Fall offers steelhead fishing on local rivers. Drifting in a pontoon boat can be an enjoyable experience; follow these common sense rules & these simple reminders will go a long way in keeping you out of trouble on the river, which can be a lot different from floating on stillwater lakes.
1. Learn to read the water. The real secret to successful drifting is to let the natural flow of the river do the work. Use it to your advantage!
2. Safety is always a concern. A personal life vest is mandatory on most waters.Caution: some states/rivers do not allow inflatable life vests. Vests should always be worn in rough/unknown water or windy conditions. It is a good idea to tie down your oars as they can easily be pushed out of the oar-locks if struck by an object. A spare oar is not a bad idea. I always tie a loose 10ft. line between the bow-stern pontoon rings which can be used to tie down when exiting/tethering the boat or otherwise can be grabbed easily if needed in an emergency. I usually carry a hand pump as air pressures change during the day. A patch kit is optional, but I always carry a Leatherman-type tool in my side pouch.
3. Anchors are another issue. They should always be used when the boat is beached. Scope out at least 8ft. of rope regardless of water depth. I have chased several boats down river when anchored too tightly. Anchors can be used midstream, in mild flowing water. Always deploy the anchor when the boat is facing straight down stream; if the boat is angled, a pontoon can dig in or otherwise tip you over. Take care when anchoring in very fast water. My motto: If not sure, don’t anchor.Caution: Anchors do get caught in rocks & may not be retrievable; cutting the rope & abandoning the anchor may be the only option.
4. What to do about rods? Tie them down or tether if in unknown or questionable water. I personally do not care for vertical rod holders as I have seen many rods lost when pulled out by overhead branches.My preference is to lay/string my rod lengthwise along the pontoon. A plastic case, rope loops or shock type cord all work well. Remember to pay attention to what is above & below you when floating down a river. Banging into obstacles in the river or on the bank can expose rod tips to breakage.
5. While drifting down river it is common to get into shallow water, to graze the bottom, hit a rock or bank. The pontoons normally are rugged enough to withstand most impacts. Always face down river & let the natural current do the work. The key is to keep away from sharp objects! Watch out for sticks, sharp rocks & overhead sweepers (trees or branches hanging over the water). Keep your feet on the pegs, out of the water when drifting or they may get caught & pull you out of the boat. I do not use fins on moving water for similar reasons.
6. Reading the water is important. As the river flows you will encounter fast, slow, shallow & deep water. Water will form a natural V indicating the channel, follow through the V where practical.s”An inverted V indicates a submerged object, pass to one side or the other.: yes” When there is a bend in the river the deeper channel is usually towards the outside bank.
7. When faced with an obstruction or anything else you want to avoid ? point the boat towards the object & row away from it. Short, shallow, strong strokes work well for adjusting boat direction. Many times the object creates a bow wave which may help by pushing you away from the obstruction. In very swift water flow however, the current can carry you directly into the object. There is usually a depression after passing an object midstream & you may be drawn back towards the obstacle (back eddy).
8. It is common to encounter small waterfalls (drops) along the river & many times we become overly concerned when faced with the dilemma find a way around or go over. If there is no other easy option, face them, take on straight forward & normally the boat will porpoise straight through.
9. Hydraulics are similar to depressions except they are created by object(s) under water & not always visible. Hydraulics can be scary, they are rough, can bounce you around, spin, or otherwise hold you in place for what seems like an incredible length of time. Rowing either forward or backward will help stabilize/control the boat & eventually will carry you out/through the rough water.
10. Holding the oars down into the water can assist in aiding the current to carry you down stream & stabilize the boat. A hard upstream wind can halt your progress & even push you backwards. Just holding the oars submerged in the water can be more effective than rowing, assists in offsetting the wind influence & can keep you moving down stream.
11. If you fall into the water, don’t panic, roll onto your back & face down stream so your legs will protect you from objects.Pull backwards with both hands & eventually you will get to shore.