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tight-lines 03-03-2007 04:23 PM

drift boat building
I'm not sure if this is exactly were I should be posting this thread but, let's give it a shot. Has anyone had any experiance building a drift boat? I can't get this idea out of my mind and I am looking for some advice. I've done some seaching on the internet and was supprised to find how many suppliers of kits and / or plans there are available. Having spent some limited seat time in a 16' hyde I think a 16'-17 footer is what I would be interested in building. Utimatley I would like to be able to take three adults and gear for multi day trips. Realistically it would probably be three adults for day trips. Utimatley I would like to get on one of our classic western floating rivers realistically I will probably spend most of my time on the upper Delaware or Lehigh Goerge. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I have just enough drifting experiance to know there is a lot I don't know about drift boat design.

Eric 03-03-2007 06:27 PM

Hi, Tight,

Yeah. I built a drift boat from a kit (Ray's River Dorys, it's on the web), and had a wonderful time doing it. I was working the Deschutes at the time and went for a really big boat to carry gear as well as people on multi-day trips (18 foot). A picture of the completed boat is the center of my avatar.

When I started the project, I had very limited woodworking skills, but was lucky enough to be friends with several people, including fellow Hooknoser John Quiggle, who had considerable experience, and they were able to help me through the rough spots.

The whole project took a bit longer than I thought, but it was with a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction that I lauched the boat in time for the early June salmon-fly fishing.

I'd be glad to answer any specific questions you might have either on this forum or through personal messages. Bottom line: I would cheerfully and confidently build another kit boat if it were the quality of the kit I received from Ray's River Dorys.



tight-lines 03-03-2007 08:56 PM

Thanks for the reply Eric. I did see the site for Ray's boats. And by the way your boat looks great in the picture.

I'm not too worried about the building as I am a carpenter I'm more concerned about picking the right design. Living in the east my drifting options are limited but I would hope someday I can take it west for a few trips with the family. I found a 17 footer kit offered by "Tatman Wooden Boats" which I think may be as good a comprimise as I can get. As I read and please correct me if I'm wrong a 16 footer would handle three people but not much gear and a 18 footer might be too much boat for just two or three on a day trip.

Another thing was protecting the bottom did you use that ULTRA HIGH MOLECULAR WEIGHT POLYETHYLENE as a skid plate?

Also did you use fir plywood or an exotic I can quite tell from th epicture weather your boat is painted.

And lastly maintenace, what is your yearly up keep with a boat such as this?

thanks again for all your help

Eric 03-03-2007 11:15 PM

A 17' foot boat is your best bet, I think. Big enough to carry gear, but not too big for smaller waters or short trips. I don't take my wooden boat steelheading on the Alsea.

The bottom of my boat is double-sheathed marine plywood coated with carbon-fiber impregnated epoxy over fiberglass. Very tough and very slick (but very heavy).

Yearly maintenance is simple: interior is oil finish. I recoat that as soon as it gets warm enough each spring. The clear wood on the shear rails and gunnels is coated with spar varnish. This again is a once-a-year touch up. The remainder of the exterior is painted with a marine paint. I've only painted this once and never repainted.

Incidentally, the whole boat is glassed.

Get good oars! Get four good oars!



JDJones 03-04-2007 04:10 PM

DB Kits
I have a friend who built a Greg Tatman boat. Nice looking boat. He put a 3/4 thk uhmw skid plate on the bottom which added quite a bit of weight. And he has had maintainence problems with the skid plate.

Somewhere on the web, I once found either uhmw or kevlar sheet in thicknesses of .060 to .090 to be glued on the bottom of drift boats. That makes more sense to me.

Things to check out when considering DB kits are specified length. Some are measured straight down the center line ,as you would suspect. Others are measured around the side. Like a 17 ft boat takes a 17 ft long piece of plywood to build it. But, in reality,, it may only be 15 ft down the c/l. The other thing that is important is the amount of rocker and the amount of freeboard. Being a rather specialized design in itself, there are no hard, fast rules for drift boats. And everyone will tell you theirs is the best for one reason or another.

You will probably have the only drift boat on the east coast. Enjoy.

tight-lines 03-04-2007 07:08 PM

Thanks JD
Their are a few drift boats in the east but not many, and I have yet to see a homemade one. To be honest that is a lot of my problem not much handy to compare too. I've done a lot of canoe tripping so at least I have some basic idea of what boat design entails. How much rocker would you suggest the boat have at a minimum? As I understand it if you want to fish with an angler in the back it is important that the stern be kept out of the water so as not to act like a rudder. Was your freind generally happy with his Tatman boat aside from the skidplate?

Eric 03-04-2007 08:43 PM

Great Thread: Wish I'd Thought to Start It

JD makes some excellent points above.

Being a Bibliophile of Addiction, I would recommend you secure a copy of Dan Alsop's book, _Driftboats_ (Amato Publications, ISBN 1-57188-189-1) to get some real background on these remarkable, unique and wonderful craft.

Re Anglers in the Stern: Bear in mind that drift boats are white water craft. They were not designed with float fishing in mind, but rather maximum manueverability in heavy white water. When the boat tilts, as it does in heavy water, the chines on either side act as rudders to stabilize the boat. JD refers to rocker: the bow and stern should be a bit out of the water, but, in a heavily laden boat, this isn't always possible. I would never want to be in a boat that was laden below the rock boards if any heavy white water was to be encountered.

Bottom line, though, is to pull the weight. Make sure your load is in front of you. If you anticipate running class 2 or better rapids, make sure your stern angler sits up front. In flat water, doesn't really matter much.

When running, you'll want your passengers to distribute themselves so that the boat is centered. I have a gauge mounted on my brace board so that my passengers can see when Nimue is riding level.

Again, these are white water craft. There's a real high mixed with gripping fear that comes when you enter the tongue of a difficult rapid. Ahead you see only tumbling white water -- in your head you must see the boulders in your careening path and follow the plan you laid when you scouted the rapid from below. Pull, pivot, Pull, Pull, Pull, Pivot, Pull, Pull, Pull, whew! It's exhilarating!

Not that these aren't fishing boats. They are as stable a craft as a johnboat and can accomodate two fly fishermen very well (maybe only one Spey caster at a time). They are versitile boats and can be launched anywhere you can drag them or throw them (most of us Steelheaders carry 100 foot ropes for impromptu launchs).

But, as I said, they are built to get you safely through the rapids.

Get or borrow the book if you don't already have it.



tight-lines 03-05-2007 07:42 PM

Good tip about the book Eric I will find a copy somewhere. I understand your points about loading the boat for running white water as opposed to drifting and fishing. I have done many white water canoe trips to northern Canada many of which well over 100 miles. Part of the allure of a drift boat is that it will allow me to run water I wouldn't be comfortable running in a loaded canoe. Nothing like getting soaked, loseing your gear, or worse at the start of a ten day trip! Also rowing is a completely different dynamic than paddeling a canoe I love the sense of "setting up" a shot a drift boat gives you. I've also considered going the way of a raft or cat but there is just something about building a boat that intregues me even if I don't use it to it's full potential.
Thanks for all the insight

flytyer 03-05-2007 10:49 PM


I grew up 15 miles from Hazleton and fished the Upper Delaware, West Branch, and Lehigh in the gorge a lot before I left PA at age 25 back in 1978. A drift boat would be a great fishing craft on either the Delaware or the Lehigh. Although I spent a lot of time walking the old RR grade on the west side of the Lehigh between Lehigh Tannery and Jim Thorpe, it would have been a whole lot nicer to have a drift boat to access this area.

You will find the drift boat to be very nice to take through the many rapids (yes, even the class III's found in this stretch). Likewise, a drift boat on the Upper Delaware mainstem, west branch, or east branch would have made a lot more water available.

titleguy 03-06-2007 12:52 PM

I have two friends in Vt who built their own driftboats- they do the Delaware every May for a week. They also use them on the Upper Connecticut and two years ago on the East Outlet, the headwaters of the Kennebec River in Maine. There are quiet a few drift boats operating up here in Maine on the Kennebec, Androscoggin and Penobscot Rivers.

tight-lines 03-06-2007 05:09 PM


Originally Posted by flytyer

I grew up 15 miles from Hazleton and fished the Upper Delaware, West Branch, and Lehigh in the gorge a lot before I left PA at age 25 back in 1978. A drift boat would be a great fishing craft on either the Delaware or the Lehigh. Although I spent a lot of time walking the old RR grade on the west side of the Lehigh between Lehigh Tannery and Jim Thorpe, it would have been a whole lot nicer to have a drift boat to access this area.

You will find the drift boat to be very nice to take through the many rapids (yes, even the class III's found in this stretch). Likewise, a drift boat on the Upper Delaware mainstem, west branch, or east branch would have made a lot more water available.

Hey Russ,
Good to hear from you again BTW I finished that spey rod I was working on this fall thanks for your advice. I didn't have much luck catching with it but had fun trying. Will give it a go again next season.
Yes I thought a D boat would be great in the upper Lehigh and Upper Delaware. I'm not much more than 40 minutes from Jim Thorpe. I think I mentioned the last time we spoke they are trying to make the Lehigh a year around trout fishery from the Damn down to Bowmanstown. They are haveing their difficulties, mid gates failed this spring, rafters worring about losing buisness,but they have raised the water levels allowed in the lake once and are trying to get another increase. It's a tough battle especially since water runoff is such a heated topic here in the northeast but, three hundred year floods in two years will do that to people. :mad:

Back to the boat, I think It would work out great and should be a fun project.


flytyer 03-06-2007 07:05 PM


Glad to hear you got the 2-hander finished and that was able to be of some help to you with it.

Personally, I would have been much happier if the damn dam had never been built on the Lehigh because I remember how good the Lehigh was before the dam. I remember well the white water rafters arguing and getting their way for having the flows get ramped way up several times in summer back in the early 70's so they could do their thing in the Class IV rapids that result when flows are up in the willows, which they like.

It is good that the dam was raised so that cold water (instead of the tepid stuff that was released before it was raised) is released. This helps keep it the cold water trout river it was before the dam was built.

I have been told by my father and one of my brothers that PA is considering re-introducing shad to the Lehigh. I'd like to see that happen because there once was a very good shad run in it prior to the acid mine, zinc mining, and zinc smelting polution killed everything in the river below Jim Thorpe. Now that the polution has been cleaned up (and the zinc operations have closed up) the river has come back nicely and I think it is time to put the species back into it that were there before the polution killed them.

tight-lines 03-06-2007 07:56 PM

I've heard stories about the way it used to be before the Damn Dam :-)
They are trying to get it figured out with the flows and temps. I think the rafting industry is losing some of it's muscle and fishing interests are starting to be heard. To be honest maintanable flows and temps should benefit all. They are also setting up lime beds to try to get a handle on the mine drainage on some of the feeder streams.

Shad: two ladders were built about ten years ago both at the dams in easton. To my knowledge after much fan fair the runs have been very poor the only thing I've seen through the viewing windows have been lamprey eels. To be honest it's my understanding the shad runs on the Delaware as a whole have been way down. It's been quite a while since I spent a sunny april day fishing for shad but I hear the runs have been dwindleing. Some say they are netting them off shore for fertalizer others that the Stripped bass which are much more prevelent in the river are eating them up. I don't think it's a polution problem the rivers are probably as clean as they have been in quite a long while. My dad tells me stories of how he used to go swimming in the Lehigh in the 30's and come home with an oil slick around him. Although both rivers do suffer from run off from develpoment and sewage instead of industrial polution. On a whole considering how populated both these drainage systems are it's amazing they do so well.

MRobertson 03-07-2007 07:44 AM

Just saw this thread and thought I'd throw in my .02 cents. I built a Tatman about 12 years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and, as Eric mentioned, felt a lot of satisfaction fishing and rowing that boat. I built the 16 footer which is really a 2 man boat. It will fish 2 anglers and an oarsman, but it didn't handle well with the second angler in the back. I would definately go with the 17 footer if you plan to have three people in the boat.

Maintenance and storage are two factors to consider carefully. You will have maintenance and you need to have a covered space to store a woodie. After 10 years, I sold my boat to some friends because I didn't want to go through another painting/varnishing session. I now own a Boulder Boatworks boat and have virtually no maintenance issues with the hull.

Wooden boats are the prettiest boats on the water. Since you are a carpenter, the maintenance issues probably won't bother you a bit. Love to see apicture of how it turns out.

flytyer 03-07-2007 01:50 PM


In my opinion, it is going to take a lot more than ladders at the two dams at Easton to get the shad back in the Lehigh. I think that it is going to take a fair number of shad fry being put in the river, preferably at the mouth of (or possibly in) each of the currently clean, larger feeder streams (Mud Run and Hickory Run come readily to mind and I know there are others because I used to access the canyon above Jim Thorpe via them) as well as the river just below the dam, at White Have, Lehigh Tannery, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Palmerton, and Bowmanstown. I think a rather large number of shad fry in all these spots is needed to begin the re-eatablishing the run because hatchery raised anadromous fish have return rates of around 5% and of those returning, very few will probably successfully spawn and produce another generation in the wild.

I have many fond memories of shad fishing in the Delaware in the area around Callicoon.

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