Over the years many people have asked me questions about the Mckenzie River driftboats we use on our Western Oregon rivers for fishing and guiding. One single question stands out above all the others ... "how do you oar the boat?"
I tell them to point the boat toward the object you are trying not to hit. This could be the right or left bank, a rock, a log, shallow water, another boat etc... the list might be endless. You point the boat in this manner so you can pull away from the object. In oaring the driftboat you are either pulling or pushing on the oars. In "pulling" your arms and hands are drawn toward your body and when you are "pushing" your arms and hands are moving away from your body.
Remember that the driftboat is really a rowboat with a curved bottom and if you are on a lake with this craft you would be going backwards to get to your destination. In a river the current is always (most of the time) pushing you downriver so the strokes you use most of the time will be "pulling".
If there is one statement I must make before you take your driftboat out on a river is: Put your boat on a lake and get comfortable with the "pulling" and "pushing" strokes. After you get these strokes embedded in your brain go to the next step: Learn to "push" with one oar and "pull" on the other oar. This will be the stroke you use when you need to turn quickly. There will be many times when you will need to turn quickly. It is paramount that these strokes are mastered before you put your life or someone else's life in danger. Let me stress to you that many people die in our rivers!
This next piece of advice might be more important than the last paragraph and that is: Learn to read the water! Most of the people that are going to buy that first driftboat have been fishing for a few years and most of them will have some knowledge of "reading the water". For the few people that will get a driftboat before they can read the water I suggest you find or hire someone to take you out on a river to learn some basic of river navigation.
Another point when you are driftboating that can cause you trouble is anchoring. I use pyramid lead anchors from 15 to 30 pounds. The two lighter anchors (15 and 20) are used when I fly fish and get out of the boat to fish from the bank. I put the boat on shore and the anchors are not holding the boat in the current. When I want to anchor in the current I use the 25 or 30 pound anchors. You will find out that the stronger the current - the more rope you will have to let out. This is where most of the troubles occur. If you drop the anchor in some current and the boat does not hold you have two options: pay out more rope or find a heavier anchor. There is a limit to how much current you can safely hold. You will have to find this out by experience. If you lack the experience here is my formula: If you are back stroking in the current with all your might and you are still moving downstream ... don't anchor here, especially if the river bottom is jagged. There is one piece of advice that might come in handy some day and this is: Be able to free yourself from that anchor quickly. Do not tie a knot at the end of your anchor rope and have a sharp knife handy to be able to cut the rope if necessary. If you misjudge the current or if the anchor gets stuck in heavy current your boat could go down.
Here is my latest update on August 26, 2008 that pertains to drift boat lessons. I have given several drift boat lessons this year and I keep learning new ways to instruct new oarsmen. My latest observation is every beginner wants to go forward in the river current to a target area by pushing on the oars and pointing the bow toward the target. My advice is think the opposite. Think of the rear of the boat as the front of the boat and pull toward the destination. Just as you would if you were on a lake. But remember you will be pointed downriver in the current so it will seem as though you are driving in reverse and backing up to your target location.
I recently made a website for Doug Camenzind of. In my past I have owned 4 driftboats, 2 canoes and 2 one man pontoon boats. Currently I use the 17 ft. Diamond Back driftboat for my guiding business. In addition to the information above -- I provide more information in "using the driftboat," and "useful tips and links." Check these pages out at
It is interesting to note that in all my years of fishing there was not one book on the subject of handling a driftboat until recently. I came up on a driftboating title while surfing the web but I don't remember the name of it. If I happen to read it I will let you know about its content. I have Neale Streeks book titled "Drift Boat Fly Fishing" but it is about fishing out of a driftboat and not about boating. The one book that has some good information about driftboating is Bill Luch's book "Steelhead Drift Fishing". It is probably out of print but there should be some copies of it at Amazon.com. That little book is a great book and belongs in every salmon, steelhead, and trout fisherman's library.
I just found out the title and author of the driftboat book. It is "Driftboats, a Complete Guide," by Dan Alsup. I have not read it but I read some descriptions of it by going to one of my links. The . I went to their home page and clicked on "For Sale."
April 2, 2006...I have now read this book and it is very good. It has lots of information and the great pictures in it are worth the price of the book.
When I read about the history of the driftboat I hear different arguments as to the origin of the design. My theory is that the latest design that we use today came from Winslow Homer's paintings. Take a look at the boats in the "Herring Net" and "Fog Warning." Those paintings contain the same look as today's driftboats. And here are the paintings to show you what I mean ...