What is Drift Boat Fishing?


Guy fishing from a drift boat

A drift boat is a very unique inland waterway vessel. It is used mostly in shallow waters and on obstacle laden rivers with whitewater rapids because it is so good for river running. The main reason most drift boat owners are on these types of waters is for the fishing. But what is drift boat fishing and how does it differ from other types?

Drift boat fishing involves anglers fishing directly from a drift boat as the boat moves. It is usually done from a rented boat with a paid guide. As a drift boat is a shallow water vessel capable of river running, drift boat fishing can take place in shallow waters in areas that other boats would find difficult to access. Drift boat fishing usually requires at least 2 people, one to operate the oars (the guide) while the other casts off.

What is drift boat fishing?

As drift boats are expensive most drift boat fishing is done by anglers who rent a drift boat for the day. The drift boat will come with a guide who operates the oars and steers the boat.

The idea behind drift boat fishing is to follow fish as they move in the water. The guide on a paid day trip will know the waters well and be skilled in the habits of the fish in that area.

Although it is possible to fish solo from a drift boat it is not very common as it defeats the nature of the activity. The whole point of drift boat fishing is to move with the fish.  Solo drift boat fishing involves the use of an anchor to hold the boat in position while the solo angler casts off. This is much less effective than having a two man team.

Most drift boat anglers will fish in pairs, or bigger groups, because it is more advantageous to have someone rowing the boat (a guide if you are on a paid day trip), while at least one angler casts off.

The guide, or oar operator, will continually adjust the orientation of the boat and move it in a direction following the fish. As the boat moves the angler must adjust his line in turn. This ability to follow fish as they move leads to higher catches and is obviously not an option if fishing alone.

Why use a drift boat for fishing?

A drift boat is an inland waterway vessel that evolved from the ocean dory. It has design characteristics that resemble a dory boat but with modifications that allow it to be used in very shallow waters.

Because a drift boat is a shallow draft vessel it can easily access shallow waters that most other boat types would find difficult, or impossible, to navigate. This means fishing for shallow water fish is easy on a drift boat.

But if its all about shallow water fishing then why not use another shallow water river boat, like a Jon boat for example. Well it’s because it isn’t just about accessing the shallows.

As well as being an excellent shallow water vessel a drift boat is also a capable river runner.

Riding rapids and avoiding waterborne obstacles is a dangerous activity usually preserved for river rafts and whitewater kayaks, certainly not fairly large boats. But, the drift boat is more than capable of matching any kayak or raft in whitewater rapids as it was designed to be used on the McKenzie and Rogue rivers which are littered with boulders and whitewater.

Being able to navigate both shallow waters and whitewater means a drift can access areas for fishing that most other boats simply could not get to.

Drift boat river running on Madison River (video)

How anglers fish from a drift boat

Here are some tips to help you fish better from a drift.

These tips will also help you to better understand exactly what drift boat fishing is and what it involves.

Anglers always stay grounded

Remember this type of fishing means you are fishing from a moving boat and although drift boats are very stable on the water it is all too easy to lose balance and fall in the river.

On a drift boat that has been set-up for fishing there will be knee locks located at the bow of the boat and sometimes near the stern if there is an additional angler onboard. These knee locks are designed to keep the angler secure on the boat while it changes direction and moves. If you do drift boat fishing use them!

In the video below you will see the drift boat angler positioned directly behind the knee locks at the stern of the boat with his legs against them as he casts off.

Drift boat anglers fish for the future

With drift boat fishing it is always about looking forward and casting off forward. This is often referred to by drift boat anglers as fishing for the future.

Because a drift boat is constantly moving on the water as you fish, you must trust that your guide knows what he/she is doing and is moving with the fish. This means that anything behind the boat is mostly empty water (from a fishing perspective).

The guide will keep slightly behind the fish and thus you must always fish forward.

As you will be must often be located at the bow of the drift boat, when casting off you can fish for the future by simply avoiding casting your line behind the boat.

As you fish the boat will be moving upstream and so this means you will always be fishing downstream.

Be prepared to constantly recast your line

As the drift boat moves you will need to regularly recast your line.

You do not want the line to go behind the boat. As the boat maneuvers you may find that your line becomes repositioned behind the boat. So if the boat changes orientation you may need to recast your line so you can continue to fish for the future downstream.

Listen to your guide

It doesn’t matter how much experience you have fishing.

It doesn’t matter how big a catch you have under belt.

It doesn’t matter how adept you are at casting off from a moving boat.

Your guide will always know more about the waters and the fish in them than you do.

Your guide will have spent at least 100+ days on the water every year, helping people to catch fish. The likelihood is that he or she has been on the same waters for multiple seasons is high. That means your guide knows the area better than you do.

If you follow your guide’s advice you will catch more fish and have a more successful and fun trip.

Basics of drift boat fishing

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