Alaska – The last frontier. For decades, Alaska has acted as the mecca for premium fly-fishing; boasting the biggest, meanest, and most abundant source of freshwater fishing in the United States. In exploring one of the largest fisheries offered to anglers, getting around can take some time. Luckily, pumping up an NRS Raft and floating down the river is more than an achievable method in conquering such a complex fishery. However, floating Alaska isn’t something you can just jump into. Below, is our guide as to what you need to know about floating Alaska.
What’s Floating (in Fly Fishing)?
Floating, not “float fishing” as that pertains to using bobbers on either center pins, bait casters, or spinning reels. In this piece, we will outline everything you need to know about rafting, floating, drifting, or any other name you can think of that pertains to floating down a river with a fly-rod in hand in the great state of Alaska. We will touch on the advantages, applicability, and situations where floating can be the best option to approach a river or lake. This is your one-stop guide to not only fishing from a non-motorized watercraft but selecting the correct boat for your needs and even how to book your own float trip with a guide on some remote rivers in Alaska.
Cover more water: Floating allows you to cover more water in a shorter period of time and in some circumstances allows you to fish longer in higher percentage areas (assuming the fishing regulations allow you to anchor or step out of your watercraft). Considering the sheer size of the waterways in the state, floating Alaska is arguably the best way to fish these rivers.
Accessibility: Many times throughout the year, we are presented with a situation where we may have limited access to water we would like to fish whether that be because of private property or simply being presented with unfavorable wading situations.
Spend more time fishing: Floating Allows you to spend more time fishing while on the move (unless you are rowing). Oftentimes, on a guided float trip you will spend most of your time fishing from the watercraft. This can be extremely advantageous to the angler as the guide or your buddy can perfectly match the boats speed to the current speed allowing you (the angler) to offer the fish a longer and more consistent drift with your fly of choice.
Fishing Means and Methods While Floating
Nymphing: Fishing a nymph under an indicator can be very effective from a boat or raft when the watercraft is traveling the same speed as the current. You will be able to achieve a perfect drift easier than fishing from a stationary position.
Dry Fly: A similar concept as fishing a nymph from a boat, achieving a perfect dragless drift is much easier when the angler is moving the same speed as the current.
Mending: No matter if you are fishing from the shore or a boat, mending will almost always come into play when you are fishing a dry fly or a nymph. Mending allows you to maintain a little slack in your fly line while your fly is in or on the water to ensure you are achieving a natural “dragless” presentation.
Streamers: There are a multitude of options when fishing a streamer from a boat. Sometimes the best option is to simply drag your streamer behind the boat to match the current speed. You may also choose to smack the bank while drifting steadily downstream and retrieve your fly by stripping it back and other times, the rower can hold a position and allow you to have multiple opportunities to fish a particular piece of structure. Whichever way you choose to fish, keeping your rod tip down, and maintain positive contact with your fly as it will help you detect a take much easier.
Mice: Similar to fishing a streamer, you can slap the bank or fish overhanging brush and log jams. When mousing, I prefer to cast 30-45 degrees downstream, and as soon as the fly lands, throw a big downstream mend. This allows the fly to skate perfectly perpendicular to the bank, imitating a mouse or vole crossing the river, even when drifting downstream in a boat.
Watercrafts for Floating Alaska
Personal Watercraft: These styles of boats are great for day trips, minimalist backpacking, or fly out fishing trips and are light enough to carry on your back or almost any aircraft. They include inflatable kayaks, small round rafts, packrafts, one man catarafts, single man step through rowable inflatables, or sometimes can take the shape of a Giraffe, Zebra or Orca although, the animal-shaped ones are not recommended for fly-out trips or backpacking.
Round Raft: The most common style of fishing raft, there are constantly new companies bringing new round rafts to the market with tougher materials, more packable designs and lighter frames. If you are just getting into floating, a self-bailing round raft may be the perfect option and can be outfitted with motor mounts, rod holders and a plethora of other accessories.
Cataraft: They look like big inflatable pontoon boats, but row like drift boats, with minimal drag and maximum maneuverability. They offer a lot of the same advantages as a drift boat, but at a fraction of the cost, and require a little more maintenance.
Drift Boat: They can be made from aluminum or carbon fiber and are often the guide’s boat of choice when it comes to road-accessible float trips. They can be outfitted with motors, lights, heaters, grills, comfortable chairs, rod holders, the list goes on and on. If it is maneuverability and comfort you are seeking, a drift boat may be an option to explore.
Oars not Paddles
Oars: If you refer to raft or drift boat’s oars as “paddles” you will most certainly be corrected by your guide or buddy. Your guide will probably be nicer about it and your buddy may toss you out of his boat or at the very least, call you an uneducated degenerate. There are many options when selecting the proper oar length for your watercraft, along with a few different materials to choose from. The lighter oars are often constructed from more expensive materials like carbon fiber but can make for a much more comfortable day on the water. As far as the length of your oars, that will depend on the boat in which you will be rowing and personal preference.
How to Row Down a River: The bow of your watercraft should always be pointed downstream, you will be utilizing the current to travel to your end destination. Rowing a raft or drift boat is very different than rowing a canoe or kayak and can require some practice to perfect. Everything is opposite, so in order to turn right, you would pull back with your left oar and to go left, pull with the right. Once you have the stern of your boat pointed in the direction you are wanting to travel, pull back on both oars and your boat will gently glide across the river toward whichever bank you choose. I would recommend practicing on a large slow-moving river with minimal obstacles until you are proficient in controlling your boat.
As always, safety is number one. Be sure to bring extra layers in a small dry bag, sunscreen, and bug repellant to ensure you remain comfortable during your float. Ensure that you have enough lifejackets for everyone aboard, an extra pump, and a patch kit if utilizing an inflatable raft. I always bring a roll of duct tape and a spool of paracord just in case I need to make emergency repairs or strap something down better.
Booking An Alaskan Float Trip
Even with the know-how of the premise of floating, floating Alaska can be a daunting task to most anglers. Booking a float trip with a guide is an excellent way to fish some more remote destinations or begin your journey into the world of fishing from a raft or boat. You can learn a lot from an experienced guide on how to maneuver your own watercraft and fish from it. Our friends at Fish Float Alaska can help you plan your trip of a lifetime and float down some of the most pristine rivers that the Bristol Bay region of Alaska has to offer. CLICK HERE to book the Trip of a lifetime!