Use a small cooler (or something fairly heavy that slides) to balance the boat.
Just the other day, as my buddy Tim Romano, cousin Andrew Steketee, Andrew’s dog Oscar, and I were ready to shove off from the ramp for what would be an epic (and I mean epic!) float down the Yampa River in northern Colorado, Tim noticed that I had placed my Yeti 24 cooler just in front of the foot plate by my rower’s seat in the dory.
The cooler didn’t rest flush on the bottom of the boat. It actually tilted slightly behind the seat in the bow, and Tim wondered aloud why I didn’t put it somewhere else. But there was a method to my madness, an old hack I’ve learned by rowing many river miles. And it had nothing to do with me wanting easy access to the cold drinks and sandwiches in the cooler, and everything to do with balancing the boat.
You see, balance in my boat is everything. It helps me track where we need to go and put my casters in the best position to make their best shots.
But what happens when someone hooks and lands that 20-inch brown? Everybody, including the dog, ends up leaning over one side, which dips the gunwale closer to the waterline. And that might be fine when you’re on flat water, but when the scene is unfolding in haystack water, things can get dicey, and I can only lean so far out of my seat in the other direction to try to flatten things out!
With the cooler at my feet, all I have to do it give it a gentle nudge with one foot, hands still on the oars, and the boat stays fairly flat… even when a 90-pound Labrador retriever leans over the side to take a good look and a whiff. The more the boat (and anglers and dog) lean, the further I slide my counterbalance the other way. And that’s important, foremost for safety, but also for landing and releasing big fish efficiently.
Granted, it’s not so easy to do the foot-slide on a rubber raft. But when I’m rowing any hard-bottom boat, I like having something fairly heavy, but movable with a firm foot shove, right in front of me, especially so I never have to let go of the oars. For me, that’s always a cooler. But it could be a gear bag or something else.
A flat drift boat is a safer drift boat, and the person gripping the oars can do more than steer and lean to make that happen, especially if you find your own system and follow this simple hack.
And yeah… it’s never bad to be in charge of the drinks and sandwiches either.