It is late June when my son Robert and I meet Al Bukowsky below Dagger Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
Anchored by a stern rope to an exposed pine root, it glows with Sapeli Mahogany—a swirling African hardwood that captures the early morning light in a spectrum of gold, orange, walnut and ebony. Standing in the square stern and framed between the forested hills and moving water, Bukowsky is the first to admit the Middle Fork’s whitewater offers little room for error. What drift boats lack in structural strength, they compensate for in buoyancy and maneuverability. The first wooden boats to run the Middle Fork date back to the summer of 1926 when Payette businessman and photographer Henry Weidner, his son Wes, rancher Harold Mallet and friend and prospector Roy Herrington launched two canoes into Bear Valley’s Marsh Creek. Cort Conley and Johnny Carrey’s excellent book, “The Middle fork, A Guide,” details how legendary Utah River Guide Bus Hatch and his brother-in-law Royce “Cap” Mowrey followed nine years later. Drift boats appeared on the Middle Fork in July of 1939 when McKenzie boat builder Woodie Hindman and his wife Ruth launched into Marsh Creek above Dagger Falls. When the Hindmans belayed their drift boat down Dagger Falls neither knew what lay around the next bend. In the first mile Al rows Robert into the shadow of a towering cliff that plummets down a smooth variegated granite wall into the clear water. Robert has fished since he was three, young enough and long enough that his fly rod communicates fluency to his floating line.
While Al holds the drift boat in an eddy, Robert lays a foam bodied Club Sandwich on the foam line next to cliff.
Searching the fly box that lies open on the brilliant forward deck for a Jack Cabe, (a fly so deadly it can neither be photographed, compared or described in print) I’m struck by Bukowsky’s skill as a boat builder.
Only a guide who has feathered a drift boat around rocks or scraped over a basalt ledge realizes that wood is neither durable, nor forgiving.
Pulling on the oars to slip past a granite boulder, Bukowsky tells us about a retiring Middle Fork outfitter who sank a drift boat on his final commercial trip. Clients cannot help but notice Bukowsky’s rolling gait and the tortured Redwing boot cinched over his right foot. While Al and the other guides set up the kitchen and start the fire for Solitude’s world famous “Middle Fork Fried Chicken,” Robert and I claim a tent then start to climb through the waist high grass toward a peak that rises above camp. Days on the Middle Fork slip between brilliant vistas, raging white water and a captivating history.
Robert fills his first three days with fishing then joins six other guests in the paddle raft. Location: boise, id Restoring a wood drift boat I am new to this forum, and posted a thread last Friday (I didn't ask the right questions).


I have come by an old wooden drift boat, and want to restore it, and reinforce it with fiberglass. When I was a kid I helped a guy build some McKenzie Knockoff's for drifting the western Washington Steelhead rivers. I built one from plans later on (years later) but I deviated from the plans to make the bottom like the knockoffs I dealt with in the 50's.
Put those screws every inch or so down both sides and across the stern if you have a wide place for a motor.
In your own defence, and maybe you might take me down the river some day, you make sure you have good Oars, and easy to handle Oar locks. Your first trip by yourself in that drift boat is gonna be a whole book full of Failures and learnings. I bought the plans from a Guy in Oregon, and the plans turned out to be from a designer in Tonwonda NY of all places. The Rest of the boat I made from local stuff except the Marine Plywood that I had to special order from some place in California. The old stuff wasn't as good, and most folks dont spend the bucks to primer and seal it before painting it. It's an epoxy based stuff and you can paint on it with just about anything and it will hold. I did not know about CPES when I did my drift boat or I would have sealed the bottom with CPES.
If it gets splinterd or shards of the outer layers of Plywood start coming off, you can consider some kind of repair or just get the Drill driver out and replace the bottom. If you make one bottom piece, maybe you should keep the jigs intact and make another bottom at the same time. One more tip, on all those screws, make sure you have some framwork down in the bottom to screw the bottom to. Location: Midlothian, Virginia I answered your other thread but now that I see the boat I feel you should use a heat gun and that paint could all be removed in a weekend. When making potentially dangerous or financial decisions, always employ and consult appropriate professionals. Silhouetted against the water’s glare, the owner of Solitude River Trips is outfitted in a pressed Orvis shirt, fresh khaki pants and a weathered felt hat. He was eighteen, a year younger than Robert when he launched a McKenzie boat into Oregon’s Deschutes, a couple of years older when he challenged the Rogue. Surrounded by Idaho’s enormous Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, this combination of white water, wildlife clean campsites, sheep eater pictographs and dramatic vistas make this one of the Northwest’s premier float trips.


The first thing I need to do is sand off the existing paint, what is the next step-do I prep it before I begin the fiberglass process? Then too, lots of them sat out in the weather and the outer layers of the wood just crumbled and the paint had nothing to hang onto. If you only put screws around the outside perimiter, the bottom will 'oil can' and you'll have a thunderous ride down the rapids. He appears to be in his late fifties, has a fine sense of humor and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge about the Middle Fork’s history, fauna and geology. The last of the big three are the Hoppers, which commence around the third week in July and continue through mid October. For the next six days we spend mornings casting to Cuts, running rapids and photographing the river, cliffs and tributary streams. When you drift down the river hitting a rock is always a strong possibility, so to fiberglass the bottom and up the side of the boat reinforces the structure and allows the boat to stay afloat after a hard hit. I never heard of anybody ever losing his drift boat because he dropped over a cliff onto a rock and punched a hole so big the boat sank.
That's why I say to have those oars and oarlocks fitted loose so you can jerk an oar out if it gets snagged on a root when your close to the bank. Referring to the current 2x2 material on the boat-do I take that off or put the treated 2x2 on the out side of the existing board? If its on the outside it will double as a rub rail and will be much easier to replace if it gets broken. I have no way of knowing whether my youngest son will thrive in the Academy’s intense physical and educational curriculum. I will have to sand the paint off because it flaking off easily, have you restored a boat like this before? And when Woodie and Ruth finally reached the Salmon they described a river that pumped through the wild heart of the Northern Rockies.
I have no hope of keeping up with my nineteen-year-old son and as the rolling hills give way to scree slides, Robert leaves me behind. Not the soft stuff you buy at Lowes, you need Pine and you may find a place near you that deals in treated wood for underpinning of houses.




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