Big pontoon boats

Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
I still haven't found a drift boat for the new wife. (No, I don't mean I'm trying to trade my wife for a boat. But that's one of my favorite jokes of all time.) She wants to row while I fish. How can I beat that?

I was thinking about a drift boat for longer family trips on the Klickitat and the Deschutes with her and two lab pups. Last weekend I was shopping around in Oregon, and at the Gorge Fly Shop I was told no one wants drift boats anymore. The pontoon revolution has replaced them. Get a two or three person pontoon, they said: lighter, cheaper, stores easier and handles whitewater better than a drift boat.

I like my one person pontoon and would use it more if I could just take the whole fam damily along. I hadn't thought about the big ones. It seems like loading a pontoon is a little harder. You can't just throw gear and passengers in the hull like a drift boat. It seems like you have to consider where things can be seated or tied on in a pontoon more carefully. And harder to move around on a pontoon boat. In the bigger sizes, it looks like the prices almost converge with the drift boat prices, especially if you add on a trailer. What's it like loading a big one on a trailer? I'm used to just hooking on a winch on a drift boat and cranking it up over the rollers, often by myself. Can you roll a big pontoon boat onto a flatbed trailer with a winch or do you need someone lifting on each side because of the soft pontoons? Could I load one single handedly?
You should talk to my buddy Brian about this or rent one of his boats. Check out his web site at - he is located in Eburg. I don't have his number handy since I am in Californy right now but I'm sure he wouldn't mind talking about it with you.

Good luck, Brad

What-ever always means yes:smokin

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
They have their plus and minuses

I've been using the bigger CATARAFTS (the bigger one's are almost always whitewater grade, not an overgrown floattube like most pontoon grade boats are). Actually, been using big cats since mid 80's. Bought my own at the end of the 80's and have had quite a few different sizes over the years (always keeping the bigger boats). Have run them in every type of water and on alot of the big whitewater rivers throughout the west coast. Ran them from 8' Fiscats to 18' Aire's and alot inbetween. The amount of whitewater river miles and fishing miles I've put on these have given me a bigger overview then most. Here's what you need to consider.

How much weight do you plan to run? Most of the boats are only designed to hold a few hundred pounds (even on the bigger boats in the 12-16' range). Normally these boats are built with lighter/less sturdy material which effects the overall weight bearing on the tubes. That's a key though. WEIGHT CAPACITY! Most of the boats I have carry more then an abundent amount of weight. This does two things for you. First, you can handle more passengers without taxing the boat, making it more maneuverable with heavy weight. Second, makes it EXTREMELY fast and maneurable when you're solo. A 12' boat should hold AT LEAST 1,000#'s, and when you get up to a 16' it should hold around 1500#'s AT LEAST. If a boat carries less then that, don't buy it. I've run alot of different boats on high stress/heavy load runs (more then ANY fishing situation will encounter). Lower weight rated boats will dog out and lose maneuverability. Most have no idea HOW much they lose until they use more then ONE type of boat. I have actually converted a few guys who stood by their Outcasts and Bucks saying they held well with a load. Then they tried my Steelheaders and Aires under heavy loads and mine oared much better. Weight capacity is truly the key. Chances are if capacity is low, there is something being left out or cheapened. Just because a boat is same size and shape doesn't dictate same weight capacity.

But, these boats ARE NOT for everyone. Whoever told you DB's are outdated and these boats are taking over are full of bunk I'm afraid to tell you. There is a craze for them (catarafts/pontoon boats), but they are by FAR not the perfect boat (and this is from a cataraft fanatic). If it wasn't for my injury, I'd have 2-4 catarafts (still have my original 16' cat though), a DRIFTBOAT, and a jetsled. Why? Because they all serve a purpose. None serve ALL purposes. Since I don't strictly flyfish, I need more then one boat. Catarafts are awesome for whitewatering, and are perfect for those strictly flyfish ONLY! If you like to pull plugs, boondog, side drift. You'll want a driftboat. Catarafts are DESIGNED to run fast. The only way to slow a cat down (or if you are able to keep yours oaring slow) is in super slow water, OVERLOADING the boat so it's above capacity, or use REALLY long oars. But they are good boats for transporting from A to B, and doing some fishing on the drift. If you have a heavy capacity boat that's well built you can actually anchor up and fish safely without modifying the boat any. Boat will stay level (I have with my 16' Aire with custom fishing frame with 1,100#'s of people gear on it fishing in heavy current ) on anchor. You get what you pay for with these boats. But I agree, with kids and dogs, I say driftboat all the way. Why? Well, have done enough swiftwater rescues AND SAR's to know that more kids have fallen out of rafts/cats then DB's. And you normally have MORE kids in DB's (not alot of parents take small kids on whitewater boats and NO they weren't thrown out, most had fallen out). DB's have a higher wall, they are actually HARDER to get into the cats, and are easier to use a heater in (I've modified a heater so it'll work in my cat).

But, I will say this (I know I threw alot out there). If you ONLY flyfish and you want an "all season" boat for it. I'd say go the cataraft. But before you buy look into ALL of them. I can give you advice, others can too. Best to actually look. Don't EVER buy one on price alone. Some are limited, but you get what you pay for in them. A good 12' boat will run you around $1800 EASY! You get into the 14 and 16', be prepared to pay almost $3k. Any boats WELL under that are to be avoided, SERIOUSLY! I've done the looking, and have checked them out. I've even seen wholesale pricing on tubes from the reputable makers. I know my 16' boat the tubes alone run almost $2k!!!! Some run almost $3k just for TUBES!!!. When you find a 14 and 16' boat for under $2k, I'd be VERY worried. If you're the occasional "not really fishing much or pounding the boat" you can get away with these boats. Personally, from all my experiences and looking around, I've come down to only a couple boats I'd buy (and pay the good money for them). One is the Steelheader by Skookum for a premade boat. The denier and oz rating is higher then any out there, and handling capacity is higher then any manufactured boat out there and overall price for what you get is actually outstanding. The other bonus is the tubes and frames are built here in Washington. So source is local. Or, the ultimate is to custom build your own. Buy a set of Sotar tubes (the BEST in the industry by far, Skookum builds tubes that are comparible. Probably as close to them as anyone in the industry) and custom build your frame and buy the components. BUT, your $2500 premade boat will now run you about $4k building yourself (unless you have welding and buying connections like I do on some things needed). But, that's if you want a boat that's specifically designed for you.

Sorry, I kind of shot in different directions on this post. If you want, email me and I can set you up with what you'd want/need to buy. A DB may be the thing for you. Too many variables. Email me (or list here) what EXACTLY you want to use the boat for and what you want it to do for you. Then, we can work on what boat for you to buy. Like I said, cats aren't for everyone. Plus, I also know a friend who's selling a 14' cat with multi frames and dry boxes with trailer for about $2600. Great deal on all you're getting and the frames.

OH YEAH. You can load like a DB. I have my cataraft trailer (a retrofitted DB trailer) so that I can winch my boat on if I want to. I at least use it to help as a strap down agent. But use the strap on those long pull ups. So, can easily be done. You don't need to buy the over $1k custom inflatables trailers, but they are REALLY NICE!!!!! But, let me know, I can help you out.
I own the Osprey II
This boat kicks ass. Haven't used it as much as I would like but will get to use it more and more. Was going to go home(south central Alaska) this summer to fish, but daughter is getting married and I need to stay in the PNW. This boat has the kick boat frame so its light weight but wtill strong as hell. Light so it will not take up valuable weight on a BUSH plane. Stable as hell. I have inflatable Safari kayaks made by Innova that are nice too but don't haul a ton of gear and maintain the stability like the Steelheader line of boats. Plus the designer and owner of the company is Bill Day...A great guy and good person to buy a boat from.
Sisu, its what America needs


Slow and Low
Your boat should suit the water. Driftboats are fine anywhere on the deschutes. I float the deschutes with my wife every other weekend starting July 4 ening in November when I move to the Grand Ronde.
I sold my drift boat and opted for a Super Cat ( Since doing that My boat stays at home more when I fish due to the pain in the rear of loading and unloading an raft. They are work to trailer compared to a drift boat.

In Short you need both. If your main float is Central Oregon and you plan on being loaded get some form of a raft, check out the supercat. If you plan on one day trips consider sticking to a drift boat.

My 2cents.

Jim Kerr

Active Member
I own lotsa boats, drift, raft, pontoon and otherwise my favorite boats of all time are the big pontoons. The problem is there are a million kinds, so yea, figure out what you want to carry gear and weight wise and use that as a starting point. As far as loading on a trailor, on most brands absolutly no problem. You hit the nail on the head with gear storage, its just somthing you have to work out. Shop around and keep asking questions, you will end up with a great boat.

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Yup, agree with Brian, why not? I always used them on mine. Didn't have any that melted or sprung leaks because of it. Just keeping the heatsource up and away from the tubes. I used to run 3 on my bigger boats. And keep on my small ones. Rarely used it on the small ones, kept warm rowing. But was nice if you stopped to fish a run for awhile and felt the chills creep on.


Active Member
I'm no expert like Jerry. And I don't mean to take away from anything he said. But here's my take on DB's vs. Cats.

If you are on a cat, be prepared to get wet. No big deal if you dress for it. You may even get lucky and not get wet. But it's just the nature of the beast. Everthing needs to be stowed and tied down. If you drop it, chances are it's gone. A cat does not respond as quick as a DB. But they are more forgiving when you screw up and hit a rock. They are not maintainence free. UV wrecks havoc on the tubes, the cam straps, flooring. everything. covering them with a tarp is not a viable solution. You also need to keep an eye on air pressure. Hot air will expand and increase the pressure on the tubes. Changes in alltitude also effects tube pressure. Raft trailers carry the boat above the wheels. As compared to DB's which ride between the wheels. So unless your tow car is a big truck, you wont be able to see over a cat.

You can get in & out of a DB, even go down the river, without getting wet. Drop things on the floor, lay things on the seat of a DB, no big deal. A good DB is (IMHO) quick to repsond to the sticks. A glass or alum DB requires very little maintainence. A lot of them live outside, in the weather, year round. A DB does not bounce off a rock like a rubber boat. Nor will it have the carrying capacity of a big cat. Or go through bad whitewater like a raft.

Both are specialized boats. Having been designed to do different tasks in different water. While there is some overlap, there is also compromise. Like women, one is no better or worse than the other. Only different. Viva la' differounce! ;)


I'm no expert like Jerry. And I don't mean to take away from anything he said. But here's my take on DB's vs. Cats.

A cat does not respond as quick as a DB. But they are more forgiving when you screw up and hit a rock.

Hmm, I find the cats much more manueverable than my clackacraft. I agree, with you about the dropping things and getting wet etc. Most of the time, if you are flyfishing, you have waders on so no big deal. I have a 10ft, 12ft, and a 16ft cat. All on the same tubes the "steelheaders" are made. I love em. They take the whitewater like champs. You can take your cat places you can't take your driftboat. and if you screw up and tip it etc, it floats.

I havn't taken any "big" whitewater in my driftboat, other than when East Fork let me row his willie down Wapanita, and boxcar on the Deschutes. That was fun. The cats would take that stuff very easy, as you see em do it everyday. I'd say go with a cat. If you plan on doing alot of fishing from your boat itself, then get a driftboat. Just my .02



Active Member
it depends!

i had my cat custom built with lots of input from the frame maker as well as the company who eventually custom made the tubes. it has its limitations, like any floating device.

it is way faster to manuver than any driftboat i have ever owned (4) but you do have to plan ahead regarding gear and such. i have a mesh floor which is strapped on so i can drop some stuff without loosing it. you sit on top of the cat tubes, not down in them like a pontoon boat which is really designed to be moved around with fins. because the contact surface of the independent pontoons is limited, hence its manuvering speed, you then loose a great deal of carrying capacity. that is why, for example, 'expedition' sorts of cats are really wide with huge tubes, mine are 20" diameter. my total width is 56" as opposed to the commerically available cats which will be at least 72". so all of these factors are a comprimise dependent on your intended use. i built a winch stand and rear rollers which fit on my flat bed utility trailer and i am able to winch straight on. occasionally the tubes will hang when you start the loat, but a push here or there gets stuff started. complete, this cat with rowing and passenger frame, dry box, ice chest, anchor, oars, blah, blah, weights in at about 120#.

because i prefer small rocky rivers, the DB option is just not in the cards as they are too slow and would get beat to death. but, if you are interested in carrying the family, 2 pets and loads of stuff you never look at all day long, go back to the DB idea.