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The Lure of Drift Boats

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We launched Todd Avison’s drift boat into the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River on a warm, mid-August morning. The lush, fading-summer finery of cottonwood trees, red willows, and lodgepole pines shadowed the moving water. To the north and miles upriver, behind an earthen dam, the river has flooded what were once rolling hills, deep canyons, and broad meadows. Water skiers, bass boats, and jet skis stir the water there until, when it re-emerges below the spillway, it is slightly off color—a sage-green ribbon sliding through a labyrinth of black basalt boulders. Loaded with freshwater shrimp, worms and insect pupae, the river becomes a rich smorgasbord for the thousands of trout that haunt the canyon below the dam, just where we were entering the current with fishing gear and high hopes.

Most of the drift boat’s history was lost long before Todd and his friends Scott Castle and Mark Cole discovered it on a farm near Gannett, Idaho. From a distance, it appeared to be a write-off—a camouflaged hull surrounded by rusting tractors, bent harrows, and abandoned cars. For many falls the boat had been swept by blowing leaves, and in January, year after year, filled with snow. By spring the snow was gone, melted by the hot Gannett sun that bleached its seats, gunnels, and gearboxes chalk white.

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