I wasn’t quite sure where to start when buying my first drift boat, I just knew I needed one. I talked to friends, other guides and fly shops and kept tabs on Craig’s Lists all over the eastern U.S., before finding my first drifter- a Clackacraft 16’ LP. Seeing that boat in the rearview mirror on the way home from picking it up was better than Christmas. But you know what they say, your first boat is never your last boat.
It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with my Clacka, it was a fantastic boat. The problem was that, at times, I found myself dealing with greater angling pressure than I dealt with before owning a boat. There is nothing more frustrating than having the river to yourself most of the year, learning where the fish are, and then dealing with seasonal onslaughts of combat fishing. At least a wading angler can get out of the river and go somewhere else when pressure is unexpectedly high. A boat angler is stuck in a seemingly endless game of boat leapfrog.
I started daydreaming about the perfect boat. It could not only go where wading anglers couldn’t go, it could go where most drift boats couldn’t go—and still have room for three people and gear. It could be transported without a trailer, could be launched and taken out without a boat launch, and could be portaged into the backcountry or over logjams by a single person. In short, I needed a drift boat that didn’t exist.
Then the epiphany. I didn’t need a drift boat, I needed a raft.
Stealthcraft currently produces two rafts specifically designed for fly fishing smaller streams: the Hooligan (MSRP $3,499), a 13.5-foot inflatable skiff, and the Hooligan XL (MSRP $3,999) which as its name implies, is a slightly larger version of the Hooligan. The Hooligan weighs approximately 125-pounds, including the integrated anchor system, standard front lean bar and optional stern-mounted gear rack. It can accommodate up to three anglers with gear, and with 15-inch diameter tubes and an overall width of 51-inches, is rated for Class II whitewater. The XL is 14.5-feet long, 60-inches wide, has 16-inch diameter tubes, and weighs approximately 150-pounds.
Both the Stealthcraft Hooligan and Hooligan XL are manufactured with 1100-Denier polyester fabric, which is specially treated on both sides with a marine grade PCV, offering an ideal balance of abrasion and chemical resistance to tear and tensile strength, while keeping the overall package light enough to access extremely skinny water. All Stealthcraft inflatables feature a 4-layer, cold welding process that ensures airtight rigidity and structural integrity for all five of the independent air chambers. The semi-rigid Inflatable floor is designed with thousands of polyester strands intercepting one another. When fully inflated at the recommended PSI, it is as tough and rigid as a conventional wooden floor, but much lighter and packable.
Both Stealthcraft boats feature Harken Performance Rigging. This is the same hardware that has dominated such events as the America’s Cup and the Olympics. Leafield C7 valves, the gold standard in marine valves, are integrated into the 4+1 air chamber system. The frame is made of aerospace grade aluminum alloy and provides an extremely high strength to weight ratio to go with excellent corrosion resistance—and its manufactured in Michigan. Cobra Oar Locks and hardware are standard. Self-bailing bottoms are optional.
But enough with the press release mumbo jumbo, how does it row and is it comfortable to fish from?
Having only rowed drift boats prior to getting in the rower’s seat of a raft, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Hooligan. What I found was that, at first, I tended to over row a little because it did what I wanted it to with less effort. Thanks to the strategically placed oar lock frames, the boat feathers and crabwalks, no problem. I was impressed that even on my area’s highest gradient stream, I could stop on a dime to give the person fishing a few extra shots at choice lies without needing to anchor. But what really blew me away was that I could row it upstream on this particular river– something that bordered on impossible with my drift boat.
With one person in the rower’s seat, it drafts almost no water at all. Add an angler at the bough and it sits slightly lower, but still not much; and with a third person at the stern, it still handles and tracks gracefully, even with both anglers standing. My clients usually give me a suspicious look when they first see it on the roof of my car. “You’re going to fit three guys in there?!” By the end of the float, their comments typically gloat about how comfortable it is to fish from.
Portages are easy. I drop my clients off at the bank at beaver dams, small waterfalls and log jams, drag the boat over myself, and pick them up on the other side. For longer portages or when putting in on extremely remote locations, I made an axle from black pipe and a couple old mountain bike tires. With the boat centered over the axle, I can wheel it with gear inside with almost no effort through some of the burliest terrain in my region. A half mile portage through the woods takes less than 20 minutes.
This has opened up all sorts of new float options for me and my friends, and more importantly, me and clients. Seeing other anglers is a rarity, and I only saw one other boat on my rivers last year- a couple guys in a canoe chasing ducks.
That said, the Stealthcraft Hooligan is in its prime with one angler and one person rowing. The XL handles three people much better. If you fish mostly small water, I’d recommend the Hooligan. If you fish mostly middle to upper sized water, I’d go with the XL unless you don’t have three people in the boat very often.
I transport my Hooligan on the roof rack of my Subaru Forester and it sits solid and quiet up there, even at 80mph. I modified the rear crossbar of my roof rack by putting a 2” piece of PVC over it to act like a roller. Nothing fancy, and it works well for one person to load and unload the boat from the roof. Trailers are so 1996.
One of the minor drawbacks of my driftboat was that it took up half of my garage during the winter, meaning as a married man, I parked in the elements through the winter. No longer the case with my Hooligan. The frame is hanging from the rafters in my basement. The rubber is deflated, folded, and bagged on the floor, and no scraping ice/snow off the windows when I get in it each day. Not a huge deal, but worth nothing as this is a boat that even the apartment dwelling, urban anglers out there could handle.
Owner | Guide
Northern Michigan Fly Fishing