Salomone: Local fly-fishing guides give tips for preseason float preparation
Missing safety equipment, worn out gear and broken down materials are better discovered on dry land, not on the water
Vail Valley Anglers
Throughout the valley rafts sit waiting for the rush to the river that summertime temperatures provoke. The recent warmth felt from Vail to Dotsero is calling anglers to the water. While the river levels have not reached floatable conditions for the Eagle River, the Colorado River is moving along fine. Now is the time for a little preseason preparation to ensure proper operation and safety on your first float of the year.
Arriving in the boat yard on the morning of your first float expecting your raft to be river ready is a bit naive. And it might not even be your raft that gives you difficulty — trailers are notorious for having operational issues. Bearings in need of grease will seize up at the most inopportune time. And trailer lights are a constant issue to keep running whether it is the whole wiring or just a blown out bulb.
Discovering faults in your raft is better found in your garage or boatyard days in advance of your first float. Pump your inflatable up and let it sit as you complete your personal checklist of safety items. A vessel that does not hold air for at least eight hours, the normal length of a full day float, needs to be addressed before attempting a float.
Valves are a common area for air leaks. Sand, rocks and dirt all combine to render a valve inoperable. Most are easy fixes but addressing this troublesome area ahead of time is a prudent thought.
Wear points under fishing frames can destroy the durability of materials. Now is the time to address weaknesses before a client sits down in your boat. A properly inflated raft makes it easier to inspect for damage. An often overlooked area on rafts is where trailers cause road wearing from buckle straps.
Winter weather can ruin anchor ropes to the point of failure. A stressed anchor rope will break leaving a valuable piece of gear on the bottom of the river. Floor lacing is another point where ropes will fail. It will only take a few minutes to determine if any ropes need replacing.
Pumps are another necessity that is often overlooked. Arriving without the means for inflating your vessel will have you panhandling around the boat ramp begging to borrow a pump. Packing along a pump that is reliable is a key component to a successful first float of the season.
I asked a few longtime local fly-fishing guides to give me a couple things people often overlook when planning the first float of the season.
Justin Carr, a guide with Vail Valley Anglers, suggests that people floating have “familiarity with the river, dangers, obstacles. Don’t die.” Harsh, winter weather and heavy snowfall can bring down trees completely across the river. Know the river conditions before you head out. Another key item Justin recommends is a “raincoat.” Packing along a rain jacket will change a trip from misery to magnificent.
Emily Dmohowski, Vail Valley Anglers shop manager, reminds people to “make sure your repair kit is fully operational. Also, trailer bearings need grease and have all of the lights working.” Not only is checking your repair kit a good idea, it is a requirement for a professional guide to have a good working-order repair kit in the boat. Glue is commonly found dried completely hard inside an unopened can. And boat trailer maintenance can make or break a trip before you even arrive at the water.
Kelly Bobye, a long-time professional fly-fishing guide in the valley, suggests “recheck to make sure the required gear for commercial guiding is still in your boat.” Things get moved around, stored in odd places and sometimes not returned. Professional fly-fishing guides have a long list of items that must be on a commercial trip. Don’t get caught at the boat ramp unknowingly. Kelly also recommends replacing the straps that hold your fishing frame to the raft every year. The old straps are useful for securing your extra oar, strapping bags to the frame to prevent loss and as back-ups should any other straps fail.
The time invested in preparing your inflatable raft now ensures a smooth safe float for the first time out. Missing safety equipment, worn out gear and broken down materials are better discovered on dry land, not on the water. Repairing and replacing during the preseason is key to a successful first float of the year.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including; Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.