A few months ago, we released an All-encompassing look at the New NRS Slipstream Raft, as part of our Flylords “Rundown Series”. In this feature, we covered some background on the product, some specs, and an interview with Mike Dolmage – this Fishing Category Manager at NRS (As well as the fella’ in the Slipstream assembly video, for those who have already purchased a raft for themselves). Alongside those components, we also briefly summarized our experience with the raft thus far. In this Gear Review, we’ll be expanding on that experiential element, highlighting key takeaways from almost 2 years in the bow, stern, and rower’s seat of the NRS Slipstream 139 Fishing Raft.
Before We Get Started…
When it comes to rafts, there are few brands that are more established in the outdoor space than Northwest River Supplies (NRS). For over 50 years, NRS has been producing high-quality rafts for all outdoor pursuits involving getting on the water, ranging from white water rafting to kayaking and paddle boarding. However, when it came to fishing, NRS’ fishing packages the offering was slightly limited. The NRS Otter line was the first title offering that was uniquely catered to fishing applications but wasn’t really much more than your standard white water raft with a bow and stern standing platform attached to either end of the frame.
This being said, and in the probable sentiments from your buddy from Bozeman, MT: It really doesn’t matter which raft you’re fishing from – just as long as you’re out fishing. And while we agree with those words of wisdom, as well as acknowledge the Otter is a great raft overall and certainly serves its purpose, its design left just a little bit to be desired from an angler’s perspective. Luckily, it seems like we weren’t alone in our way of thinking. Because, while we were rolling down the river getting our lines tangled up in casting platforms, the NRS development team was hard at work on something big.
In 2021, NRS introduced our team to one of the first-ever finalized prototypes of the “Slipstream Fishing Raft“, where we had ample opportunity to try out all of the new features of the raft, while inadvertently slamming it into a rock or two along the way. After fielding plenty of our team’s feedback, it was in 2022 when NRS announced the release of their newest fishing raft: “The Slipstream Fishing Raft” to the public – and the world of fishing rafts was never the same.
While buying a new raft straight from the factory isn’t in everyone’s realm of budgetary possibilities, an advantage of doing so is the opportunity to assemble the raft directly out of the box. This creates a level of familiarity with the boat and its many components that really allows the user to better understand that the product is a complex summation of simple machines working in conjunction with one another, as opposed to just… well, a “raft”.
Something we noticed immediately after dissecting the 5 or so heavy cardboard boxes that had previously decorated our office doorstep, was how easy NRS made it to assemble this raft (Note: in this gear review, we will be highlighting the NRS Slipstream 139 Deluxe Package. Experiences with other packages may vary). Within each package, there were several varying portions of aluminum tubing, which would quickly be constructed into one singular frame, as well as the necessary hardware, a field-repair kit, and an assembly manual. Alongside these items, the deluxe package included an anchor line, a pair of Cataract SSG Oars, Cataract Cuttthorat Blades, a fishing rod holder, and some clamp-on cup holders.
In a separate box, was the neatly folded raft. While we had been briefed on one of the most essential modifications of the slipstream itself, seeing the raft come to life after being fully inflated (with a car battery and an electric pump), was what really got us giddy to get this boat wet. Sitting there in its space-gray glory (we have since swapped the original prototype out for a forest green model with the blaze-orange “NRS Fishing Logo”), was the shiny new raft, boasting the brand new 4″ drops-stitch floor, which we will cover in greater detail in the interview below.
Assembling the rest of the raft came with relative ease; and with helpful instructions provided, took no longer than an hour or two. Once the entire Slipstream was completely assembled, it was time to slide ‘er onto the trailer and get the first float of many, officially in the books…
Field Testing: The NRS Slipstream 139 Fishing Raft
Fast forward from that assembly 2 years ago, and we’ve since assembled 2 more Slipstreams, sent well over a hundred floats, caught quite a few fish, and crashed into an innumerable amount of river debris along the way. All things considered, here’s the summation of our experiences with the NRS Slipstream 139 Fishing Raft.
While reading this review, You’ll find the consistent mention of the fact that this raft’s name wasn’t given to it without careful consideration. In NRS’ effort to further tailor their new boat to meet the needs of anglers (fly-anglers in particular), the slipstream was, and is, intended to present a “streamlined” improvement to the raft-fishing experience. Each element that differentiates the Slipstream from its predecessors has been incorporated in order to minimalize/ reduce/ eliminate almost anything on the raft that could get in someone’s way during a day of fishing.
Most of us who have ever spent any time on a raft are all too familiar with the feeling of hauling out a 30 YD+ cast, only to have all forward momentum completely halted due to our fly line having become wrapped, or otherwise tangled, around a casting platform, hip lock, or D-ring. While this infuriating occurrence is ultimately impossible to solve completely, the NRS team has taken almost any scenario you can think up and engineered the layout of the Slipstream to avoid it. The first and most important adjustment that came to fruition from this focus, would be the new floor.
The NRS Slipstream 139, and other Slipstream Models, feature a 4″ drop-stitch floor (as mentioned earlier) that not only completely eliminates the need for casting/standing platforms, but puts every member of the raft on the same plane for a much better-shared experience. The floor stretches from the stern to bow, and is inflated just like the rest of the boat through an independent valve, which is easily concealable with a built-in velcro flap. It’s lined with an EVA foam pad which doubles as an excellent traction device for rowers and anglers, as well as provides an extra layer of protection against wear and tear.
In our experience, incorporating this solid floor is something that all fishing rafts will be expected to have included moving forward. Casting platforms are fine when there isn’t something more sturdy to stand on… but, they’re easily susceptible to breaking, as well as becoming misaligned and extremely slippery when introduced to water… which, when you’re floating on any river, is a pretty common occurrence. Not to mention, getting fly-line, leader/tippet, or any other multitude of things that can make fly-fishing miserable, caught around a casting platform is a sure-fire way to guarantee you’re going to be on your hands and knees digging it out for the next couple minutes or so – that’s crucial fishing time down the bailer!
Moving along with the streamlining of the Slipstream, another key element that deserves to be highlighted is the new internal anchor system. Traditional anchor systems within fishing rafts usually feature a rope running from the rower’s seat, along the frame, and over a wheel or channel where it connects to the anchor (and oftentimes an additional pulley). This isn’t a bad design by any means, really. However, plenty of times that few feet of anchor rope just acts as yet another point of strangulation when it comes to the perspective of the angler in the stern of the boat. Put plainly: exposed rope is just another thing to tangle on or trip over…
The Slipstream seeks to solve this issue by simply (*drum roll*) moving the anchor rope to the inside of the frame. It seems like a simple solution, but it’s a lot like modern art… “You could’ve done it, but you didn’t”. The anchor is fed through the tubular frame and out of an extended segment of the stern, where it can be run like any other anchor system. The rope is stabilized by two wheels which are positioned on the entrance to the frame at the rower’s seat, and at the edge of the frame extended from the stern.
Overall, this system is heaven-sent. On the days when the boat is packed to the brim and busy ever, the last thing the rower and rear-angler want to have to worry about is a rope attached to a heavyweight shooting through the boat, or being compressed by someone’s loose gear. However, one negative element of this design is that the stabilizing wheels are plastic, and if screwed in too tight, or fall out of position, they can seize and make it nearly impossible to pull the anchor up. We’ve since resolved this issue on our boat with some meticulous positioning of the wheels, as well as a generous WD-40 application every now and then.
On top of the other added features, the Slipstream is constructed with a very “edge-phobic” approach. Bolts and couplers are placed in strategic, out-of-the-way locations, and the front of the frame actually wraps up the bow and transforms into the hip bars. This design is in place of the awkward extra bar and bolts that many other fishing-focused rafts rely on. So, instead of having an actual post to get line wrapped around and caught on, the line lays smooth on the frame itself. Sure, we still get our line wrapped around the hip bars every now and then, but getting untangled is about 10x easier with the new design.
So, we’ve talked about some of the cool features, but overall, how does the NRS Slipstream row? Again, as previously noted, we are focusing on the Slipstream 139, which is the largest available model and the vessel that our team most commonly occupies.
The Slipstream, like the Otter, is constructed with a diminishing tube design. This factor, in short, allows it to cut through waves and slack water much more efficiently than its wide-hipped counterparts. Additionally, due to its minimalist frame and lack of platforms, the boat is extremely lightweight, allowing for quick movements in very skinny water. All too often, we’ve been crashing down a river as the sign lights up the water, making it very distinguishable to tell rocks from riffles until the last second. With the NRS Slipstream’s design, it’s much easier to make those super last-minute adjustments and cut around rocks and downed trees with ease.
Additionally, the Slipstream floats relatively high in the water column. So, on those winter/early spring floats when the flows are down but the desire to chuck some meat is high, you and your party can make it down pretty much any river with a current, and spend a relatively small portion of your time getting out of the boat and pushing over rocks.
One disclaimer we will make is that due to its lightweight nature, the boat IS more susceptible to being pushed around by the wind. So, on those extra windy days, we usually pack an extra cooler full of ice and try to load the boat down a little more.
How well does the NRS Slipstream 139 Fishing Raft hold 3 people? In professional terms: “Pretty damn well”. Due to the built-in floor, the entire bottom of the raft is pretty much up for grabs when it comes to storing people and gear. Instead of combatting, what often feels like the floor of a bouncy house, the crew of the Slipstream can pretty much position themselves and their gear wherever they want in the boat.
Additionally, NRS has designed their boats to be extremely modular and adjustable. All elements of the internal frame can be moved forward and backward as needed and with relative ease. As long as you’ve got a socket wrench handy, the boat can be customized to fit the rower’s needs at a moment’s notice.
All teams come in different shapes and sizes – especially our own. So, the ability to make sure everyone is comfortable for long days in the pouring rain and/or hot sun is a pretty essential element we appreciate in a raft. Additionally, while we won’t recommend it for a long day of float fishing, the boat can also pack a 4th person in pretty easily, as well. No, it’s not the same level of roominess that a larger raft can offer and may require a forfeiture of some gear and comfort, but for those days when you don’t want to leave anyone behind, there is certainly space to make everyone happy.
NRS Slipstream 139 Fishing Raft Final Review:
Ease of Assembly:
When it comes to our concluded review of the NRS Slipstream 139 Fishing Raft, I’ll start with this: In the many gear reviews we have put together over here at Flylords, there hasn’t really been one that we’ve spent more time testing than the Slipstream 139. Since 2021, we’ve brought this boat down nearly every floatable river in our immediate area, and dozens more throughout the state and outside of it. We have also had the opportunity to test out a plethora of other fishing vessels, such as the NRS Otter, in order to better develop the grounds for exactly what we were comparing the Slipstream to. With those factors considered, here are our final thoughts…
The NRS Slipstream 139 is a necessary step forward within the sport of fly fishing in general. The level of thought that NRS clearly put into the design of the raft is very evident, and overall titillating to see from a fly angler’s perspective. It’s no secret that the sport of fly-fishing is a niche within the outdoor industry, and not necessarily a commanding one at that. So, it’s always nice to be reminded we, as fly-fishing consumers, are being seen and heard by larger companies focused primarily outside of the fishing community. It seems that with the slipstream, NRS letting us know they will be making a greater push into the fly fishing space. We’re excited to see what comes next.
The Slipstream is a great raft for beginners and pros, alike. Because it’s easy to control, and overall pretty durable, you can enjoy a relatively stress-free float with a rookie in the rower’s seat. If you are the rookie in question, the size of the Slipstream is another added bonus, as the prospect of rowing it seems far less daunting than when approaching other rafts.
In terms of, “Do WE think you should purchase an NRS Slipstream, or not”, here’s what we can offer. For the money ($5,995 for the 139 Deluxe Package), you’re really not going to find anything better on the current market. This boat, coming with everything besides the anchor and a trailer, is everything you need in order to get on the water – and have a damn fine time while doing it. While no boat is perfect, and there are still some kinks being worked out by the folks over at NRS, the Slipstream is undoubtedly going to offer the most bang for your buck when put it up against any other fishing raft. Our team certainly looks forward to many more years of long days spent sending rapids and chasing big streamer blow-ups on our Slipstream.
Click HERE to learn more about the NRS Slipstream 139
The Rundown: An All Encompassing Look at the New NRS Slipstream Raft