A Driftboat Roundup

A Driftboat Roundup

and Sage's new VT2 rods

  • By: Buzz Bryson

Boulder Boat Works Boats I really didn't want to like plastic drift boats, even though my old friend Chris Schrantz is a partner in Boulder Boat Works, the small Colorado company that has been building river dories from polyethylene polymer since 2000. Andy Toohey, the company's founder, came to polymer through wooden boats. It wasn't a huge stretch, since polymer had been used successfully in kayaks since the 1980's, but no one had yet thought of building drift boats from this material. Chris liked the idea and joined the company in 2004, bringing with him 13 years' experience as a full-time guide as well as a sharp eye for boat design and practicality. The advantages of polymer are obvious: It's stronger, quieter, more durable and requires less maintenance than wood or fiberglass and it's lighter than wood, glass or aluminum. (The standard 16-foot polymer drift boat weighs roughly 25 percent less than a comparable fiberglass boat and 35 percent less than aluminum.) The claims of the boat's durability come from early field testing in which prototypes were passed around to guides with instructions to try and break them. No one could. I first began to be won over by the boat's looks. It's an entirely recognizable drift boat, sandstone-colored with white oak gunnels and trim. On a float on the Salmon River in Idaho (one of Boulder Boat Works' "business trips") many mistook it for a wooden boat painted pale beige. I finally came around completely when I took the oars. These boats are light, quick and responsive and the polymer hulls won't gag on rocks or gravel like other materials. They slide smoothly and silently over rocks like an egg coming out of a Teflon frying pan. Oddly enough, Chris and Andy don't tout that feature very much. It could be they hit fewer rocks than I do. In addition to standard high- and low-side drift boats, the company also makes a covered Grand Canyon Dory and a small, light craft officially called the Rocky Mountain Rowing Dory, but known in-house as "The Gull." The drift boat costs $7,995. That's approximately a thousand dollars more than some glass boats, but, Andy says, "They're maintenance-free and will last 10 times longer." --John Gierach

Hyde Drift Boats Hyde drift boats are ubiquitous on Western rivers--sort of like F-150 Ford pickups in farm country. When a boat rounds the upstream bend, you expect it to be a Hyde--and for dozens of good reasons. Those reasons are headlined by features like strength, comfort, utility, maneuverability, versatility and safety. I've rowed my Hyde boat for nine years; it remains, with no close second, the most useful and pleasurable drift boat that I have used since I dropped my first boat in the Madison in 1976. Hyde's most popular models are constructed of a combination of ingeniously blended fiberglass and aluminum features, utilizing the best characteristics of each material. The hull is comprised of fiberglass, while modular storage, some components of flooring, and many attachments utilize aluminum. This marriage of materials makes for a terrifically durable, flexible and versatile vessel (Hyde does manufacture all-aluminum drift boats for those who prefer the features of this heavier material). Hyde boats come in both low- and high-profile designs. The low-profile model creates less wind resistance and allows easier entry and exit, while the high-profile design favors safety and utility in class rivers where waves and whitewater predominate. Friendly modern-hull design features a flat footprint and sharp chines for better stability, tracking and maneuverability. Raised-level floors add comfort and facilitate easy mobility within the craft. And for skippers who pulverize boats in rivers like the Roaring Fork, the optional G-4 exterior extends the life of a boat that comes with a generous lifetime warranty and wallet-friendly fees for non-warranty repairs. The Hyde's modular interior design gives you numerous choices for pedestal or bench seating, casting platform and storage. The LH Limited Edition offers side storage and convenient walk-through layout from bow to stern. 360-degree rear knee brace permits casting angles that were not previously feasible. Carbon-graphite oars and floor or side anchor options also reflect the thought Hyde has given to every feature in their boats. Custom colors will please the fashion-conscious, and cushioned seats offer genuine comfort. Other models include the popular Pro and the minimalist Sportsman's Drifter. The best testimonies to Hyde drift boats' popularity come from owners. I've met few Hyde owners with criticisms of product or factory support--except those who subjected their boats to wholesale violence and unreasonable abuse. Resale value is pleasingly robust, and regardless of your locale, Hyde delivers to your front door (access permitting). The Hyde Pro retails for $7,993, with a trailer, oars, anchor and line. --Brad Jackson

Sage VT2 Rods The VT2 rods are new for 2006 and, judging by their price ($385-$415, with two-handed versions at $500-$550), Sage is aiming for the mid-price market. Indeed, Sage classifies them as one of its Value Fly Rod lines (along with the Launch and FLi series). First appearances (call it eye appeal) are important, and the VT2 is an eye-catcher. It has a sort of turquoise-blue finish (Sage calls it blue ribbon), and the rods I looked at were smooth and totally blemish-free --though the finish was a bit thick for my personal taste. The guides are hard-chromed, British-made Hopkins&Holloway (the same as those used in Sage's premium rods) and, in combination with the titanium-anodized aluminum components on the reel seats, they comprise a hardware package that offers durability as well as pleasing looks. The grips are preformed cork. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as they fit the blank tightly, as they did on the sample rods I used. The cork itself was fairly decent by today's standards. All in all, the rods presented themselves well. Sage designed the VT2's so that each line weight has the appropriate taper and action. Versatility is the word that comes to mind (OK, that is the word Sage uses; it just happens to be the most appropriate). I tried the 5- and 8-weight VT2's, both in 9-foot, 4-piece configurations. Having recently been redfishing a bit, I picked up the 8-weight first. It felt plenty light in the hand (4G ounces on the label), and balanced quite well with a light large arbor reel spooled with an 8-weight floating line--the balance point was just under my rod thumb. It loaded easily with just a bit of line out, yet didn't get mushy when holding a lot of line in the air. Overall, I'd say the rod was medium-fast, the sort of action most of us prefer on an all-around rod. When I switched from a sleek bonefish-size fly to a fatter bass bug, the rod felt just as good. In fact, this is a rod that could work just as happily on a bonefish flat as on a bass pond. The 5-weight was, at least to my taste, just about perfect. It too balanced nicely (realize, though, that balance is a bit subjective, with some anglers preferring a rod/reel combo that balances more forward, and others more toward the butt, and that the weight of the reel can change that balance point considerably). Right out of the gate, with just the leader and a few feet of line off the tip, the rod was awake and responsive. Short casts, with control, were easy. And longer casts showed the evolutionary refinement of this rod: There just didn't seem to be any bumpy spots in the rod's action, regardless of the length of the cast. I don't know if Sage would agree, but I'd say this rod has some of the soul of the original RPL series. Regardless, the action has been refined not only by improvements in technology (newer graphites and resins), but also through on-going tuning by Sage designer Jerry Siem (and I expect Don Green still casts rods a bit). Five-weight rods, particularly the 9-footers, are the bread-and-butter of anglers, and thus are the standard by which an entire rod series--and occasionally a rod company as a whole--is often defined. The 590-4 VT2 rod clearly establishes the VT2 series as a line of rods that can be used without qualification--and without breaking an angler's bank account. The 890-4--well, it simply adds the exclamation point! The VT2 rods are available in18 models, from a 7-foot, 9-inch 3-weight to a 9-foot 10-weight. All are 4-piece models. There are three two-handed models from a 13-foot 7-weight to a 14-foot, 4-inch 9-weight. These are 4-piecers too.