Saturday, August 25, 2012


One morning I was standing in a Montana river casting for some of the huge rainbow trout that live there, when my friends Scotty and Brett pulled up in a beauty of a drift boat and invited me to join them for a float down the river. Now, that decision was a no-brainer – I’d been seeing drift boats for days and out west they’re as common on the water and behind pickup trucks as aluminum Lunds are here in northern Minnesota. You couldn’t stop at a gas station, cafĂ©, or fly shop without getting close to a few. The graceful sweeping rocker to the upturned bow and stern, leg braces for stand-up casting, and low mid rowing seat with long oars fascinated me. I’d watched them pass on the river and saw them being handled like no rowboat I’d ever been in. I was in love with them before I ever set foot in one.

I haven’t been out west fishing for some years, now, and it sort of bugs me that many of the best experiences I’ve had were years ago. I’ve lately found myself overcome with an urgency to do a whole lot more with life and a lot less with work. It’s like the old adage: No one ever said from their deathbed,"I wish I would have worked more.” Unfortunately, I’m not wealthy enough not to work at least some, and I could hardly work less and still hold down any sort of job, but when I opened the e-mail that said, “I have Brent’s new drift boat, wanna do a float trip?” I had to tell the boys at work that I’d see ‘em next week!

It’s easy to like a guy who has a drift boat. Brent (not to be confused with Brett) is a good bird dog guy – which is how I met him, at a field trial. And like a lot of bird dog guys he’s a fly fisherman. I found out about that a while back when he out-fished the rest of us down in the hardwood trout stream country. Now, it’s not so hard to out-do me with a fly rod. I’m kinda old, kinda slow and relaxed, and as likely to be as interested in a muskrat swimming by as a trout rising against the far bank. But when you catch more fish than the Grinch and Little Buddy you’ve accomplished something. Scott knows his angling, builds his own rods and fishes with more purpose than anyone I know, and that’s putting it lightly. And nobody enjoys it more than Brett does. I once watched him work a pod of rainbows on the Missouri River. I was up on the overlooking bank and he didn’t know I was there. He stalked close and cast a few times, changed flies and cast some more and never stopped smiling the entire time. That's how he fishes. Can’t beat that!

Let’s just say that anyone who owns a drift boat to fly-fish mainly warm- water species in Wisconsin and Minnesota rivers has more than a casual interest in the sport. How Scott came to have Brent’s boat is no business of mine but I have to believe he came by it honestly.

It was a beauty of a morning. I stood at the landing for a few minutes before Scott arrived and watched the river pass by. It was sunny and calm and not as warm as it had been only days ago. Here and there a fish broke the surface. There was no one in sight and I knew it would be a good day.

Scott showed up and we shuttled vehicles 10 miles downstream before getting underway. Scott manned the oars first, and right off I could hardly believe how comfortable I was casting from the bow. This trip was, to me, all about the boat!

Of all the people I see on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis nearly every one of them is a fisherman. And just about everyone is a deer hunter, including a number of the gals, too. They all enjoy camping, bonfires, having dogs running around and just being outdoors in general. But there are damn few that have ever been in a drift boat. Yes, I have, but not often enough! It’s hard to describe the easy sort of way it moves down river. It turns quickly and will spin around into an eddy or pool like nothing else. It draws very little water and the tag inside the bow states its purpose of “shallow whitewater.” It’s a simple matter to drop the anchor and stop in the river for a break or to fish out a particularly good-looking spot. It’s almost as much fun to row as to fish from. Sure, it’s a specialized craft all right, and it makes drifting those moving rivers special. You can float a river in any kind of boat or canoe, or even an old inner tube. But if you ever get a chance in a real drift boat just say yes.

We caught some bass that day, and we saw some we didn’t catch. I landed a small northern pike on a popper. It's fun to man the oars and watch your partner work the water, and in my case, maybe learn a little something in the process. And if anyone is catching fish while you're behind the oars you can always claim credit for putting them on the right place! We watched big red-tailed carp roll on the surface and even saw a green and yellow parakeet take a bug off the water and land in a branch over our head. Yep, a parakeet! Living wild! We stopped at a pretty sandbar for lunch and waded for awhile, ever trying for another fish.

It was nearly dark when we reached the take-out point. The fishing had been good but the catching was slow. Scott had been catching some real hogs in the two weeks previous, but it figured things would slow down when I arrived. Still, it was a day most people should have, but won’t. I'm sure glad I did.