While I was in Afghanistan last year, I spent a lot of my down time browsing craigslist looking for my first drift boat. I had been on a couple guided trips out of a drifter with guide Larry Ford in Forks, WA and I absolutely fell in love with fishing from a drift boat. The feeling of floating down a river and getting to take in the beauty and scenery that surrounds our treasured Pacific Northwest rivers is just indescribable. The joys of fishing mixed with the excitement of riding through rapids as you travel towards that next hole that has not yet been fished just can't be beat. After my first trip in a drifter I was hooked and I knew I had to have one. I wanted an old beat up drift boat that I could learn on. I didn't want to feel terrible if I (wishful thinking...more like when I) hit rocks, rubbed up on stumps, etc. I liked the idea of aluminum because I've seen the way fiberglass can crack and even though I'm sure fiberglass drift boats can be very tough and durable, the idea of them still kind of makes me nervous.
Anyways, after lots of searching, I found an early 80's smoker drifter made by Smoker Craft back in the day when they made drift boats. (Side note: I have not been able to find much history on the Smoker Craft drift boats as far as when they were made, etc. but I know there definitely aren't many out there. If you have any info on the smoker drifters I would love to know the history of them). I sent the owner an e-mail explaining that I was in Afghanistan but was very interested in the boat and that if he was willing I could have my wife Rikki come by and pay for it, and then get a buddy to come pick it up later. The seller was more then cooperative with my situation and even offered to deliver the drift boat to my house for me, and he also offered to give me some rowing lessons when I returned to the States.
So I purchased the drift boat sight unseen and anxiously awaited my return home. I got home in June and spent quite a few days this summer out on lakes learning how to maneuver the boat. I wanted to get to the point where I could steer the boat without having to think about it first, and I wanted to make sure I was 100% comfortable on the sticks before I ever put the boat in a river. Little did I know that my drift boat would be in every body of water around EXCEPT for a river. I also have a small motor boat that I use for fishing lakes and trolling for salmon on the Puget Sound (a Smoker Craft Alaskan) and I took it out for the first time on 4th of July to do some crabbing. That night the motor was stolen from the boat in front of my house. I was determined to not let the theft of my motor ruin my summer crabbing and saltwater salmon fishing, especially after missing out on the last two seasons being deployed to Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan from 2012-2013...so I used my drift boat instead. I had that boat in the Puget Sound (MA11 and MA13), the Hood Canal (rowed from Potlatch all the way to Hoodsport hatchery and back in MA12) and rowed all the way around American Lake several times. But I didn't get a chance to drift a river until recently.
A few weeks ago I contacted my friend Bryanna Zimmerman from Steelhead Girls and she recommended a good novice float on a pretty well known coastal river. I decided to take her advice that following weekend, so I recruited a couple friends to come along with me on this maiden voyage and spent Friday night preparing leaders, hootchie spinners, twitchin' jigs, plugs, roe, and anything else I could think of that might help us get in to some fish.
We left bright and early that morning and made it to the put in a little after first light. We floated about 8 miles and spent the entire day on the river. I mostly focused on maneuvering the boat. I used the oars to slow the boat way down and slowly back our plugs in to the seams when pulling plugs, I tried to keep the boat moving the same speed as our bobbers when bobber doggin', and I practiced rowing up river to make additional passes on promising holes. We threw spinners, twitched jigs, free drifted eggs, and fished every technique we knew. We even ran into Bryanna on the river and she gave us some tips on what plugs to use. We made it to the take out right before the sun went down. Unfortunately, we got skunked that day, but it was a great learning experience for me, and a beautiful day floating the river and fishing new methods for my buddies.
Fall is always a very busy time of year for me. There are Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon, and then Steelhead in the rivers this time of year and all these fish overlap with hunting season! I have to pick and choose what I'm going to focus my time on, and this year I primarily focused on hunting. I did however, get a chance to take the drifter out one more time.
A couple weeks ago my buddy Tyler Hoyt contacted me about drifting a coastal river. Tyler is the admin for the Instagram page Fishingbuds. If you haven't already checked out their page, I highly recommend you do. They constantly post hunting and fishing pics from the PNW and whether you are a bass fisherman, a steelheader, or a waterfowl hunter they will have something to offer you. Tyler and I took the drift boat out one day and fished the river hard, it was his first time in a drifter so we focused on some new techniques that aren't commonly used when fishing from the bank.
The river was very low and clear at only about 450cfs and we ended up dragging the boat quite a bit. We saw fish rolling and a few fish travelling upriver. There were some silvers and a lot of chum pooled up in holding water, but no matter what we threw at them they just seemed to have lock jaw. The good thing was that we didn't see any other boats catching anything either so that always reassures me that I'm not doing something wrong.
Even though the fishing wasn't the greatest we still had a good time learning some new water, trying some new techniques, and just enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Not to mention, learning these rivers is helping to prepare me for my favorite fishery...Winter Steelhead!!!
I did happen to catch the largest sucker fish I've ever seen in a river, and ironically enough it actually hit a #5 blue fox spinner. I thought it was a jack until I saw it's yellow color under the surface of the water. Not exactly what I had in mind.. .but NOT SKUNKED (um...sort of)!