Stay Fly: The joys of float fishing (column)
Two holes or 200 holes? Float fishing is the best way to cover the most amount of water in the least amount of time. You are able to access areas that are otherwise private and tend to have fish that don’t see the amount of pressure fish see on public waters.
From a boat, you are able to make casts toward the banks with hoppers, dry flies and streamers — trying to pull out fish that are tucked close to the shore. If you’ve been wade fishing for a while and want to change it up, call your buddy with a boat and bring a six-pack. Beware though: float fishing is addicting. You’ve been warned.
Types of boats
There are primarily two different types of boats that we take down the river in this area. A drift boat is a hard-sided, fiberglass constructed boat designed to fly fish from. There is a front seat, back seat, row station, and usually built in storage. These boats are extremely spacious and comfortable to fish from. They are lightweight, easy to maneuver, and have high sides to prevent waves from entering the boat. The fiberglass hard sides of a drift boat can be damaged or even broken by the sharp rocks found in the river, this being a major disadvantage to a drift boat.
The other option is a raft. We like smaller, twelve to fourteen foot rafts with the addition of a fishing frame including a front, back seat, row station and an anchor system. Rafts can take much more of a beating than a drift boat, making it perfect for low water and rivers like the Eagle. In rafts, you will lose out on space and built in storage that you might find in a drift boat, however you can get dry boxes that fit in the frames of most rafts.
A nice benefit to float fishing is that you get to bring as much gear as the boat fits. This means you can have multiple rods, rigged differently to attack the different types of water you’ll come across throughout your float. I like having a rod setup for dry fly fishing, nymphing, and streamer fishing, this way I can quickly grab a different rod if I need to change up my approach.
Boats are great too because you have a spot to haul gear if you are doing an overnight or multi day trip down the river. You can store tents, chairs, cooler and whatever else you need for a riverside camping experience. The cooler is a great feature for any float trips as it keeps sandwiches and beverages nice and cold for your enjoyment.
Fishing from a boat
Whether you’re fishing from a drift boat or raft, there are techniques that differ from wade fishing. The obvious difference is that you’ll be moving down the river rather than standing in one spot. If you can cast your nymph rig or dry fly in the right spot, a well mended drift can last a very long time from a boat with an experienced oarsman in control.
Streamer fishing is possibly the most exciting way to fish from a boat if the dry-fly action isn’t on that day. Standing from the boat, you can make casts to the banks’ edges and target areas where fish are sure to be lurking. Many times you can see fish flash and chase your streamer aggressively as you are making strips. Streamers tend to bring out the biggest fish in the river, so if you are targeting trophies, this can be very effective.
A huge benefit to float fishing is that we can fish areas that are private and inaccessible to the wade angler. The state of Colorado’s private water laws say that the property owner owns the bottom of the river but not the water itself. When floating through private water, the boat can fish the section, however it can’t drop anchor or pin itself on a rock without trespassing. Being able to fish private water can be very productive as usually the fish are not seeing the pressure of the daily wade angler.
One thing that is often forgotten when float fishing, is that you are floating down a beautiful river in this amazing state. Take some time in between casts to take in the surroundings. We typically float in places where you can only see from a boat. Bald eagles are a typical sight in the steep canyons of the Colorado River, and if you don’t look up from the water, you’ll miss it.
The river can be a dangerous place. If you or your friends have never floated a section of the river it is highly advisable that you go with someone who has. I hear several stories every year of very experienced people flipping their boats. Not only can this be life threatening, it can be very expensive. Bent raft frames, missing seats, lost rods and gear can really add up if an accident happens.
A personal flotation device or life jacket should be a no-brainer, however when I’m driving up and down Highway 6, I see so many people without one on. Every summer in Colorado there are stories on the news of someone drowning in the high rivers. You have a much better chance walking away safely with a PFD on than without one. It’s like a seat belt in a car: You should always have one buckled up.
One thing that can be difficult on a river is fishing around other boats. The river is a place that is open to all sorts of activities. Whether it’s other fishing boats, people enjoying their day off or wade anglers, you should always give space to the people around you. No one wants to be crashed into or have their lines tangled when boats are getting too close. I tend to pull off to the side and let other boats pass if I see a large armada of watercraft approaching.
As far as etiquette goes in the boat, there are a couple things to keep in mind. When there is an angler in the front and back, use the oars as a reference point for making casts and line control. It can be easy to cross lines and to avoid this, the front angler should not let the line go past the oar, and the back angler shouldn’t cast a line in front of the oars. Also try to not move around too much on the boat to prevent it from rocking.
Float fishing is extremely fun and can be a very productive way to fish. It’s a great way to cover a lot of water and gives you a large amount of opportunities. Fishing from a boat can give you an amazing perspective of the river and its surroundings. Give your buddy who has a boat a call, offer to pay for the shuttle and enjoy an awesome day on the water. If you don’t have a friend with a boat, give a local fly shop a call and hire a guide to show you the pleasure of fishing from a boat.
Ray Kyle is the shop supervisor and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org