Paddling a drift boat, much like casting a fly rod, is a mix of skill and art. This beautiful craft has the power to deliver you to some of the best water on the river, all around the world. If the boat bug has sunken its teeth in you and you’re starting to get stoked on paddling downriver for the first time, take a look at a few tips first to make sure your pretty new boat finishes the day in one piece. After all, you’re not going to catch anything if you’re nailing every rock along the way.
Fish Through Your Angler
One of the hard parts about fishing from a drift boat is the fact that you can’t fish. Instead of trying (and failing) to both fish and row at the same time, just fish vicariously through the anglers in your boat. They can’t hook up without your help and precise boat positioning, so in effect you’re fly fishing as much as they are.
It’s All About Constant Control
Start rowing like a guide to get your friends on more trout–then they'll return the favor.
Just like when you’re paddling a canoe or kayak downriver, keeping your oars in the water while you’re rowing a drift boat will let you always have control. Imagine the blades of the oars tapping into the pulse of the river; with those in the water and your head on a swivel you shouldn’t ever be surprised by a river feature.
Adding some pressure to the oars when you’re drifting down stream and your angler is fishing will also stabilize the boat and help the anglers trying to stand and cast in a rocking boat.
Don’t Dig Too Deep
To get into nice bull trout like this you have to be able to get your boat into the right position.
One mistake that I see a lot of new rowers make is digging way too deep in the river, usually hitting rocks or the bottom. While it may seem that each stroke is more powerful further down in the current, you’re actually much less efficient.
Not only does staying high in the water column let you avoiding hitting bottom, it also makes each stroke easier, as you can take the blade out of the water smoother and get onto the next stroke sooner. If you do need to move faster to avoid an obstacle or battle stronger currents, increase your cadence, not your power and you’ll have better control of your boat.
When In Doubt, Aim For The V
Becoming an expert on the sticks is the balance of art and skill, with a pinch of magic.
If you’re coming up on a small drop or rapid in the river, when in doubt, aim for the V. When water passes between two rocks, you’ll see a deeper, green-colored V pointing downstream. This will show you the deepest, safest line to take that is more likely to be rock-free.
Just make sure to pay attention to the direction of the V, as one pointing upstream, with the V expanding downstream, means that there is a rock at the narrowest point upstream, like an arrow pointing to the obstacle. You don’t want to hit those. To make sure you’re not rushing yourself and making a mistake, pull into an eddy and scout out any sections of river that you’re unfamiliar with to make sure you don’t get caught.