In my last column I had written that I was expecting a “new toy.” This was an inflatable raft that I hoped to use while wading in a stream having a depth of two or three feet. Once the raft arrived, I eagerly opened the carton and spread the raft on the floor. It weighs 19 pounds, about eight or 10 pounds more than a float tube. The material is not flimsy vinyl. This raft is made to withstand both abrasion and bumping into river boulders. For 15 years, I have owned the full-sized raft that this company produces, and it is as good as new. My wading “junior”-sized model is four feet wide and five feet long. The oblong shape of the raft is open on the interior. A small seat takes up about one third of that opening. The other two thirds will allow me to wade upstream or down while totally surrounded by the raft.
A day or two after it arrived, I took it out for a trial on the East Branch of the Delaware River. I left my rod in the car, but did bring along my wading staff, just in case of any problems. If it worked as I hoped, my waist waders would be able to keep me dry even while sitting in the seat. Once on the water, getting into the raft was no problem. When I sat in the seat, I was as comfortable as if I were sitting in my favorite chair back at the cabin.
Now I needed to see if I would be able to wade while standing inside the raft. I stood up and took a few tentative steps upstream. Off I went, the raft protecting me on all sides. Then, oops, I tripped over a rock. I stumbled forward and would have fallen had I not been able to brace myself on the front of the raft. If I suffered any difficulty keeping my balance, the raft quickly came to my assistance. Since wading proved to be so easy, I decided to become lazy and sit down. I lifted my feet and began to drift along downstream. How relaxing. How delightful. Why had it taken so long to think of this solution to my wading problems? If I wished to stop drifting, I simply put my feet down. I could continue sitting or I could stand up.
As the light began to fade, I sat quietly some six feet off the bank, watching the East Branch flow by. About 10 minutes past eight, I had reason to wish I had brought my rod along. Here and there on the smooth surface of the flow those magical, ephemeral rings began to appear. Even without the rod, I enjoyed sitting silently in the East Branch watching trout of various sizes gathering their evening meal. Usually, these fish slide warily away from me when I try to approach them while wading upright. Now, these fish ignored me, feeding within 20 feet from where I was seated in the little blue raft. One night soon I would be back, this time with my fly rod. Shucks, even I can make an accurate 20-foot cast.
There is, however, one problem when it comes to using this raft. It will be difficult to use unless I am able to park my car near the water where I indent to fish. Darn, nothing in life is perfect.