Review: Flycraft Guide 3 Person Raft
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Cup holders, I will confess that I need cupholders whether I buy them from Flycraft or make my own (and knowing my laziness with tools I will choose the former). It has been a number one complaint from day one and from my fiance. After trying cup holders that were made for strollers, I actually found that the best solution has been the mesh cup holders that NRS sells.
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.
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.It happened when the raft was drifted over a pile of logs and there was a nail sticking out. 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 to take 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. That has worked really well and I can have one or two batteries lashed down to the gear rack as well. I am mainly fishing smaller lakes so 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.
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 a screwdriver 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 post later reviews/lessons learned as I continue to use the raft. 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.
(Also, check out this how-to article, Improve Your Skill at Reading Water for Fly Fishing: Riffles)