Watercraft for Fishing Rivers
There are a myriad of ways to boat or float on a lake or river while fly fishing. Every imaginable craft has been tried and most will accomplish the goal of keeping you somewhat dry. Let’s take a look at different watercraft in no particular order to help you decide what choice may best fit your needs. Ask yourself the following questions:
- On what kind of water will you spend the majority of your time?
- How many people will typically join you when fishing?
- How will you transport the craft? (Trailer, Car Top, Stowaway, Hand Carry)
- Will you need to portage or pack in a watercraft?
- What’s your budget?
- Can you borrow your neighbors?
Canoes | Kayaks | Drift Boat | Jon Boat | Personal Floatation | Inflatables
- 1-3 passengers
Versatile: When compared to other craft, it’s difficult to find one more versatile. You can fish as many as three people in a canoe, although for average sized folks, two is plenty. They don’t use gas and one person can operate a canoe efficiently, if need be.
Tough: Consider aluminum or another tough material that take rocks and will not easily incur repairable damage. Many of the newer featherweight lake canoes require extreme care too avoid scratches. They are designed for easy portaging. This is simply impractical in our view as a mainstay choice for river fishing. You are going to hit rocks, possibly a lot of rocks, period. So plan for it. Don’t waste your time refinishing the bottom of a $1,000 canoe when you should be fishing.
Portable: Some entry and exits points are not conducive to trailers or launching boats. Canoes can be managed by one or two people and are easily carried or slid to or from the water. This makes canoes extremely efficient to quickly get in and out and on your way. Even the heaviest canoes don’t weigh much more than 75 pounds, manageable for one or two folks.
Equitable: The sternsman usually steers and positions the boat for the bowman who does most of the quality fishing. It’s easy to switch places periodically to balance out the fun. Sometimes it’s difficult to flog for two hours straight making the switch a welcome respite for the bowman.
We find it fairy easy to fish from the stern especially with a spinning rod. No, we are not purists in this matter! I can fire off two casts by the time I could strip out and cast the fly rod. I simply don’t have that much time when in the stern, unless the water is extremely flat. You can get off course very quickly, so a quick cast here and there is about all you’ll get in the back.
If a drift boat is used, the person on the oars must tend them continuously, unless anchored, and is largely unable to fish. Again, the canoe allows for both riders to fish in many cases. If the sternsman hooks up, an anchor can quickly be deployed to stop and enjoy the moment without trying to do three things at once.
Passengers: I recommend two people per 16 to 18 foot canoe. There are 20-21 foot aluminum now available specifically for three people. You are adding weight, of course, but if you envision three people per trip, this might be the answer.
I also like a center-keeled canoe. I believe you have truer tracking and more stability. We use a lot of Alumacraft and Gumman canoes in the north country because they are tough and last forever.
Transportable: You don’t need a trailer or special vehicle to use a canoe. When people by a boat-motor-trailer, they often need an SUV or truck with which to pull (or so they think). You are often using a launch car (left at the upstream starting point) and a drop car (left where you take out of the river). One can use portable roof cushions that work on any care to transport the canoe back to the starting point if necessary.
Inexpensive: A little research will reveal you can get a basic 17 foot standard aluminum canoe for around $600. Add a couple paddles, life vests and a few other accessories and your set, all for under $1000.
A canoe is not the most comfortable craft to sit in for extended periods of time. If you have knee problems or other advanced chronic arthritic issues, consider a jon boat or other, more comfortable craft. Yet a canoe’s comfort can be enhanced with seat cushions (designed for canoes) and back rests. These pleasantries can really make a difference on a four to six hour float trip.
Kayaks are extremely popular today. We would be remiss if we did not discuss them. A kayak offers a
great way to wend your way down (or up) a river or stream. River size is of little concern. Small rivers are well suited for kayaks, especially if there are plenty or rocks and fast water to add to the fun.
If you are new to this growing sport, spend some time with an instructor to learn how to roll or right the kayak. Limitations are
stability and storage. Some folks rig rod holders on their kayaks. See Crow Wing Kayaks (sit-on-top kayaks
designed for fishing).
Kayaks are also great for moving up and against the current if need be. They are difficult to fish out of since contorting body motion will twist the craft. With practice you can learn how to position your self to hold position. The best practice is to use them to land at promising spots to get out and wade fish. Kayaks come in
several models. Kayaks are definitely not our first choice in fly fishing watercraft, but they have their place. If you plan to shoot fast water and fish as just a part of the adventure, consider the kayak.
We are beginning to see a few more McKenzie-style drift boats in the Midwest. They are awesome fishing machines and great for skinny water.
An oarsman must guide the boat down river and does not fish. These are great guide boats providing you are drifting and anchoring and don’t require a motor.
are set up to shuttle vehicles or always
fish with a couple people who can
provide drop cars, drift boats are hard
to beat for comfort and casting ease.
Flat bottom river boats:
On larger rivers and lakes where comfort
and stability are key, a flat bottom
boat such as a Jon boat work extremely
well. These boats are more stable than a
canoe or pontoon “float craft”, allowing
a person to stand and cast or stretch.
While we use canoes on these rivers, an
outboard or jet motor on a Jon boat or
thin water jet boat can add to
logistical strategy allowing one to move
up river at will, repeatedly when
necessary. The application of a motor
aids in boat control and takes the
shuttle issues out of a river trip. On
many large rivers in the U.S. these
boats are standard fare and work
extremely well when sometimes fitted
with casting platforms and leg yolks
similar to a McKenzie-style drift boat.
Personal Float Craft:
Float tubes have come a long way and continue to improve. These are ideal for quiet water ponds, pits, and small lakes. The float tube is still very practical, especially for hard-to-get to or pack in trips. They don’t work as well on shallow rivers as your lower trunk area will meet new and unfriendly obstructions along the way. The are the most affordable craft; this one for example goes for under $200.
Pontoon Float Boats
In this category I refer to the pontoon style craft which can be dual opposing pontoons or the new line of canoe-like craft made of tough PVC and other plastics for one (sometimes more) person. Float tubes also fit into this category as do any craft which can be effectively used by one person. Price ranges vary widely here but figure on spending around $600 for a one-man pontoon. Prices will vary based on pontoon material and length.
One Man Float Boats
If one can drive to the river or lake, there are a number of exciting one (and two man) crafts either inflatable or made of light but durable plastics transported on a car roof or trailer.
Most have an aluminum frame with a padded swivel seat or fixed seat, anchor system (optional, but mandatory in our view) and a motor mount. The kayak-style design makes this a fast and quiet boat, coupled with an electric or small gas outboard you can cover massive amounts of water. If you fish lakes, ponds, moderate rivers or tidewater, We have not been in one and cannot credibly speak to the relative stability of the craft.
Two Man Float Boats
You may be interested in inflatable or non-inflatable. It depends on how you need to pack the craft. If you have a trailer, you can go either way. If space is an issue, consider inflatable watercraft. Here’s a two-man model. New designs are popping up all over, we’ll keep you informed.
For convenience, weight and storage, you should consider inflatable boats. Some of them allow for running a white water river. Inflatable canoes and kayaks can take only a few minutes to inflate and cost relatively little compared to other craft. Most will hold up 500 pounds, but only weigh only around 25 lbs.
deflated. The take up little space when transporting. This one will carry two adults and gear, but only needs one adult to carry it to the water.
The inflatable canoe packs down to fit in a storage bag, but has cargo space for camping supplies for several days. An inflatable canoe can be used for fishing, yacht tending or skin diving. For river runners, the some models can take you down up to class three whitewater.
The roll up aluminum slat floor provides stability and makes it easy to inflate - just 8 minutes from the bag to the water. The slatted floorboard design permits the boat to be packed in one small bag and inflated in a confined space - such as the deck of a boat or a crowded launch area. A variety of sizes cover nearly all small boating needs at a fraction of the cost of metal or plastics.