An old boat that was meant for the river will, in time, go back to the river

By Steve Naylor

Driftboats are an evolution of the open-water dory, converted for use in rivers. Easier to back row and maneuver, one can find many more modern-day drift boats in Michigan’s trout rivers today than you could in years past. From the original wood design, aluminum, plastic and fiberglass are more often used in drifter production nowadays. Modern-day materials require less maintenance and have more conveniences with added comfort. The improvements are an advantage to a day on the river.

I had been looking for a small driftboat, and there wasn’t much to choose from at the time. However, a small StealthCraft came across my marketplace feed. It was a diamond in the rough, but I saw the potential and the purchase was made.

The boat was 12 feet long and easy for two people to carry. With no cracks in the fiberglass or any severe damage, the only big deal was that the original finish had been covered in “spray bomb” paint for hunting ducks in the marsh by the previous owner. It looked more like a hunting rig than a fishing boat. I also appreciated the simplicity of the hull design with storage compartments in the front and rear. There were two bench seats, the originally-installed Diercks anchor system and all the original hardware was intact.

I kicked off the project by taking the small drifter down to bare bones and shipping it off for sanding and repainting with marine-based paint. Next, I took a few days to clean up all the removed parts. The brass oar locks were polished to a bright luster. Every stainless steel nut and bolt was hit with a wire wheel until buffed shiny like new. The anchor system took much finesse to come clean. Composite trim boards were rubbed with elbow grease using steel wool until they were clear of camouflage paint.

Soon, delivery was taken of the refinished boat — the blank canvas. The white paint job turned out fantastic. The bottom was restored to be smooth and glossy, and the inside of the hull also looked like new. Now, it was time to reunite the hardware and parts. New oars were set in place and balanced. Replacement rope was set up with twist lock carabiners on a freshly-connected anchor system. Plush seats were installed for comfort while rowing and fishing. A floor mat was cut to shape and adhered. And decals were installed, which was the most fun part of the project.

While working on this project, thoughts of the first float kept my motivation high. I spent a lot of time on this, and the goal was finally complete. This 23-year-old driftboat has a new life once again, and I feel deep satisfaction keeping the drifter where it belongs — on the river.

Steve Naylor enjoys spending most of his time on the Au Sable River fly fishing and running his guide service. A lifelong Michigan resident, he lives in East Tawas with his family.