During my time on the river, I've captained several different makes of drift boats. In Alaska, our rivers are different than the lower 48 states. We have larger bodies of water, deeper, and strong currents. In the lower 48, you will see fiberglass hulls like the Claka Craft and the Hyde. They're popular due to their weight, quietness, and ability to navigate in shallow waters. In Alaska, we are looking for a big, stable boat that has the ability to hold 4 fisherman while trolling gear in front of us. Aluminum hulls like Fishrite, Willies, and Alumawelds are popular. They are built like tanks. The boats I have used have been a 1998 Willie, 2002 Fishrite, and 1998 Alumaweld.
When you choose a boat, you want one that is comfortable to you and compliments your rowing style. It must be designed in a way that fits you gear and makes everything accessible for four fishermen. Also, being in Alaska, you can expect to get some rain so dry storage is important. When comparing these brands, you will see that the compartments are pretty similar.
In the last couple of years, a lot of guides have been moving from bench seating to pedestal seating. Depending on the number of clients on the boat, you can shift seating and arrange it in a way to have more room and distribute weight accordingly. The disadvantage of this is you loose some dry storage space.
When it comes to rowing, I prefer 9' 6" oars, and from my experience it takes less effort to row the Fishrite and the Willie compared to the Alumaweld. The Willie is more maneuverable which is important when you are trying to hit tight spots to get your gear behind rocks which is a favorite spot for salmon.
Any of these brands of drift boats are great options but it comes down to the fisherman and the waters you are trying to fish. The first decision is aluminum or fiberglass depending on the body of water, then you have to get out in them and try them out. I chose to order a new 2018 model, 19-66 (19 ft long; 66 in wide) custom built from Willie with a walk through seating layout. With this model, I still have dry compartments for storage but have mobility to get around without having to step over bench seating. For King Salmon fishing, I know this arrangement is most suitable for our conditions on the Kasilof/Kenai giving us the best chance to land big fish.
PO Box 215
Girdwood, AK 99587
Alaksa Business License: #998070
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
The Kenai River Center
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Kenai River Guide Academy