I can easily recall as a youngster, dreaming over issues of Field & Stream and Sports Afield about the art and delicate craft of fly fishing. The visions of wading up clear, cold mountain streams in pursuit of trout made for a solid foundation of what to expect when diving head first into this life long activity. It wasn’t until I first ventured West to Yellowstone Country at about age 13 that I picked up on another way to enjoy the sport, the drift boat. In the early 80’s, drift boats were nothing new to western rivers but they too were evolving, getting better and quickly becoming a common sight in every trout town across the West and over time now quite common in many East coast trout centers.
So, what is the source behind the shift? What is causing all the fuss? Why are so many anglers spending thousands of dollars on these boats when essentially all you need are your own two feet? Well, the answer is not as obvious if you are a newcomer to the sport or live in a region where the geography boasts small creeks over the larger rivers typical of the West. Furthermore, and in my opinion it goes deeper than the obvious suggests and this is the true reason for the rapid rise of the drift boat.
The primary answer, especially from a guiding aspect is that the boats are an incredible tool to not only help people catch more fish but to help keep those same people safe. As a guide I get this question quite often(hence the origin of this post), “We’re not used to fishing from boats, can we do some wading?”, when I hear this I chuckle knowing this person has no idea how tough and dangerous it can be walking and wading a river such as the Snake River all day. For sure, we all love the solitude a wading experience can provide and fishing small creeks on foot will always hold a magical element that cannot be replaced by any boat but as the old saying goes, “when in Rome!”
The drift boat is such an effective tool that when operated by a master oarsmen and someone who truly understands a good drift it can excel a low novice angler into multiple strikes and opportunities from the trout on their first outing and the same can provide a fairly strong intermediate angler the best fishing of their life.
So these are the obvious reasons for the rapid rise of the drift boat… safety, maneuvering, comfort, gear hauling and drift management, but is there more? I think so, much more and once people experience and become aware of this last but vital aspect they fall head over for the boats and we can then better explain the fiberglass, aluminum and wood hatches that occur almost daily in the summer across the tailwater and freestone rivers of the Rockies, West and East. Its our primal urge to be social and share our experiences.
I see this all the time, once the ice is broken and a trout or two are caught folks begin to loosen up, relax(very important by the way) and talk openly about whatever comes to mind, then I know the day is in my hands and the social power of the boat can be intoxicating(for many quite literally). Fly fishing from a drift boat allows you to share your glory and your disappointment with at least one other person. You are committing to letting your guard down about how terrible your cast, mend or hook set may be or conversely it allows you to strut your stuff and let the BS flow thick. The later is not as recommended but then again it makes for some good stories at least for us guides. Boats are also awesome ways to share photography. I can remember many trout caught all alone that were so magnificant I was slightly depressed to not have captured a good photo to share or look back on to remember that moment. Generally these days most drift boats are adorned with several modes of photography or videography, ever pushing us all to capture yet a better image than the last, not necessarily healthy but the reality nonetheless and good photography shares the best of the sport with the world.
So, now that I have made a good claim for the rapid rise of drift boat fly fishing I have to admit I miss my roots only because I spend well over 100 days a year in a fiberglass office. This office has many highlights and I try to never take it for granted. Floating down the Snake River under the Tetons is about as magical a float imaginable, throw in a few nice trout grabbing large dry flies, a nice lunch or beer, a good friend or two and you have an experience that makes life long memories and is very contagious.
Remember drift boats are a special tool, you move from A to B down a beautiful river but also remember they must be handled by an experienced oarsman, they are nothing like canoes or other boats. You row a drift boat with oars and until you are proficient let the experts man the oars and lastly, remember as the rivers get more crowded give folks their space and use good common sense while out on the water.
Tight Loops to All! -SS
I have only been in a drift boat three time in my life and it is an excellent way to fish places like the Snake. One of those trips was with Grand Teton FLy Fishing and I will be returning to GTFF this comming September. That being said its still very hard to beat the solitude of a mountain stream with a good friend and a fly rod. See you in September