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Drift Boat Meets Raft: Abstract Watercraft Aims to Revolutionize Fishing With Pricey Hybrid

Oregon-based Abstract Watercraft said it combined the advantages of rafts and drift boats into one (expensive) package.
abstract watercraft model 1 lael johnson(Photo/Abstract Watercraft)
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Rich Batcheller describes the inception of his experimental fishing boat as a “classic pandemic story.” Like many Americans, Batcheller watched all his business suddenly evaporate when Covid-19 shut the world down in March 2020.

Unlike most of us, Batcheller used the opportunity to embark on an ambitious plan. Instead of building displays for events and museums, he would use his Washington workshop for something entirely different: building an angling raft with a rigid floor and an updated frame.

After several years of development, Batcheller has released the Model 1 from his new company, Abstract Watercraft, and he says it’s unlike anything else on the market.

“We created this thing that’s super-sexy and getting sexier by the moment,” Batcheller told GearJunkie.

So what is it, exactly? It’s a self-bailing drift boat inside an inflatable, 14-foot whitewater raft. A carbon-fiber insert makes the inside of the boat walkable, but water will still run through it. With a tentative $27,000 price tag, it’s a “whole new category of boat,” Batcheller said.

abstract watercraft model 1 lael johnson
Professional angler Lael Johnson called the Model 1 the best fishing raft available; (photo/Abstract Watercraft)

Drift Boat or Angling Raft?

There’s plenty of debate about how to choose the best rig for fly fishing on rivers. Just search the phrase “drift boat vs. raft,” and you’ll find lots of fishing magazines and message boards discussing the relative merits of both vessels.

Drift boats are basically flat-bottom rowboats with a shallow draft, flared sides, and a curved hull. They offer better stability while fishing than a raft, which has a soft floor that makes moving around and casting more difficult. Many drift boats are also self-bailing, meaning that water can flow out of the boat’s floor.

Inflatable fishing rafts, however, are more durable, maneuverable, and easier to launch than a drift boat. The addition of an aluminum frame allows the raft to function as a fishing boat, with attached seats that allow fishermen to sit high out of the water.

But once you pull out the rod and try to cast, a raft can still feel like “fishing on a water bed,” North Carolina angler Mike Hodge wrote. So Batcheller’s idea was simple: Add a carbon-fiber floor to an angling raft.

“Let’s create a fishing-and-catching experience and not a ‘Hey, can you help me untangle this’ experience,” he said.

The Abstract Watercraft marries the best qualities of a drift boat with a raft, resulting in a best-of-both-worlds tool for fishing guides and serious anglers — or at least that’s the idea.

Abstract Watercraft: Model 1

Abstract Watercraft currently offers just one product on the website: the Model 1. This first design has already been lauded by several professional fishing guides, who have been testing the boat and offering feedback.

The Model 1 won over Lael Johnson, a professional fishing guide who now “reps the baddest raft on the market,” he said on Instagram.

Johnson loves fishing off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, where he always wanted the added safety of a raft for navigating rapids. But he continued using drift boats for improved comfort and stability. With Abstract Watercraft’s design, Johnson no longer has to compromise.

“With the platform elevated entirely above the water, you have all the benefits of a drift boat, including storage and stability when rowing, with no disadvantages of weight or water access,” Johnson wrote in a testimonial. “One thing that sold me on the design, above all other things, is that there is no flex from the frame on the raft while rowing, making each oar stroke feel strong, not spongy.”

While there are many potential uses of the boat, Batcheller views it primarily as a way for guides like Johnson to offer a better fishing experience for their clients.

“If they have to get to their client to help with something, they have to walk over an inflatable floor that’s unstable and difficult to walk on,” he said. “It’s like being drunk in a bouncy house — good luck.”

But there are other advantages, too. The 63-pound carbon insert is also removable, leaving a 109-pound raft that’s easier to portage than the average 400-pound drift boat.

abstract watercraft
(Photo/Abstract Watercraft)

Abstract Watercraft: Pricing & Availability

You can order Abstract Watercraft’s Model 1 online. Reserving one requires a refundable deposit of $500, with turnaround time on orders an estimated 12-16 weeks.

It’s currently available for the staggering price tag of $27,000. But you do get a lot for the money. In addition to the raft and carbon shell insert, the Model 1 comes with casting braces, seat boxes, rod trays, foam floor, Sawyer carbon oars with oar lock, seats, a boat cover, and a 7″x12″ trailer.

In the long term, Batcheller hopes to offer a cheaper model that’s more accessible for the average consumer. Regardless, he believes he has created something special.

“We’re doing our best to create the Swiss Army knife of fishing boats,” Batcheller said. “No boat can do everything, of course, but this one can do a lot.”

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