Tactics and Techniques

Stop More. Get Out Less. How to Optimize Your Time in a Drift Boat.

If I get out of the drift boat, you may not see me again until the evening hatch.  Yeah — it’s a problem. 

On the first day of the Shemchuk Rendezvous Summer 2019 we drifted the Bighole River for thirty minutes before stopping to fish.  It looked like a descent spot to wade, and it was — descent.  If it had been incredible, then maybe the two and a half hours I spent walking the banks would have been warranted.  Alas, the rest of the day’s drift included passing on spots that looked even more appealing so we could make up time, thus NOT taking advantage of the drift boat’s unique capability to fish spots and reach water difficult to wade.  For more on the pros and cons of fly fishing from a drift boat, 

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | To Drift or Not to Drift, That is the Question

My problem with drifting is that the boat sometimes makes me feel confined, like I am missing out on spots as we constantly float along in the current.  Fortunately, there is a solution — STOP. 

And when you stop, you don’t have to get out of the boat, if you have stopped in a place that allows you to reach the fish you are after.  This method keeps you flexible and saves time.  Overall, you end up hitting more good spots. 

Here are five tips on how to effectively stop and fish different spots from a drift boat.

  1. Keep an eye out ahead.  How many times have I drifted past a spot and said, “Well that would be a great place to stop and fish some more”, and then it’s gone.  The key to dropping anchor in the right spots is looking for them downstream so you can move the boat early enough to be in place.
  2. Keep an eye down below.  When dropping anchor, you need to be aware of the depth and speed of the water as well as what the bottom is made of.   Usually if the water is slow enough, you can still stop in deep water.  Try rowing into a back eddy where the current will help give your anchor a chance.  Be prepared to drop anchor upstream of where you want to stop.  The current will take you downstream as the anchor catches and the boat settles in.
  3. Keep an eye on the seam.  Be careful to stop in a spot that you will be able to get a good drift out of your fly.  This usually means being close enough to the seam to cast without having to mend too much line.  If you have to cast a long way, across fast water, your chance of nailing a good drift goes down.  In my experience slower water and closer to the seam is better.   
  4. Keep an eye on the next day.  If you stopped at a good spot or saw a good place to drop anchor, keep it in mind for the next day.  You can plan your float and hit those holes with ease if you are prepared.
  5. Keep an eye on the guides.  Think a guide who has been fishing the same river for years does not have a handful of spots he knows are good to anchor up and hook into them?  These guys put clients on fish for a living and they know how to manage their time on the river.  If you see a guide or another boat stopped, its probably because there are fish there. 

Fly fishing from a drift boat does not mean you have to sacrifice the ability to explore the river.  It just means you must approach it differently. 

Think of it as an expedition down river into the unknown; much like Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness. (The book that inspired the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now)

In order to maximize the major strengths of fishing from a drift boat, you gotta stay in the boat!  Wadeoutthere — but not too much if you are in a drift boat — but still Wadeoutthere.

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Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    March 5, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    When fishing new waters do you recommend shelling out a couple hundred bucks for a full/half day guided float trip or trying to walk in a wade and “crack the code”? How do you go about scouting and approaching new waters to maximize success? I’m always torn between what yields the best fishing experience and largest intrinsic reward.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      March 6, 2020 at 11:06 pm

      Two blog posts in the making! I think it depends but I’m not opposed to getting a guide for a full or half day because for me it’s all about learning. But I think people forget that they can learn on their own. AND they can rent a drift boat! Sometimes I think folks think they need a guide to drift and that’s not always the case.

      New waters I do a few things. Research ahead of time online. Call a guide shop and follow up visit. The other huge thing is to try to get familiar with the river in the time you have. I wrote about this in this blog post.
      READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Fish One River.

      I look for that intrinsic reward as well. Even with a guide. Thanks for the comment and for reading.

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