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How To Pick A Fly Fishing Raft - Part #1 What size raft do I need

How To Pick A Fly Fishing Raft - Part #1 What size raft do I need

How do I pick the best fishing boat for me? We hear this question a lot and there are a ton of things to consider when purchasing a water craft. Obviously you need to start out by asking yourself what your needs are but sometimes that's not always so straight forward. Watercraft selection is similar to picking a fly rod weight for trout fishing. You can own a 3wt, 5wt and a 7wt and cover all your bases with great precision and depth or you can own a 6wt and generally succeed in getting the job done all around. Watercraft are generally expensive purchases and you want to get it right the first time around but you also need to understand that different boat designs exist to cover the specific needs of anglers fishing in different water conditions.  

We guide and live out of rafts all year not because we think their cool (they are though haha) but because they have the best specs to fit the needs of the water we fish and the trips we go on.  

I think the first thing to consider when picking out the raft for you and figuring out the size you need is to ask yourself these three questions. How many people are going on your trips? What are your transport/storage and handling needs and how and where do you plan to launch your raft.

How many people you need to transport or be able to transport is definitely the first requirement you need to sort out when picking the correct fly fishing raft for you. While solo rafts are pretty straight forward there are some major logistical advantages to transporting and launching a two person raft over a full size three person raft. My rule of thumb goes like this. If you are confident that you will only need two seats 75% of the time then you need to take a hard look at the advantages of a 2 person raft. Beyond this anyone who believes they will require or desire three person seating more than 25% of the time will more than likely never be happy with the seating limitations of the x2 person smaller craft.

How you will transport and shuttle your raft is vital when planning a purchase. Full size rafts require a trailer or will need to be broken down for transport to fit into most vehicles and even truck beds. Not purchasing a trailer and breaking down your raft may not be a big deal depending on your frequency of use. A fly angler who heads out twice a month for overnight trips in their raft probably wont mind investing 30 minutes at the start and end of their trip so they can avoid purchasing a expensive trailer and can transport their full size raft in a SUV or pickup truck. On the other hand the angler who hits the river 3 or 4 times a week and then completes a couple of overnights every month probably will get pretty sick of breaking down and setting up every time they want to get on the water. 

Small size truck launchable rafts like the NRS Approach 120 can be transported fully assembled on many types of vehicles and in many configurations. These rafts are what we like we want to call truck launchable and are incredibly easy to transport fully assembled. They can be secured to almost any roof rack and they fit perfectly between the wheel wells of any size truck bed. A major advantage to this type of fly fishing raft is that shuttles can be completed with any two vehicles and these rafts don't require a trailer to be shuttled down river. So when you and your buddy head out for your drift trip you can simply bring both of your vehicles and leave one at the take out and go put in without having to complete a shuttle before your trip or paying to have someone else shuttle for you. This can also play a vital role when planning drift trips in remote locations where shuttle services are not available or are very difficult to find and schedule. In addition not requiring a trailer has it's benefits when traveling on rough roads and certain times of the year like break up when roads are flooded, muddy and all tore up.  Being able to self shuttle and never having to book or plan a shuttle is always a major advantage for remote or short notice drift trips.

The big disadvantages of truck launchable rafts are that they typically can only seat two anglers and most will not handle heavy rapids, or very heavy loads very well which means that if we are being practical, and the raft is being rowed by a capable and competent rower it will only handle up too class 2 or 3 rapids easily and well. In addition their small size usually means less width and less width means if you hit bottom in a shallow shoot or gravel bar and take a side kick you are more likely to get flipped. Some truck launchable rafts can be modified to accommodate three anglers (I am not recommending this nor have I ever seen a manufacturer recommend it) I personally modified a NRS Approach 120 this season to seat 3 anglers however it will not handle very well with 3 full grown adults in it. It does however perform excellent with myself, one of our guides and my four year old in the back seat.  

Storage requirements are worth talking about but generally my experience is that be it a truck launch raft or a full sized expedition raft storage requirements are very similar. If you take a hard look at the assembled dimensions of these rafts and lay them out on the floor of your garage I think you will find that there's really not much of a difference. Yes one is bigger and yes one is smaller and yes there are 5 different sizes between truck launch and full size rafts but generally I have never really come across a situation where the size of the raft has been a deal breaker in terms of storing it. If you have the room to store these rafts you will have the room to store them all. If storage and transport requirement's needed are bare bones you need to be looking at a solo raft option. Rafts can be stored assembled or broke down. The only few pointers we have for this are if you are getting ready to store your raft for the winter and plan on deflating it then give it a good cleaning and give it lots of time to dry out before you fold it up. Make sure you get yourself a heavy bag or store it some where that mice can't get at it. I've heard a few horror stories about mice over the years. If you store your raft inflated about the only thing you need to know is that its a great practice not to store the raft at full operating pressure. This way if the raft gets some direct sun light or the storage area heats up too much it won't damage it. Other than these couple of things I can tell you that generally mid size and full size rafts don't particularly take up more or less space in terms of storage or sitting on your garage floor. If you have a shed, garage or a corner of the basement whether you choose truck launch or full size is generally not a deal breaker because of storage.  

Last but not least we need to talk about where you are going to float and what that region offers for boating infrastructure or in most cases if your looking at a raft the lack there of. Different watercraft have different strengths and boats should be selected by anglers based on their needs for the waters they navigate. There are many watercraft available to anglers and probably countless configurations but this article is about how to best select a raft so I will quickly cover the bare bones basics of raft strengths. 

1. Rafts can take a hit, grind on gravel bars, bounce of jams and ice walls and are easily field repairable. 

2. Rafts can be lifted and lowered up and down cliffs, banks and structures, drug through the bush and thrown from heights such as bridges easily. Meaning that you can launch a raft practically anywhere you can walk to the river and you can portage easily if required. 

3. Rafts can be quickly assembled and disassembled for transport. This could be a planned part of your trip...or un planned? It's nice to know that your craft can be carried out on your back or on ATV or horse back if required when navigating new remote runs.   

4. Rafts are built for turbulent water and can shoot rapids and jump ledges. All of our fishing rafts are self bailing meaning that as you navigate these types of conditions your raft will bail itself as you take on water and ride high through the rough stuff. Plus you never need to pull the drain plug at the end of the day nor will you ever forget to put it in in the morning haha.

5. Rafts can carry immense payloads for their size which allows you to transport lots of equipment and supplies on the right raft platform if required. For those of you looking to head out for overnight and multi day trips you won't have to leave much at home and can transport very robust camps if you want too all out of one boat!  

Many people choose fly fishing rafts to navigate remote, back country waters so they can so they can explore isolated waters and enjoy the beauty of their surroundings without all the crowds of people. Most waters that provide this have no infrastructure at all which means there is no boat launch and no boat slides to get your raft to the river. Rafts are the perfect choice for anyone who needs to get a boat on and off the water without any infrastructure in remote or back country locations.

Lastly we want to take a quick look at boat weights and handling them. A big advantage of a raft is that it can be pushed, pulled, lifted and lowered but none of this matters if you can't physically handle your raft. Full size rafts such as the NRS SlipStream 139 or 142 weigh in at about 250lbs while truck launch size rafts like the NRS Approach 120 weigh in at about 160lbs. In most cases it takes two able bodies to handle a full size raft and with three it's easy! I have personally handled full size rafts by myself many times and while I can get the job done many times it takes substantial effort to portage or drag the raft up a steep bank. If you are looking at drifting a fair bit with two people maybe your self and a child you may want to take a good look at a truck launch sized raft simply for handling reasons. Another advantage to a truck launch raft is that it is easily loaded into the back of a truck by one person so when you and your buddy are heading out at 5am Saturday morning you can just meet at the take out and they won't have to swing by and help you load the raft first. Generally speaking you will want to have two able bodies in a full size raft to ensure you can handle it easily if you need to portage or complete long drags or lift outs and lower ins.  

Rafts open up a whole new world to anglers allowing access to remote back country locations away from the crowds and allow easy access to waterways that other wise are very difficult to access with traditional drift boats. If you would like to learn more about rafting or the fly fishing rafts we carry please feel to get in touch with us anytime!