A new view on drift boats

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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John St. John loaded the Remington .12-gauge with 3-inch Magnum No. 2’s and, from 20 feet, pumped two rounds into the port side or his drift boat’s aft quarter. The boat’s tough core absorbed the pellets and not a single one passed through. Not satisfied, St. John then set the shotgun down and went to work on the boat with a chainsaw. In a few moments of determined cutting, he liberated the aft end of the vessel — just behind the rower’s seat — from the bow section. He then loaded the now two-piece boat onto a trailer and drove it down to the river and hopped aboard. Amazingly, it floated high and dry as if nothing had ever happened. Was this the work of a maniacal sociopath? A random act of violence? Had the owner of the boat stolen St. John’s girlfriend? Nah, it was all to show off how indestructible St. John’s boats are. You see, he’s the owner, mastermind and all-around Big Enchilada of Hog Island Boat Works in Steamboat Springs, CO. Since he opened the doors of his small company five years ago, St. John has turned the driftboat industry on its ear. Of metal, wood and glass Drift boats or dories have long been the boats of choice of anglers on the rocky, whitewater streams of the West. The earliest models were made of wood and though quiet and aesthetically very pleasing, they required constant maintenance. Then manufacturers started producing drift boats made of aluminum and fiberglass. Both styles are incredibly tough and superior to wood in many ways, but not without issues of their own. The biggest problem with metal boats is they are super “sticky” or “grabby,” which means they don’t slide well over shallow bars or through boulder gardens — a rear problem if you’re running low water. Aluminum boats are also very noisy — when somebody hits a rock three miles upriver in one, you’re going to hear it. They’re also very hot to the touch in the summer and cold in the winter. Glass drift boats are quiet, infinitely more slippery, cooler in the summer and warmer in cold weather, but if you use one enough, you’re invariably going to have to bust out the fiberglass cloth and resin and get busy with repairs from time to time. And then there’s the whole sinking issue. Fill a metal, wood or glass boat full of water and she’s going to the bottom. Best of all worlds Drift boat buyers have long thought that it would be great if there was a boat that integrated the best features of all three hull materials into one. It would make picking a boat so much easier. Well, enter St. John’s Hog Island driftboats, which seem to be the perfect hybrids. Interestingly, St. John’s boat building process doesn’t involve a single nail, weld or layer of glass — instead, he rotational molds his boats, incorporating a two-part process that uses two types of high-density linear polyethylene resin. In the most basic of terms, the end product is a boat hull that has two tough and rigid outer skins with a layer of closed cell foam sandwiched in between. “The process of rotational molding was actually started in Germany in the 1800’s — that’s how they made chocolate Easter bunnies,” says St. John. “The end product of our process, however, is a drift boat that is very tough, quiet and naturally buoyant. Our hull easily slides over rocks, gravel bars, logs and sand bars. In addition, the color of our hull doesn’t scratch, it is easy to patch, and it is very easy to clean.” As St. John proved, they’re literally bulletproof and will float even if — God forbid — sawed in half. In fact, Hog Island is the only drift boat manufacturer certified by the U.S. Coast Guard for floatation. In 2006, the Coast Guard did a swamp test on the boat, first drilling multiple holes in it and then they submerged it with 5,500 pounds of iron on the deck for 18 hours. At the end of the test, the drifter popped right back up. Career Change In a previous life, St. John was a whitewater guide across the West (including the South Fork American at Coloma) and furniture maker. Just prior to starting Hog Island Boat Works, he was going to start manufacturing zip-up waders but then a call from his brother changed his career path forever. “My bother was in the roto-molding business and had been asked by some other drift boat manufacturers to look into producing a boat with this process,” he says. “Luckily, he called me first and I just went for it.” What’s in a name? As for the name of St. John’s company, it’s a nod to a place near and dear to his heart. Hog Island is a little homestead on the Snake River south of Jackson, Wyoming. “I guided and fished there for eight years when I was young, dumb and living in a tent,” he says. You can check out St. John’s handiwork at: Or stop by the shop next time you’re in Steamboat Springs. He’s the one with the shotgun and chainsaw… J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate, and his outdoors pieces have been published nationally. He can be found on the Web at