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The McKenzie Drift Boat

The History of the McKenzie Drift Boat can be traced to the very river that bears its name. As early as 1910, Fishing Guides began running the McKenzie River and they found the need for a more durable boat than the 20' scows used at the time. By the 1920's the first light board (spruce) and batten riverboat was being plied in Oregon Rivers such as the Rogue and McKenzie. These boats were smaller and lighter than traditional boats and proved more maneuverable.

Torkel Gudmund 'Tom' Kaarhus, an early Eugene, Oregon resident had developed skills necessary to make fine furniture and boats. His love of fishing drew him to the McKenzie River and ultimately to boat building. In fact, as a planer at a Eugene lumber mill it was he who milled the spruce planks for some of the first light board and batten boats. In the 1940's 'Tom' Kaarhus built and sold the first square ended style McKenzie Drift Boat.

The early McKenzie River Drift Boats began a transition at the hands of guide and boat builder Woodie Hindman. Woodie became interested in the McKenzie, its fishery and the boats. Woodie's boat building career began in 1935 under the tutoring of Kaarhus. By 1941 Woodie had built his own shop in Springfield, Oregon and began building boats full time.

It is believed Woodie's 1939 trip to the Snake River led to a new design, the 'double-ender.' This design became Woodie's boat of choice. The boat's popularity was tied to its functionality. It was a charm to row due to the accentuated rocker. It would pivot on a dime. This boat sports the most extreme rocker of the early McKenzie's. Its crescent lines are lovely. As Woodie noted in one of his diaries, the lines had a purpose: "…to resemble the crescent shapes of the waves …". This boat became the choice of many Oregon River Guides in the 1940's.

In 1946 Woodie modified the double-ender. He removed the up river bow and replaced it with a small tombstone type rear transom. Oregon River Guides at this time, being tired of rowing the lower stretches of the Rogue and Umpqua rivers asked Woodie built a double-ender with a small transom so they could hang a motor off the transom to move more quickly through the slow tide waters. It was this boat that set the standard for all subsequent McKenzie Style Drift Boats. It also resolved questions and debates about which end of the boat was the bow and which end was the stern.

Today the McKenzie Drift Boat is made out of many different materials, Wood, Fiberglass and Aluminum. Wood, it's beautiful lines, glides quietly through the water, yet requires yearly maintenance. Fiberglass, though durable and quiet, is heavy, which can help keep the boat from swaying and yaw in windy weather. Aluminum, though noisy, requires little maintenance and proves very maneuverable in rough water.

The maneuverability and durability of this boat is remarkable. Able to maneuver through rocky rapids and cut through high river waves, the McKenzie Drift Boat is the standard for all Oregon River Fishing Guides.

Click here for McKenzie Driftboat Kits!

Some information provided in part from
Thanks to Roger Fletcher

Oregon Weather LinksNOAA River Gages and PlotsOregon Dept. of Fish and WildlifeVarious Fishing LinksOregon Chinook SalmonWelcome to the McKenzie River ValleyThe life cycle of Oregon Steelhad and Steelhead fishingHistory of the McKenzie Drift Boat

The McKenzie driftboat was designed for this type of water

Marble Rapid,
The Middle Fork of the Salmon

Whistler falls on The Umpqua River.  The McKenzie Drift Boat was made for this type of Water.

Whistler Falls,
Umpqua River

Velvet Falls ,
Middle Fork Salmon River

Tatman Woodden Boat kits

Wooden Boat Kits from Don Hill

Marten's Rapid,
McKenzie River


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Eugene, Oregon