Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Days behind the oars

By Chris Hunt

There’s a fine line between fishing from a drift boat and fishing from a source of chaos. The first time I rowed a drift boat, I damn near put it into the bridge abutment just above Ashton Dam on the Henry’s Fork while my two passengers—one of whom owned the boat—watched helplessly from the front and back of the craft.

We avoided disaster thanks to a well-time kick from the fisherman in the rear of the boat that shoved us off the course that might have sent us all tumbling into the drink and might have pinned the boat against the big concrete structure. It was a tough lesson, and the first vital lesson I learned as an oarsman. Keep whatever you don’t want to hit in front of you—if you know where your obstacles are, you can avoid them.

I’ve since rowed a few more times, and I’m comfortable at the oars. So comfortable, in fact, that on a recent trip to the Missouri River north of Helena, Mont., I spent the better part of two days happily rowing an Adipose drift boat provided by Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig, and putting my buddy Steve Zakur from Connecticut on big trout.

I’ve come to the realization that I like to row. I like to be in control of where we’re headed. I like to read the water. And I like to put the boat where my angling passengers have the best chance of catching fish. It sounds odd, but every time Steve got a nice trout to the net, I swelled up with a bit of pride.

Drift boat fly fishing is a true team effort between the angler or anglers and the person at the oars. Being able to gauge Steve’s cast against the distance to the structure he was fishing (the river was high and a bit dirty thanks to increased water releases, so, mostly, we were fishing fairly tight against rocky banks or willow-lined channels) helped him by making his casts comfortable. Keeping the boat on a consistent course, with most of the river’s obstacles safely under water, was a piece of cake.

And, while the Missouri fussed a bit, we did manage to catch quite a few nice browns and rainbows from the boat.

At the end of both days, I was a bit tuckered out from bouncing from one bank to the next to reach fishy holding water, but mostly, I was reminded that drift boat fishing is about as complex as you make it. Sticking to a few simple rules on the water help make the experience more enjoyable and less stressful for both the anglers and the oarsman. The video above is a good primer, but nothing beats practice.

And I got some practice in earlier this week. Let me know if you need somebody to row on your next adventure. I might be your guy.

Chris Hunt is the national editorial director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

By Chris Hunt.