Whitecaps on the Water

By Beacon Staff

The great controversy is whether wade fishing or drifting is the path to fly fishing nirvana. At least that’s the way they see it in the world of Duckboy. I’ve long been on the fence with that one.

Much depends on the season. I float spring, summer and fall. During the winter I usually park the boats and do most of my fishing from shore. The fear of getting under way just as the weather turns bad – with five hours of river between me and my rig – is usually enough to quash fantasies of Christmas break floats.

Speaking of unfortunate weather timing, I picked possibly the worst moment to launch my drift boat on the usually placid surface of Rogers Lake the other day. A drift boat is far from the perfect craft for still waters, but small and sheltered Rogers is usually calm enough that a flat-bottomed boat works just fine. But on this trip, my first to Rogers this season, the wind kicked up just moments after we launched from the state lands on the southwest shore of the lake.

It’s usually an easy 10-minute trip back rowing across the lake to the mouth of the creek on the east shore of Rogers. The stream is fun to visit in the spring when the pools fill with spawning grayling. Out on the lake just beyond the creek mouth is where we fish. But things didn’t go so easy that day as a gust caught that high bow pointed in the direction of the wind and quickly spun us around. I tried to point the bow back in the direction of the wind so I could back row in haste to get us across, and the wind spun us around a second time.

In a moment the wind whipped the usually calm lake into a froth of foot-high whitecaps. I took a second to size things up. We were about halfway across the lake so rowing back into the wind to where we started seemed improbable. Instead, I just left that bow pointing in the direction of the spawning stream and let it act like a sail pulling the boat across the water as I pushed on the oars to get us to the far shore, quick.

A couple of dudes fighting the waves in an aluminum motor boat looked at us like we were crazy, which probably was a fair assessment. But we rode it out, and once the wind let up, we hightailed it back across before the wind had second thoughts.

When it comes to boats everything is a tradeoff. A keel or V-shaped hull like the aluminum putt-putt those dudes were in certainly would have helped keep the boat steady in the wind, but it would render it useless for its intended purpose: drifting rivers. The bottom of a drift boat is flat, but it curve up at the ends. That curve, or rocker, allows the boat to readily spin on the river, which is a desirable trait when you’re trying to dodge rocks and logs and other things you’d rather avoid. Too much rocker, however, results in a boat unstable for standup fly fishers.

That nimble handling makes hard boats the sports cars of the river. Rafts spin too, but not as readily. The tubes push too much water around and even with a good rowing frame, a greater degree of your effort puling on the oars is lost as the boat flexes in response to your efforts.

You push on your oar in a hard boat and that energy is transmitted directly toward steering the boat.

That’s not to say rafts don’t have their place. Inflatables are more forgiving in whitewater. If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of floating sideways just as some unavoidable nasty stuff approaches, you’ll be thankful you’re surrounded by 20-inch tubes of trapped air technology.

I went back to Rogers a couple days after the storm and this time was greeted by a glassy, calm surface. On an evening like that row beats wade every time.

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