Wild rivers are earth's renegades, defying gravity, dancing to their own tunes, resisting the authority of humans, always chipping away, and eventually always winning. -Richard Bangs
If you fish the West and you don’t own a raft, you’ve likely coveted those that do. While drift boats still serve as the traditional mainstay for most Western anglers, rafts designed for fishing are gaining popularity as their versatility and affordability continues to improve.
The right raft can get you into water that many drift boaters are just not daring enough to flirt with and come autumn, that same raft can bring you into prime often-overlooked backcountry hunting ground. The benefits of owning a raft are many, but before you rush out and buy one there are a number of things to consider...
Style and Design –
Choosing the ‘right’ design depends on a number of factors, including the type of rivers you plan on floating, how many people you intend on floating with and your budget. If you’re planning on using your raft for fishing, you should start by looking at framed rafts. From there, you’ll need to determine which size of raft to select.
Raft Material –
Each type of raft material has its pros and cons. For an in-depth discussion on this, check out this blog post from Northwest Rafting Company.
Your ideal raft size will depend on the following:
Geography. Some raft sizes are more useful in certain areas. For example, for the moderate waters of Colorado, a 14 foot raft is considered by many to be the most versatile, whereas, if you’re planning on floating the Grand Canyon a 14-footer may be a bit small. For the serious backcountry sportsman that wants to get onto waters that are otherwise rarely floated, pack rafts should also be considered.
Number of people. If you’re planning on fishing by yourself a pontoon may be a good bet, but if you typically fish with 1-2 others, a 14-16 footer may be a better bet.
Price. Bigger rafts tend to be more expensive, as do framed rafts. If you’re on a budget, some American-made companies, such as Aire, make cheaper Chinese-made versions of their most popular rafts (see Tributary), though as Aire put it themselves on this blog, the quality is not the same. No matter how you look at it, you get what you pay for.
While the factors listed above are a good starting point for selecting the ‘best’ all-around raft, just like a gun or a fly rod, each size/style/type of raft definitely has its time and place. And like guns and rods, everyone has their own opinion about what the ‘best’ all-around raft is.
So, how about you? Do you have a favorite raft for hunting, fishing and/or floating?