Advice on rafts for fishing

Discussion in 'Watercraft' started by Poff, Feb 4, 2014.

  1. Poff

    Poff Member

    So, like many others on the forum over the years, I have questions about rafts that might be suitable for fishing and (also maybe as a paddle boat).

    I asked a fellow forum member, Steezn290, about the Maravia Spider he sold last year. The responses he provided were very in-depth and thoughtful and I suggested it might be nice to post his responses on the forum. He was fine with me sharing.

    This is a pretty lengthy message, but I’m sharing in hopes it might help others along the way. Figured if Steezn290 invested the time in writing, he might as well have others benefit as well.


    In my original message to him, I asked, “Was curious what your opinion was of that model [Maravia Spider] and what raft (if any) you replaced it with. If you didn't replace it with raft, but were to do so now, what would you buy?”

    Steezn290 - reply

    Well once I left Montana and wasn't guiding it didn't make sense to pay for a truck, gas, higher insurance, and indoor storage for the boat. That being said when I sold the boat I replaced it with a couple one man rafts so I could fish and float at the same time. I really love them because I no longer have to row others down the river while they fish. I get a lot more fishing in! Anyways I have rowed boats from all makes and models (aire, nrs, hyside, maravia, sotar, Saturn, odysee) and I really wish there was a way for everyone to do that so they actually know what the reason is for suggesting a high end boat. They are just flat out better than the cheap saturn, odysee and Montana inflatable boats. Plus they will last twice as long.

    Anyways, before I can really make a suggestion on which boat I would suggest it really depends on how/where you plan to use it.

    -What rivers do you normally fish? (ie- big water where wind can come up you want a wider and lower boat (slower boat). Small water you want a skinnier boat that is more maneuverable)

    -What type of rapids are on those rivers? (ie- big rapids you will want a faster boat that can carry more speed into a standing wave.)

    -How many people do you normally fish with (by yourself, you and another, or 3 people)? (ie-what length boat would be best to spread out the anglers)

    -Multi day or single day trips? (how many days and how many people on those trips) (ie- if your doing 3 people overnight floats regularly you need a longer boat for more storage and to help keep everyone comfortable and not feel cramped.)

    -Are you planning on storing the raft inflated or deflated? (fyi-inflated is so much easier but some people deflate 6 months out of the year.)

    -Do you want to stand and fish or sit and fish? (ie- does the front of the boat need to be wide enough for a platform) (fyi- sitting and fishing sound strange in a boat but it is the best and only way in my opinion. Sit back and relax)

    -Lastly, are you planning to guide out of the boat?


    Poff - reply

    Thanks for your replies and perspective on changing to one man rafts.

    Our local rivers (the ones big enough for a raft) are tailwaters most suited for day trips. Lots of lakes here as well.

    Not looking to guide professionally, just to have an option to cover more water than from shores with little public access. Would love a drift boat, but don't have space to store it and don't want to mess with a trailer. I realize it will be a pain to deflate raft and store the frame, but it's what I have to work with at this time.

    Almost no rapids on the local tailwaters. Would like to be able to fish with two others in the boat with the rower. Also would like the flexibility to use as a paddle boat.

    I've fished several days in rafts in Montana from a sitting position and found it to be quite reasonable and relaxing. The rafts were normally stiff enough that the occasional stand and cast was fine if needed. Casting platforms sound nice, but I can imagine more places to tangle fly line, more weight, more frame to assemble, etc

    From past experience with outdoor recreation gear, I also consider the resale value of my investments down the road.

    Steezn290 - reply

    Well because you are inflating and deflating the boat that takes Maravia and Aire out of the picture immediately. The only reason I say this is Maravia boats are made out of a super heavy duty material that is stronger and tougher than any other on the market. This material is so tough that it makes folding the boat no fun and the material can get damaged over time in a folded position. Aire boats have a bladder system. I don't like bladders because when they are deflated they can shift and make filling up very difficult.

    That leaves two companies in my opinion worth buying (for you). Sotar and NRS. NRS makes a quality boat and the Otter 130 would be a good boat that works well with a fishing frame and 3 people. This boat would be better suited for large rapids than the other boat I will suggest. This boat is one of the most popular fishing rafts on the market for a good reason (affordable, layout, versatility). This boat will not hold its value as well as there seems to be NRS' and Outcast (aire) coming up for sale more often than any other boat.

    The boat that I think is best suited for you and use on tail water is the Sotar Strike. This boat is low profile and rides really flat. It keeps the boat low and out of the wind. Wind is a rafts worst enemy and the strike is the best boat for it. This boat is not designed for large rapids but will run them just fine if you know what you are doing. The boat is top to bottom designed for fishing and that is why this boat is so great. The boat comes in 3 different sized and I would suggest staying away from the small model with 3 people. The middle is probably all around the right boat. Large would be great for multiple overnight trips. The resale value of these boats are really high compared to most other boats on the market.

    FRAME: For a frame I have always been on an NRS frame. They are great frames but since they bolt together they are not always the easiest to work with. I'm assuming there is a frame on the market that slides together easier for day use but I'm not 100% sure. Do some research and I hope you can find something that is super easy and quick.

    Here is a quick list of how I would rank the brands based on important aspects:

    1. Maravia (leaps and bound ahead of other companies)
    2. Sotar
    3. NRS and Hyside
    4. Aire (plus side on Aire is if you destroy a bladder it is cheap to replace compared to the entire boat)
    5. Cheap boats: Odysee, Montana Inflatable, Saturn, etc.

    Resale Value:
    1. Maravia and Sotar
    2. NRS
    3. Aire and Hyside
    4. Cheap Brands

    Purchase Value (used) (ie. The best used boats for your money... Deals)
    1. Aire
    2. NRS
    3. Hyside
    4. Maravia and Sotar

    White Water Boats:
    1. Maravia (they do make slower boats as well but they have great high rocker boats for white water)
    2. Aire
    3. NRS

    Flat Water Boats:
    1. Maravia and Sotar
    2. NRS
    3. Hyside and Aire

    1. Air (but if bladder shifts pain to inflate)
    2. Soatar and NRS.
    4. Hyside
    5. Any other boat on the market
    6. Maravia

    1. Maravia
    2. Every other boat on the market.

    Overall: (based on reviews, popularity, and what I have rowed)
    1. Maravia
    2. Sotar
    3. NRS
    4. Aire
    5. Hyside
    6. Cheap Boats

    If you do your research 90% of people will say the best boats on the market come out of Maravia's and Sotar's factory. Every other boat has similar construction and can be hard to compare. The reason why I like Maravia is that I kept my boat inflated and they have a line of boats that is much larger than Sotars. They are more durable and last forever (I know someone who is still fishing out of a boat with 20 years on the rubber).

    But my opinion is because SOTAR makes the right boat for you. The Sotar strike is the way to go. Great boat. Durable. Great Resale Value. Foldable. Great in tailwater style rivers. Can handle big water safely. Great construction with a quality product. 10-year warranty (matches Maravia)!

    Hope my experience has helped give you some insight into what boat might be best for you. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

    Sorry about writing a book.

    Poff – reply

    This was super helpful - I will review your comments more carefully. I think it would be great to post this information on the forum so others could benefit as well. Thanks again and I look forward to re-reading your information.

    Steezn290 - reply

    Feel free if you want to write something up or quote me that is okay. I will for sure comment. Keep in mind most people are very bias to the boat they own and haven't had the ability to row many different boats like I have been able to. The fact is every boat company makes great boats (except the cheap brands) and you won't be disappointed any way you go. There are just reasons to buy one brand over the other depending on the initial questions I asked.

    Let me know what you decide and lastly don't skimp on the oars you get. They are a very important part to boat and not every model is the same and not everyone has the same preference. You get what you pay for (minimum I would spend on a pair is around $500). I personally like the flex and feel of a wood oar but composite will hold up much better. I prefer the SAWYER Square Top Shoal Cut oars but know many people that prefer the glass oars. It's all preference but you really do get what you pay for.

    Poff – conclusion – just another thanks to Steezn290 for being willing to share his experience. Hope this helps someone else along the way as well.

    I hope others will comment and provide additional wisdom and/or insight.
  2. PT

    PT Physhicist

    He covered it well and don't have much to add. I sold a Super Puma to buy my Sotar Strike and would have done it sooner had I known what I know now. As far as rafts go it's a dream to row. I deflated and inflated the Super Puma on a couple trips and the bladder does have a tendency to shift which is a serious PITA. I have an NRS frame with all the bells and whistles so a trailer is my best option. Going bare bones with an NRS frame or a frame that slides together would be a good choice. If you have cargo racks on your vehicle, you could assemble the frame at home so all you have to do is put it on your boat after inflating.

    Good luck.
  3. Steezn290

    Steezn290 Member

    That is a good point. If you could have the frame mostly assembled on the top of your car. That would help set up time. Also once you set it up the first time you could mark up the frame with a marker to show where all the cross bars need to go and the oar locks. Then as you are filling the boat another person could be setting up the frame.
  4. Poff

    Poff Member

    Thanks to both of you for the additional comments -

    I've been studying the NRS frames to figure out how to make them easier to break down and transport - putting the frame on the roof rack may be the simplest solution.

    One question about the SOTAR Strike - I learned that it only has two air chambers + the floor. I've read elsewhere that some folks are concerned with this from a safety standpoint.

    Any perspectives on this?
  5. Steezn290

    Steezn290 Member

    In a Strike you shouldn't be running class 5s or willingly running into a diversion dam with large standing waves like the one in Divide on the big hole river. It isn't designed for huge white water but can handle some. Most diversion dams you can portage and wouldn't be a problem for the strike. In my opinion it isn't a go anywhere do anything boat. I wouldn't be concerned with a 2 chamber boat that you are not planning on running major whitewater in.

    Also keep in mind that Sotar does make custom boats. You could ask them to make a boat similar to the strike with a little more rise in the front and back of the boat so it handles whitewater a little better. Or add a 3rd chamber to the strike design (you would have to call and ask if that is possible).
  6. Derek Young

    Derek Young 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year

    The majority of rafts used for fishing from are simply "whitewater" boats with a frame. Not designed to fish out of or have the performance characteristics of "drift boats" as the term is commonly used.

    Design and materials, ease of use, and safety are very important considerations - along with cost. If you are planning on using a raft as "transportation" from run to run (no fishing from boat regulations, for example) then rowing for angler performance is not as important. There's a reason why "drift boats" have hard floors.

    Yes, rocker is important - think angle of approach and maneuverability. Yes, materials are important - think durability and weight. Diminished tube design isn't the best for fishing applications. Frame integration is a major factor - watch that video to see what happens when your components aren't designed to work together.

    If you are thinking of getting drift boat performance out of the typical whitewater raft, you won't.
  7. PT

    PT Physhicist

    Diminishing tubes adds more interior room which I like and also cuts down on wind resistance. The Strike is built with a larger tube design in the rear so you can switch your frame around if you want to punch thru waves a bit better. Not the perfect design for every application but we know that every boat is a compromise.
    nutsack angler and Steezn290 like this.
  8. Derek Young

    Derek Young 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year

    Take an logical approach to buying a drift boat- lots of good points already made. I disagree with you, however, about compromise. Of all the things mentioned, functionality should not be where compromise is made. If it's a work-tool, think of making a compromise on a valuable tool - you probably won't if it means compromising safety, performance, and time, or quality. In my profession, that means everything.

    Take it apart, flip it around? That's compromise that just doesn't make sense in my world.
  9. Steezn290

    Steezn290 Member

    Sir I disagree. Compromise is something you do every day. What type of car do you own? Does it have every available option? Is it the safest car on the road? Does it have a role cage?
    Would you buy a different car if you were going to a race track and competing against others? Or if you were going to rally race on dirt roads? There isn't such thing as the do it all perfect drift boat for every situation. Just like there isn't a perfect car for every situation. You have to look how you will use the product and make a decision on the best product for you.

    You have to comprise one thing for another option that is more important to the purchaser. I think it is crazy to call the Sotar Strike a compromise. It is a fantastic boat that is designed for fishing and can handle some whitewater.

    What boat do you have and I'm sure I can come up with a compromise you made while purchasing it.
  10. PT

    PT Physhicist

    Derek, compromise being you won't get drift boat performance from a raft. You won't get the interior space in a raft as you do a drift boat. There are others. Boats are a compromise. My saltwater boat is a compromise because I don't get the fuel economy of a smaller boat or the amenities of a larger boat.

    Remove 4 straps, lift the frame and flip it. Do it before the 1 trip you may need it and then go back to the 95% of trips where you want your front seater to have more space. Even then, there are better boats for big water applications but again, it's about compromise.
    As for flipping the frame around? Why not? If you know you're going to run big water flip the frame. To me that's a better option than having huge tubes take up the interior all the time just in case you may someday run a big drop. I'd rather have the option. While not being perfect, a person can own a single boat and use it for multiple purposes.

    Boats are all about making compromises in every way. And, as always, opinions will vary. :)
  11. constructeur

    constructeur Active Member

    If you're that new to it all, I'd *also* be kicking tires in the local raft shop, rafting forums like mountain buzz, and hitting every vendors website looking at prices, used deals, material differences, etc. Try to hook up with people and get on the sticks...row on some different frames, that kind of stuff.
    Something you'll hear rafters say, that fisherman never seem to, is that you need to get whatever fits your budget to get you out on the drink, RIGHT NOW. Not in 2-3 seasons when you can afford that spendy custom fully kitted out whatever, but ASAP.

    Just another perspective to mull over.
    Jerry Daschofsky and PT like this.
  12. Poff

    Poff Member

    Great advice has been shared... keep it coming.

    As a follow-up to the issue of the SOTAR Strike only having 2 main chambers - I confirmed that they can be custom ordered with additional chambers. I think they told me it was $75 per additional chamber.
  13. All boats are compromises in one way or many. However, I fully understand how some might feel they have the perfect boat for their intended purposes on a given day. It happens to me all the time.

    The goal is catching fish and having fun. I wouldn't dwell too much on trying to find the perfect raft/frame combo. Testing out a bunch of different boats can be difficult and time consuming (years. Not sure where you're located but you're more than welcome to come check out my setup. I strongly suggest using the great advice shared here to find something you can afford and just get to the fun part. Also, don't get hung up on the resale value of each brand. The resale value has more to do with how well you take care of it and the condition it's in when you go to sell it. Not overpaying and not buying new also helps but it's a fairly small and widespread market which forces many to buy new.

    CAUTION: Inflatable rafts will never match drift boat performance. Some raft companies out there will attempt to tell you otherwise and while they may build good boats that row and fish better than others, it's just a marketing scheme.

    Maravia and NRS boats are awesome. So is Sotar. Down River Equipment frames and NRS frames are my favorite. DRE frames are more solid and comfortable to fish from but also more expensive. NRS frames get wobbly over time with use but they're pretty universal. Most riverside rafting companies use them and usually have spare parts lying around in the event you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere. Make sure to check out and chat about the different anchor systems online or in person.
  14. Derek Young

    Derek Young 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year

    Marketing schemes are a problem indeed. People sink and destroy their boats all the time because they falsely believe in marketing schemes. Performance can be difficult to prove, but it can be tested and once you understand the difference between a boat designed for performance, and one "adapted" for it, the difference becomes clear. Not all hard boats row the same, not all rafts row the same - but there are inflatables that match and exceed drift boat performance - it's whether or not you choose to believe it when someone tells you a raft isn't as good as a drift boat.

    Having rowed and guided out of both, I can 100% say that hard boat performance in an inflatable is real.

    Want to believe?
  15. Derek, spoken like a true salesman. I want to believe. What is this raft that rows like a drift boat that you speak of?
  16. Linkj

    Linkj Link Jackson

    Two cents from left field here....I found that diminished tube boats when loaded up with three guys and an anchor experience a problem with supporting the weight in the aft of the craft...the Anchor hanging from it's support structure causes a bit of Fulcrum and Lever effect exerting exaggerated downward force on the rear then add a man sitting on the rear tube and an oarsman sitting 25" behind center line and it puts 3/4 of the payload right on the point where the tubes diminish resulting in deep draft at that point, tail dragging and diminished performance overall.
  17. Itchy Dog

    Itchy Dog Some call me Kirk Werner

    I'm no salesman, but I'll answer that: Stream Tech Boats. Highly-rockered rafts designed specifically for fishing, built by Maravia for Stream Tech.

    For many years I pondered raft vs. hard boat, and after having rowed a couple different rafts I was set on a hard boat. Until I rowed Derek's Stream Tech Green Drake about 4 years ago. That changed my mind and recently I picked up my own Stream Tech. Mind you I'm by no means a highly experienced rower. I've spent my fair share of time on the oars of boats belonging to others, but this is my first river boat. Safety of a raft, handling and maneuverability of a hard boat. They row nothing like the rafts I've rowed before.
    John Hicks likes this.
  18. Lugan

    Lugan Joe Streamer

    My Streamtech Salmonfly handles every bit as well as any hard boat I have ever rowed, and a huge leap better than any raft. It can also be used in far more sketchy water than a hard boat. There is, however, a compromise on interior space. But that was a tradeoff I was willing to make.
    John Hicks likes this.
  19. I have been rowing a Streamtech Green Drake raft for close to 6 years now and I love it but it's no drift boat. All folks who have manned the oars ranging from fishing guides to fish bums, river rats, whitewater guides, etc. all agree that while it's arguably the best handling fishing raft out there capable of safely handling big water, it's definitely not a drift boat. Drift boats don't have tubes that need to be pumped up. Drift boats have thin solid floors and gunnels that allow for more space and provide a solid fishing platform. Drift boats have hard chines and full rockers that perform much differently than rafts. compromise?

    I chose Streamtech because I felt it was the best fishing raft for my intended purposes on the market. Since then I haven't rowed any raft that has convinced me otherwise but I definitely haven't rowed a drift boat that hasn't out-performed my raft. The Streamtech product is indestructible and the customer service is top notch. It's a phenomenal company that I always highly recommend to anybody looking for a good fishing raft hence my offer to the original poster to come check out the boat.
    Jerry Daschofsky and PT like this.
  20. Poff

    Poff Member

    I would love to test drive your setup, but I'm on the other side of the country. Great offer though.

    I continue to be impressed at how willing people are to share their experiences and expertise.

    Thanks to all who have posted thus far.