Vail Valley fly-fishing: Tips for buying your first fishing boat (column)
September 26, 2018
You can only call your buddies and invite yourself on their boat so many times. You can only buy so many 12 packs of beer before you start thinking about buying your own boat. The process of buying your first fishing raft is both exciting and tedious.
You want to make sure you get what you want and need out of your boat. There are a number of different choices that need to be made in the boat buying process. I just went through the process of putting together my first fishing raft and I will go over some of the decisions that you'll have to make.
Types of Rafts
The first thing I decided on was what length raft I wanted. Whitewater rafts tend to be bigger and wider to help push through some large waves with a crew of paddlers. Fishing rafts are typically smaller to help get down tighter rivers and are more maneuverable. These rafts are 10-13 feet long, compared to the 15-18 foot length that are commonly found in your whitewater set ups. I opted for a 13-foot boat so that I had some extra room for gear if I wanted to do a multi-day float.
A massive difference between a whitewater raft and a fishing raft is the fishing frame that replaces the thwarts or rubber cross sections. The fishing frame usually features a front and rear seat for anglers and a middle row seat for the guide or rower. There's also lean bars or thigh bars to help stabilize the anglers in the front and back while they are standing up and casting. Some rigs will also have casting platforms near the floor of the boat to assist with standing. There are typically bays or open spots in the frame to accommodate coolers or drop bags for storage.
One other big difference between the whitewater and fishing setup is that most fishing rigs will have an anchor system. While it is illegal for you to anchor in private water, you can definitely drop anchor on stretches of public water. This is ideal for rerigging without having to pull all the way over to the bank of the river. It's also very useful for when you want to stop and nymph a run. Most frames will have a spot or system where you can rig an anchor and make it streamline and hopefully snag-free.
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An additional thing to consider is what material the raft is made from. The three major types of material are urethane, hypalon and PVC.
Urethane is going to be the most durable and longest lasting, however it's usually the most expensive. They can also be tricky to repair in the field. Hypalon is going to be the next step down in price and durability but much easier to repair in the field. PVC is going to be the cheapest option but can crack in the cold and sometimes has some quality issues due to being mass produced.
It's really up to you how much you want to drop on the rubber for your first boat. The more you pay, the longer your boat will last. However, if you take care of the rubber, any of these materials will last a long time.
Selecting oar length is usually dependent on the length of the raft you chose. The average length is 9 feet from the end of the hand to the tip of the oar blade. Counterbalanced shafts paired with floating oar blades help with the fatigue while you are rowing. Oar rights are a helpful tool for beginner rowers, as they get your blades in the correct position to make the most out of each row.
The list of accessories is endless. Some people like to take the minimalist approach and not clutter their boat with bells and whistles, while other want to trick their boat out to the max.
I think a cooler and a drop bag is a great place to start. A good throw bag, repair kit and pump are some of the must-haves you need. You can also get cup holders, stripping baskets, fly patches, waterproof lock boxes and rod holders — all handy accessories that aren't as necessary.
Lifejackets or PFD (personal floatation devices) are 100 percent a necessity when floating any river. This is a no brainer and should be something that you have even before you consider purchasing your own boat. They come in a wide variety of designs and fits. It's very crucial that you get a PFD that fits properly and comfortably so that you can wear it all day. They even make fishing specific PFDs that come with extra pockets for fly boxes and other fishing needs.
When you get all of the parts for your boat and get it all put together, you'll need something to take it from your house to the river. This is what a good trailer is for. Raft trailers come in all shapes and sizes, however there are a few things to look for when shopping for one.
Rollers on the end of the trailer really help to get the boat out of the water and onto the trailer. It is also really nice to have a hand winch to crank your boat up the trailer bed. A spare tire is required by law as well as having the trailer registered to the state with its own license plate. Annual maintenance on the bearings and axle will lengthen the life of the trailer.
There are a lot of little parts that go into putting together a fishing raft. It is an investment that pays back in days of fun on the rivers that flow throughout the West. A bad day on the river is always better than a good day in the office.
If you're interested in learning the ins and outs of rowing or want to get your Colorado row certification, Vail Valley Anglers does a oar certification class in the spring. More details can be found on the website or at the shop.
Ray Kyle is a manager and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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