Is it feasible to learn how to row a drift boat by myself on the Yakima?

Discussion in 'Watercraft' started by Chris Puma, Mar 9, 2007.

  1. Chris Puma

    Chris Puma hates waking up early

    Jun 14, 2006
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    I made a thread about this a while ago. A lot of people invited me to teach me how to row. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, traveling, etc things didn't pan out.

    Now, my g/f's best friends parents are in town. They wanted to go see the "wilderness" so I figured maybe I could rent a boat (have them split the cost) and learn how to row. Seems like a good scheme to me...

    Something is telling me this still might not be the smartest plan... Is it safe for me to just go to Red's Fly Shop, rent a boat, and try my luck at rowing on the river?
  2. clackaman

    clackaman aka T Colagrossi

    Dec 12, 2005
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    Seattle, WA
    The lower section of the Yak is the perfect place to learn how to row....just remember, always backrow away from trouble, if you are pushing forward to go in a direction you are doing it wrong...simply turn the stern of the boat towards where you want to go and backrow. If you can remember this simple principle and stick to it you will be fine, especially on the canyon section of the Yak. I wouldn't try to navigate the upper river as a novice.

    Good luck,

  3. D3Smartie

    D3Smartie Active Member

    May 6, 2003
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    that would be a good way to learn... I think the first river i ever rowed was the Yak.
  4. Mulligan

    Mulligan Stephen Mull

    May 18, 2004
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    First river I rowed was the Yakima. I think if you've been in a DB many times AND have paid attention to the general concept of what the rower was doing, you will be safe in the canyon. I think the hardest thing (on a non-technical) river for a newbie is control speed for the people fishing. That's what everyone was yelling at me my first time
  5. Kevin J. Burnham

    Kevin J. Burnham Active Member

    Oct 13, 2005
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    Tony, Has is right. Yes keeping the boat in position is the key for the angler but always keep an eye first and foremost on where the river is taking you. The logs and debris are were they are for a reason the current took them there. Remember keep an eye out and pull away from danger. I have seen guy's flip boats easy rivers like the lower Yak on the Green in Utah and even the Beaverhead in Montana.
  6. PT

    PT Physhicist

    Jan 11, 2003
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    Edmonds, WA
    First thing to do is practice spinning the boat in different directions. That'll get you used to pulling on one oar and pushing on the other to set the boat up for different conditions.

    Also, when in shallow water, use hard and SHORT strokes. That way you have better control if you're digging rocks and such. Big long pulls make for big mistakes when the oars hit bottom and you skip a stroke.

    Personally, I wouldn't want to take passengers on a virgin rowing trip. An extra 400 pounds is alot of weight. Make sure they have PFD's.

    I'd be willing to float the river with you sometime in the near future. Well, after steelhead season is done over here. It doesn't take but one boulder hit sideways in a shallows with heavy flow to cause people to be swimming.

    Just my .02
  7. johnmetcalfe

    johnmetcalfe New Member

    Nov 1, 2006
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    Sry. Didn't mean to post.
  8. SuperDave

    SuperDave New Member

    Oct 4, 2002
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    .Spanaway, WA
    As the "captain" you are responsible for those in your boat. If everyone is inexperienced, you're taking a BIG chance and although you may do fine there are inherint dangers in runnning a river. I'd advise you to learn to row with an EXPERIENCED river runner before going out on your own. A given river can change DRAMATICALLY when water flow levels (CFM's) change. Hitting a rock or snag can dump you in the river very quickly. Just learning how to "pick" your way through a difficult strech can be challenging and often requires some strength "on the sticks" especially with passengers on board.

  9. Flyfishsteel

    Flyfishsteel New Member

    Jan 25, 2005
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    Call up Clackacraft and ask if you can buy or even be given the EXCELLENT DVD on drift boating. I've watched this a million times and learn something new everytime!

    Good luck and be safe!

    PS, have the PFDs ready or on your person at all times:ray1:
  10. Jerry Daschofsky

    Jerry Daschofsky Moderator Staff Member

    Feb 26, 2003
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    Graham, WA, USA.
    Home Page:
    Personally, I would NOT do my first trip on a river, even if you've been in a driftboat a thousand times as a passenger. Why? You grew up driving as a passenger with your parents, but rarely is someone ready to just run a car off the get go. Autoresponse VS having to think makes a big difference, even on a mellow river. One wrong row and you can be toast (plus your passengers). Mellow river or now, you can still sink a boat. I've seen it personally (on the Wynoochee during summer flows in a PONTOON boat nonetheless). Friend took one wrong oar stroke on a pretty easy corner and buried the boat under a rootwad (and I told him to walk it around, but yet he didn't listen and thought he could do it after watching ME do it first). Had to toss a safety line out to him and pull him free (which wasn't easy to say the least).

    Personally, I saw find a driftboat you can use and then hit the lake somewhere. Play around with the boat. See how it moves with each oar stroke. Most people overrow. You don't need huge deep strokes to make the boat move. Get a feel how just one oar feels vs both. Then counterrow (pull one back while you push the other forward). Once you've got a good feel, have someone who KNOWS how to row take you down a river. Even the Yak. You'd be doing yourself and your passengers a disservice by taking them on a float like that. All it takes is one rock just below the surface to ruin your day (and some guys can't read the water that well while sitting in the rowers seat).

    Sorry to sound like a killjoy. But have spent more hours on the sticks then most. Whitewater and fishing. Just is best to start slow and then when you're ready have someone who can show you what to do (and guide you where to run the boat as well). What you may perceive as a good spot may be bad.

    And yes, if you go have the PFD's on you.
  11. Marty

    Marty New Member

    Jan 14, 2007
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    Heber, Utah
    Home Page:
    A lot of great advise but I will add my .02. I have taught a number of people including new guides how to row a drift boat. Some picked it up in the first ¼ mile while some never did. I feel it depends more on the person and their understanding of moving water. I have never been on the Yak so I can’t say yes or no. If the section of the river you are planning to float is traveling less than 5 miles on hours I would say go for it remembering never push and if you have to, walk the boat through the shallow stuff. Be careful rowing a drift boat is almost as addicting as catching a fish on a fly rod.
  12. Mulligan

    Mulligan Stephen Mull

    May 18, 2004
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    I agree with much of what Marty said. I know people who could row class II on their first day on the sticks and others I would worry about in the canyon on the Yak. I don't know that I would make any comparisons between the Green in UT and the canyon on the Yak. The Green has rapids (some up to III+), the canyon simply doesn't. I would say that if you have any reservations (say enough to post about it here), then taking other people out on your first time is not a good idea. I always had an experienced rower in the boat with me when I was rowing. I was never worried when I was on the sticks as I was rowing easy stuff for the most part. The most I have been worried was on class IV water with an experienced rower. Is there any classifiable rapid on in the canyon?
  13. Bill Dodd

    Bill Dodd Bill's in a time out.

    Aug 29, 2006
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    This might help..
    Or you can pm me and I will take you on the Yakima In my Clackacraft and give you a lesson..
    Pm me if interested..The following is from Clackacraft website.

    Bill Dodd

    How To Row A Drift Boat
    Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Guide School


    Rowing is a skill just like fly-casting. You need to be able to read the stream, just as in fly fishing, but with an eye toward working with the currents, rather than against them. Although rowing is not difficult, the untutored oarsman will often react by moving the drift boat in the desired direction down river, which is the exact opposite of the correct response. With practice, rowing will become second nature and you will enjoy learning how precisely you can maneuver your boat.

    Rowing is an excellent upper body work out and proper body mechanics are essential to stay strong and not cause unnecessary injuries. In addition, take into consideration the elements. We all want to do the best job for our clients, but rowing in heavy currents or fighting the wind can cause impairment. Learn the river, and let it work for you. The following information will assist you in achieving maximum efficiency with your rowing skills. The professional guide takes in to consideration that tomorrow is another working day.


    When rowing with fly fisherman aboard, the object is to slow the boat as much as possible, while keeping the anglers in the best casting position. Therefore, the first rule in rowing a drift boat is to do everything with backstrokes. As you and the bow of the boat face downstream, develop the habit of backstroking to maneuver and avoid obstacles. The backstroke is much stronger than the foreword stroke because it combines the energy of the arms, back, and legs.

    When a boulder or a log needs to be avoided, you can depend upon the backstroke. The problem with using the forward stroke is that with the current, it speeds up the boat, driving it even harder into the hazards you are trying to avoid. Additionally, the forward stroke moves the boat faster, which prevents the anglers from working the water thoroughly.


    The general principle to keep in mind is to point the bow of the drift boat to the danger, and row back away from it. The seven following steps will outline this principle in greater detail.

    LOOK - While rowing you will be dodging low casts, spotting fish, tying on flies, or getting a something from the cooler. To avoid any surprises, map your course to allow ample time to set up properly.
    AIM THE POINT - towards the back of the boat (STERN) into the direction in which you plan to back away from the rock. In the example this is achieved by dragging the left oar and pulling two or three times strongly with the right. Pull with the right oar until the boat pivots to the "escape angle" you need- about 45 degrees across the current ( the current and the river banks aren? always parallel; cross currents can be deceiving).
    PULL - Now that you have the proper angle, pull on both oars to get away from the rock. Even in a moderate current, three to six strong strokes are usually enough. In rougher water, with big waves and cross currents, it may require several more adrenaline fueled strokes. Momentum will keep the boat going several yards after you stop rowing. Beginners tend to over-row, using more strokes than are necessary and end up zigzagging all over the river. With practice it will become second nature. If you observe an experienced boatman, they maneuver efficiently, without wasting a stroke, missing rocks by inches. A minimal amount of rowing helps maintain a steady casting distance from the bank or target water which is an asset to your angler.
    STRAIGHTEN - Now that you're far enough away to miss the rock, straighten out the boat to pass by it. Dragging your right oar will do the job, with perhaps one pull on the left oar. Naturally, your anglers will want to cast around the rock, so you'll be far enough to the side of it for them to cast without needing to adjust the length of their lines to reach it. It is easier for your clients to cast if you keep the boat parallel to the bank. This allows them to cast from the side of the boat minimizing the danger of hooking the oarsman, or each other. This is the science of rowing fly fisherman.
    RETURN - Now that you're passed the rock, aim your stern back toward the bank. In the example this calls for dragging the right oar and making a few strong pulls on the left.
    POSITION - Now that you're cocked at the proper angle again, several strong pulls with both oars will get you back to your original distance from the bank.
    RESUME - Straighten the boat in the current by dragging the left oar. Ideally you will want to maintain a comfortable casting distance to the fish for your client while drifting down the river.
    All these steps were made using backstrokes to slow the boat down. On swift, rocky rivers, you seldom have a moments rest between slowing the boat and maneuvering. Wearing light gloves can help to avoid blisters. The faster the water, the sooner the set up must be to avoid obstacles. In boatmans parlance, "set up" means to know what's coming up, to maneuver the boat to the appropriate angle for backing away, and beginning to row early enough to avoid the danger. It is very easy to underestimate the power of rapidly flowing water, which can be dangerous.


    In addition to dodging boulders, there are several other situations which you will encounter. River velocity is generally greater on the outside of a bend, where the current often accelerates. Rocks and downed trees are often also lodged on the outside of a bend. Upon entering a bend, plan in advance to back away from the outside of the bend, aiming your stern toward the inside corner, ready to power away from the outside bank. Set the boat up before you enter the situation. The more swift the current, the more power you should be ready to apply. If you are on a river with big rapids, it is wise to land the boat upstream of an especially "loud" corner (most rapids can be heard well in advance) and scout the rough water ahead before running it. Have long length of rope on hand to tie the boat up or to yard the boat through the rapids from shore. Wind is a problem on many large rivers, and there is nothing worse than trying to row in a strong cross wind. Unfortunately, few drift boats were built with this in mind. Most drift boats were designed for serious white water and less windy conditions. Boats with only moderately high sides (just enough freeboard to avoid shipping water in turbulence) are best for navigating the majority of wind swept Rocky Mountain trout rivers.

    ClackaCraft offers a very low profile fly boat designed for high wind and relatively flat water conditions.

    The only recourse when rowing in a gale-force cross wind is to keep the stern pointed into the wind, and row like a madman to avoid being blown into the banks. (A tail wind is easiest to deal with.) This often means poor boat positioning for casting and blisters on your hands at the end of the day.


    The first is to keep the boat straight, or parallel to the banks or target water whenever possible. This helps the fishermen to fish the banks without tangling each other. (This will result in the angler's casts being parallel to each other. Fisherman who are unfamiliar with the close quarters of a drift boat will have problems until they develop their own float-fishing skills.) Another point to remember is that a neat boat will tangle fewer lines. Anglers accustomed to dropping their stripped line in the water between casts will find that in a boat, anything nearby - including their feet- will snag their lines. Keep the floor of your boat as uncluttered as possible. As noted, the oarsman usually wants to slow the boat down, to give the anglers more time to fish every spot next to a bank. It doesn't require tremendous power, technique is the key. At times you'll want to hold the boat stationary in the current to work a rising fish, or even back upstream to undo a snag. When it comes to snags however, fishermen should be prepared to loose some flies. They shouldn not expect the guide to row back upstream for every fly caught in a bush or on a rock; that's hard work if you need to do it 50 times a day. Instruct your client to point the rod toward the fly, then hold the line to break off the fly.


    Sooner or later, you're bound to broadside a rock in your boat, and be pinned there by the current. The beginner usual reaction is, again, exactly the opposite of what it should be. When you broadside something, lean into it, not away from it! The rushing water will tend to climb the upstream side of your boat and push it under water. Your natural reaction, leaning away from the object that you are going to slam into, only facilitates flipping your boat or wrapping it around the rock. If you know that your going to broadside an obstacle, get ready to lean into it and push or spin off of it with your hands, feet or oars. If you are floating water that you would not feel safe swimming in, don't be ashamed to wear a life jacket; a supply of which, the U.S. Coast Guard says must be in every boat.

    There are two factors that contribute to the strength of your stroke. First, the harder you pull on the oars, the more force you are applying to your boat. Secondly, the longer you apply a force, in the form of long sweeping strokes, the more accumulative energy you are applying to your craft.

    You want to use long sweeping strokes rather than short choppy hard strokes, for a smooth comfortable ride for your clients. Keep your long strokes shallow, submerged in 10-12 inches of water. The long shallow strokes will be easier on you and more stable for your clients.

    This maneuver puts the oars in a stable position so that you can exit the boat, or do other things for a while. This is done by drawing the oars into the boat in front of you, clear up to the blade. There are many instances where this needs to be done quickly. Practice shipping the oars until they can be instantly placed correctly.

    An oar that has popped out of the oar lock has to be replaced in the oar lock quickly. Become familiar with how your oar fits your oar lock, and at what point along the oar it will first pass through the gap of the oar lock. You must be capable of accomplishing this maneuver in two seconds.

    Know how your spare oar works. Does it fit your boat? Is it in usable condition? Can you access it quickly, and is it easy to assemble if you need it in a hurry?

    As the blade of the oar enters the water it will help you make smooth strokes without slicing deeply into the water. The angle that the blade enters the water should be vertical or tilted slightly. Excessive angle will cause the blade to slice the water.

    The scissor stroke is the most effective turning stroke. By simultaneously pushing on one oar while pulling on the other, the boat will spin in a circle. Using both oars to spin the boat is much more effective than pulling on just one.


    Exiting the boat involves first shipping the oars then jumping out over the side of the boat, back by the transom. By exiting the boat back where the boat is narrower it reacts much less violently than if you were to jump out near the oar locks. If you need to stop the drift boat, you must pivot around and catch the stern as it passes by, then dig your heals in and hold on.

    Remember - you are the anchor and the brakes.


    This is the most hazardous maneuver for the oarsman. The difficulty is that the boat is transitioning from water moving one way into water moving another. Fast current hitting the side of the boat can tip or roll the boat. Care should be taken to cross the eddy line with the bow pointed as down current as possible. The object is to meet the oncoming current bow or stern first rather than from the side. Cross currents are much more likely to glance off and pass underneath rounded drift boat chines with out spinning the boat than they are sharpened square chines. Drift boats with rounded chines are also much more maneuverable for cross current set up.


    As a last note, leave prepared for the day? float. Have rain gear, jackets, life preservers, first-aid kit, waterproof containers, the proper amount of food and drink, sun screen, toilet paper, flashlight, shuttle arrangements, keys, and anything else that you may need for a long day on the stream.



    Line 15'x1/2" with carabiner
    Anchor line 35-50'x1/2" with (twist type) carabiner
    Rescue rope bag, 75' of line (can be used to tie up the boat)
    ANCHOR - 28-35 lb. Steel anchor


    Fire extinguisher
    Safety whistle
    Polarized glasses
    Extra hats
    Flash light
    Spare oar
    Water-proof First Aid kit contents:
    waterproof matches
    sun screen
    1 arm splint
    1 eye dressing
    burn lotion or zinc oxide
    four triangular bandages
    3" wide adhesive tape
    3" ace wrap
    5" Kurlex or battle dressings
    two 2x2 and assortment of 4x4 gauze compress pads
    wool or space blanket
    pen and paper for accident report

    Type III, l or V. One for each person in the boat.


    A sharp knife must be kept in an accessible location. It may be necessary to cut the anchor line if the anchor becomes snagged. (A badly snagged anchor in fast water can pull the transom of the boat down, sinking the boat.)


    Toilet paper
    Small shovel or trowel
    Plastic bag for used paper
    Soap or wipes for washing up hands

    Guide and fishing licenses
    Fish net
    Complete fly selection and terminal tackle
    Extra rod
    Client's fishing licenses

    Cooler with drain plug
    Bottled drinking water
    Forks, spoons, knives (one set per person)
    Soap or wipes for hand wash-up
    Trash bag
    Roll a table
    Portable chairs
    Table cloth
    DRY BAGS - The boats will accommodate dry bags or plastic containers for spare clothing. Rain gear for guide and clients, wool hats, gloves, socks, extra pants and tops.


    Camera and film in a water proof box
    Bird and flower identification books


    E. Neal Streeks, "Float Fishing Etiquette," May/June 1990. Fly Rod and Reel.
    Gary Beebe, director, Reel Women Guide School.
    Ibid........ all over again
  14. SuperDave

    SuperDave New Member

    Oct 4, 2002
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    .Spanaway, WA
    Just appreciating the design feature of a driftboat and their purpose whould be understood before you try it for yourself.

    -Do you know why a drift boat has "rocker" and how do you use it to your advantage?

    -What does "balance" have to do with rowability?

    -How is moving the boat slower than the current help manuverability?

    -Why do you go "down river" bow first?

    -If you get the boat "hung up", which gunwale is of most concern?

    -What would you do if you broke or lost an oar?

    -Do you understand river "courtesy" to other users?

    -What do river hydraulics have to do with running a drift boat? (and more)

    - If dumped in the water, which should go downstream first; your head or your feet? Why?

    (This should indicate that these questions should occur to you before you try running a river. Your CORRECT answers should be instinctive and automatic)

  15. East Fork

    East Fork Active Member

    May 17, 2004
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    Vancouver, WA
    Rip Tide, the Yak from say Big Horn down is about as easy of river as there is and rowing a drift boat isn't that tough. It would be better if you had an experienced person with you on the first trip but if that doesn’t work, go for it! The risk on the lower part of the river is minuscule.