Learning to row driftboat...beater boat...Pontoon...or?


dead in the water
What is the overall opinion on the best way to learn to row a drift boat?

I have no rowing experience in anything. I would like to learn to be able to take my friends (and children in the future) down some of the rivers here in Wa. Methow, Yakima, etc. No serious rapids (I'll stay away from sketch rivers or sections or rivers), but some interesting water and hazards to get through as with any fishing river around here. Also, we all know, our rivers can change from season to season with our rain and snow runoff. So I'd like to end up being smart enough that I would be surprised by a sweeper that wasn't on the river the last time I ran it.

If I were getting a boat I'd probably either get a cheap older fiberglass boat I could beat up without feeling bad. Or get a raft that would allow me to bonk off of stuff without damage.

What do you all think? Get a boat and just start paddling around lakes learning to row/spin/use the oars until I can find someone experienced to instruct me down a basic river? Get a pontoon boat and learn the basics of river currents and rowing? Take a class somewhere?

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
You know, what boat that is best for you really is dictated by you. I've owned alot of boats in my life. More types of inflatables then most have seen, then quite a few driftboats, deep V saltwater, and jet boats. No one boat is best. I've owned wood, glass, and aluminum driftboats. Each had their place and had their pros/cons. I'd own all three if I could, and plan to own at least both glass and aluminum again (have the glass, need to re add the aluminum). Each work better in different situations. Same thing goes for inflatable boats. What works best for you won't for someone else. Sorry to be so bland, but it's true. What I'm looking for in a fishing (and I say fishing) pontoon is different then the rest. I want a flatter hull line to fish from. It'll carry more weight and fish steadier, but maneuverability is lacking. But if you're setting yourself up in a run before hand you'll be fine. If you get down to it, just about ANY boat can go through ANY run. What it looks like in the end depends on the rower (have seen guys running un floatation added driftboats through heavy class 4/5 runs and still alive and floating at end, though wet). I'd say try the boats out with friends who have them and judge from there. This way you have someone experienced on the sticks rowing and you can observe and learn on slack water.

Onto really learning yourself if you buy a boat. Lakes are the best way to go, even with an inflatable. An inflatable will give you alot more slack. Basically a bumper boat. You tag a rock in a driftboat, and you have a very good chance of sinking or damaging the boat. Do same with an inflatable and you'll get wet but still "usually" stay above water. Watched many a guys just rebound off rocks going through runs and basically the river pulled them through. Yet, in same run I've seen someone in a driftboat do same thing, and boat was sunk before the run was done (and actually have seen it well more then once on the Hoh and that's not that bad of a river to row). I'd test it out on a lake and get the feel of how each oarstroke changes the direction of the boat. Use one oar, then both. Chance the angle of the oar to see how it changes thing. Then, when you're ready, have a friend who knows the river you plan to row the first time go with you. They can help direct you through runs. Even better, run it with them in their boat first to see how they run it (hopefully they know what they're doing LOL), then you run it next with your boat next trip.


Active Member
I had quite a bit of experience running rivers in power boats, but went with a buddy having drift boat experience the first time I got behind the oars.

It was well worth it, and we caught fish.



dead in the water
I guess the first question I'm asking is: Buy boat and learn to row it, or buy and pontoon and start small.

If starting with a pontoon really isn't going to help me in the long run, then I might as well buy a boat. After all, there is something to be said for not taking the long way to what you ultimately want.
I went through the same thing. I would consider myself an advanced pontooner and wanted to learn how to row a drift boat. NOT THE SAME!! I became so used to how fast a pontoon would react I was shocked at how much more there was to a DB. You also have other peoples lives to be responsible for in a DB. Learning on a pontoon is good but a slow learning curve. If I were you I would start on the DB and hire a guide to go with me for a lesson on how to row and read water. This will take you a while before you can start going down anything fast. You could also find someone who has a DB and offer to row for them in exchange for them teaching you. I would guess you need to learn or be taught for a good year of trips before trying anything rough on your own, especially is you have no rowing experience at all. Also choose your boat carefully. Some big fiberglass boats can feel like a tank and don't react quickly, I wouldn't try to learn on these. Some aluminum boats that are smaller react quicker and are much easier to handle would be the way to go, then you can buy what you want and have a good understanding of what you are doing. Good luck in what ever you choose to do.


Skunk Happens
I would go straight to a drift boat if that's what you want. I have a pontoon and have some experience rowing DBs and rafts. You can learn to row well enough in a few trips. There are some easy rivers to be floated. Learn the difficult stuff from someone whose experience you trust completely.
a lot of great info on getting you going as far as learning the sticks...but I would strongly suggest you spend just as much time and effort learning to read water...

...I've said this here before, but I'll say again, that I think a guide training course by one of the local whitewater rafting (preferably a company that runs oar rigs) will bring you up to speed on many facets of river running and safety faster and safer than by trial-and-error

...good luck!


dead in the water
...I've said this here before, but I'll say again, that I think a guide training course by one of the local whitewater rafting (preferably a company that runs oar rigs) will bring you up to speed on many facets of river running and safety faster and safer than by trial-and-error
I would absolutely think that was a cool (and smart) thing to do. If anyone knows of a course like this, let me know. And yes, a company that runs oars would be the way to go I would think.


Active Member
Here's my opinion, for what it's worth...

I would buy a pontoon and start with it. As far as reading the water and recognizing hazards, nothing changes going to a drift boat. Consider a progression from a tricycle to a 10-speed to a mountain bike to a 250cc dirt bike to a large harley. Each is capable of slightly different things and needs different input from the operator. None of them are good at plowing over trees, flying off of cliffs or charging oncoming traffic. Those are all a matter of environmental awareness. They are environmental variables. The beauty of a pontoon boat is that it allows you to develop that awareness at a speed you are comfortable with without risking the safety of any passengers. The commitment level is much lower. When you launch a DB you have to negotiate all the water between your put-in and take-out. Don't like the look of a particular rapid? It's much easier to line a 9-10' toon through the skinny water on the side or even pick it up and carry it. Another one of the posters mentioned the weight of a DB. If you're charging into some burly water a little faster than you would have liked, you may be along for the ride with a DB. In a pontoon, because it has about zero draft, bounces off of rocks, and fits through narrow slots, and has little momentum, you hopefully would have been picking your way along the softer edge of the water, where you can still likely do some quick back strokes and bring your forward progress to halt. The important thing is that all the while, you are learning how to read water, how to recognize hazards, how to line yourself up, etc... When you feel like you have made some progress in this regard and your fishing demands more boat, then I would move on, keeping in mind that with a new boat, you are introducing an entirely new set of boat handling variables. It'll be the same river, but you will have to plan your lines differently to adjust for the boat, and the boat will react differently to your input at the oars.

The advice you've been given on how to slowly get a feel for a boat is all excellent. I just threw my boat on the upper Stilly and started paddling. It was a little scary, but I had a sh*t-eating grin on my face the whole time. I would buy a pontoon, test her out on a lake, wait for river water temps to come up, put on a pfd, and try a stretch that you would be willing to wet wade & swim in. Go with a buddy and follow him through. If you get spit out of the boat, hopefully he's lined up below keeping an eye on you.

As far as boats, I would look for 9-10' pontoons. I have an 8' and it's scary on big rivers. It also tracks for crap, so crossing a broad stretch is a pain.

Jeremy Floyd

fly fishing my way through life
I am going to be doing some sight seeing steelhead trips (no fishing rods) down the Stilly this spring. I will let you know ahead of time. Either that or you can join me when I go over and hit the Yakima on one of my trips in the next couple of weeks.
I would absolutely think that was a cool (and smart) thing to do. If anyone knows of a course like this, let me know. And yes, a company that runs oars would be the way to go I would think.

They are in the 3rd week of new guide training right now...but if you are still interested talk to the owner, Don. He's a good guy.

The option to learn from some guys from here on the board is probably the coolest. What a bunch of great guys around here! I really dig learning from others. I've only been running rivers (rafting or fishing) for about ten years now and I'm constantly learning from veteran rowers/paddlers.

I'm on the east side, but next time I'm over on the Sky, I'll send you a PM and you can join us.

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