Float Your Boat

A guide to finding your ideal boat.

There you are, standing in cold, waist-deep water, when a driftboat floats toward you. With a cooler full of beer and soft, dry seats, a trio of dudes float past, presenting flies to unsuspecting fish while you bristle with jealousy. Don’t get mad—get a boat.

Fishing from a boat is an excellent way to spend a day on the river. But with so many options out there, it can be hard to decide. So how do you pick the right one for you?

That depends on the type of water you spend the most time fishing. It also depends on how much money you want to spend. Most quality fishing craft start at $1,000 and can run well over $10,000, depending on how you outfit them. Spend some time talking with local dealers—they have the expertise to help guide you through the purchase process so you end up with the boat best suited to your wants and needs.

If you enjoy fishing rivers like the lower Madison or the Jefferson, a driftboat is still the king of the river-fishing craft. They are quick on and off the trailer, generally keep you dry, and are stellar at catching eddies and backtrolling, or braking against the current. Driftboats are fairly durable but are still susceptible to damage, so you’ll want to avoid especially small or low-water rivers.

If you have a more adventurous spirit, a raft equipped with a fishing frame offers versatility and durability. Rafts are built to run whitewater, so they are a great choice if your day trip includes class III or IV rapids. Rafts can comfortably hold a massive amount of gear, so if you’re planning on a fishing expedition on the Smith River or an overnighter with several people, a raft can easily be configured to suit your needs. A 14-footer is a good place to start, but my favorite size is 15 feet for all-around use.

If you just can’t decide between a driftboat and a raft, you don’t have to—NRS recently created the Clearwater Drifter inflatable driftboat. This driftboat doesn’t require a trailer, and you can even pack it up and throw it on an airplane.

A cataraft is another great choice for whitewater. This boat is often the least-expensive inflatable option, plus it has great maneuverability and can be outfitted with fishing platforms just like a raft. Several companies even make personal fishing cats that will hold you and all your gear on those solo-fishing days.

For me, lake fishing is all about solitude. And big fish. The main problem is if you’re paddling, you’re not fishing—which is where a pedal-drive fishing kayak comes in. Hobie makes a great model called the Pro-Angler; it’s equipped with MirageDrive, which is essentially an underwater fin system that you drive with your feet. Using your legs to propel the boat leaves your hands free for other things (like fishing) and creates fewer disturbances in the water than oars or paddles. A lighter-weight option is the Ultimate 12 Angler from Native Watercraft. This boat comes with multiple rod mounts, an anchor system, and plenty of room in the bow and stern for gear.

No matter where you fish, there’s a boat for you. So stop drooling over those cushy seats and stocked coolers, and start floating your way to more fun!

Mike Garcia owns Rivers – Lakes – Oceans / The Barn in Bozeman.