Fly fishing in a boat opens up so many opportunities for anglers to reach new spots and ultimately catch more fish. Unfortunately, getting a boat that works for your needs can be difficult. Fly fishing requires a lightweight and shallow hull, so traditional bay boats won’t work and often it can be a hassle and expensive to store a boat and a trailer.
One of the best investments you can make is in a durable, inflatable drift boat. While there are some cheap inflatable tubes on the market, medium-sized inflatable drift boats allow you to bring more gear and are more durable than other inflatables.
Once you discover the benefits of fly fishing from an inflatable drift boat, it’s hard to go back to waders and standing in the stream. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll quickly learn the difference. Fishing from a boat, in general, requires a different approach and strategy. As you navigate the waters, there will be different variables that you need to adjust on the fly. In any case, adding a boat to your fly trips can make all the difference and give you more options.
If you’ve never fished on the fly from a boat, there are some things to keep in mind. Here are 10 quick tips for fishing out of an inflatable fishing boat.
1. Cast Downstream
Fly fishing in a drift boat allows you to drift. While this means you’re constantly moving, it opens up new fishing areas and creates a nice change of scenario from time to time.
Many beginners (and even seasoned anglers) will get caught looking to the side and fishing perpendicular to the boat and casting upstream. Since you’re moving while on the boat, compared to waders, you’ll need to treat your cast a little differently.
When you cast upstream on a boat, you will have drag in your drifts and a poor presentation. Fly Fishing is all about getting a proper presentation and what seems like continual mending. If you’re casting upstream, your fly presentation will go wonky sooner and you’ll have to recast more often.
Always look ahead at what’s coming. Once you find a great run, throw your fly in the faster water or right on the edge and keep the presentation clean. The mends are thrown upstream to get a nice, long drag-free drift while your boat drifts. This will give your cast more opportunities to catch a bite, and you’ll spend less time recasting.
2. Communication is Key
Always communicate with the team in your vessel. Working a boat is a lot different than solo kayak fishing or wading. With a boat team on a long fishing trip, you need to talk with your oarsmen and help them guide the vessel. The last thing you want is them floating over your runs and missing opportunities to get bites. Experienced rowers will typically put you fish on or tell you where to cast, but beginners will need a little more help finding the good runs.
The oarsmen have a crucial role and need to maneuver the boat and put the anglers in the best position. To do this, everyone needs to be on the same page so the anglers hit their spots and the oarsmen don’t ruin any runs.
Sometimes, your oarsmen may need to break the speed of the boat a little so you get a chance to focus in and fish a spot a bit more. If you’re in fast-moving water, you may come across pockets heavy with trout. Be prepared to slow down and move into slower water. Don’t be afraid to drop anchor or use the trolling motor depending on the quality of the spot (and if it's acceptable in the area. Some areas are cool with trolling motors, but most western trout waters won’t be).
Communicating is also required if your lines are tangled or you catch on something in the water. If you catch the bottom or get caught on a stump, let the oarsman know right away so they can adjust. You may be able to save the fly before it snaps.
3. Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Let’s be honest—most memorable fishing trips aren’t just about the big catch of the day, it’s the time you spend bonding with family or friends. To help make sure you have the best experience every time you get out on the water, make sure you have a plan with your buddies to work together and enjoy your time.
It all starts with the preparation. For instance, if one guy owns your boat, the other two should be paying for gas to tow the boat to the water and home. The same goes for your equipment. To help stay organized you can designate one person to bring lunch, one to bring extra flies, and one to bring the cooler of drinks.
Speaking of equipment, you might want to have a few different rod setups to swap between. If you can swing it, it is really nice to have five unique rods. This lets you store three in your rod holder and have a different one in each anglers’ hands.
Always be communicating with the other angler and oarsman. Make sure one person isn’t on the sticks the whole time either. If the fish are biting left and right, take a turn on the oars every couple fish you catch. If it’s a little bit slower out, make sure to swap out each time you catch a fish.
4. Keep an Eye on the Water Speed
A good way to be more efficient and catch more fish is by studying the water. Different parts of the river will have different speeds. Pay attention to this before you cast.
While your inflatable fishing boat should have a sturdy inflatable floor to keep you steady, even the most agile boat will not hold in rough waters if you aren’t paying attention.
Be mindful of what you can do while in rough water and take it slow. If the water is rough enough, pull your lines in and focus on going through the rapids so you don't lose flies or break rods. If you’re in choppier water, you’ll want to be aiming more downstream and making fewer, but quality casts. If you’re in slower water, though, you can let a few more fly and have multiple drifts.
5. Know Your Boat
It can be easy to get caught up on a drift and cast over the boat. Not only is this dangerous for your team, but it could also ruin a poor quality inflatable and damage your hooks. Get a sturdy, high-quality inflatable so you won’t have to repair boat punctures while on a good drift.
One lousy cast can lead your fishing hook to catch something on the boat or even one of your partners. If you spot a good run, let your team know and then adjust your positioning on the boat. If you have a swivel seat, this makes life easier. Pull your fly up and around and recast in the spot that you have eyes on.
Take some time to study your inflatable craft and make a note of any possible features that could tangle your line or get snagged by your flies. Nothing ruins a good run faster than a tangled line or snagged hook on your boat. If your inflatable boat has accessories like the gear rack, fishing rod holder, or rear lean bar, be aware of these when casting. You might also have to work around your outboard motor and motor mount, oars, and oar locks.
6. Be Mindful of Your Surroundings When Casting
Save yourself the hassle of getting flies caught in trees or snagged on stumps. When you’re fishing in a drift boat, by being mindful of your surroundings. When you’re fishing in waders, a fly caught in a nearby tree can be retrieved. When you’re floating down the water though and catch a branch, you’ll need to pop the fly off. You can do this by pointing the rod at the fly with a taunt fly line and then pull until the fly pops.
When you’re going through a tight section of water especially, you’ll need to switch up your technique. Stick to tension casts or roll casts and keep your flies in the water
If you see log sticking out of the water, chances are that a fish might be using it for shelter. This can be high risk but high reward. When casting at targets like this, make sure you hit your mark or you can end up losing a lot of flies quickly if you aren’t careful. Nothing hurts more than losing a $7 streamer.
7. Aim Small, Miss Small
When you’re fishing in tighter spots or narrow streams, the best advice is to aim small, miss small.
Narrow runs aren’t the time for big back casts or long drifts. It’s all about hitting smaller targets and being accurate. In situations like these, being more precise and calculated with your casts will lead to more bites.
Like Lance Egan mentions, fly selection is important, but presentation and accuracy is even more important. Similarly, long drifts are great, but when you’re fishing from an inflatable boat in tighter water, you can aim for those smaller pockets and put the boat in position to hit them.
To master this skill, take some time to practice casting. One of the best times to do this is when you’re out of the boat at home. Practicing your casting at home can be a big game changer the next time you get out on the water. If you need some tips, check out these basic and advanced casting training videos from Orvis, which include how-tos, drills, tips and tricks, plus a bunch of other helpful information to improve your fly fishing skills.
8. Switch Up Your Fly Patterns and Retrieves
If you find that the fish just don’t seem to be biting, you may want to swap out your fly. Try things like adding some flash or changing the size of your fly. One or two subtle changes that look and act a little bit differently than what your partner is using can pay off. Besides just changing your fly patterns, switch up your retrieves as well. Something as simple as changing your speed can get a fish to bite even if it just passed on your partner’s fly.
Typically fish are keyed in on colors or certain patterns and will ignore everything else besides what they're keyed into. So if they're eating a dry fly off the top consistently, both anglers should be fishing dry flies. Make sure that your and your fishing partners are using similar setups if the fish are hitting a certain style, color, or pattern.
Again, minor changes can lead to big results on the water. If you find that something isn’t working and the fish won’t bite, switch up your equipment. These are variables you can control, and some things that locals can help with. Reach out to your local fly shop to see if they are getting any bites.
9. Fish Different Depths
Some days the fish just won’t bite. When this happens, you may want to try fishing a different depth. If you’re not getting any action on top, you could try switching to a streamer or a nymph rig. If this still isn’t making a difference, consider adding some weight to your rig. Sometimes it just takes some minor adjustments to your equipment to get the fish to start biting.
If an area looked promising but didn’t get any bites, don’t give up right away. Sometimes you just need to go a little deeper to get a fish to bite.
Some fish will stay away from the surface, but if you drop the fly down a few more feet below the surface, they jump all over it. The back of the boat is where you get to be creative and experiment. Use this time to your advantage!
10. Safety First
Unfortunately, inflatable tender, drift boats, and kayaks can all get caught in whitewater fairly quickly. Cheap inflatable boats might break more easily. No matter what, bring a safety kit and a repair kit and always go out with a reliable inflatable drift boat. Anglers get lost or injured on rivers every year. Don’t be one of them.
You should take some time to study the water you’ll be floating on before you go. If you may encounter rapids, it's important to make sure you’re prepared and comfortable navigating through them. For instance, if you’re comfortable rowing class 1 rapids but there is a class 3 rapid on the river, you’ll need to map out a way to avoid it or make sure there is a spot to pull out before then.
On top of this, always make sure to wear a life jacket while on the boat and study the area you’re going to be drifting through.
Fishing in an inflatable craft is so much fun and lets you explore new areas of the water. But, you need to be prepared and understand that safety comes before fishing. Communicate with your team, and always watch out for one another.
We highly recommend bringing a GPS device. Flycraft Operations Manager, Brad Buchanan always has a Garmin 66i so if something goes wrong he can send exact coordinates to responders or communicate if there's no cell signal.
Get Out On The Water
There are few better ways to spend your time than out on the water drifting and fly fishing. Our inflatable drift boats help you reach more parts of the water, navigate through tighter and shallower spots, and will last you for years to come.
With an inflatable craft, you don’t have to worry about hauling a heavy aluminum boat or pontoon or finding a boat ramp to get in and out of water. And our two-man Stealth can be packed up and loaded into two carry-on luggage containers so you can even fly to remote locations and still have a sturdy, lightweight boat with you.
Inflatable drift boats help you to get out on the water faster and with less hassle. With a sturdy hull, and floors just as strong as an aluminum floor, you’ll be surprised at the ease of fly fishing on one of our drifts.
Whether you’re making a trip to some of the best runs on the west coast, or you’re trekking to the rivers in Patagonia, one of our Flycraft inflatables can take you there.