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February 2004 Issue of Salmon Trout Steelheader
SKOOKUM BOATS: Osprey I and the Steelheader by Tony Dunnington

“Discover a whole new world of river fishing.”

It seems there are few zipper-lip rivers left in today’s world. Rivers that are seldom spoken of or fished by others that still possess healthy runs of fall salmon and/or winter, spring or summer steelhead. Such rivers remain in obscurity for reasons such as: their remote location, inaccessibility, overshadowing from nearby big-name streams and established catch-and-release restrictions.I know of and frequent a half dozen of these special streams in my corner of western Washington State. I am thankful for their peaceful settings and at times magnificent finned bounties. They keep my “river morale” at a high level. Of course navigating these streams in a drift boat or jet sled is not possible due to their small size and lack of adequate launch access. To fish them from the bank would mean extremely limited opportunities for there are few roads or little river bank to stand on. Wading them, particularly in winter, is treacherous at best.

There are also a handful of big-name streams in my neck of the woods that support strong runs of hatchery and native salmon and steelhead whose upper reaches (canyons and otherwise) also pose a lack of road access and wadability dilemas. These streams are heavily fished in their lower valleys but can provide the secluded “for your eyes only” type of fishing anglers dream of. To the true salmon and steelhead sportsfisherman, both scenarios prove the ultimate river fishing experience. These are hallowed waters that are reserved for the ambitious and adventurous; attributes all we river fishermen possess. If this “last frontier” or “return to the thrilling days of yesteryear” caliber of river fishing sparks a fire in your machismo then listen up. The desire is there, correct? All you need is the means.The Osprey I kickboat and Steelheader catarafts manufactured by Skookum Boats may be the most versatile and essential tool an adventurous river fisherman could ever own. Super light yet super tough these 9- and 10-foot kickboat/catarafts can be carried across fields, through patches of riverside tree lines, dragged over, up and down a logging road bank or washout with ease without worry of damage due to their heavy-duty bottom skid plates. If a road comes within 100 yards of it, no stream is inaccessible.

I had floated streams with Nick Amato, Editor of STS, on a number of occasions with one of his 9-foot Steelheader catarafts. I was extremely impressed with their performance. They are constructed with a galvanized steel frame, like used in the whitewater industry, plus other features which make them extremely strong and more than capable of running Class IV rapids if necessary.

The Osprey I uses the same pontoons but with an aluminum kickboat frame. This makes the Osprey I half the weight of the Steelheader and ideal for what I need them to do. This was the primary reason I purchased two Osprey I boats from Bill Day, owner, developer and designer of Skookum Boats.

There are streams all over the Pacific Northwest that are barely touched, for the only feasible way to fish them is to put a boat on top of them. Therein lies the problem. Some of these streams I had known about for years and had driven over enroute to well-known and heavily-fished rivers, or simply knew of their tuckedaway coordinates but never bothered to scout them. The fact that they supported moderate to strong runs of salmon and/or steelhead was not a secret. It is impossible to launch a drift boat from their banks. This is not an issue if using the Osprey or Steelheader.

The other reason for my purchase was and still is the ever-increasing number of anglers strafing my home rivers. Crowds can wear on a man. With these Osprey pontoon boats myself and a partner can experience that glorious “first water” all day long on any number of remote, otherwise inaccessible streams. It just doesn’t get any better.The Osprey I utilizes 9-foot Steelheader PVC coated nylon polyester pontoons with sturdy puncture resistant 3800/5000 denier and 150-oz. seams. They are by far the heaviest material on the market. The bottom and top of each pontoon have additional 100-oz. skid plates. They have replaceable Halkey Robert-style valves which makes inflating and deflating extremely quick and easy. I have a small, hand-held electric pump that I hook up to my truck battery. It takes approximately 30 seconds to inflate one pontoon. With an additional 35 pumps from a 2-way plastic hand pump each pontoon is rock hard and ready for action. Each pontoon has 6 D-rings (3 outside and 3 inside) that enable you to securely strap the frame to the pontoons. The pontoons have a 5-year warranty.

The heavy-duty aluminum frame for the Osprey I weighs in at a meager 15 pounds. This is the key reason why they are so light and easily packed around. The total weight of this boat with all the bells and whistles, excluding oars is approximately 40 pounds. Do not let the light weight of these crafts fool you. They are stout! The frame is 45”W x 66”L with the foot rests fully extended. It has adjustable foot rests, seat and oar stops. It has an optional rear dog deck 20” x 25” to use as storage for dry bags or fish. There is also a considerable amount of room on top of the pontoons. The seat (padded optional) and dog deck sit high out of the water to keep the operator and his/her gear dry and comfortable.

The Osprey I comes with 7-foot oars standard with whitewater blades. There are optional breakdown oars that are 7 1/2 feet. You also have an upgrade option for 7 1/2-foot Cataract composite breakdown oars. I recommend these oars to everyone for they are one of if not the finest oars on the market. Another option I strongly recommend is Oar Right oar stops. They will keep your blades in a horizontal or upright position at all times. They make for much safer maneuvering through rough water. The last thing you need when shooting through white water is to have one of your oars turn flat. Every split second counts. The oar locks are brass and the oar lock holes are the standard 5/8” diameter. Over 40 styles of oar locks will fit the 5/8” diameter hole.

The Osprey I has an optional anchor ratchet swivel cleat system that is very sturdy and can stop a fully loaded 18-foot drift boat dead in its tracks. It is comprised of stainless-steel Delren ball bearing, Harken swivels (like used in the America’s Cup racing yachts), brackets and ratchets. This system is incredibly efficient and reliable. The chances of an accidental release is virtually non-existent. The ratchet release is operated with a thumb lever. I use a 15-pound pyramid lead anchor, but a I0-pound anchor will also suffice. The operator can easily release and retrieve the anchor with one hand. It is like having a personal one-man drift boat. The ratchet is designed to operate with 3/8” rope; 25 feet of tightly braided nylon rope is perfect.

Bill Day classifies the Osprey I as a kickboat or in his words, “a kickboat on steroids.” There isn’t a kickboat made that can compare to the Osprey. There are no bladders, zippers or threading to wear out and go bad. These are true whitewater pontoons on an aluminum kickboat frame. Its weight capacity is 600 pounds. The Osprey I is a sleek, stealthy watercraft that drafts very high. It will pass over water less than 3” deep. Its pontoons have a long, flat waterline between forward and aft creating perfect weight displacement and balance. The craft glides across the water. The solid frame and oar locks coupled with its stable waterline makes for quick response time when the operator rears back hard on the sticks. This is vital when weaving in and around rock gardens and other hazardous encounters. The operator can row upstream (even with a 15-pound anchor attached) in relatively strong flows without exerting a great deal of energy. The Osprey sits flat and level when anchored, will not sway side to side nor will it pull to one side when pulling anchor.

The Skookum Osprey I kickboat is a fishing machine that will put you on top of more fish than you ever thought possible, minus the crowds as well. You can fish in dry comfort with the assurance that you have a sturdy, safe and reliable water craft that will see you to the take-out every time. The Skookum Osprey I and Steelheader are available factory direct from Skookum Products in Woodinville, Washington.

BOAT REVIEW from Fishing Holes Magazine


Years ago when you went fishing you went in a boat or you went walking. I’m not sure when the float tube came along . The first one I saw was at a bass fishing expo in I98I: they called it a belly boat. Anyway, they set off a low budget, personel craft revolution.

Float tubes did more than just open up a lot of water to anglers who couldn’t afford boats. They also opened up a lot of water where boats couldn’t go. Along the way they evolved into U-shaped and V-shaped tubes, and into pontoon kick boats, with ridged metal frames.

The SKOOKUM STEELHEADER is a step way beyond a kick boat, It’s more like a one man white water cataraft. In a kick boat , even one set up for rowing, you have to sit down in or near the waterline, so you can kick with fins. You're up higher than a float tube, but not a lot.

The STEELHEADER sits you up high and dry in a padded swivel seat. You don’t even have to wear waders to ride it. That’s just the first of many of its differences. The STEELHEADER is Longer, Wider, Broader, more Stable and Heavy Duty than any kick boat. It comes with a large ridged floor, that you can stand on. The STEELHEADER is not a kick boat - it’s different. It’s a White Water Cataraft. The STEELHEADER is built stronger and everything is considerably more heavy duty than what you find in a kick boat. This is not a pack-in boat. It was not designed to be used with fins. Although you could by taking out the floor.

Sometimes fins are a plus, especially in lakes, to hold yourself against the wind, or slowly troll along a drop off or a weed bed. But Bill Day, owner of SKOOKUM PRODUCTS developer and boat designer of the STEELHEADER, didn’t really have lakes in mind . He didn’t want a craft to compete with kick boats: there were plenty of good ones already out their. Bill wanted to design a personel water craft for floating rivers, Something that most kick boats don’t do very well. He wanted a small light personel water craft that put him over his favorite fish. STEELHEAD.

Bill Day came into this from the Whitewater side of things. At that time with over 35 years doing whitewater, Bill wanted to develop and build a boat that would incorporate the Agility, Speed, and Maneuverability; qualities of a whitewater cataraft put into a boat for fisherman. Bill wanted a boat that felt safe and with an experienced rower could do a class 5 river if needed. Thus the STEELHEADER.

I tried out a STEELHEADER with Bill on the Skykomish River in April. The STEELHEADER is everything Bill designed it to be. It is nimble and quick, yet remarkably stable for a boat its size. We were fishing in a 9 ft model. The Galvanized steel breakdown frame measured 6I x 52 inches and weighs 45 pounds. Galvanized frames have been around the white water industry for 50 years they are very strong for the size of the tubing and are easy to fix since you can find the material anywhere, and a welder to repair it if need be.

With the forward floor and rear deck, the total weight of the nine footer is about 70 pounds. And the Guide model is in the eighties. Our boats were outfitted with 6 -foot oars. 7-foot & 7 I/2 ft breakdown fare optional ( and advised ) Also optional is the Anchor ratchet swivel cleat system that will stop a Mack truck.

The PVC coated nylon polyester material on the pontoons are made with tear and puncture resistant 5500 denier seams and skid plates, ( I50 oz ) and I00 oz top rub strips. No one in the world is manufacturing a pontoon that uses this heavy duty air retentive material in a 9 ft - I0 ft - or I2 ft pontoon. It is very apparent of just how strong these pontoons are when you see them up close. This is the kind of material you see in the whitewater industry except the STEELHEADER is even heavier material.

The pontoons are pointed and upturned forward and aft: and have a long flat waterline for stability, and excellent tracking. They may not be as sexy to look at as a continuos rocker tube, but they are a lot more stable and track a whole lot better in rough water and when you row they go straight. The STEELHEADER tracks very well and the river slides under it easily. You can stop and even back it up in surprisingly heavy current . It backferries well and turns on a dime. All attributes that make a boat safe under a myriad of river conditions. Their's room for plenty of gear. The full frame has room to lash things to ( Dry bags, Rod holders ) and the aft deck is designed to fit a large cooler.

The 9 ft STEELHEADER will support over 600 pounds. And the I0 ft Guide model will support over 900 pounds. The I2 ft STEELHEADER II will float over I,500 pounds and is one heck of a boat for 2 fisherman and enough gear to stay out for days. This is a lot of floatation for boats this size and has to do with how Bill designed the pontoons. With no gear we floated nice and high and really scooted along when it was time to float through the real slow frog water. It really is nice to have all that gear capacity. Bill says he’s done multi-day floats with another angler in two STEELHEADERS, and they were able to bring enough gear to fish and camp comfortably.

Bill claims that the STEELHEADER was designed for rivers first and lakes secound. Well I fished from a STEELHEADER on Dream Lake in Snohomish County, and found it to be an excellent lake boat, very fast and maneuverable. The forward deck was stable enough to stand up and fly cast from. Even when I was sitting, the padded swivel seat kept me high enough to site cast to fish.

You can take the the boat anywhere you can drive (you can store it in a small broom closet) and you don’t need a put-in like a drift boat or raft. The STEELHEADER will navigate in very shallow water due to the design of the pontoons. It sits higher out of the water than the typical kick boat rocker style pontoons and it has a lot less drag. The swivel seat makes it possible to float & fish in some types of water as you drift and not have to turn the boat. And because of the way Bill designed the pontoons, you can anchor and pull plugs without the boat tipping back and swinging from side to side like the rocker style pontoons you see on a lot of kick boat.

Like any one man boat the STEELHEADER is best suited for getting you from one drift to the next. For the kind of fishing I like best. That’s perfect. Is the STEELHEADER a perfect personal craft ?

The boat is heavy, but it’s extremely rugged and well built, but to be fair the STEELHEADER was not designed to be a pack-in boat. When fully assembled the boat is heavy for one person to carry very far, but the components are extremely portable and with a little practice the boat can be fully assembled or broke down in I0 minutes, including inflating and deflating using a I2 volt air pump. I used the 6 I/2 ft oars and felt they were a little short for me. I would recommend the 7 ft or 7I/2 ft break down with brass locks and oar rights or oar stops. The STEELHEADER oar towers will accept over 40 kinds of oar lock types.

At $1,399.00 the STEELHEADER is nicely outfitted, it isn’t cheap, and it might be tempting to compare the price to some of the cheaper kick boats .But the STEELHEADER CATARAFT is so much more boat that any comparisons are simply not fair. For a craft that will get you safely down nearly any river, with all your gear, doesn’t need a trailer, & stores easy, I would say it is a great value. It is very stable, maneuverable, and built to last 20 or more years. Not to mention, it’s a heck of a lot of fun!

Condensed from 2 pages in Fishing Holes magazine

Editorial from December-January 2003 Issue of Salmon Trout Steelheader
Fishing Never Gets Old

by Nick Amato

Long-time STS advertiser Bill Day of Skookum Boats and I had been talking about getting together to do a little fishing for about three years. We had planned at least six different trips, but something always seemed to get in the way. He lives near Seattle, Washington and I'm three hours away in Portland, Oregon. Finally, in October 2002, we were able to match our schedules and meet for a day of river running.

Bill has been making and selling pontoon boats for many years. Fishing buddy Carmen Macdonald purchased a Steelheader from Bill in the mid-'90s, this was my first experience with the craft. At that time I'd been primarily using a small raft called a Tote-N-Float, nevertheless, I was really impressed with theSteelheader. Although my rafts were lighter and slightly easier to launch, the larger one-man cataraft had many advantages, including a nice seat, strong oarlocks, anchor system, fishing platform, heavyduty steel frame and bullet-proof pontoons. In fact the pontoons are by far the toughest on the market being made of 5500/3800 denier covered with heavy-duty skid plates.

Although it was still easy enough to outfish Carmen, even though he had the better boat, I bought two the next year. Since then I've fished with Steelheader catarafts, extensively in Canada, Washington and Oregon, and have found them to be an indispensable fishing tool.

As the interest in sportfishing grows, a premium has been placed on prime fishing spots. On many smaller streams, it becomes more difficult each year to find fishing access. In floatable small streams or larger rivers running at low flows, these small craft allow river access. Indeed, these craft appear to be the fisherman's best friend.

However, while drifting rivers with a personal watercraft, one must remember safety should always be your number-one priority. This is especially true during the high and cold flows of winter and spring. I've been running rivers my whole life and have seen and experienced many mishaps. Besides operator inexperience, the number-one cause of problems is equipment failure. The most common are oarlock failure, oar breakage and tube punctures. With a high-end cataraft like the Steelheader you don't have to worry about equipment failure, and you have enough room and carrying capacity to bring spare parts.

Another potential hazard is anchor control. When anchoring never tie the end of the rope to the craft so that if you get your anchor stuck on the bottom in heavy water you can quickly release the entire rope. You should always have a sharp knife ready to cut the rope if necessary. I'm always sure to be very familiar with my anchor system. The worst thing that can happen is todisengage the anchor by accident while navigating a difficult rapid. This can spell instant disaster, including the loss of all your equipment and possibly your life.

Safety aside, personal watercraft are a great way to learn and cover new water. I usually fish by myself. I'll load the deflated cataraft into the back of my SUV and then strap an old, beat-up 50cc scooter to a rack that fits into the receiver of my vehicle. At the river, I'll chain up the scooter at a takeout point and use it as a shuttle vehicle.

Doing this on a weekly basis since the early '90s has allowed me to explore many, if not most, of the rivers in Washington and Oregon. By systematically covering water with all types of tackle I've been able to not only discover all kinds of great holes that are accessible from the bank, but learned much about steelhead and salmon behavior in general.

Therefore, for the last few years I've not explored as much as I used to but primarily used my knowledge to choose productive bank spots. Also the company purchased two jet sleds that I've been learning to operate. This fishing game can get complicated, but that is what makes it so challenging and rewarding. Jet boats, drift boats, personal watercraft, fly-fishing, gear-fishing, salmon, trout, steelhead, drift-fishing, plug-fishing, trolling, lakes, river, the ocean, etc... The options can almost be overwhelming. The best part is that it's all fun and never gets old.

Bill and I ended up floating a local river to test out two of his newest watercraft, the Steelheader Guide Model and the Osprey 2 ( Both had identical I0-foot pontoons and can also double as kick boats. The Osprey is lighter and doesn't have a casting platform, but both seemed to handle equally well. They are serious watercraft and capable of running just about any rough water. I was able to maneuver through heavy white water with ease and actually pick my way though virtually any part of a rapid I wanted. A skilled oarsman could easily run the lower Deschutes or Calawah rivers with a load of gear. You could even strap on enough equipment in dry bags for a multi-day adventure.

Late fall is a great time to be on some rivers. The hatchery summer steelhead that had stopped biting during the hot months of August and September were visible and back on the bite. In a few pools we counted over 50 fish; some were in very nice shape. Bill mentioned that he hadn't counted that many steelhead anywhere, even on the Cowlitz during fall. We primarily took pictures of the boats, but did fish long enough to hook three nice fall steelhead.

We both agreed that running a river free of anglers and other activity is one of the best experiences that can be had. Catching a few nice fish on light tackle isn't too bad either...

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