ORVIS GUIDE TO ADVENTURE
HOW TO FLY FISH FROM A DRIFT BOAT
A drift boat is a beautiful example of design and function, an excellent watercraft for fly fishing. It is designed to drift down the river with the current with the rower or guide controlling the speed. Generally, when you row a boat on flat water you face backward and pull the oars to propel the boat forward. In the case of a drift boat the guide or rower faces forward and pulls on the oars to regulate speed and guide the boat through and away from all the potential hazards that a river may offer up, from fallen trees to big rocks and even rapids. Rowing a drift boat down a fast river is a far cry from rowing a rowboat across a placid lake and it takes skill and a great deal of practice.
Drift boats are beautifully designed and evolved from the large, open dories fished in the North Atlantic on the Grand Banks. They were first brought to Oregon by Atlantic fishermen who moved west and modified the deep hulls to wide, flat-bottom hulls for running rivers during the salmon runs, and the McKenzie River designs were born. From these designs the modern drift boat has evolved.
Today anywhere you find big, fast rivers that hold fish, you’ll find drift boats, but it is in the trout rivers of the American West where they truly flourish, given the nature and abundance of the big, fast-moving waters that dominate the western landscape. Drift boats are as ubiquitous in the Rockies as are flats boats in the Florida Keys. Design follows function.
Booking a fly-fishing trip with a guide in a drift boat is one of the great angling experiences for a number of reasons: you’re going to cover a lot of water, you’re going to see a lot of beautiful country that you wouldn’t see otherwise, and you’re going to experience some great and varied fishing over the course of the day depending on the time of year. You may find yourself casting and drifting dry flies along the edge of the river, throwing big streamers at the banks, stopping and getting out and wading certain sections of the river. The drift boat is your access to fishing you could never otherwise get to.
Rules for Drift Boat Fishing
Fishing in a drift boat is really fairly simple if you pay attention to a few rules. There are three stations on a normal drift boat with the guide in the center on the oars, an angler in the forward position and an angler behind the guide in the rear position.
A fly-fishing trip down a big, fast, and sometimes tumbling river in a drift boat is a great experience that every angler should have on their bucket list. Floating down some of the iconic and legendary western rivers with a knowledgeable guide will offer you access not only to great scenery, but great fishing as well, in places that many anglers will never get to see. Names like Madison, Yellowstone, Deschutes, Rogue, Green, Henry’s Fork, Snake, and Big Horn are the domain of the drift boat and it is the best way to experience these magnificent rivers.
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