Drift boats are the quintessential fly fishing boat. The seasoned fly fisher knows that with the right drift boat, you can get to some of the best and most secluded fly fishing spots.
Whether you’re an experienced angler or just starting out, a quality drift boat makes any time spent on the water more enjoyable and allows you to explore areas that other anglers can’t get to on foot or in other types of boats.
Are you looking to purchase a drift boat? Here is everything you need to know about drift boats so you can make a truly informed decision.
What are Drift Boats?
A drift boat is a popular choice for anglers who fly fish on inland waters. The drift boat is similar to a dory boat. It is essentially a rowboat with a flat-bottom and shallow draft, flared sides, a curved hull, and a pronounced rocker. Drift boats offer that classic river dory look, complete with unique features to perform better in rivers.
Drift boats are designed to drift and let the current guide the boat down the river. Boats sometimes come with a small motor, but usually you are letting the current guide you and using the oars to control the boat’s speed and direction. Most drift boats hold three seats in the front, middle, and back. They’re typically built to accommodate two anglers, each positioned in elevated seats at each end of the boat and one person rowing in the middle position.
Drift boats were used in the early 19th century to transport supplies along the McKenzie River in Oregon. By the 1940s, though, they became a popular choice for river guides to transport anglers up and down the rivers.
Today, they’re still a popular choice for anglers of all levels who want to spend more time on the water fishing and they can access water that would never be accessible by foot.
What Makes A Drift Boat Unique?
When comparing a drift boat to other types of vessels, a few characteristics make it stand out.
First, the flat-bottom hull. As mentioned earlier, this design feature makes it possible to use the boat in shallower water and not risk causing damage. The flat hull also makes the boat more maneuverable than other types of boats and allows the users to switch the bow’s orientation with a simple cross-stroke rowing technique.
Rather than turning and twisting your stance to cast a line towards your target, you can easily align the boat in your desired direction to create a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Another thing that makes the drift boat unique compared to a rowboat or dory is the sides. Rowboats typically have lower sides that can take on water in choppier conditions. Drift boats, however, can come with high sides to make navigating rapids, whitewater, and challenging conditions more manageable and safer. You can also control the drift speed by lifting your oars out of the water to move faster or putting them into the water at 45° angles to stem the stream flow.
You can get drift boats with smaller sides as well. However, these boats should be used in calmer waters as they are likely to take on more water. In rough waters, you may find yourself spending more time clearing water out of your boat (otherwise known as bailing), and less time casting.
Benefits of a Drift Boat
Drift boats offer anglers a lot of benefits and can make their trip that much more enjoyable. First, the stable floor makes it easier to stand up and cast from an elevated position. Drift boats can come equipped with convenient leg locks to help you feel secure when standing in the boat and drifting down the river.
A drift boat also offers a good amount of storage space. Coolers, equipment, extra gear, and even spare clothes can fit conveniently on most drift boats. The ability to store things under the seat saves space and helps keep your valuable items dry and secure.
Most modern drift boats make it easier to move around. Unlike its dory predecessor, the seats are not full width which would require you to hurdle over them to move around the boat. Full-width bench seats can create problems in choppier waters and make it difficult to move around as necessary. Instead, today’s drift boats have island seats to make it more convenient to get from the front of the boat to the rear.
A final benefit of drift boats is the flat-bottom hull. The hull design creates a shallow draft and avoids potential damage from boulders, rocks, and other debris found on the river bottom. As a result, drift boats can glide above shallower water and make more parts of the river accessible to fly fishing anglers.
Where Can You Use a Drift Boat?
Drift boats are a great choice to use on rivers. From navigating calm waters, rapids, flat-water, and everything in-between—drift boats offer versatility. A drift boat may be used on lakes, ponds, and creeks, but they are intended to be used on rivers.
Never use a drift boat in the ocean. The flat-bottom hull of a drift boat is not the most stable in choppy waters. Rowing through heavy rapids can also be risky and difficult for less experienced users. It’s best to practice caution and stay within your comfort zone to avoid any potential injuries or risks.
Before taking a drift boat out, it’s important to prepare. This means studying the course to avoid dead ends and getting lost on the river. A drift boat can take on water or sink, so any user should be prepared ahead of time to mitigate any risks. Being equipped with emergency equipment and having a familiarity with the area can help avoid any potential issues on the water.
5 Quick Tips For Safely Rowing a Drift Boat
A drift boat is a truly unique riverboat that is incredibly strong, versatile, and maneuverable. Because of their build and the ease in which they can run rivers, drift boats offer anglers and hunters many benefits. However, one of the biggest things that come up with a drift boat is its steering.
Learning how to row a drift boat is not as difficult as it seems, but you will need some practice. Drift boats are a little backward, so adjusting to this can be difficult in swift water.
So, here are five quick tips for how to handle drift boating.
1. Row Backwards
While it might seem obvious, it’s important to understand why this is necessary when fishing from a drift boat.
When you row backward, you are pulling the oars back to slow down the boat. By doing so, you’re able to control the boat easier and put it in a position to make things simpler when casting lines.
Slowing the boat down also helps you better navigate the waters and avoid trouble spots.
2. Avoiding Trouble
Speaking of avoiding trouble on the water, here’s how to do it.
When you see something coming up ahead that you want to avoid, you need to orient the boat’s front to face the trouble. Then, when you start to row backward, you’ll move the boat away from it and can correct your course.
You should also stick to the middle of the river when first starting out as this area is safer, away from banks and rocks that your boat can hit.
3. Proper Technique
Proper rowing technique involves your entire body. You don’t need to be a professional oarsman but you do need to think about your movements. To get more power from your oar strokes, make sure to engage your core and use your whole body (back, legs, and arms) to generate a powerful stroke.
Make sure to avoid dipping the oars deep into the water. The blade of the oar should be close to completely submerged in the water.
4. Staying Centered
You want to make sure you keep the boat facing straight and centered as you go down the river.
If you’re drifting down the river sideways, you’re more at risk of flipping the boat. By keeping it straight and centered, you can better navigate the water and avoid problems before it is too late.
5. Using an Anchor
You want to make sure you avoid using an anchor in fast water. Doing so can cause the boat to be pulled into waves and potentially flip it.
Depending on the state you’re in, you’ll also need to know where you are on the water. In Colorado, for instance, it’s illegal to drop an anchor on private land.
Other Things to Consider
While you might feel ready to hit the waters, you’ll want to pay mind to some other aspects of fly fishing and using a drift boat.
For example, before you go out, be sure to check the local regulations. Boaters must abide by local regulations, which can vary from spot to spot. As fly fishers, we pride ourselves on respecting private landowners and respecting the unspoken rules of fly fishing, like first come first serve.
Be sure to communicate with local officials, landowners, and fellow fly fishers before or during your time on the water. Stay respectful and be a good steward for the fly fishing community.
Drift boats are also limited in the type of water you can access. There is really shallow water that you should not access as it will run aground easily. Untouched live fish usually hide out in side channels, which unfortunately might only be 6 feet deep. A drift boat can’t touch these spots because it’ll get stuck.
Having a drift boat is not all fun and games. A used drift boat can easily cost you $8,000-$9,000 due to maintenance and you often need a trailer to transport it.
If you don’t have an inflatable boat, then you’ll need someplace to store it (and the trailer), which can often take up space in your garage, yard, or storage unit. Additionally, if your aluminum boat gets a hole, then you’ll likely need to pay a professional to fix it, which means more money spent and less time on the water.
Be mindful of the type of boat you get, as one boat can be more hassle than another. An old aluminum boat might be cheaper upfront, but cost you more in the long run. With storage, the added expense of the trailer, costly repairs, and slow maintenance, an aluminum drift boat might be more work than expected. Consider an inflatable drift boat, which can be easily transported, stowed compactly even in an apartment, and easily repaired.
Catch More Fish And Enjoy Time on The Water
Drift boats are an excellent purchase for someone who wants to access secluded river runs with the benefits of easy drifting, secure fishing, and the ability to bring on more gear. But finding the right drift boat is key.
With its maneuverability, easy steering, and body type, drift boats give enthusiasts access to easier handling, launching, anchoring, all on a sturdy boat.
If you’re looking to access secluded river runs in the midwest, Pacific Midwest, and find hidden gems in states like Arkansas and Pennsylvania, then you need a sturdy drift boat that can travel with you, like one of our inflatable drift boats.
With advanced engineering and design perfectly suited for fly fishing shallow runs, you’ll have access to a strong, but lightweight and easily portable inflatable drift boat. Don’t get weighed down by an aluminum boat or spend your fishing trip worrying about banging up your fiberglass boat! Our boats can enter the water from anywhere and experience some of the best fishing the USA has to offer!