Pontoons vs. Raft: Opinions please

Tom Savelle

Learning enough to illustrate how little I know
Opinions please.

Investing in a first drift-boat. Leaning towards inflatable with a capacity to accommodate 2-3 people. I’m a complete neophyte with regards to inflatable boats for fishing, but have a lot of time spent on rivers.

Raft vs. Pontoons?

What does the extra price of assembling it part by part (A la NRS) buy me over purchasing something that comes complete?

Are there significant stability or ease of piloting differences?

What other questions should I be asking?

Thanks for your opinions.

What are your plans for the boat? Only fishing use? How many people? Day trips, overnights, multi-day adventures? How big of water? How low of water? Fishing from the boat? Stillwater? Trailering or breaking down?

Lots of good information here in the archives regarding this very topic. Another good source is the rafting forum on outdoorsdirectory.com in regards to learning about pros and cons of different materials, boat sizes etc.

Take care,
I have the Outcast raft with 3 person frame which has been a really good unit. Cant imagine breaking it down each trip so plan on buying a trailer and storing it. A good trailer will cost at least 1500 ... you might be able to find a drift boat trailer that would work on the used market. I believe Outcast rafts are made by Aire and they are cheaper than the NRS with fishing platform. Feel free to email me with any questions, be smarter than I and don't buy a cheap trailer the first time

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Damned FlGator, you're almost quoting my questions Verbatim. ROFL!!!

What FLGator said pretty much. Are you only interested in fishing with the boat? What type or rivers do you plan to float. With ANY boat that you row, when you talk about putting a rower plus 2-3 other people in it, you'll be bogging the boat down. If you plan to flyfish, you'll only want 3 people in the boat ONLY if you plan to fish on the move. One in front and one in back. If you plan to float from hole to hole, you can move up in people, depending on how big of boat you plan to buy. A MAJOR key for those of you looking to invest in a boat. If you plan to drift from hole to hole and NOT fish from the boat, DO NOT buy a fishing framed raft/cataraft. It'll be your biggest waste of $$$$. Get a standard raft with a rower frame and thwarts for your passenger to sit on. Less weight and you won't need the thrills of the standing platforms/leaning braces/anchor system, etc. Can simply pull the boat to the beach and fish (basically do what a rafter would do with their boats when they pull up for a break, they don't use anchors). Same goes for a cataraft. Why waste your $$ on all the thrills if you plan to float. A basic rowers module with two multi cooler modules (can toss a big cooler in each as seats and second part to drape the feet over) to get you buy. Less cost and easier to deal with. The NRS systems aren't bad, especially if you don't plan to run hard stuff (I personally hate aluminum for whitewatering, one ding in the piping and you've weakened the boat). If you just do simple floats, go for it (lighter). Plus, you can customized your frame to your needs (a rowers bracket, and some simple cross brackets with seats for your passengers for both the raft frame or cataraft frame).

That was just something really quick. I literally can go all day on the bennies of a raft/cataraft/pontoon boat/driftboat/sled (mostly because I've owned and ran hard all of them at one time or another).


Active Member

Your patience on this issue is amazing. You must have answered this same topic a dozen times by now. And like always, great advice.
We have the 13' NRS expedition. Now two years old. Have the fly fishing frame plus a dry box and ice chest.We have found the raft performs really great in skinny water and handles well on the rivers. We have also used it to make trips of several days and found the raft will haul a ton of stuff and still perform well. When we first bought the raft we planned on breaking down at the end of every run. That does not work well and we ended up with an American Whitewater trailer in short order. We're very satisified with everything the boat does for us. Feel free to e-mail if you have any questions.
since it's on topic, i'm going to chime in a question as well. these 3 person pontoons have been catching my eye as something that would be more practical for me from a logistical/storage standpoint. what would be some of the downsides to such a vessel?


Dave Hartman

Strip'n Flywear
Evan, the downside is the thousand little places on that boat that will snag your flyline.

IMO, the only reason to go raft over a driftboat is for whitewater. And even then, I'd rather be in a driftboat.

If storage is an issue, go with a Watermaster.
since it's on topic, i'm going to chime in a question as well. these 3 person pontoons have been catching my eye as something that would be more practical for me from a logistical/storage standpoint. what would be some of the downsides to such a vessel?

hey Evan,

This is the unit I have. Its great... I love it. BUT, the customer service over at NFO is a little shakey on the best of days. Took me over a month to get the boat, and had to send the first one back because the frame was made up of parts from different units (blue, red, and orange. lol) Eventually, I got hold of Dave, and he made it right, but I have heard others echo the same complaints.

The forward and rear part of the boat simply slide together and there is nothing that holds these parts together other than the weight of your passengers. Ive never had them come all the way out, but you would probably want to drill some holes and add some additional fasteners as they will slide around. Not a big deal, but definately a design flaw. I dont have a trailer (yet), so if you are breaking it apart each time, expect 30-45 minutes assembly time and about 15 - 20 minutes breaking it down. Plus it fills the back of my 4Runner...

The cargo deck is sold as a double motor mount, but IMHO it is too flimsy to use as such. More mods are needed if you want to do this (im still puzzled on this one, and looking for feedback in another current post).

Other feedback on the X3:


* you can anchor safely in fairly swift current
* Easy to oar (it becomes pretty heavy with 3 people though)
* Easier to navigate smaller waters than a drift boat
* Toons are amazingly durable
* Relatively easy to transport - even have packed it on a commercial airliner
* Dave seems to be a really nice guy, and understands that bad CS needs to be made right


* Ordering the boat was easy, but getting it in one shipment and within reasonable time was not
* Very heavy with 3 people in it
* Standing platforms sit very low in the water, and they like to grab rocks, limbs and anything else in the water
* wind will push you around a lot - Ive had several trips where I could not even get the boat to move down river (why does the wind never blow from upstream???)
* While it is portable, you will eventually want a trailer
* Mounting a motor on this boat effectively will take some work
* Boat LOVES to grab your line when casting - the stipping baskets Dave sells are almost useless as they wont stay open - you will need a third party basket if the casting gets annoying

I am sure there are other pros and cons im not thinking about, but those are the highlights off the top of my head...




Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater
A good person to talk to about rafts is Dana at Swiftwater in Seattle. Very good guy.
He can answer alot of your questions regarding rafts plus he's got rafts & frames on site you can look at.
I upgraded last year from a older 12.5 Achilles to a Aire 143D. I'm very happy with the boat.

Great advice from TWD regarding a trailer. I would't own something like I have if I had to put it together every time I wanted to fish.
I bought a trailer from a horse trailer company up in Woodinville made by Bragg out of TX. They made some mods for me putting on a wench that is awesome and a roller on the back of the trailer that I love also. Getting in or out of the water now takes about 2 minutes and I can crank that thing on the wench out of any spot.

Make sure to get a trailer with 15" wheels, my last home depot trailer had 13 inch wheels and I eventually smoked the hubs right off it. Could have been those 40 hours of driving at highway speeds to Skeena or my loving maintenance but in any case get a decent trailer ... not the home depot variety :)


I have the 1300 but this 1400 looks nice, not sure I would want the extra foot though. They gave me a swivel mount instead of the flimsy looking cooler rig that is real nice. They also upgraded the oars

I like the raft because of fishing the OP. If I was only spending my time in Montana I would get a Clacka db. I have been blown upstream before and not sure that would happen in a low sided DB.


Active Member
DB remains a great choice for most folks. plenty of room for 3, easy to fish out of, nothing to fall through a floor, not so good in bony water and not so hot for narrow rivers with lots of rocks. pretty good carry capacity and can be configured in a zillion ways.

frame rafts are the workhorses of commercial outfitters and most AK bush flyins. they are the freightliners on the water, can load them tall and wide, slow on the sticks but a river runners standard transport for a very long time.

a cataraft is very fast, super for narrow rocky rivers that need instant changes in course, has limited weight carrying capacity unless you ramp the tube diameter WAY up, are way too wide from commercial sources who build them for river runners doing multiple days with a load of gear, you would have to add a strap on mesh floor to even come close to trapping all the stuff you drop, everything you take has to be stowed in dry bags or it will be wet, same as a raft, aluminum frames are not lighter than steel simply because the diameter of aluminum tubing has to be very large to achieve the same strength as steel in a smaller diameter, something like 2.5" vs 1.25". steel, any welder can repair, get it powder coated and away you go.

all three choices are best set up and carried on a quality trailer. the HD variety may look appealing but they are not going to take the beating this sort of trailer is going to be exposed too.

really, answering the questions posed above should be your final guide. all of these choices have warts, you need to pick the one which iches the least in your applications.

Tom Savelle

Learning enough to illustrate how little I know
Wow- Great information. Thanks to all.

I see I have quite a bit more work cut out for me, and as I'd hoped the comments here will help me focus my research. No overnight trips, probably 2 people regularly with an occasional 3rd. I do think I'll want to fish from the boat. As for size of water - dunno. At this point in my ability as an angler I am still focused on trout, so my immediate target is for floating the upper Yak. But it raises a great point about purchasing gear I can "grow into".

Again, thanks to all. I appreciate the comments.


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