Three Rowing Tips to Reach More Trout

Row like a pro—and hook more trout—with these expert oar-handling tips.

****Pull Your Weight Peter Skidmore rows Duck Johnson on the Missouri River in Montana. Photo by Brian Grossenbacher

You may be able to paddle a rowboat around a pond, but maneuvering a drift boat on a swift, boulder-strewn river is a different game—one worth learning if you’re serious about reaching more trout. Besides steering safely downriver, you’ve got to put your anglers in the best position to catch fish. Here’s how the pros row with the flow and get into more hogs along the way.

1. Put Some Back Into It
Point the bow downstream and row backward, says Ben Scribner, owner of Flycraft USA. "My oars are always in the water, and I'm constantly applying pressure against the current, which stabilizes the boat." A stable casting platform is the first step in helping your casters make the best presentations, but you also need to be constantly looking at what's ahead downstream of your position, reading the water and anticipating where the boat needs to be. "I try to give my anglers a downstream reach cast at a 45-degree angle. It gives them longer drifts, and a better angle for a hookset," Scribner says.

2. Make The Bank Shots
Matt Kelley of ClackaCraft tries to keep his drift boat 20 to 40 feet from the bank. This distance gets most casters within easy reach of the soft spots where the biggest trout hold. "It helps to focus on two points along the bank, such as a bush and a rock or a big tree," says Kelley. One should be close, the other a little farther downstream. "Use these as points of reference to maintain a consistent distance from the bank." (The specific objects change, of course, as you drift.) "Also keep an eye on the anglers' casts to make sure you're staying within their range. If they're struggling to hit the prime spots, readjust."

3. Bring Up The Rear
"Remember that the angler in the back has to contend with more obstacles—like oars and anchor davits—than the caster in the front," says Dan "Rooster" Leavens of Montana's Stonefly Inn & Outfitters. "That and the fact that he has to hit water already worked by the bow angler makes me try a little harder to get him in as good a position as I can." Many rowers have a habit of pointing the bow into shore, but this makes the rear angler have to cast farther. "I keep the better angler in the bow," says Leavens. "The team will put up more fish this way, and the stern angler will learn by watching good casts, drifts, and hooksets."