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Best Raft Size For Fly Fishing – (Choosing The Right Length)

When it comes to float fishing, rafts are the ultimate river craft. They can go just about anywhere, whether it be low water rivers or big volume rivers. Since they can go where drift boats can’t, many anglers are choosing rafts when purchasing their first boat.

The key with float fishing out of a raft is to keep the boat smaller and maneuverable. For this reason, rafts in the 10-13 foot range are ideal for float fishing. Rafts smaller than 10 feet are not as stable and can easily flip in big water. Rafts over 13 feet take more effort to row, and they can be sluggish on technical rivers.

This article will cover the main categories of fishing raft sizes, and will hopefully give you insight on what is right for you. It really comes down to your local rivers and what your preferences are. For my personal raft here in Colorado, I have a 12 foot NRS Otter. It has plenty of room for 3 people (a rower and 2 fly fishers), but it can be maneuvered on smaller rivers with lower flows. It can also handle big water if need be.

10-11 Foot Rafts

If you want the lightest, most responsive raft, think of a 10 or 11 footer. These can only support frames for a rower and an angler, and they are relatively cramped when it comes to space. However, you can easily load them in the back of a pickup truck or a small trailer. If you and a buddy or partner want to tackle the rivers with minimal effort, this is the size you’ll want. They are also perfect for fly fishing road trips!

These rafts can handle larger rivers, but they are great for small water and low flows. If you are going to use these on big water, I would only tackle class 3 rapids with a fishing frame. However, paddle crews run some huge water in these boats.

Popular models include the Hyside Mini Max (10′ 6″), Aire Puma (11′ 6″), and the Rocky Mountain Rafts Storm (10′ 6″).

12 Foot Rafts

As stated above, this is my personal favorite raft size. You can easily fit a 3 person frame on a 12 foot raft, but it remains light enough to be loaded onto a trailer with just 1 person. My entire NRS 12 foot Otter outfit weights just about 160 pounds. This allows me to load it onto my trailer without even needing a winch. I often just fish 1 angler in the front, but a second angler can fish off the back. I do find that the raft is more sluggish with 3 people.

12 footers can handle whitewater if needed, since they have a large enough footprint to be stable in harsh water. However, they really work well on skinnier rivers that have shallower spots. 12 footers don’t take up much room, which is a huge plus. I use mine a lot on the upper Roaring Fork River here in Colorado. This is technical water with plenty of rapids, but the river is also narrow. 13 and 14 foot boats just aren’t as nimble on this type of water.

As far as the popular 12 foot models go – I would recommend the Hyside Max 12 which is 5′ 9″ wide, and the NRS Otter 120D which is 6′ 3″ wide. The Hyside Max 12 has 19 inch tubes, which allows it to carry more weight and sit higher in the water. The NRS Otter 120D has 18.5 inch tubes, but it is wider than the Hyside. I have the older 12 foot Otter from 2007, which was a narrower model at just 5′ 6″.

13 Foot Rafts

This is the ultimate size if you want storage room as well as nimbleness. Watch the video above for the full guide setup with a 13 foot NRS Otter. 13 foot rafts are the #1 choice for most fly fishing guides. They can fit 3 people comfortably, and there is plenty of room for a cooler, dry bags, and all other gear you’ll need. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, you’d be hard pressed to find a guide who doesn’t have a 13 foot raft.

In addition to a full fishing frame, there is room for everyone to spread out a little bit. The rower has plenty of leg room, and the 2 anglers have some wiggle room also.

13 foot rafts can handle smaller rivers, but they can also be perfect for big water and rapids. They can glide over gravel bars in low water, but they can tackle class 4 rapids also.

The most popular 13 foot rafts are the Aire Super Puma, NRS Otter 130, and the Hyside Outfitter 13.

Frame Options

There are many frame options for rafts. Below, we’ll cover the top brands and what to expect from their frames.

  • NRS Frames – These frames are very popular and have been around forever. The U bolt LoPro design allows you to make quick adjustments on the river. NRS frames are very customizable, as there are dozens of ways to setup your personal frame. NRS also offers better pricing on their frames than other, more customized brands.
  • Downriver Frames – Downriver Equipment is based in Denver, Colorado. They will build you a custom frame for your boat, and they utilize Hollaender speed rail fittings and custom pipe bends. They also weld plenty of aluminum components for their frames. Downriver frames are spendy, but they are made with extreme care and quality. I do find them to be heavier than NRS frames, but they are quite sturdy.
  • RiverBoat Works – These guys are based in Salida, Colorado. They offer fully customized frames that are built to order. They can build a perfect frame for any raft. They also specialize in building frames (such as the Blue Wing Olive) for the smaller rafts such as the Hyside Mini Max and Rocky Mountain Rafts Storm. They have this market covered, since NRS frames don’t come in such small sizes. Similar to Downriver, these guys are high end and it will cost you, but they are certainly worth it if you want a fully custom frame.
  • Rocky Mountain Rafts Frames – Known as a popular PVC raft maker, RMR has ventured into the frame market. These frames are relatively affordable, and seem to be good quality. However, they are quite new – so they haven’t been around to see how they hold up.
  • Montana Raft Frames – These frames are fully customized for your needs, and they come with professional powder coating as well. If you have the cash, these guys will build you a frame that will last a lifetime.

PVC Vs Hypalon Rafts

The two main raft materials are PVC and Hypalon. There are major differences between the two, and below we will cover these details.

PVC Rafts – PVC rafts are much more affordable than Hypalon rafts. It is simply a cheaper material, but it can still be pretty durable. Rocky Mountain Rafts, Aire, Outcast and Saturn are all known for their PVC rafts. Aire is leading the pack since their PVC is the most durable, but Aire also costs more than all the others. You can expect roughly 10 years out of a PVC raft, and even longer if you cover it and maintain it. Although you can use 303 UV protectant on these boats, you should only do it once a year, or it can damage the PVC.

Hypalon Rafts – Hypalon rafts are the gold standard, and they are what you should choose if you have the cash on hand. Hypalon rafts last a long time, since they are much more resistant to UV rays and abrasion. Popular Hypalon raft brands are NRS, Hyside, Sotar, and Maravia. You can expect to spend quite a bit more for these rafts, but they can easily last for 20 years. There are hypalon rafts from the 1980s that are still in use. 303 protectant should also be used on these rafts, and they aren’t sensitive to how often you apply it. I use 303 protectant on my Otter twice a year without problems.