Well everyone it is Mid March and the big bugs are showing up on the Bitterroot. I haven’t been out floating a bunch this year, February was cold and felt more like the longest month not the shortest. But I’m guiding/ on the sticks today and the age old dilemma is at hand. What boat to take today?
I’ll give you my rundown of what boats seem to work better for different conditions.
- Rafts are lightweight, if you set them up that way. I keep my rafts as nimble as possible, no solid floor, no casting braces, no huge dry box, no 500 qt cooler. I like to be able to drop my raft in weird places, off bridges, embankments etc, places you can’t get in or out easily with a drift boat. Also if new trees fall over, or multiple portages are in order it’s easier to get your raft around things.
- Self bailing rafts are safer than non self bailing boats, and you can run them in more rapid oriented type rivers. If a wave train splashes or goes over the bow, the boat bails its self out, they also work great when its raining. If you screw up and take a big wave in a drift boat it might swamp and then you are in trouble.
- Rafts are more quiet, when you hit a little rock in most drift boats you here a bang, in a raft you hear nothing. They are also easier to hang on to if you have to get out quick, lighter don’t drag you down stream.
- If you sit down in a raft and cast more precisely you seem to catch more trout in a raft by being more stealthy other than standing in a hard boat and making long sloppy casts and spooking trout.
- They really suck in the wind, like a big sail blowing you around, or maybe a kite out of control.
- The work area is cramped, storage can be limited, if you drop a fly it floats away and goes out through one of the self bailing holes.
- Rafts aren’t efficient to row back upstream and re row spots/ row around.
- The rear angler especially often seem to get their line wrapped around the anchor system, seat, etc.
- People in rafts sometimes can’t cast as far, but sometimes that is a good thing.
Drift Boat pros:
- They row efficiently, you can take a few hard row strokes and sit in one place, go back and fish a good spot over again. They also are good in the wind, especially skiffs and low profile boats.
- They are easier to get in and out of, you can move around more without bumping a frame, anchor rope, cooler etc.
- You can leave things in them at the end of the day, cooler, oars, anchor, net: I have my boat set up so I don’t have to load everything in the back of my truck at the end of the day.
- Drift boats have better/ safer rod storage. Many anglers make pvc rod holders and put them on their raft. In my experience your fly line and everything else gets hung up and it’s a pain to pull rods out of those things. However a friend of mine Leo Larson from 9 mile MT makes one hell of a good rod holder for rafts!
- You can stand up in a hard boat and stretch a bit. You also can cast futher, and manage slack line better. Your fly line doesn’t hang up on everything like in some rafts.
Drift Boat cons:
- Drift boats aren’t forgiving if you make a mistake. Sometime’s, hopefully never, you screw up and pop an oar out of an oar lock, or lose attention and maybe bump a rock, or hit something sideways. In this case if you are in a raft you might get away with it if the water isn’t too big or fast, in a hard boat it’s more likely to swamp and sink and turn into a real bad day!
- When water gets low and you are hitting rocks drift boats are noisy and scare fish I feel.
- Some drift boats are tippy meaning if your angler casts with a lot of body weight or sits way on one side of the seat your boat rows wonky, one oar is three feet in the air, the other oar is hitting the bottom of the river.
In summary, remember this is just my opinion, I’ll say that it is convenient to have both. Around Missoula there are rivers or river sections that work better for rafts and better for drift boats. You can run a raft anywhere, but some water is not safe for hard boats in my opinion. Example Rock Creek, some of the BlackFoot, upper Bitterroot, Cascade rapids (Clark Fork). Other waters are easier to run a drift boat- example: lower Clark Fork, Lower Bitterroot, the Missouri river is way better in a hard boat, not a good raft river with it being wide open and windy often.
So if I’m fishing lower/ slower rivers I usually grab my drift boat, if its more rapid, rocky white water, less forgiving I’ll usually grab my raft. Some guys run their drift boats almost everywhere and others run their rafts everywhere, a lot of it is personal preference. I will say though if you only have one boat, a raft can run in more water types than most drift boats.