Drift fishing without a drift boat?
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Thread: Drift fishing without a drift boat?

  1. #1
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    Cool Drift fishing without a drift boat?

    After some recent big fly fishing in Western NC I have been fixated on the idea drifting on of the rivers. From my research it seems most drift boats have 1) high gunnels, 2) a high bow and stern (large what I'm calling rocker), 3) oar lock with large paddles (length and paddle-face surface area), 4) swivel seats, and 5) flotation built in so if it starts to sink it will maintain some buoyancy.

    I do not have a drift boat or raft and no means to purchase one in the near future and was trying to think of my best alternative. I do have access to sit inside kayaks (pretty std), canoe (2 person std. flat water style), and an old 12' v-haul aluminum john boat with oar locks ( I usually ran a 7.5 johnson at the coast on this boat). All of which can be carried easily if necessary.

    My question is which option, not including getting a drift boat, would be best overall? Ease to fish and for safety. I would prefer the john boat but feel the transom, shorter oars, low gunnels, and flat transom. I have found one other thread relating to the v-haul johnboat drift which seemed encouraging but also referred to rivers in the NW states that I was unfamiliar with.

    I have somewhat keyed in on some ~13 mile stretch of the Tuck and plan on fishing with at least one other experience fisherman (i assume I need a driver and a fisher unless we stop). Are there portage locations around the major rapids such as Dillsboro drop/ is this navigable with these vessels ?

    I have only fished the New River (VA and north fork in NC) as far as drifting mountain rivers for smallies, would the Tuck be similar in any respect? other than that I frequent the Piedmont rivers such as the Neuse and Eno (3-20+mile trips).

    Any other general drifting advice would be appreciated.

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  3. #2
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    Unfortunately, it all depends on the water level.

    If it is low, you will spend time walking your boat of choice down the river. Lots of time.

    If it's high, it's a fast float, but tough to fish, easy to navigate.

    In between is what you want to fish, but that means you may have a class 2 rapid or a bit higher to contend with.
    I understand the Dillsboro Dam is gone, last time I floated it was 2015 or so. I don't know what that section will be like.

    Always dress like you may swim, because that can easily happen.

    Honestly, best bet is to rent or borrow a decent canoe that will handle class 3 rapids, and take turns paddling and fishing, that way each of you can have a decent shot at fish while the other paddles and positions the boat for the other that is fishing.
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  4. #3
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    Thanks for even reading my exhaustive question! It started as one and developed into two, 1) is a johnboat an acceptable drift boat/ have any inherent red flags on not to drift in? 2) questions about general advice on the Tuck

    I was leaning towards the John boat due to the room and having a similar oar, fisherman, driver positioning.

    I will definitely think about renting some vessels up there, might be worth the value for a sweet rig and not to have to lug mine up there. Any recommendations for rentals in the area of the Tuck, or know any outfitters that offer shuttle services? I have taken some rapids (milbernie dam in Raleigh post-destruction) in my canoe but it is no "white water" canoe, I'm just hearing of the side of safety having not drifted this river nor am I familiar with white water classification first hand. If it wasn't January id probably be much less concerned, but I have found mid 40 (F) degree water before and its not refreshing.


    Fishscalz you decription seems to be similar to the areas I paddle relative to finding the flow sweet spot. Would you be able to estimate some example flow rates for High and Low flow? maybe like between 1000-2500 cfs is the sweetspot? I remembered this resource and checked it out (very useful for other rivers ect. too):

    https://www.americanwhitewater.org/c...etail/id/3392/

    which is a great resource for putting usgs hydrographs and Duke energy releases stuff in terms of paddling. I still find the release schedule a little confusing (3-days schedule) do they typically release. If they are releasing from both and have been assume it will be on the To Fast end, and if only one dam is releasing will this typically produce the sweet spot condition or does duke vary the discharge rate when releasing commonly?

    I have also read about utilizing anchors while drifting to stay in flatwater areas and fish. Is this destructive to the river in any manner and or illegal? I'm not familiar but feel it might lead to a lot of lost anchors.

    I'm probably gonna bother some local outfitters later this afternoon on the phone but thanks again for all the help.

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  6. #4
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    Some drift boats have flotation.

    Great way to start the best smallmouth day of my life.

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  7. #5
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    Thanks for even reading my exhaustive question! It started as one and developed into two, 1) is a johnboat an acceptable drift boat/ have any inherent red flags on not to drift in? 2) questions about general advice on the Tuck

    I was leaning towards the John boat due to the room and having a similar oar, fisherman, driver positioning.

    If the john boat has enough freeboard, it should be OK. >14" would be preferable.

    I will definitely think about renting some vessels up there, might be worth the value for a sweet rig and not to have to lug mine up there. Any recommendations for rentals in the area of the Tuck, or know any outfitters that offer shuttle services? I have taken some rapids (milbernie dam in Raleigh post-destruction) in my canoe but it is no "white water" canoe, I'm just hearing of the side of safety having not drifted this river nor am I familiar with white water classification first hand. If it wasn't January id probably be much less concerned, but I have found mid 40 (F) degree water before and its not refreshing.

    Many of the outfitters are seasonal, so calling is the best idea.

    Fishscalz you decription seems to be similar to the areas I paddle relative to finding the flow sweet spot. Would you be able to estimate some example flow rates for High and Low flow? maybe like between 1000-2500 cfs is the sweetspot? I remembered this resource and checked it out (very useful for other rivers ect. too):

    If I recall correctly, ~1700 fps was good for fishing. 500 fps one way or the other can make a huge difference.
    Either you're dragging bottom, or it's a rocket ride.

    https://www.americanwhitewater.org/c...etail/id/3392/

    which is a great resource for putting usgs hydrographs and Duke energy releases stuff in terms of paddling. I still find the release schedule a little confusing (3-days schedule) do they typically release. If they are releasing from both and have been assume it will be on the To Fast end, and if only one dam is releasing will this typically produce the sweet spot condition or does duke vary the discharge rate when releasing commonly?

    We've had record rainfall recently, and if flow is good, I don't know if they would release additional water or not in the Winter.


    I have also read about utilizing anchors while drifting to stay in flatwater areas and fish. Is this destructive to the river in any manner and or illegal? I'm not familiar but feel it might lead to a lot of lost anchors.

    I would not recommend using a drift anchor unless you have the right anchor, the right boat and the right bottom composition. It's too easy to tear up the bottom of the river, and too easy to swamp if the drift anchor snags.

    I'm probably gonna bother some local outfitters later this afternoon on the phone but thanks again for all the help.

    That is a good idea, please ask about the area where the Dillsboro Dam was removed, I'm curious about that stretch.


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  8. #6
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    Derek, man that's a bummer. But with bad karma comes the good! Must have been fishing with Bill Dance that day.

  9. #7
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    Fishscalz, Thanks for the info again. I like your thoughts on the anchor and ill get back to you on what I get on the Dillsboro section.


    I also remembered I had a friend in grad school at WCU and contacted him, turns out he lives on the tuck and is an avid whitewater yaker and ill be picking his brain over the phone soon about the river.
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  10. #8
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    I have floated rivers in drift boats and canoe and kayaks and much prefer a solo canoe using a double blade paddle. Main reason is I can go over some really skinny water, portaging bad drops is easy, and when my pal wants to fish (in his yak) over there and I want to fish over here...it is a non issue! I can also put in and take out anywhere (almost). I have taken out on a bank so steep we tied a 40ft rope from canoe to car and towed them out. Also when fishing tight rocky shoals like the one below, it is easy to zig zag across and reach all the good holes. I fish some very broad rivers and don't have to be commited to one way thru.

    I use chain anchors (for a drift boat use a lot) since they rarely get hung up like a mushroom or other will. Good rule of thumb when anchoring in moving water, if the water is moving good only anchor in water you feel comfortable wading thru. Obviously slow even if deep water is no issue. Oh and anchoring in rivers being paranoid is healthy. A lot of times I wedge my boat in some rocks or get it stuck on a very shallow rock instead of anchoring. With a light canoe its easy to pry back off with the paddle when ready to move.

    Good luck with your choice!



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  11. #9
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    Oh yeah, another option is one of those inflatable pontoons like the one below. Only real issue with those is you are totally wrecked in high wind.

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  12. #10
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    And whatever you do, wear your PFD.
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  13. #11
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    Couple things

    1. Drift boat fishing implies that you drift and fish. I would not advise this if you're a fly fisherman. The only drift boat I've ever fished in had one mean anchor system. Whatever you fish out of, you need to be able to retrieve flies/streamers that are snagged. If you don't have an anchor system on the jon, you will probably break your rod (s) unless you fish stationary. Don't ask why I know this....

    2. American Whitewater flow suggestions are for whitewater kayakers, and not float fisherman. I know this because I'm a former whitewater kayaker, and also have float fished quite a bit also.

    3. Pay attention to Derek P, and what he says about boat choices for this area. He is a very experienced angler. Most jon boats and drift boats require some kind of boat ramp. This really diminishes launch location options.

    4. If you are a trout bro who just wants to float the Tuck, get yourself a toon or drift boat. The Tuck is a long ways away from Raleigh however, and I have no idea why anyone would want to waste so much gas to drive there. If you want to fish local stuff as well, I'd lean towards a kayak you can stand up in.

    5. Here are the area drift boat options: James River (smallmouth), Roanoke (stripers and largemouth), Cap Fear around Lillington, Smith River between the athletic park and Mitchell Bridge at certain flows, Catawba River tailwater below lake James, some sections of the Yadkin River, Staunton River upstream of Long Island (Smallmouth & Walleye). Some sections of the New. Whatever you do, do not float down from Fries. There is serious technical whitewater there.
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  14. #12
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    Thanks again for the advice all.

    Derekp, I think I'll probably end up with the multiple yaks or canoe and had a similar plan of an attack to fish the river as you described using rocks and flat water sections. I have read about chains, what size do you use length, rope?

    Fishscalz, absolutely safety first. I always wear one when paddling in the winter and on any moving water, not to be mistaken for just bringing it which can prove to be much less effective.

    Mrpossumtail, I like the user name.
    1)Thanks for saving me some rods with the anchor, I mostly fished tidally influenced water and so my anchor rig probably isn't up to par regardless of what's on the end.
    2) Your totally right, I was pointing out sometimes it is hard to interpret flow rates on rivers and the webpage offered me some insight on what to expect at certain flows. ex: for 1700 cfs it was rate class 2-3 that I could compare to what I have previously done. I was basing this off my experience with the Neuse so it is is not a tried and true resource for me yet, but gave b=me a better sense than the hydrograph.
    3) I have scoped out some ramps and primitive ramps on google maps and some other resources so i hopefully wont need 40'+ rope. my john boat is just small enough to be carried by my self and loaded in the back of my tacoma without my trailer at a primitive ramp, but a 40' bank.... ouch! I would watch the boat drift if it came to that haha.
    4/5) good point with the drive time, I usually scoop a buddy from Charlotte so I usually fish south with him. I think I will probably try my float/fish skills out on some other river closer by like the ones you recommended ( thanks!) I had some work in Stony Knoll over the summer near the Yadkin and its been on the list. The target fish was some trout, I have some streamer fever from the last trip but was planning to have some worms and crawdads ready for some smallies too.

  15. #13
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    Thanks for the compliment!

    Anchors. I use a 3ft length of 3/8" chain (1/2" would be better) with the rope tied in the middle giving me 2 1.5 ft sections. I cover that with bicycle inner tube (bike shops will give you all the old ones you want free) and KY jelly really helps getting it on the chain! Anchor rope is a retractable dog leash (26 ft). This keeps loose rope off the floor.

    Along with the PFD mentioned already, always take a spare paddle. Mine has saved the day 3 times for my pals and several times I have used it to chase down my dropped main paddle. Not a matter of if but a matter of when. And also, tie everything down or secure it. One pal dropped his keys in the river and his truck was the take out truck!

    Here are pics and description of my anchor setup. http://www.derekspace.net/fishpic35.htm
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  16. #14
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    The through hull fitting is a nice touch. I like the lower center of gravity.
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  17. #15
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    Thanks again for all of the feedback. I floated the Tuck last week with my buddy in my collapsible backpack kayaks (Folding Boat Company). Had a local whitewater service (Dillsboro River Company) in Dillsboro take us up to the dam in Cullowhee to float back to the Dillsboro drop. Most of the water was very manageable. Caught 7 trout between us and one small mouth bass. Not the most scenic float but fun and nice sunny weather, although I think a little cloud coverage would have been nice, the bite was much better in the morning.

    Glad I didn't go with john boat but I think a canoe would be doable. We paddled at a "moderate flow rate" -whitewater outfitter, both dams were releasing. Kayaks were difficult to fly fish from but spin fishing was easy.
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