My first dozen years as a fly-fisherman were spent wearing out the felt soles of wading boots while walking. This was not by choice. But in my simple cosmology, those classy wooden drift boats were for rich people. The rest of us had to hoof it. Last year, however, I gave in to a friend’s badgering and bought an old Water Master Grizzly raft on eBay. Now I’m a riverman.
The Griz looks like an inner tube mated with a whitewater raft—an oblong donut of PVC fabric, battleship gray, with a seat on one half and no floor on the other, so flippered feet can drop and steer when desired or stand in the shallows and cast. An absurdly ambitious racing stripe marks the waterline. When you float past wading fishermen while wearing this drab rubber ducky, you feel the momentary stab of dignity lost; it’s the moped of the river.
But oh, the places we go! Thanks to the Griz, my favorite freestone river, the Methow in northern Washington, is a new world. I’ve now visited stretches I’d never before seen and pulled hungry trout from handsome, hidden holes. The few times I’ve been in an actual drift boat, the water unspooled quickly. But when you ride near eye level with the foam line, you feel the river’s every intimate roll. You smell the mud on the shore. You can look through your feet into the deep hole below and see the tail fin of Old Dynamite wave as gently as a flag in a breeze. And at day’s end, you can fit the deflated Griz into the trunk of a Honda Civic, with room to spare. Try that with a drift boat.