For most of the year, many mountain rivers are the boney remnants of their fleshed out, springtime high-water selves. But fishing can be red hot in the summer and fall months and for those of the shot-gunning persuasion, bird hunting season opens in early October. Enter the inflatable tandem kayak. Rigged out right, a big inflatable boat allows me to get down the river with my gear and my sanity intact.

Inflatable Kayaks Can Access Remote Rivers

On a river like Oregon’s uber-remote Owyhee, the float window is about a month long during the mountain runoff in early spring. For the rest of the year, the chance for a weeklong fishing expedition in the canyon they call The Little Grand dries up along with the water.

Too shallow and boney for canoes, rafts or cats, running a 50-mile stretch of roadless canyon is not an option. To conquer low water and carry a ton of gear, an inflatable tandem kayak is the only way to go.

This is how to have the fish to yourself. | Photo: Steve Thomsen
Use an inflatable tandem kayak to access remote areas and have the fish all to yourself. | Feature photo: Steve Thomsen

To turn the tandem inflatable into a low-water expedition sled, I ditch the second seat and load the boat down with tackle and supplies. At home, set up in the garage, the overloaded blow-up boat doesn’t look very cool. But out on the water, form follows function.

The drill on summer rivers is a full meal deal, this is not your straight up float. Many times, I stop to scout a corner or drop to decide whether to run, line, walk or portage. Low water tours are a hybrid paddling and portaging operation. No doubt, getting to the take out is a grind. But, I have the canyon to myself, the water is clean and green and the fishing is at its best.

The key to the program is a large, shallow-draft, high-capacity inflatable kayak. The inflatable will slip and slide off rocks and skim over the bottom with no issue. After several seasons running different inflatable kayaks, I have never had a puncture.

Low Water Kayaking Tips

  • Pack heavier gear close to the paddler to make it easier to turn the kayak.
  • Rig a 10-foot bow line and 10-foot stern line to walk the boat through the boniest stuff. Bring at least 30 feet of floating rope for lining the kayak.
  • I use web straps to secure the load to D-rings on the kayak.
  • When I come to shore in excessive heat, I release some air from the kayak.
  • I use a VHF radio to communicate with other members of the group. The lead boat can communicate river conditions when navigating the roughest parts of the river.

Best Inflatable Tandem Kayak for Low Water

I’ve tested several boats in summer rivers and most recently settled on the Blackfoot Angler 160HB from Aquaglide. The boat is a bomber at over 16 feet long with an 800-pound capacity. The best thing is the floor. The high-pressure, drop stitch floor is stiff enough to stand on without flexing under the weight of angler and gear. Built of commercial grade Duratex with high-quality Halkey Roberts valves, the Blackfoot is tough enough to bounce off rocks and drag over land. I appreciate the frame seat, which goes from low position for paddling to high position when I’m fishing. At the end of the day, I remove the seat and use it as a camp chair.

This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 45. Subscribe to Kayak Angler and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos.


Use an inflatable tandem kayak to access remote areas and have the fish all to yourself. | Feature photo: Steve Thomsen



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