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4 Tips For Your First Drift Boat Fishing Trip

It’s one of my first memories of self-independence: the day that my parents let me ride my bike by myself to the lake to fish.

I can remember it clearly. My fishing rod across the handlebars of my BMX bike, and a container of worms in a small bag around my wrist. It was everything.

As I’ve grown, the opportunity to go fishing still brings me excitement. I’ve been fortunate to fish in lakes and rivers, both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and a few of the Great Lakes. By no means do I consider myself an expert angler, but each time I venture onto a body of water – I feel like a kid again. While on our recent Field Trip to Oregon, 50 Campfires writer Clint Carlson and myself had the opportunity to fish the Sandy River outside of Portland from a drift boat. While neither of us had ever been in a drift boat, much less fished from one – we both knew that we had to take up the offer.

The experience itself was nothing short of magic. Peaceful at times, energizing at others. Rather than giving you a play-by-play of our experience, I thought I’d break down what we learned and witnessed into four sections – in the hopes that you’ll find yourself in a drift boat with the current down a remote river chasing trout and salmon one day.

drift boat
You have to be in the right place at the right time.

1. The Season

Fishing on a river requires an understanding of the fish that you’re seeking, and where they are in their life cycle. Because both salmon and trout follow a migration, spring fishing follows their journey out of the river and into the ocean, while fall marks the end of the cycle as they head back up the fresh water in order to spawn. Each season means a different behavior from the fish. Our fall trip meant that the fish weren’t actively feeding, but when the bait floated past – it was on!

drift boat
Our guide knew the river like the back of his hand.

2. The Guide

I’ve made the mistake of fishing unfamiliar bodies of water. Sometimes luck is on your side, but often it’s a game of roulette. We were fortunate enough to be connected with a local Sandy River guide for our trip. He knew every nook and cranny of the river. Places that we thought looked “good,” he passed over – leading us to fishing pockets that we would’ve never found. The fact that he could row even the most tortuous of corners kept us moving in the right direction. In any regard, a knowledgeable guide is worth their weight in chum.

drift boat
We had everything we needed. Now they needed to bite.

3. The Gear

It’s tough to talk about drift boat fishing, without first talking about the boat. Imagine a jacked-up rowboat, complete with the oars. Our boat was fiberglass, allowing us to glide over the shallows and rapids. For our trip, we were outfitted with basic spinning rod setups, including a drift bobber. While I had visions of chest waders, they definitely weren’t necessary for this trip, as the water varied so greatly in depth, and once one spot was fished-out, we quickly moved along to another.

drift boat
The equivalent of a filet mignon to a hungry salmon.

4. The Bait

In the 30+ years that I’ve been fishing, I’ve never seen anything like the bait that we were throwing while drift fishing. I’ve been told that each guide has his own special blend, and ours was willing to spill the beans on what made his great (sort of). Salmon roe, home-cured in a blend of various ingredients that included kool-aid, giving it an electric pink color. This is another benefit of hiring a guide – they know what they’re doing.

As you can see, the point that keeps resurfacing is probably the most important for any first-time drift boat fisherman: HIRE A GUIDE!

Here are a few great resources around the Internet to locate a guide for your next trip:

Sandy River / Portland, OR : Larimer Outfitters

Yellowstone River / Montana : S&W Outfitters

Colorado River / Colorado : Rancho Del Rio




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