With the right craft, you can run rivers in low water

With the right kind of inflatable raft or kayak, you can continue running rivers in low water

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJune 6, 2013 

A rafter runs an AIRE Wave Destroyer 12 through Ladle Rapids on the Selway River.

PETE ZIMOWSKY

  • THE SCOOP ON RAFTS AND KAYAKS

    NRS CLEARWATER DRIFTER BOAT

    The company calls it the world's first inflatable drift boat. It's drop-stitch technology creates a tough, rigid hull that can fold up and store in a closet.

    The boat can handle two anglers in addition to the rower.

    With its shallow draft and self-bailing design it's designed for low-water runs for fishing.

    It only drafts 3 to 4 inches with three people and a cooler.

    Cost: $5,995, see nrsweb.com.

    NRS OUTLAW II INFLATABLE KAYAK

    The inflatable kayak can be paddled by two people, or used by one person to do a self-support river trip.

    It features a removable drop-stitch floor that inflates rock-hard for wave-punching performance and increased stability.

    The 16-inch rocker height helps the Outlaw II climb over waves, while its 10.5-inch tubes and 4-inch self-bailing floor provide plenty of flotation.

    Cost: $745; see nrsweb.com.

    NRS 14’ RIVER CAT

    This is the “sports car” of NRS’s cataraft line. It is highly maneuverable in narrow, rocky streams and stable in the big water.

    It’s designed for playing in whitewater, or hauling gear within its 25-inch tubes. It’s considered a mid-size river cat designed for performance, agility and stability. With an adaptable NRS frame system, the cataraft can be set up for day trips or multi-day trips.

    Cost: $2,195 (without frame); see nrsweb.com for information and to find an NRS dealer.

    MARAVIA SPIDER

    The Maravia Spider is quick and nimble and considered a good raft for low water and fishing.

    It can be set up for paddling or rowing. With a tapering tube design and narrow width, the Spider can slip down low-water rapids, punch waves or line up for the tightest of slot runs. An oar frame will work for two or three people and a small amount of gear, or it can be paddled by two to six people. The raft is 13 feet and 5 feet, 9 inches wide. It has 20.5-inch to 14-inch diameter tapering tubes.

    Cost: $4,195 with two thwarts. See cascadeoutfitters.com.

    AIRE SUPER PUMA

    This boat is one of AIRE’s favorites and makes a perfect whitewater paddle boat or a rowing rig for two people and gear.

    The Super Puma’s continuous smooth bottom makes it handle like a kayak or a slick-hulled drift boat. It’s equally adept at surfing or holding still above a fishing hole. The narrow width allows the rafts to descend smaller rivers, lower water and creeks better than more conventional sized rafts. It is 13 feet, 1 inch long, 5 feet, 8 inches wide and has 18.5-inch diameter tubes.

    Cost: $3,480 with two thwarts. See Idaho River Sports in Boise or Cascade Outfitters in Garden City.

    AIRE TRIBUTARY TOMCAT

    The Tomcat Solo offers both stability and reliability for beginner paddlers. The stable design can handle thrilling whitewater, lightweight overnight trips and shallow rivers.

    Cost: $650; at Idaho River Sports or Cascade Outfitters.

    NRS OUTLAW II INFLATABLE KAYAK

    The inflatable kayak can be paddled by two people, or used by one person to do a self-support river trip.

    It features a removable drop-stitch floor that inflates rock-hard for wave-punching performance and increased stability.

    The 16-inch rocker height helps the Outlaw II climb over waves, while its 10.5-inch tubes and 4-inch self-bailing floor provide plenty of flotation.

    Cost: $745; see nrsweb.com.

    MARAVIA DIABLO

    The Diablo was created with smaller tubes that allow for a lower profile in wind, to punch waves easily and for extra room in the bow and stern for gear and people.

    It’s a good size for paddling or rowing.

    As a paddle boat it can hold up to seven people or as an oar boat, three to four, depending on the amount of cargo.

    It’s 14 feet long and 6 feet, 3 inches wide with a 20- to 16-inch diminishing tube diameter.

    Cost: $5,395 with two thwarts; see cascadeoutfitters.com.

The rapids on the Selway River during a low-water August run looked like a giant pinball machine.

It was a flowing puzzle, and in a matter of minutes my small inflatable raft bounced off granite boulders and ricocheted across narrow channels.

The raft blooped over tiny waterfalls and zoomed through tight channels as it dropped through the rapids.

I won the game, I guess, because I got through the rapids in one piece. If I had been running a larger raft, I would have been getting out and pushing and pulling over shallow spots and getting hung up on boulders.

That's when I really discovered the joys of low-water rafting with the right size craft.

It's already shaping up to be a low-water summer because of low snowpack. Some rivers, which should be raging right now, have flows at half of what they would normally be in June.

By late summer, flows will be trickling down rivers.

But, there won't be any complaints from whitewater boaters who run the right-sized inflatables for low-water conditions.

With today's smaller, more maneuverable rafts, catarafts and fishing cats, and an assortment of inflatable kayaks, river runners can laugh at low-water and just have fun in the rock gardens.

In many cases, running low water with its rocks, riffles and tight, curvy runs can be more challenging and rewarding than high-water boating.

Shredding rock gardens takes finesse and smaller inflatables give you an edge.

"A good low-water craft has a shallow draft and is tough enough to shrug off the inevitable contact with rocks," says Clyde Nicely, with NRS (Northwest River Supply) in Moscow.

"That's why inflatables are great for low water. They'll bounce off obstacles where a rigid hull will dent, crack or stick," he said.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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