The Rats Nest

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Flycraft Stealth

Photo Credit:  Justin Hansen
So your that guy who's been wanting a watercraft to float and fish with and there's been a myriad of obstacles and options out there that have prevented the leap.  One that readily comes to mind is cost; hey, we would all love a Drift boat, but lets face it,  slipping a motor-less watercraft by our loved ones that can easily equate to the same price as a used car might not be in the cards.  Not to mention, depending on your location, a drift boat may be too much boat for the waters you frequent, and access may be a huge issue as well.  One man pontoons and rafts seem like a logical option, but once you've seen one in person and realize that they are rather difficult to fish from, most importantly your fishing buddy will  have to purchase one as well if you wanna go together, they seem much less desirable.  Not to mention, the cool factor with them is pretty low, somewhere in line with riding a moped if you catch my drift.
Plenty of room for storage for a days worth of fishing

Most of us typically contemplate a boat of sorts to not only cover more water and get to and from point A to B in a given day, access otherwise inaccessible water,  but mostly to share the water with our fishing buddies.  There's just nothing better than swapping oar time and casting time with a good friend, and many of us once we delve into this form of fishing never seem to want to wade fish again.  Floating for me is a total game changer, as there is no other way that I prefer to fish to date that  when time permits.  I learned how to row a boat in a full size raft and then graduated to a drift boat, which by default was my first boat of choice and I have never looked back.

All watercraft have limitations, drift boats although the most enjoyable to fish from require larger water with an area that you can get your truck and trailer within close proximity to the waters edge in order to launch.  They are typically cumbersome and awkward and can't be manhandled easily into tight places therefore making them very situational specific crafts for us northeastern fly fisherman.  In other words, their uses are very limited as we just do not have the number of drift boat fisheries that are much more plentiful out west.

Rafts provide a little more leeway as you typically can muscle hump them off your trailer and put them in just about anywhere within reason, and they typically can go through water that the hard boat might get smashed around a bit in.  The downfall to both however for the casual fisherman is the price-tag.  Full size rafts with all the options are  in the vicinity of $5,000 without a trailer and drift boats these days can run you in excess of $10,000.  For most of us that is the preventative measure that seems to get in the way of making the purchase, and for most of the reasons I mentioned, the full size boat is just too much for the places we frequent.  For years I have struggled with getting a raft as it would afford me and a friend many more opportunities to float in my area.  The biggest problem is it would require me to either bastardize the bed of my truck or buy another trailer, never mind convince my wife that I needed both the raft and boat (do I need either?).

As a rather adventurous angler, I like to have options, and many of the rivers that I wade fish could easily be floated if I had the right craft at my disposal.  Up until recently that craft just didn't exist.  Most  pontoons are either too small or too big, and they had a variety of limitations.  One person watercraft's are just that, a vehicle to get from one point to the next and fishing out of them is rather futile.  Although extremely portable, they are nothing more than a vehicle for the day.  Larger 2-3 person rafts/pontoons although affording you the opportunity to fish while you float are just not as portable and many weigh not much less than your standard drift boat.  Unless you have a power winch (another costly accessory) you simply are not able to get them in and out of fisheries that easily.
Maneuvering through tight spaces is easily done in this craft.

Enter the Flycraft Stealth.  When I first set eyes on this rig I knew instantly that my prayers had been answered. The Stealth is a 2 person raft with a fully functional rowing frame equipped with an anchor system and rope, full size padded swivel seats, reverse lean bar system to stand and fish, and an inflated rigid floor.  Although the raft itself is comparable in length to most full size rafts (12'6") it is a bit narrower coming in at a mere 46 inches.  Although that may raise an eyebrow with some as I have heard some say "I bet that thing isn't stable".  Surprisingly enough, the Stealth is actually the complete opposite.    The Stealth is rated for Class II rapids and it easily maneuvers through them without issue.    In the last couple of weeks I have had this craft out in less than desirable conditions in a variety of snow melt swollen rivers with wind gusts in excess of 40 mph and not once have I felt like me and my fishing partner were unstable and going to go for a swim.   Here are a few of the things that I think you prospective buyers might want to know. 
Here's the Detailed description photo straight from the Flycraft website.

 First and foremost, this boat does not require a trailer.  If you have even a short bed pickup truck like myself, you can easily put this in the back, tie it down with a single strap and go.  My Titan is a quad cab with a short 5-1/2 foot bed and although it hangs out a little more than I'd like,  it isn't a hazard and is extremely portable craft.  Taking the boat in and out of the water is a snap and the shuttle time is much less than that of a boat requiring a trailer.
Two Handles on either side make for easy transport to and from the water.

The Stealth is light enough to move around with one person.  Coming in at a mere 98 pounds, one person can easily slide the Stealth in the back of a truck, on top of a car or pull it up out of the river and across just about anything with little to no help.  The welded PVC bottom is extremely rugged and will allow you to pull this craft over virtually anything.  If your buddy is willing to assist, even better, there's a pair of handles on each side that are strategically placed making lifting the Stealth a cinch with two. Brandon from Flycraft tells me he puts his Stealth on top of his Subaru as it fits nicely right on the roof racks. 
That's me humping the Stealth across a field to the water.

The design lends to a very low draft allowing for the minimal amount of clearance.  If you don't understand draft, here's the layman's terms;  the Stealth only drafts 3 inches, this means you can float water relatively shallow.  Anything great than  3 inches deep you  will not scrape bottom.  So that means if the water is over your ankles you can pretty much cruise through unscathed.  On our first few outings I purposely floated through some side channels that were relatively shallow to see if the Stealth would hit bottom.  Fully loaded with gear we glided through with ease, and the very few rocks we did come in contact with we slid over rather smoothly.  The fully inflated hull and rigid floor are what keep this rig floating high which lends to such a low draft and allowing you the opportunity to go through water that other crafts simply cannot.
Class II rapids or less, obviously a gamble here....

Due to the high riding low profile design, the Stealth is super responsive in terms of maneuverability, even more so than your standard drift boat.  I have been in amazement at just how easily this craft responds to a simple pull of the oars.  Having rowed full size rafts and drift boats for over a decade,  I am fairly accustomed to the level of effort that is required to maneuver through technical water.  Drift boats usually respond much better than rafts as they typically sit higher in the water and have less surface area in contact with the water, and are rigid in nature unlike a self bailing raft for instance.  

Don't get hung up on the Stealth not being self bailing, the rigid floor actually works in your favor as it pushes the boat higher allowing for the boat to not only traverse much skinnier pieces of water while increasing sensitivity and responsiveness on the oars.  Essentially, this craft rows like a drift boat, as it literally hovers on the water.  Self bailing rafts actually sit in the water utilizing the water as a means to aid in floatation of the craft.  As a result they require a greater deal of effort to maneuver because they have a larger surface area both submerged and in contact with the current.   Self bailing rafts neutralize the water that is taken on in a rapid, but the downfall is the floor is usually soft and you always end up with wet feet all day.  If you do however take on some water in the Stealth, it takes merely a couple of minutes to seconds to remove it all if you have the Sea To Summit Bilge Pump, which I highly recommend as  must have accessory.  You have to remember, this isn't a class V rated craft, and if you are looking to run some gnarly water on a regular basis, this is probably not what you're looking for. 

Standing and fishing with ease.
Contrary to popular belief, you can actually stand up in the front and fish while on the fly.  I have heard from many people that think standing up and fishing in the Stealth is not an option because there is no forward lean bar on the frame.  The front portion of the frame acts as a reverse lean bar allowing the person in the front to stand and fish.  Simply lock your feet in to both sides of the raft and lean back with your calves into the double lean bar and you're ready to go.  The trick to making this all work is in the initial set up, be sure to line the front of the seat up with the lean bar and you're good to go.  Even a guy like myself with poor balance has no problem settling into the front seat and standing up in a pretty good current continuing to fish.  If you're new to float fishing this won't seem like much, but if you're used to the horn on a drift boat you will have to trust yourself and get used to leaning back as opposed to forward to stand and fish.

Back to the set up, this craft out the box on my first run took me just under an hour to assemble.  I have seen videos on the Flycraft website where they break the entire Stealth down and strap it to their backs to pack in and set up on some rather remote water.  With practice you can get this thing together in much shorter time but I don't see myself breaking this thing down often.  Personally I won't have the need to do so, as I leave mine assembled at all times so it's quick to throw in the truck and go.   I do however really like the idea that the option exists for me to take it apart and pack it in somewhere remote in case I get the idea to head somewhere that would afford me that opportunity.  
Pulley system and caribiner make for a  sound and smooth anchor system.

 You can actually anchor up and fish with the in frame anchor system.  The fact that the rope and pulley system runs through the frame makes this particular anchor system extremely beneficial.  Unlike the typical side anchor systems that accompany rafts where the rope runs through a series of exposed pulleys along the rowing frame, this particular system is housed within the frame taking fly line hang ups out of the equation.  This design prevents the angler from getting his fly line caught up in the rope and pulleys making for a much more enjoyable day.  There is nothing worse than hooking the line on a misplaced cast in the anchor rope only to have to try and unhook it while trying not to lose a finger in one of the exposed pulleys.     The Stealth's anchor system even comes with a cleat locking mechanism that holds the anchor rope securely in place without any issues.  The rear pulley and carabiner make anchoring up smooth and easy as well as removal of the anchor at the end of the day.

The fully welded and powder coated frame provides very limited catch points for your fly line.   One of my biggest gripes about fishing out of rafts with frames has been the litany of things that catch your line. Due to the overall smooth finish and rounded edges of the Stealth, you will find that your fly line will not get hung up frequently which is usually one of the most problematic issues that you deal with while fishing from any sort of framed raft. The design and thought that went into this feature makes for more time fishing and less time untangling and a much more enjoyable experience on the water.
Lots of room for your gear

Even though this is a 2 person raft, there is actually plenty of space to store ample gear.  Between the gear basket and the space under both the rowing and fisherman's seats, you can easily slip a cooler, boat bags and multiple large fly boxes along with the bare essentials.  Surprisingly you can bring a great deal of stuff with you so don't feel like you have to travel light.  If you are going to head out on your own, take the extra time to evenly distribute your gear throughout the hull of the raft or else you will be popping wheelies so to speak as you float yourself for the day. 

A couple of minor things that take some getting used to but do not become deal breakers in my opinion but should be noted.  Remember,  simply that this is a two person craft only.  If you are in the market for a three person craft you will however have to look elsewhere.  Personally, unless I was guiding, the extra seat was never used in my drift boat as I usually only fish with  one friend at a time.  If that is how you roll then this should not be an issue and you should seriously consider the Stealth as a front runner in your decision.

Rod storage can be tricky as you have no real rod holders, so you have to improvise with storing them.  If you run the rods straight back along the frame they don't hang up, but if you aren't careful in getting in or out you could step on your rods resulting in a break.

The rowing seat although lower than the front seat takes a little getting used to as getting in and out of it is rather tricky with how the frame is set up.  Also, if you and your fishing partner want to swap seats, you have to pull over anchor up and get out and do so.  Due to the crafts narrow width there is just no way you can do so on the fly, so crawling over the front to switch positions while anchored up mid river would result in someone going for a swim.  This isn't a real inconvenience, just something you need to take into consideration when you're out there on the water.

The only other thing that is a minor issue is the ability to scull with the oars.  For those of you who have never rowed, you aren't missing anything but for those of you out there with some experience on the oars you'll know what I am talking about.  Sculling in essence is a way to ferry your boat from side to side across the water while maintaining your position in the current.  This is a guide technique that allows the rower to not only hold a line in the current but move the boat ever so slightly from side to side without changing the orientation of the craft.  Essentially when you perform this trick, one oar is perpendicular to the raft while the other does all the work.  The Stealth's frame design makes it rather difficult to perform this task as you inevitably hit the oar on the forward sloping riser.  With a little practice and improvisation I have learned to accomplish the task to a degree but not like you would in a full size boat or raft. 

Overall, this is a very viable option for those of you out there who don't have the spare cash kicking around to buy a full size drift boat or find that a drift boat would have very limited use for you.    The possibilities are bountiful with the Stealth, and I am going to go out on a limb and say that this is hands down the best option available to date for a couple of friends to spend time floating their favorite waters together.   On a budget, the Flycraft Stealth is probably the most logical option available to the angler, and is a very fun way to spend a day on the water.  The Stealth comes highly recommended by myself, and I personally think it is "The" two person fly fishing craft for the northeast.

For more information on the Flycraft Stealth, hook up with owner Ben Scribner via their website or email and phone and he will gladly answer any other questions you have.  If you do, be sure and tell him I sent you. 

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