Fishing New Waters – Fly fishing from a drift boat: Part 1

Fishing New Waters – Fly fishing from a drift boat: Part 1

You’ve beat your local waters to death. You know every inch of that quarter-mile stretch as Minturn Angler’s Duane Redford suggests in The Fly Fisher’s Playbook. Maybe you just keep seeing these other anglers float by you and, man, they seem to be having more fun than you are as you stand thigh-deep in your favorite fishing hole.

Maybe, you’re even thinking you’d like to get on the sticks (oars) yourself. No matter your reason, you’re interested in fly fishing from a drift boat. In this article we are going to talk about how to fly fish from a drift boat, whether you’re going with a guide, one of our awesome guides would be a good choice, or a buddy. I’ll also give you some other good tips and tricks to know before you go.

A few things before we dive in here. First, especially here in Colorado, you are just as likely to fish from a hard-bottom drift boat, also known as a dory, as you are from a fishing raft. For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume they are the same. We already have an article about choosing a rivercraft to enhance your fishing. That’s not what this article is about. So just assume that when I write “drift boat,” that includes pretty much anything that will float down a river and allow you to fish.

Second, I am coming from experience here. I currently own 3 rafts and a Boulder Boat Works drift boat. I was lucky enough to learn how to row from some good friends a few years back and I’ve fished from countless other boats whether I was being guided or out with a friend. Lastly, some of my thoughts in this blog may only be relevant to western rivers since that is where I live and fly fish. I float mainly in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah.

BEFORE YOU GO

Alright, you’ve decided you’re going to float and go fly fishing from a drift boat. Maybe you’re going out with one of our awesome float guides out of Minturn, CO or you talked a buddy into taking you on their next trip. There are a few things that you have to think about before you even hit the water.

• LIFE VESTS

This should go without saying, but if you’re on any sort of moving water or deep water, you should always have a life vest with you and, in all reality, you should be wearing it. Most guide services, because of either the Division of Wildlife or insurance, will require you to wear a life vest. These will be provided by the guide.

If you’re going with a friend, make sure they have one for you in the boat. You’re going to hate wearing the orange brick-shaped vests, so if that’s all your friend has, maybe go pick up a vest that is specific to fishing from NRS or Astral. Either way. Make sure you have one and that you’re safe.

• DRY BAGS

Dry bags do just that, they keep your stuff dry. In a boat, regardless of the type of boat, things get wet. It’s always nice to have a bag where you can shove your snacks, rain jacket, hoodie, or whatever else you’re bringing with you and ensure that it stays dry throughout the day. You don’t need anything special, but Fishpond, Simms, and Orvis all make good ones and we’d be happy to hook you up with the bag of your choice.

• SNACKS AND WATER

Standing up in a boat that’s always moving means that you are always moving. You’ll be tired by the end of the day for sure. That means you’re also using water and burning calories. Make sure you have more water than you think you’ll need and have some snacks. Lunches are good too. Most guides will have lunch for you unless they tell you otherwise. They’ll likely have water as well, but again, don’t assume.

I always plan on bringing my own unless I’m told otherwise. Also, bring a small grocery or trash bag for your trash. Most guides will have a trash bucket in the boat, but having your own means you don’t have trash blowing into the river which will anger the Trout Gods.

• FLY RODS

So, you love that new fly rod your wife bought you for Christmas from our Minturn or Lone Tree shop, but should you bring it for fly fishing from a drift boat? Maybe not. Boats are notoriously hard on rods. On my first float trip out in my first raft, I snapped my father-in-law’s new 5wt rod about ¼ mile into the float.

Luckily, we brought extras, but that was still a bummer. I was getting back into the boat after getting high center on a sleeper rock and put my hand in the wrong place. Now, I only bring rods into my boats, or other boats, that I’m okay breaking. I’ll still bring one of my Scott or Orvis fly rods, but I just understand that they may not make it to the boat takeout. I’d suggest you have the same mindset.

• FISHING PACKS

If you only have one fly fishing pack, you can skip this section because you aren’t going to have much of a choice. If you’re like me and have more packs than your wife has purses, I’d suggest you think about the pack you’re going to bring. Remember, regardless of the type of drift boat you’re in, space is always at a premium.

I like to bring smaller packs that are waterproof. Often, these packs will get shoved under a bench or will get rained on. I switched to waterproof packs exclusively this year because Levi Lambert (our head guide out of our Lone Tree Shop), his wife Candy, and I rowed through two days of rain earlier this year and even my flies in their boxes deep inside my pack were starting to take on water. Not good when hooks rust.

• NETS

If you’re going out with one of our guides, and most other guides for that matter, you won’t need to bring a net. If you’re going out with a buddy, you may need to bring a net. Even though we always have more nets in the boat than we need, I like that way so when we stop for lunch and I decide to go hit that juicy riffle, I can carry a net with me.

Long handles are good for drift boats, but they’re less handy to wade with. When I’m fly fishing from my drift boat, I have an extra-long handled boat net for landing those fish on the move and a Fishpond Nomad Emerger for wading.

Fishing New Waters - Fly fishing from a drift boat: Part 1

Now that you have your car packed with your fishing gear, what are you going to wear? This is always a struggle for the new and experienced alike. There are three things you have to think about in my opinion: 1) weather, 2) water temps, and 3) whether you’ll be wading.

If it’s going to be 100 degrees out and you’re not getting out of the boat, wear some Chacos and some ultralight pants like the guide pants from Simms. These are my favorite because they breathe, offer excellent sun protection, and dry extremely fast. If, on the other hand, it’s going to be 50 degrees and rainy, you’ll likely need a rain jacket and you’ll probably want to wear waders . . . unless you’re Levi Lambert.

A quick note on shoes and boots. Regardless of whether you’re wearing wet-wading shoes, sandals, or wading boots, you’ll want some foot apparel that has a few attributes. You’ll want something that drains quickly. Water is the boat “es no bueno.” Also, your feet sitting in something wet all day isn’t good either. Trench foot is not just limited to World War I. Second, unless the guide or your friend specifically tells you otherwise, DO NOT wear anything with felt and especially not studs. Felt will bring a ton of sand into the boat which grinds into the floor throughout the day.

Worse, however, are studded boots or shoes. Some guides and other drift boat owners don’t care, but studs really tear up a boat. Sure, you can bring a piece of carpet or something, but you probably don’t want to stand in a 2’x3’ spot all day. At a minimum, always ask before you wear your studded boots in your friend’s new (to them) boat, right Chad?

Let’s talk about wearing waders in a drift boat for a moment. Man, a lot of people have some very strong feelings about this one way or the other. I’ve done it both ways and I think wearing waders really depends on a few things. First, goes back to the weather like I mentioned above.

Second, is water temp. If the water is really cold and you’re going to stop and wade quite a bit, you may want to wear waders. If on the other hand, the water is warm-ish and the weather is warm or hot, maybe skip the waders. Although waders can keep you warm and dry, there are some big downsides to wearing waders in a drift boat. One is safety. If you go overboard and your waders fill up with water, that life vest isn’t going to work as well.

The other is movement. Waders, no matter how well they’re made, are restrictive. It’s one thing to stand and be fly fishing from a drift boat, but waders are terrible to row in. If I know I’m rowing the whole day or most of the day, I’m probably skipping my Simms G4Z waders, I’m MAYBE wearing my Orvis Ultralights, but more than likely, I’m wearing those Simms pants I mentioned and some sandals.

THE LAST CAST

Before we end Part 1 of this blog article, remember to bring the basics as well like sunscreen, nippers, forceps, tippet, flies, sunglasses, rowing gloves (if you’re going to row or throw streamers all day), a hat, and anything else that’s going to help you be comfortable on the river. You’ll want some of this basic gear even if you’re going with a guide because you may have to re-rig something while you’re guide rows down a tricky section or over private land.

Check out Part 2 to learn some tips, tricks, and general rules for fly fishing from a drift boat. If you’re already in or you’d rather learn in person, give our Minturn shop a call at (970)827-9500 to book what will be an awesome trip on one of our best rivers including the Eagle River, Colorado River, and Roaring Fork River

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

About the Author

Chris Opfer

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