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Thread: Pros and Cons of Catarafts

  1. #1
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Pros and Cons of Catarafts

    There's a lot of interest in catarafts for float hunting, and I'm interested in your thoughts on them. Here are some areas I'd like to explore with you:

    1. User reports on the pros and cons of catarafts in general.

    2. Brand name recommendations. This could be based on personal experience with a particular brand, or educated guesses. I'm looking for durability, tube diameter / shape, etc.

    3. Customization. What are some things that you like and dislike? What mods would you like to see on catarafts?

    Let's have some fun with this!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
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  2. #2

    Default cats, pros and cons...

    I purchased a Fishcat 13 from ark last summer and although I cannot comment on its "huntability" I can tell you it filled the bill for my particular use. I could easily put the frame on the top of my Jeep which made for an interesting looking vehicle. So much so that I was asked by a couple of passerbys "what the heck is that?" My reply was that I did not like back seat drivers and the two seats were where I put my wife and mother-in-law...joking aside I used the cat to fish several small lakes, float several class I,II rivers and have absolutely no complaints. I will admit to being a novice on Alaska waters and the use of a cataraft was new to me, however I do have considerable experience with boats,canoes, and kayaks. Having been through the full cycle with boats, you know start off with a john boat with an electric and it somehow evolves into an offshore 25 ft overhorsed gas guzzling platform to house tens of thousands of dollars worth of electronics and high tech toys. Like they say, the two happiest days of my life were the day I brought it home and the day I got rid of it. The last few years I have been conciously on a mission to simplify as much of my life as I can, and that includes my fishing. I spend the biggest portion of my fishing time paddling a tupperware sit on top kayak fly fishing for redfish, sea trout, and tarpon here in Florida. From my perspective I can offer these comments; the learning curve for cats is very short and they are far more manuverable than canoes or rafts or even kayaks. The higher profile aides in fishing but increases wind resistance. The stability is supperior to canoes, kayaks, and at least equal to that of a raft. The overall ability to handle a load does require a little bit of "balancing" but no more so than any other small craft. I was able to "take-it-to-the-river" straight from the store with no modifying of any type. I liked the removeable standing platorm for the oarsmen station; floor in place when fishing the lakes, floor removed when drifting the rivers. The Fishcat 13 may not have the load capacity for a float hunt, but it certainly handled two people and all the gear necessary for a week long fishing trip. Its small size lent itself well negotiating the many tight turns, sweepers, and log jams on the small rivers, yet was large enough to allow two of us to fly fish on the lakes. As to the durability, the jury is still out but with a five year warranty I suspect it will last at least that long. One could add some rod holders, and a transom for a small motor without a lot of difficulty but as I mentioned earlier I prefer to keep things simple. I am planning my 2007 trip at the present and it appears I will have my son and three of my grands at least a couple of weeks. I debated upsizing and trading the Fishcat 13 for a larger cat to accomodate all of us but have decided to just buy another one. Thanks to you Mr. Strahan for pointing me to the "right choice". One final comment....the decision to buy locally came as a result of Mr. Strahan's recomendation and I am here to tell you, the guys at Alaska Raft and Kayak are tops!

  3. #3
    Member Erik in AK's Avatar
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    Default

    I bought an Aire Jagurundi (16' long 20" dia. tubes) demo from Idaho River Sports in Boise, in 99. It came with a powder coated Aire Expedition frame and rigged for white water--3 carlile oars, stirrup oarlocks, 2 whitewater seats and an adjustable cargo brace. The tubes are 45# each and the 2 1/4" steel tube frame is 85#. Strapped together and ready to hit the water, including my old 128qt fish coffin for a dry box, it comes in just under 200 lbs unloaded. The frame has a wide stance--tubes are 7'9" apart at the centerlines.

    This set up is very nimble on the water. I rafted as many rivers as work allowed while in Idaho--the North and South Forks of the Payette and Boise rivers, and main Salmon. The Owyhee was planned for summer 01 but I moved back to AK that spring (someday). The SF of the Boise became my pet river and I ran the 18 miles from Cow Creek to Danskin about 10 times in various water levels and seasons but mostly summer at 1600-1900 cfm. Idaho is a great place to cut one's whitewater teeth and I had a blast.

    I really like this raft-it holds a lot of gear and 3 people comfortably, its responsive to oar input--even when over-loaded, and its durable and easy to repair in the field.
    In 2002 I ran Atigun Gorge from the Dalton Hwy to the Sag and then on down to Sag River DOT camp. A few bounces off boulders aside, we manuevered the Atigun's nearly endless boulder gardens without too much difficulty. Somewhere along the way I sliced a 2 foot gash in my right tube but only put a pencil sized hole in the inner bladder which I didn't notice until we got past the Gorge and to the Sag confluence. We pulled the gear off, dragged the raft onto the beach, unstrapped the tube, and I patched the bladder and baseball stitched the tube just like the very easy to understand video showed me--Aire includes this How-To video and an excellent repair kit with all its rafts.

    We finished the trip without a problem and the repairs held up to the pounding of 10 miles of near constant Class III and big Class IV rapids. When I brought my boat to Tracy at AR&K he made a beautiful, permanent repair that has held to this day.

    As a comparison, a friend bought an Aire Leopard (18'/22") from AR&K set up with an NRS frame and configured more for float hunts than whitewater. He raved about his raft after 1 trip down Class I Beaver Creek. Since I was an Aire fan I assumed the Leopard was a bigger better version of my boat. So we ran the Klutina. After barely getting away from the bank and spinning and crashing into every rock in the river I convinced my novice buddy to let me drive--OH MY GAWD what a pig that boat was!

    I absolutely reefed on the oars to get it to do anything. Pivoting, crabbing cross current and generally positioning the boat in the right current line was difficult. I was able to keep us out of the Klutina's many sweepers and log piles-but barely. MY OPINION--my buddy's cargo frame set-up was narrower than mine by 8 inches. That combined with the longer tubes reduced the mechanical leverage of the oars--hit boat was set up to float a gob of weight down un-technical Class I & II rivers not a rapidy, obstacle strewn, fast river like the Klutina. It's a good boat just misapplied as configured.

    I know each type of boat has its place but for a rowing frame set-up I'm personally sold on cat boats--properly set up they're unbeatable.

  4. #4

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    on a cat it is ALL about getting the weght distribution right. I ran the Locsha with my Aire Jag and it was the mst nimble 16' boat ever.....moved the frame on the next trip which put the weight back too far and it is a total pig! I think Aire boats are tough to beat for durability and ease of repair. there are gobbs of boats out there that are lighter, but if you are gonna pay for weight it oughta be for your boat.

    I now have the 16' lion series and a huge nrs frame... it is a gear hauling machine! it glides through the biggest water the clark fork has without even a worry.

    I lost a bunch of manuverability going from the jag to the lion, not too much weight difference, my short shaft 15 horse is too short unless the lion is loaded way heavy, the plus side to the lion is you can haul a pickup, it drafts in an inch of water and requires so much air that you will be very warm by the time one tube is full

  5. #5
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default AIRE Lion

    Quote Originally Posted by highcountry View Post
    on a cat it is ALL about getting the weght distribution right. I ran the Locsha with my Aire Jag and it was the mst nimble 16' boat ever.....moved the frame on the next trip which put the weight back too far and it is a total pig! I think Aire boats are tough to beat for durability and ease of repair. there are gobbs of boats out there that are lighter, but if you are gonna pay for weight it oughta be for your boat.

    I now have the 16' lion series and a huge nrs frame... it is a gear hauling machine! it glides through the biggest water the clark fork has without even a worry.

    I lost a bunch of manuverability going from the jag to the lion, not too much weight difference, my short shaft 15 horse is too short unless the lion is loaded way heavy, the plus side to the lion is you can haul a pickup, it drafts in an inch of water and requires so much air that you will be very warm by the time one tube is full
    The AIRE Lion was built to compete with the NRS River Cat (formerly the Grizzly), another big load-hauler. Personally I don't care for the design because it doesn't work as well with larger outboards as the Leopard does. The Leopard and Jag both have gradual bow transitions, whereas the Lion and Grizzly have blunt bow sections. This gives them a tendency to plow, rather than plane. I'll attach a photo for those who may not have seen either boat.

    On the other hand it hauls a huge load, and if it's loaded properly (not overloaded) it works well. It's a pretty good boat for float hunts, just not my cup of tea.

    Just my take.

    You have hit the nail on the head about cats though. They are extremely versatile boats, but easily overloaded. If there is a single negative about them, this is it.

    -Mike
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    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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  6. #6

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    this guy did some great research on the same subject last month...opinions,cargo capacity,weights,tube sizes,ect of all the major players in the cataraft game. good stuff, I thought, so passing it along.

    http://www.whitewateraddiction.com/cat_shootout.php

  7. #7
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default It's whitewater though-

    Quote Originally Posted by indyjones View Post
    this guy did some great research on the same subject last month...opinions,cargo capacity,weights,tube sizes,ect of all the major players in the cataraft game. good stuff, I thought, so passing it along.

    http://www.whitewateraddiction.com/cat_shootout.php
    Indy,

    I read the article, and I think it's a pretty fair overview for whitewater folks. But in my situation it doesn't really fit. For example his comments about cats not being very good passenger boats. Obviously he hasn't been to Alaska in the last 15 years, where a huge amount of innovation has been taking place specifically in this area. Truth is, a cat is a much better passenger boat than a round boat, when it comes to fishing and hunting. Yes, we put SEATS (OOOOO NOOO!) on them! Shhhh.... don't tell anyone!

    You have a lot more room on a cat than on a round boat, plain and simple. The problem is that people tend to fill all that space up and you end up with an overloaded boat. Overloading is the biggest problem with cats.

    In a whitewater situation you don't want seats in your way or any other extraneous stuff. But here in Alaska the bulk of the boat market is looking for something they can take the family in or they can do a float hunt in. Cats are perfect for that. His comment about 18-footers being undesirable might be true for a whitewater boat, but it's something I really disagree with for Alaska expeditions. They're perfect for float hunting.

    Regards,

    -Mike
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    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
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  8. #8

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    The article is what it is. The writer is a very experienced class V+ rafter with first decents under his belt and owns a whitewater rafting company out in Durango,CO doing both international trips and local class V runs on the Animas.

    I agree with him on the raft/cat thing for passengers too. ... especially for the family rower. Anything a kid drops in a cat tends to vanish in the river plus cats with seats locks a kid into place for the day. In a raft, a person can move around easier and has a soft floor to catch items and people.

    Not related to the article but the other thing I don't like about cats is that they draw more water than a raft. True, you can stradle rocks to some extent but I've seen many times where a big,loaded 16ft raft skims the shallows where a smaller/lighter cat slices in and hangs up.

    The only thing I like about cats is that for a big portage you can break them down into 3 smaller chunks.

    Agree to disagree,I guess.

    SYOTR.

  9. #9

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    since we are sharing pics of our floating babies...

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...pid+josh+brian

  10. #10
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    About 12 years ago I bought an Aire Cougar. There's still quite a few of them around. Mine's 17.5' long with four 18" diameter tubes, two per side. It's a decent gear hauler since the four tubes put a lot of floation on the water, and the center of gravity remains low. I've used it for quite a few Alaskan river trips. I've run it down Sixmile Creek more than a few times, but it is really a poor boat for such a technical river. I've also managed to flip it in Nenana, Lion's Head and more than once in Sixmile.

    About six years ago I got tired of pushing a gear boat, so I unlaced the pairs of tubes to create two boats that are still just as long, but with skinny tubes, and narrower frames. They are now lighter and a lot better for technical runs, and surprisingly are more stable than before. Their downside is that they are each way too easy to overload.

    Personally, I like catarafts for whitewater. They are faster, more stable and punch holes better than round boats. But I don't like them as much for tripping, fishing, camping, hunting. For those uses I like the idea that as a passenger I can stand up and move around on a self bailing round boat. I can sit on a seat or move to a tube when I want. With a cat boat you sit in the seat that's been asigned to you an you stay there for the duration.

    Also, a round boat hauls more for its size, and still remains manuverable. Once a cat gets overloaded it acts like two keels that resists turning, and their speed advantage goes away too. And heavy cats draft more water. The same weight distribute on a conventional boat float in much shallower areas. So, I agree with Mike -- Don't overload a cataraft. All the time I see these cats with heavy frames and wood floors and wonder what people are thinking.

    I've goten a few small holes in the Aire but nothing serious. Surprising, considering all the abuse I've given it. Patching is fairly straight forward, but once the zippers get packed with glacial silt they don't want to work. Personally, I usually find fixing regular raft material easier.

    Off topic, last month I had the trip of my life. A (mostly) local group floated the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. We rented 18' boats that weighed a bit over one ton. Pictures are here: http://paddling.jimstrutz.com/images...bum/index.html

  11. #11
    Moderator Alaskacanoe's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Grand Canyon trip

    that looked so warm and sunny..
    Jim, I would like to go back down south and run a few rivers again.
    Nice pictures of a nice trip.
    Max
    When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

    Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years. www.alaskacanoetrips.com

  12. #12

    Default Rafts or Cats

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Strutz View Post
    Personally, I like catarafts for whitewater. They are faster, more stable and punch holes better than round boats. But I don't like them as much for tripping, fishing, camping, hunting. For those uses I like the idea that as a passenger I can stand up and move around on a self bailing round boat. I can sit on a seat or move to a tube when I want. With a cat boat you sit in the seat that's been asigned to you an you stay there for the duration.

    Also, a round boat hauls more for its size, and still remains manuverable. Once a cat gets overloaded it acts like two keels that resists turning, and their speed advantage goes away too. And heavy cats draft more water. The same weight distribute on a conventional boat float in much shallower areas. So, I agree with Mike -- Don't overload a cataraft. All the time I see these cats with heavy frames and wood floors and wonder what people are thinking.

    I've goten a few small holes in the Aire but nothing serious. Surprising, considering all the abuse I've given it. Patching is fairly straight forward, but once the zippers get packed with glacial silt they don't want to work. Personally, I usually find fixing regular raft material easier.

    I aggree with Jim Strutz, For light loads cats are great and alot of fun, but for long river trips where I have a heavy load my first choice is a 14' Kenai Drifter S/B round raft. A round raft will glide over the shallows where the cats hang up and you often have to get out and drag then through.


    I'm wondering if the Cat Jim is talking about is the same one we recovered off the Matanuska near the glacier view take out? That was quite the L shaped slice you had in that tube!

    Good boating

    Jim King
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  13. #13
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Cataraft loads

    I want to be clear when I say that cats should be lightly-loaded. I don't want to suggest that cats cannot haul big loads; the truth is that they can. What I mean is that you don't want to pack it in like you must on a round boat- you've got a lot more room to deal with because the bow and stern areas are open. Plan your load carefully with either boat and you'll be fine.

    In my experience a 14-foot round boat hauls about the same load as you'd put on an 18-foot cataraft.

    Hopefully that makes sense.

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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  14. #14
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    Default

    I agree Mike. I find it easy to overload cats, but if you keep that in mind they work quite well. I've used mine everywhere. I just don't think they're the best boat for everything.

    One thing I didn't mention was that while cats can be broken up into smaller parts to haul in a plane or just to portage, they also weigh more for their hauling capaicty. They also take longer to set up once you get it to the rivers edge. That's probably the prime reason you almost always see a cataraft hauled in one piece on top of a trailer. Round boats get taken down more often because they are easier to put back together. For that reason they are often easier to store.

    Jim King... Yes, it's the same boat. Odd that I forgot about that. Actually it's surprising that I managed to get it back together after that series of rips. Hard to blame Aire for that kind of abuse though. That was a nasty bit of rusty steel it hung up on. Thanks again for hauling it back to town.

  15. #15
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Cataraft loads

    Jim,

    I hear you on the setup time for cats. I trailer mine all summer, but I do the same thing with my self-bailer too, just to get off the ramp quicker Still, it takes me at least an hour to set up my cataraft. The frame is pretty complex.

    I also agree with you that they're not the "everything boat" folks are looking for. Nothing is. That's what I love about Alaska. You need at least two tents, two rafts, two powerboats, several firearms and a half-dozen fishing rod /reel setups just to get close to covering the options!

    Thanks for chiming in on this, you have a lot of experience, which I respect a great deal.

    The Grand Canyon pics were great!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  16. #16

    Talking catarafts..

    I've been reading the Alaska forums for about 2 years now and never really chimed in much, but I figured I'd put my 2 cents in on this.
    A few years ago I bought some 16' Aire Lion tubes and a small frame at the recommendation of Bluemoose (thanks!) and have never regretted it. I have had a little experience with round rafts; both paddle and oar rafts but don't think I'll ever get another one.

    Cons that I've seen are;
    Weight distribution is a key factor, a lot more than any round raft I've ever had or been on. This fact has been discussed more than enough.
    The frame is almost as important as load balancing. I've played around trying to narrow, broaden, lengthen, shorten, change oarsman positions etc on my frame with some success and some major disasters (Erik in Alaska's post above is the only one that I've ever seen that made that observation, don't know why).
    It weighs more than most round rafts that I know of even without hard floors (I have a home made woven floor, will post pictures if anyone is interested, most people that ride with me and know rafts love them).
    It pushes water like a bulldozer when I had a motor on it (still haven't figured out how to utilize a motor on it very well, but thatís what I have a Zodiac for). I think the Leopard and Jag tubes would work better under power (see above in Mr. Strahan's post).

    Pros (*IMHO);
    It handles soooo much better than a round raft. Maneuverability is awesome even with a load (once again depending on frame setup and weight distribution). Less surface on the water maybe?
    It seems to be affected by the wind a little less.
    Despite earlier posts I believe itís just as comfortable to move around in as a round raft, well at least my setup is.
    Durability is awesome on the Aire tubes, rafting through the Denali canyon we had a fear we had busted a chamber dropping off the corner of razorback but found later it was just air between chambers (the shell was actually holding air by itself). While doing research prior to buying a tube someone at the factory had told me the only repairs he had done were due to mishaps while out of the water.
    And my favorite thing is; customization is only limited by the imagination, my raft has undergone many alterations through the years and I currently have two different frames for different purposes (although my larger one is my favorite, I even sleep on it when camping). We had a narrow river giving us grief on a float one year and actually lashed the tubes together and put the frame atop them, wasn't a super easy/fun ride on top but can't do that with a round raft...

    Another note I'd like to make is the size of the tube (diameter) seems to be an issue not often mentioned, I rowed a friends Monrovia and found it to be a sluggish raft even though much smaller and lighter than my setup, the draft was much more with the smaller diameter tubes and I believe a large part of the issue.

    And a caveat; All my OPINIONS are based on only a few years of rafting, certainly not as much experience as some others posting here... but I've been in a lot of Alaskan rivers already (even PWS) from class 1 to class 4 water with the intent of doing everything from hunting moose, fishing, to just getting wet. If I were to do anything different I believe the only change I'd make is going with the 18' Aire Lion tubes. I believe itís definitely not the "be all" but it comes very close (as long as your happy only going downstream).

    Here's a link to a whitewater small ride we did this year (All my fault I was flipped out, small water and was goofing around instead of paying attention). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PyrTr6R9rk

  17. #17
    Member Daveintheburbs's Avatar
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    Default curious

    I pretty much set up my AKR&K 18' leopard the same way every time. What has worked better for you in terms of frame mods/seat position? What has worked worse?
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  18. #18

    Smile raft setup

    Dave,

    Not sure my setups are as wide as yours, only 6'3" between the top bars and 5' between the bottom (makes my sleeping cot just wide enough, see second picture. I sleep right behind the oarseat).

    Sorry about the quality of the pictures, just took them in my garage. My second frame is broken down at the moment and in bags. This frame is my favorite but not as easy to break down and travel with. It's 13' long for 16' tubes with the oarsman seat at the 5' from end. I tried in the center of raft and find I like rowing from a little behind the center point especially in whitewater. The worse setup for rowing was thinking I'd put it in the rear (13' frame on 16' tubes) so that I'd have more room for gear stoage and passengers in the middle, it proved to be a beast, back rowing hard was the only way to get on a line and required me adding weight to the front when solo (sure being 290lbs doesn't help). Rowing from forward of the middle wasn't the answer either (same thought, makes more room behind me).
    I went as narrow as 3' between the tubes and found it to be much less manuverable, just curious how wide your frame is? I did go 6' between tubes but found it a bit harder with my 10' oars.
    The floor is woven 2" seat belt material and has had a moose, camp gear for a week and two people on it at one time with no problems (other than had to give up my bed during the day). I've also had 6 grown adults on it in class 2-3 water with no issues and all but the guy sitting next to me had plenty of room (seats were not on, everyone was sitting on tubes). For sceptics it is as nice to walk on as a solid floor, very tight and except right on the sides nothing slips through it other than water. The woven material behind the oarsman seat is looser woven for sleeping on.
    The front of the frame was orignially built for a slip on transom that I still use, but I liked the ease it gave for getting on (easier to step on for older people , loading gear/game, or/and easier to get out of water).
    *The bar on the back is actually a mount for my video camera not on during long trips. I also have a small bimini style top for this setup for when my wife rides along and weather gets inclimate.



    My second frame is for when I solo hunt and for fishing. Its a bit shorter about 12' with only 6" between the top of the frame and bottom (much higher off the water). It has a drop in spot for a cooler with seat for rowing just behind center on the frame. It also has detachable thigh bars for standing and fishing in the front and rear.


    If anyone else has pictures of setups I'd love to see them...

    BAH. sorry just found I can't post attachments to site, will pm and wait till I get permission.

  19. #19

    Smile frame pictures

    Here are pictures of one of my frame setups for my 16' Aire Lion tubes if anyone is interested (minus the girly bimini top I made for the wife). Ignore the pipe behind the rowing seat, its for a video camera mount.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  20. #20

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