I’m a boat guy. The problem with boats is that one craft cannot do it all. My myriad of pursuits require specific capabilites. But since this site deals primarily with all things steelhead, if I had to chose one watercraft to use twelve months a year here near my homewaters, it would be without a doubt, a Water Master. The 10 foot Kodiak with the expedition oar upgrade, to be specific.
My first impression of the Water Master was less than lasting because I was always opposed to float tubes used for steelheading in rivers. My only experience with the technique on the Deschutes where a few renegades pushed the limits of the law. In the late 80’s it became obvious that the “No Fishing From a Floating Device” rule could be bent if in fact you were standing on solid ground when you made the cast, regardless of the donut shaped ring of rubber around your feet. A half dozen anglers would lug their rubber duckies to the top of the Blackberry Hole and spend the entire morning paddling from midstream rock to mistream rock, using ping pong paddles to propel them, essentialling tying up the entire stretch of river. This rule bending approach ruffled many feathers. But if it’s legal, what can you do, other than get pissed off?
So when I saw my first Water Master, many years ago, I thought, “Oh great, they just made a super duper, low holer poacher boat. But what’s the advantage over a guy walking to his run?” I’ve been known to be a bit stubborn. When an angling buddy bought one, I got my first legitmate look at the Water Master.
The Water Master is a sophisticated inner tube, with a half deck designed for sitting or supporting a small payload. The forward half of the boat is an open space for your legs and feet. The boat is bomb proof. The oars are two piece aluminum which slide onto a threaded post where an endcap is screwed into place to retain the oar. The expedition oar upgrade is essential for steelhead fishing; they’re heavier and less prone to collapsing when you crab one into a large rock, which will happen.
There are so many advantages to making a Water Master your primary steelhead or trout fishing vessel, but I won’t share them all. That’s the pleasure of discovery. If you fish small steehead streams where the wading is treacherous, the Water Master is not only the safest way to work down the run, but by its simple design, if you need to hopscotch to another big boulder just beyond your maximum waterborn rock hopping range, just plant your butt on the seat and float to it. This benefit, along with it’s portability, (it packs down into a drybag weighing 35 pounds) changes the way you look at watersheds, opening pieces of water you use to pass on. On rivers with sprawling gravel bars, haul your boat onto dry ground and work down the run in the normal manner, but be certain your boat is secured. I’ve seen big wind gusts flip a lightly weighted boat not secured by anchor or rocks.
Now, having said that, I know my buddies are cringing at the thought of others discovering these benefits. The truth is, rivers around here in winter are roiling cold water coffins, and I do not encourage anyone to attempt descents if you are not an experienced oarsman. On most coastal rivers where the river changes with each high water and woody debris moves about the system, that isn’t enough. Common sense goes a long ways. Get a good topo map, always wear a lifejacket, scout the bad water and don’t try to be superman. There is no shame in a portage if there is any chance you might drown otherwise. Beyond that, once you learn to cast your two hander from within the rubber ring surrounding your hips, you will realize, there is no safer, more efficient way to pick apart your favorite river.