Six states, fishing for multiple fish species, guiding, and floating everything from freestone mountain streams to warm water rivers that flowed through farmland, my Flycraft Guide 3 Person Raft has had an adventurous three years. For a fishing raft I could not have asked for anything to fit the bill better. Below I will describe things I love about the raft, some lessons learned, and additions/modifications I plan on making to the boat.
First of all, what is Flycraft and the 3 Person Guide Raft? Flycraft is a Salt Lake-based raft company that specializes in building inflatable fishing rafts and stand up paddle boards. Their 3 Person Guide Raft is the newest addition to their raft line up and was released back in July 2020. This person raft is their largest boat with a length of 14', a width of 56", and an overall weight of 145lbs. Without diving too much into the specs (which are available on their site) I will just jump right into my review and thoughts on the raft.
(Be sure to also check out: Improve Your Nymph Fishing - How to Set Up A Drop Shot Rig)
Overall Build and Function
Construction of the boat was pretty straight forward and Flycraft has some online videos that you can follow along with. Overall, building the frame, inflating the floor and four tubes took me about three-four hours. One thing that I concluded on was dismissing the option of trying to break the frame down, deflate the boat, and transport it in a vehicle. It can be done, but Flycraft's other smaller models are way better suited for that.
Out of the gate, what is super impressive is the stiffness of the floor and stability that the lean bars provide, it is a solid casting platform. The heavily reinforced bottom is also stout, but I did run into a problem a few floats in (more on that further down).
The seats, without the quick-release accessory installed, are very sturdy. You can really push your back into the rowers seat to muscle the oars and not feel too much play in the seat. This has helped in situations where the raft needed to be stopped on a dime to avoid hidden boulders and logs.
After a season, the seats do loosen up and need to be tightened. I've noticed that when I am guiding, clients will really lean back into the seats and this repetitive motion loosens the Phillips-head screws on the underside of the seats. They can easily be re-tightened on the middle and bow seat, but with the stern seat you will need to unfastened the seat (by removing the four bolts) in order to access the screws, and that was not a big deal and took only a few minutes.
(Be sure to also read: Fly Fishing How To: 3 Ways to Create a Dry-Dropper Rig)
The anchor system is also well-built can be a little tough trying to cleat the rope off one-handed, but it comes with practice. The 2:1 mechanical advantage (pulley) is great for using it on the river, and the system can be converted easily to a 1:1 for lake fishing. When it is in the 1:1 set up, the anchor can be a pain to pull up from the lake bottom (more on lake fishing below).
Also, I have ended up using a 25lb Tornado Anchor to stop and keep the boat in place. There have been a few times where the anchor line will vibrate annoyingly while I am anchored in swifter currents and when there is no one sitting in the rear seat (or there isn't any gear strapped to the gear rack). The only fix to this, that I have found, is to really tighten all the straps down or to place gear on to the rear seat or gear rack.
Two things to keep an eye on as you use/abuse the anchoring system. The first is to check the pulley wheels a couple times a season. I finally had one crack and give out on me during a guide trip and had a replacement sent out to me. The anchor line also de-sheathed, but this was over several seasons of anchoring in rocky/bouldery areas that rubbed against the rope. Considering all of the mileage I have already placed on the raft, this is normal wear-and-tear.
Buying and re-stringing can be a pain in the butt, and the easiest solution I found is the following:
Remove all the bolts and both pulleys along the anchor-side of the frame.
Push a drain cleaning cable through the frame out to the stern of the boat.
Attach your new anchor line to the end of the cable and pull it back through.
This technique is so much easier (and wastes less time) than taking the frame apart to re-thread the anchor line.
Handling in Rivers
Compared to larger rafts, the Flycraft is a dream to oar through rapids and thread through channels in low water conditions. I splurged and bought the nice Cataract oars which greatly help with steering and powering the raft, so that has to also be taken into consideration.
With just one or two people on-board, the raft gets through the most technical class III rapids and low water areas where the oars are barely in the water but scraping gravel. Counter-oar strokes turn the raft on a dime and direction changes are breezy. Being able to stop the raft and tuck it into prime areas in pocket water has also been a game changer while guiding.
When you add a third person, or a stash of camping gear, the raft still has its responsiveness but once it gains momentum you really have to lean back into the rower's seat and flex the oars. Even with two clients on-board, I am easily able to row back upstream and tuck the raft back into fishing spots.
An issue of handling comes if you have a heavier set angler sitting at the bow. The raft is lightweight and will dip just slightly to the bow which makes turning the boat (using counter-strokes) a little sluggish. If you find yourself in this situation, one tip is to just add some more weight to the stern, like an additional anchor or a weight plate. But, it really is not that big of an issue and I have taken plenty of single plus-size clients down the river without adding weight to the stern.
Handling the raft for more demanding scenarios, like when anglers are euro nymphing from the boat while drifting, is less taxing with the Flycraft compared to other wider rafts. Its thinner profile just makes the back oar strokes more efficient since there is less surface area and friction for water to grab on to.
Lastly with handling, the raft drafts over just inches of shallow water but that also depends on how many people/gear are in the boat. Even if the raft does get hung up, it is way easier to free than the larger NRS rafts. At times, I don't even have to get out of the boat and will just stand up and rock the raft from side to side to free it from the gravel and back into deeper current.
There are so many ways to transport these rafts and I have seen some techniques from other owners I have met at boat launches and parking lots. The first month that I had the raft I was out west in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana and had the raft on a friend's truck. His truck bed had a snowmobile deck on it and was perfect to lift the raft up onto and secure it down. Measuring at 14', the raft definitely extended pretty far off the sled deck but we at least did not have to tow a trailer. It was being able to drive around town with it and not have to worry too much about parking and then head off to the river.
Fast forward, the raft is now out in Spokane with me and my truck. I have a camper on the truck bed so the only way to load the raft into the bed was if I took the oar arms off and bought a tail gate extender. I use my truck bed as a camper so this was not an option. For a while, I used my in-laws's trailer that was just wide enough to squeeze the raft into. Yet, after moving to Spokane I ended up buying a trailer that another guide was selling. It is a harbor freight trailer that had the deck modified so the raft fits on it securely. The trailer also has rollers and an attached wench which really comes in handy on steep boat ramps for getting the raft out of the water.
Something I really like about transporting the raft is that you do not always need a boat ramp. Often, I will pull the truck up to the river and just drag the raft over. This opens up a ton of river access and float trips that would not be possible with a drift boat that needs a ramp.
When it comes to shuttling the boat, I have found the best thing to do is to drop the truck off at the take-out and then bike back. Then I will just strap the bike down in the rear third seat and float down. I only do this if I am fishing solo (which I will talk about below) or if there is just one other person. It cuts down on having to drive two vehicles and it works great. In the future, it would be nice to have a foldable bike so I could just lash that down to the gear rack...or maybe I'll just rollerblade...or hold out for a really nice foldable e-bike.
The crew over at Flycraft really built this thing for fly fishing that was a huge seller for me. The design really tries to keep the boat from snagging an angler's fly line while casting, and there is enough room under the seats to get gear out of the way as well. On my boat, I bought and installed the rod holder which (although pricey) makes for carrying three additional rods easy and keeps them out of the way while secured. The rod holders work great, but if you have a rod that is over 10ft long then it will stick out of the tube a little bit so be mindful of that. Also, tell the person sitting in the stern seat to rest their feet on the rod tubes. Their plastic, and while I have not had a rod break inside while someone rested a foot on top, I just rather have them not do that to begin with.
For cup holders, I have tried using ones that were made for strollers and they worked fine until the plastic screws broke due to cold weather. I actually found that the best solution has been the mesh cup holders that NRS sells. NRS also has larger mesh bags that serve as additional storage room for fly boxes, tackle, and snacks.
One thing I have not quite figured out is how to organize and keep the anchor line out of the way. The boat comes with an internally-ran anchor system (i.e. it runs inside the raft's frame) and is manipulated at the rower's seat. To keep bags and fly boxes out of the way, a lot of stuff goes under the rowers seat and so does the anchor line. The last thing I would want to have happen is that anchor line getting wrapped up into something when I just need to release the whole line from the boat in case the anchor gets stuck.
(And check out: 7 Useful Knots to Know for Fly Fishing)
The raft has self bailing floors as well, so gear will get wet if you go through some choppy water and rapids. I will use waterproof bags and stuff anything in there that I do not want getting wet. The self bailing floors also work really well, so well that I had a dog pee inside the boat and it was drained almost instantly, so that's cool.
Cleaning and Upkeep
When it comes to cleaning the raft, I reached out to Flycraft to confirm with them how much I should be cleaning and applying protectant to the raft. From March to late October, my raft is getting a fair amount of use (both personal and guiding), and so I aim to clean and apply protectant to the raft at the end of spring, the end of summer, and again right before storage in late fall. To learn more about the steps I take for cleaning my raft, take a look at this video from NRS about how to clean your raft.
While cleaning the raft, it is a great time to take stock of any damages. Over the past three years I have had only one tear and that was on the bottom of the raft (not the tubes). I think it was from a sunken wooden structure in the AuSable River. There are so many wooden built structures in that river (built decades ago for stream restoration) and they have large nails in them. I am thinking the four inch tear was caused by hitting one of those structures. Fixing it was simple and I just used the repair kit that Flycraft provided with the raft. I patched the tear, and while it wasn't the best patch job in the world I have had no issues since.
Other than that tear, the only thing I notice are small abrasions on the bottom of the raft. These minor abrasions mainly occurred during a full summer of guiding over low-water conditions that forced me to get out and drag the boat over gravel/rocks in the river. I am keeping an eye on these small abrasions and so far none are worrisome:
More frequently, I deflate the floor and use either a hose or hand broom/dust pan to remove any gravel and sand from between the floor and raft bottom. Any gravel that is left there will begin to grind and wear away at the material which can create small pinhole leaks, not good. So, about every 3-5 trips I will make sure to deflate the floor and remove that gravel/sand.
One more thing about upkeep, be sure to deflate the tubes and floor a little bit after use. This is really important during summer months when the sun and air temps can heat up the raft and really expand the air inside. The raft won't explode, but that higher pressure can cause damage to the seams of the raft. I try to let out just enough air so the raft still easily supports the frame but has enough give in it to allow for a little more expansion inside the tubes/floor.
When buying the raft I wanted something I could bring two other people with but also be able to fish solo from. I have done a few outings solo and am still working it out. The raft tracks really well so I am able to stand up at the rower's seat, put the oars up, grab a rod (that is leaning against the seat in front of me), and fish a spot. Granted, I was doing this on a pretty wide section of the AuSable River that runs smoothly but still has its multitude of sweepers and sunken logs. Anchoring the boat and getting out to wade is of course the other option.
A tip for dragging the boat solo is to attach some webbing or straps to the front standing brace tubes and then pull it behind you. It is a workout but it will do the trick and I have pulled it over 100yds to back to the truck.
The raft functions great on lakes and ponds, I have yet taken it out into more open water but I have heard that anglers have used an outboard motor and charted around places like the Puget Sound. When it comes to using in on the lakes, you will definitely want to convert the pulley system to a 1:1 rather than a 2:1 mechanical advantage. This is easily done by removing the eye bolt that is attached to the frame on the stern. Pulling up a 25lbs anchor on the 1:1 can be a monstrous pain if the anchor has driven itself into soft mud. There were a few times that I thought I might pull a back muscle out trying to free the anchor.
When lake fishing, you will also want to attach a light anchor to the bow of the boat to prevent the raft from swaying in the wind. All I have done for this is just clipped a 10lbs anchor to a rope and clipped that to the bow handle.
As for motors, I have only ever used a trolling motor mounted to the gear rack. I have to have a slim piece of wood laid against the back of the gear rack in order to tighten the motor all the way down, but I've never had any issues with it slipping. You can away with Minn Kota's smallest trolling motor if you are not trolling all day, but you won't have a ton of speed for getting to other parts of the lake quickly. I can also have one or two batteries lashed down to the gear rack as well. Since I am mainly fishing smaller lakes, I don't need a lot of power or an outboard motor to get around. There are even some lakes where any motor (including trolling motors) are prohibited, so I just get on the oars and row.
I also fish loch style while on the lake and the Flycraft is a great vessel for that. Loch style is where you deploy a drogue (sea anchor/underwater parachute) into the water in order to slow the boat's drift down when the wind is blowing. Drifting this way helps you to cover water and a lot of fish, and two anglers can cast at the same time from the bow and stern positions. The drogue I use is the Wychwood paradrogue and that can be bought over at Tactical Fly Fisher, and I just clip it to the raft's frame straps with two carabiners. You really need a drogue if you are going to drift around in a lake when the wind is blowing, because there is not much draft under the raft so it can get moving once the wind picks up.
Lastly, I have found my go-to method of attaching my sonar (Humminbird Helix 5). I bought a Fish Finder Mount (the 5/6.5ah 4.5 Strap-On Inflatable Boat Mount w/96" Strap) which allows me to mount the sonar on top of the rod holder (above where the reels sit). With the sonar on the port side of the raft and the drogue on the starboard side, I can drift, cast, and watch the screen all at once.
Other Lessons Learned
The floor is inflatable and I would recommend inflating that sucker as much as possible. It should feel like a board when standing on it, and the last thing you want is for it to feel mushy while you are trying to stand and cast.
Flycraft included some seat hardware to make the seats removable but I did not install them. I have found little need to remove the seats and by bolting the seats straight to the frame they feel way more secure. Yet, it took some adjustments to get the rowers seat just right, so bringing some wrenches with you on the first couple floats is useful.
As for the gear rack, the damn edges were wicked sharp and cut the hands of my buddies when they tried to grab hold of it. I had to file the edges down and then spray paint back over the whole thing. Hopefully Flycraft will fix that issue.
Overall, I been extremely impressed and happy with my Flycraft. An although this is just an initial review I will continue to update it as the seasons go on. The versatility and build of this raft was what drew me to it over some other brands. It will be enjoyable seeing where I will take this raft and the rivers, streams, and lakes that can now be fully explored.
Be sure to also check out: How to Fly Fish Pocket Water: Targeting Trout Around A Single Boulder
Lastly, if you live in or are visiting Spokane, I provide guided fly fishing trips and instructional lessons around Spokane to include float trips on the Spokane River and stillwater trips across various Eastern Washington lakes. I guide with Fly Fish Spokane, and more information/trip rates can be found at the website: FlyFishSpokane.com