maps, and National Geographic.

The other bonus to GPS is that you can buy one that will allow your loved-ones to track you and you can send SOS signals. I just bought a Garmin In Reach this year as I was going to be floating in some areas with no cell coverage and that was slightly more dangerous than others. It was cheap insurance.

Boat Cover

You definitely don’t “need” a boat cover, but you’re going to want one. First, if you’re storing your boat outside, remember that the sun is horribly damaging to any kind of boat. Also, if you’re going on multi-day trips, covers can allow you to keep your boat clean on the way up there, dry during nasty weather, and the items hidden in your boat that might otherwise be subject to theft. Again, boat covers aren’t necessary, but I’ve never regretted having one. Even recently, I took my boat on a road that was so dusty and dirty. When I got to where I was going, I took the cover off and my boat was clean and ready to fish. I saw someone else’s boat who took that same road and they were washing their boat in the river because it was an entirely different color and you couldn’t touch it without transferring the fine red dust to everything else.

Boat Buckles

You have to have a way to tie your boat down to your trailer. Boat Buckles are a quick ratchet-and-release system that is amazing. You literally pull them up to wherever you want them, a few clicks, and you’re on your way. These are super convenient and I’ve had them on every boat trailer I’ve owned.

Motor Mount

If you’re planning on taking your boat onto some of your local lakes or even some very slow rivers, you may want a motor. Most river craft don’t come with a motor mount, so you’re going to need to add one. The causation are tale here, however, is to make sure that you never put a motor on your boat larger than what it can handle. Most river craft are only designed to handle very small motors. Don’t go nuts and check with the boat manufacturer.

Boat Cleaner and Protectant

Cleaning your boat is just as much fun as rowing your boat! Kidding! However, it is a necessary thing. Have you ever seen those drift boats with the water line marks. It’s because they weren’t cleaned and now they stained. You definitely don’t have to clean out your boat after every trip, but you should clean it at least once a season or if you were in a body of water with invasive species like zebra mussels. There are boat-specific soaps (I like the 303 brand) that are easy to scrub on and rinse off with a hose. Remember, for the rubber boats, you have to worry about gravel getting lodged in the boat between the floor and the toons, so take your time to rinse those out.

For the quick cleaning, you should pick up some 303 cleaner and protectant or those from Down River Equipment. These are safe on all boats and will make your boat look nicer and last longer. As I said before, the sun is really hard on your boat and that protectant is worth its weight in gold.

Locks

Make sure you have the ability to lock your boat to the trailer and even the oars to the boat if you’re going to be fishing in an area that may not be the safest. Nothing will ruin a planned trip faster than missing oars, an anchor, or the boat itself. This hasn’t happened to me (knock on a wooden drift boat), but I’ve heard stories. Worst case, take the oars and anchor inside with you if they won’t fit in your vehicle.

Hide-A-Key, SpareKey, and Cash

This is one I didn’t think about at first. Unless you’re fishing with a bunch of buddies and you’ve planned for one of them to run a car down to the boat takeout, you’re going to have to hire a river shuttle. These are people who will move your car and trailer from the put-in to the take-out for a fee. I think these are well worth it because it can literally save you hours during the day. Just make sure you find a reputable company. Many fly shops will offer these services or can refer you to someone they trust. Sometimes you can leave a spare key with the fly shop or shuttle service in advance, but sometimes you can’t. In that case, you’re left hiding your key somewhere around your vehicle and hoping that no one finds it. I don’t like leaving things to chance like that, so I purchased a lockable hey holder that attaches to my trailer. I merely give the shuttle service the code and I’m good to go. Oh, and tip the shuttle drivers. Remember, you want them to be extra kind to your vehicle and your trailer. Plus, you need both your vehicle and trailer to actually be at the take-out when you get there.

The Right Clothes

Float Fishing Gear Guide — Part 2: The Gear you need and the gear you “need.”, hat and float fishing ger rigs on a tan shelf on a float fishing boat

If you’re rowing your new river craft down the river, what are you going to wear? Are you going to wader up or not? I’ll tell you that I don’t really like wearing waders in a boat unless I absolutely have to. They’re hot and restrictive. I like wet wading pants (Simms are my favorite), some chaos, a nice breathable shirt, and a warmer jacket and rain jacket in my dry bag. Know that you’re going to make about 10,000 oar strokes that day, so you need to be comfortable. If you’re floating when it’s really cold, then you may want to wear waders or even go with some bibs. Of course, make sure you have a hat and sunglasses.

Bluetooth Speaker

You gotta rock on a little bit, too.

The Last Drift

I’m sure there are many items I missed here, but I wanted to give you an overview of those items that you really need. A lot of these things are obvious, but others I learned of by not having them or having those items recommended to me by someone else. The whole point, here, is that no one really “needs” a river craft, but we get one because we want to more fully enjoy this amazing hobby of fly fishing. It gives us one more avenue to get on the water, build those friendships, and take some deep breaths in nature.

Give us a call or go online to order some “necessities” for your new boat!

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

About the Author

Chris Opfer

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