My whole life I have been a person of excess. When I set out to do something, I do it. If that endeavor doesn’t seem to pan out, I am quick to change direction and tackle something else that fuels my fire. This trait can be described as flaky, erratic, selfish, and even borders on neurotic. I mention all of this so that you somewhat understand the mindset of a man who would stop at nothing short of getting, and doing, exactly what he wanted. Right to the point of damn near destroying a boat, and possibly killing myself, my friend, and oh yea…my 7 year old son.
For the last year I have been flirting with the idea of buying a boat. As many fly geeks do, I spent countless hours scouring new and used boats online. The one big reservation I had in the purchase of a drift boat was the constant wonder of, “would I really get as much use out of as I think?” I still cannot answer that question (although I believe it is fully justifiable at this point) only time will tell. What I do know is that nothing, and I mean nothing could have prepared me for my first trip down the river in my new (to me) drift boat.
I should say, I have never fished from a drift boat. In fact I was only ever around one drift boat in person. I am not even that “experienced” kayaking/canoeing. I have logged maybe 40 hours floating on a river. Although I pride myself in my love of water and my ability to swim, I cannot say that I have any business to captain any boats! My days of fishing were always spent wading/hiking.
Luckily I live in small but fishy town in western Pennsylvania. There are a small handful of guys around here that have boats. Problem is, I am not from this town. Prior to two years ago I never knew this place existed. Being raised in a small town in Potter County (Austin) I at least know how small towns work. It’s pretty simple really, if you are from this town, you already know so you don’t need to ask, and if you are not from this town; don’t ask because nobody is telling!
Getting back on topic. The boat that I purchased just so happened to be delivered while I was away with my family in North Carolina. I was having a blast on my vacation but I could not shake the excitement of getting home to my new drifter. I had most of it planned out, well some of it planned out, ok, that’s bullshit. What I knew was that I would be home from NC Sunday evening and that boat would be in the water by mid morning on Monday regardless of any obstacles in my way (again with the excessive, impatient behavior). At this point I need to make mention of a guy that has been very helpful in discussing boat/gear options. Streamer Junkie Dave Hegburg has spent countless minutes discussing/ and or helping me pick out what I want and for nothing I might add. This mans passion for fly-fishing could not be more apparent. He lives for this shit, FACT.
The morning of the first day of the rest of my life I extended an offer to sir Hegburg. He politely declined knowing that he had a river float planned for the following day (work sucks). What he did do, under a vow of silence, of course (does this count as silence?) was confirm that my assumptions of a river, one with which I am familiar with from wading, were correct. Now I should say that the stretch of river in which he helped me locate points, was already a stretch of river that I planned on fishing with or without anyone’s help. Hegburg did not give up anybody’s holy grail. I believe the last thing he told me was to NOT float for the first time by myself. Knowing that my first mate was a 7 year old, I was sure what Dave meant was to take an experienced rower with me. Problem was, I don’t know any experienced rowers, and remember, I do not operate under normal people conditions (I just don’t know any better). So I asked an old buddy along for the trip, someone to fill that third seat and someone to justify my NOT doing this alone under sir Hegburgs advice.
I should have known that I was screwed when Kyle responded to my invite with a stern, “what the hell is a drift boat?” Again the mission must go on. I assured Kyle that he would be impressed and told him the drop point at which to meet me.
As we started down the river valley the first thing that became apparent was that this section of river was just big enough to float a craft of this proportion. Lined with posted property, and cut with age-old glacier rocks, we are lucky to be able to float it the way we do in the first place. This is prime pig brown trout water.
The second thing that I quickly became aware of was my lack of ability to navigate this 16’ boat around obstacles. The river was up, but not blown. It seemed as though no matter how hard I tried, I could not navigate that boat away from anything. It was as if my boat was made of metal and every exposed rock and or downed tree sucked us in like a junkyard magnet. The river was letting us know that we, in fact, were not in charge, and that if we were to try and take some claim to fame with a hero shot of her beautiful brown trout, then we would in fact have to earn it! The worst point in the trip was when we came sideways into a downed tree in a very large, intimidating, white swirl oxygenated pool. At this point I had to tell my son, in the most sincere voice that I could conjure up at this time of dismay, that if I told him to abandon ship, he was to do so without any hesitation. The only thing I could picture in my head was getting pinned and suddenly taking water before we had time to get out from between the tree and boat, A true nightmare in the making. The boat abruptly bounced off of the tree and we continued down river, humbled, I knew that the river was setting her pecking order. As for my buddy Kyle, he didn’t know what to make of it. I do remember him saying at one point, and I quote “I don’t know why I laugh so hard right when I think I am going to die”.
All in all, we had a successful trip. We caught a few small trout and got opportunities at some very large trout. Since then I have had the pleasure to make a couple of more floats. Preparing myself for my next run down that same stretch of water. Again, I will admit, I was fearful that day. All in all, the conditions were about perfect for a float down that section. What I should have taken into consideration was the added fear of losing a 10k dollar toy, and or hurting my loved ones.
My wife was initially going to join me on the maiden voyage. Maybe the fishing gods stepped in and gave her the urge to go to work instead. Either way, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that had she of been there, I would be writing a for sale add instead.
Today I walk a little taller knowing that my boy and I now have a whole new world of exploring ahead of us that this boat will enable.
If you are new to the rowing world, there are plenty of videos available online that will run you through the basics of navigating a drifter down river. Do not make the same mistake as I did. All kidding aside, the river does claim lives every year, do your research, talk to some locals, and be careful. I was not kidding when I told my boy to jump. I have since reviewed with him the proper way to float on his back down a river until he can stand up in the case of an emergency. These boats are safe, but you cannot buy experience.
Stay safe, and tight lines my friends.
By Seth Walker