At Vail Valley Anglers in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado float fishing is our bread and butter and we use both hard-bottomed drift boats and specialized rafts for our fly fishing. We are fortunate enough to have three excellent fisheries nearby that offer diverse types of water and incredible float fishing opportunities. The Eagle River is small, fast and rocky with technical rapids and a short float season and we exclusively use rafts here. On the Roaring Fork River, which has a couple different sections that are very different in character, we use both rafts and drift boats depending on flows and which section is being fished. Meanwhile on the upper Colorado River near State Bridge and the Lower Colorado around Glenwood Springs, drift boats are preferred because the river is larger and slower.
How to Choose Between a Drift Boat and Raft
Deciding on which boat to use for your float fly fishing can be a tough choice but there are some easy ways to narrow it down. If you can only afford one boat, a raft is the way to go. You can use them wherever a drift boat will go and many places that drift boats can’t go. If your float fishing is going to take place on larger, slower rivers like the Colorado, North Platte or Bighorn, it is hard to beat the comfort and space a drift boat offers. Start researching your choice based on where you will be fishing the most.
Advantages of Float Fishing Rafts
Rafts have a come a long ways over the last fifteen years or so. They used to be pretty simple affairs that were not the best vessels for fly fishing and viewed as very inferior to drift boats.These days, specialized frames designed specifically for fly fishing offer many advantages. Comfortable seats, lean bars and leg braces, anchor systems and assorted fly fishing accessories make fly fishing rafts very versatile and nearly as roomy and comfy as drift boats. Check out Down River Equipment or NRS for the best fly fishing rafts on the market.
Rafts also get the nod in the safety department. For new rowers, a raft is always the best starting point. There’s no getting around the fact that they are better whitewater boats and when a drift gets swamped, they sink. Rafts do not. Rafts are a top choice on smaller rivers with rapids and rocky water. Wherever I guide or fly fish, I use my raft exclusively and after switching back and forth between fly fishing from both a raft and a drift boat, I have no regrets and neither do my regular clients. Often, having my clients fishing from a raft is the difference that allows them to catch fish that are relaxing in small side channels or along a shallow bank that drift boats cannot reach.
Advantages of Fly Fishing Drift Boats
Despite my preference for rafts, there is no getting around the fact that fishing from a drift boat is a little easier than from a raft. Standing up is safe with a stable floor and convenient leg locks. Casting is easier from an elevated position and compared to a raft there are less grabby extras for the fly line to hang up on. Drift boats also tend to track better than rafts, meaning holding the right line for your anglers is pretty easy.
Drift boats also feature plenty of room and storage space for extra gear, coolers and equipment. Integrated rod holders make safely stashing extra fly rods very simple and much easier than in a raft. Coolers and boat bags simply rest on the floor close at hand. Dry storage space under the seats ensure extra clothes or cameras stay dry. Anchor systems are included and simple to operate. Most of the professional fly fishing guides at Vail Valley Anglers tend to prefer Clackacraft drift boats.
Whether you choose a raft or drift boat for your float fishing needs, go with the best boat and accessories you can afford. Both styles of float fishing boats have a long lifespan with proper care and maintenance they’ll provide many years of fly fishing enjoyment. For advice on which boat might be best for you, stop by and chat with the experts at Vail Valley Anglers.
Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer