Drift Boats in Florida

Where teamwork and paddle craft meet.

A Western river-style drift boat on a Florida bass lake? What’s wrong with this picture, or, what’s right? Two fly anglers and a stealthy, minimalist approach works.

Fly fishers see a picture of a drift boat and think Rocky Mountain river trout fishing. But lately there has been some talk among fly-fishing folk that the drift boat might be just right for Florida bass fishing, too.

It may have started with Capt. Craig Crumbliss. Crumbliss brought his Colorado drift boat to Florida to guide fly fishers for bass on Central Florida’s celebrated lunker waters. He’d put one fly angler in the front and one in the back. “I’d be in the middle and ready to tie flies, dispense advice and maneuver us into a good position,” he said. His boat—a Native Driftboat— so impressed one of his clients that the client pulled out his checkbook and bought it from the guide.

The drift boat brings some advantages to Florida. You don’t need a high-powered SUV to trailer a drift boat. A four-cylinder SUV has plenty of hustle for this off-road work.

The boat launches and trailers by hand, with ease.

You don’t need a boat ramp. You can launch anywhere you can get the trailer wheels to the water. This makes the drift boat especially suitable for small lakes that don’t get a lot of fishing pressure. Crumbliss was always on the lookout for lakes and ponds of less than 200 acres and portions of rivers that others overlook.

The drift boat can fish two fly anglers at a time with the guide or a third person in the middle on the oars. The drift boat is stable. An angler can even stand up.

Drift boats don’t draw much water, maybe 6 to 8 inches, and that lets the person on the oars maneuver it into some skinny and fishy areas that a bass boat will never see.

The price is right, too. There are quite a few drift boat manufacturers using a variety of techniques and materials. New boat prices start at about $6,000. Do some online research. Drift boat companies are mostly located in western states but they do ship to Florida. Look up Hyde, Clackacraft, Don Hill, Willie Boats, RO, Koffler, Greg Tatman, Wood Watercraft, Koffler, Adipose Boat Works, Pavati, Stream Tech, Montana Boat Builders and Montana River Boat Co. That last company also sells plans for build-it-yourself boats.

Captain Craig Crumbliss' three-seat drift boat sits ashore in the shallows.

Used boats are a heck of a deal with asking prices from $3,000 to $5,000, typically. The downside for the Florida angler is that most of the used boats are in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, California and Oregon. It is said that the drift boat got its start on Oregon’s Rogue River back in the 1930s. Author Zane Grey owned one.

Most drift boats are made of fiberglass. Some are aluminum. Some are wood. In fact, more than a few fly anglers have built their own drift boats to suit their own needs.

There are some disadvantages. Someone has to row. Wind will blow the drift boat around a bit. But sometimes the wind is your friend. If the wind blows in the right direction a drift boat moves slowly enough so that the fly anglers can work a productive shoreline quickly. The guide in the middle will pivot the boat this way or that so that both fly casters get off a few good shots.

Will we start seeing more drift boats in Florida? Crumbliss thinks so. Now that he’s paid his dues on Florida waters he has some ideas about what the ideal Florida drift boat would look like. It would have lower sides. It would look a little like a drift boat and a little like a skiff.

Little River Marine, a Gainesville company, is clearly on that wavelength with its 12-, 15- and 18-foot Heritage model guide boats. It differs from the Colorado-style drift boat in a few major ways. Gunwales are lower so the boats are more wind resistant. It has a long-length to short-beam ratio so the rowing speed is fast. But, it also has a squared-off stern so you could put a little outboard or electric trolling motor on the back if you want to shave off a little time getting to your honey holes.

So is this the start of a building-wave of drift boats made in Florida, for Florida? Who knows? Lets talk it up. Meanwhile, it’s good to know there are plenty of drift boats, new and used, for sale out west. FS

By Bill AuCoin

First Published Florida Sportsman Dec.2012