Review: Water Master Grizzly raft

Truly a boat built by fisherman, for fishermen
water master grizzly raft
Photo: Matthew Reilly

It’s widely understood as a somewhat fallacious, though subconsciously persistent, rule that the fishing is always better on the other side of the river; on the overgrown, unreachable bank; or the assumed piece of structure just outside of casting range. As a kid, often confined to the finite dimensions of a dock on warmwater lakes, I spent many an hour cultivating adherence to this philosophy while expending the fishing opportunities between that imprisoning platform and the arc where I could effectively place a lure.

The answer to such imprisonment is an eventual affinity for watercrafts of all kinds. However, because a substantial volume of my fishing exploits are solo, in places that satisfy that exploratory, grass-is-greener disease, kayaks, float tubes, and rafts have captured my strongest infatuations.

Shortly before taking off on a month-long New England fishing road trip, these sensibilities were satisfied in my acquisition of the one-man Grizzly pack-raft built by Water Master.

What Works

Functionality

The Water Master Grizzly is truly a boat built by fishermen for fishermen. Every feature is highly functional and conveniently designed with the angler in mind.

The boat is constructed of two tubes of high quality 30oz 1100 denier PVC with built-in UV protection. A rigid seating platform serves as a sort of stabilizing frame, and Velcro-grabs a seat that is supported by D-rings in the rear. Behind the seat is a solid bottom for gear storage, while the front of the boat, inside the raft, is left open for your feet to hang in the water, enabling kick-navigation with flippers (for those so-inclined) and some drag while fishing. Oarlocks are fitted to each side of the boat to accommodate the Caviness breakdown oars that come standard with the package, and swivel to allow the user to fold the oars back and strap them down out of the way with the conveniently located Velcro straps. Two sets of D-rings on the inside of the bow tube allow the user to adjust the position of an included nylon belt as a foot brace. Several more D-rings, placed strategically around the perimeter of the craft, make the use of an anchor or securing of carabiner-rigged gear easy. What’s more, the Grizzly is highly buoyant, only drawing about three inches of water under a standard load.

All of these features combine to make the fishing experience more enjoyable and obstacle free. You sit higher in the water than you would in a float tube, and there is no annoyance of guiding fly line around a paddle that can be frustrating while fishing from a kayak.

Portability
The entire package weighs 40 pounds, and fits inside the provided backpack dry bag that comes standard with room to spare, which in turn will fit in the trunk of a car or the back seat, easily. The craft can be totally inflated and assembled in under 10 minutes, with the pump that now comes with the package.

This I found invaluable, as I didn’t have to worry about the security of a boat on the top of my car, and I could easily pack my fishing gear into the provided backpack, on top of the boat, and carry it several miles to into the New Hampshire and Maine backcountry to explore small brook trout ponds.

water master grizzly raft
Photo: Big Sky Inflatables

Versatility
Though a float tube is much more portable, the Grizzly’s portability, matched with its outstanding functionality, make it the more versatile craft.

The size of the craft, and the storage in the stern, allowed me to have all of my gear with me on the water, and made fishing small New England brook trout ponds all day comfortable. Moreover, because of the oar system, it also served as a comfortable vehicle on larger warmwater lakes and ponds, even on one really windy day, where a float tube would not have been mobile enough to effectively fish the setting. The Grizzly is also an effective tool on small to large rivers, with much more stability and mobility control than a kayak or float tube.

Durability
The PVC material that the Water Mater Grizzly is constructed from is high quality, abrasion- and puncture-resistant, and seams are double-reinforced.

After inflating and loading the craft on the pine needle-laden banks of a New England brook trout pond, it’s often necessary to drag the Grizzly over sticks and rocks to launch it. The same goes for gravel and concrete boat ramps. Furthermore, rock and stick encounters are inevitable when floating the average river or rowing on still water. Never have I been worried that the PVC would be in danger against such abrasive obstacles.

Warranty
Big Sky Inflatables offers a lifetime warranty on all products, including the Grizzly raft.

What Doesn’t Work

Backpacking
The dry bag backpack that comes as storage and transportation for the Grizzly is simply not a backpacking implement. There is no internal organization (weight distribution) or hip strap. So if you’re planning to pack in more than a few miles on a regular basis, you may want to look into lighter, simpler pack rafts.

My longest trek hauling the Grizzly was 2.5 miles, and this point was obvious. The lack of a hip belt places all of the weight on your shoulders. If you pack fishing gear on top of the boat, you’re looking at upwards of 40 pounds on those shoulders—a recipe for very sore shoulders and neck.

Weight
If you’re looking for a true pack raft to take on a backpacking trip or that weighs very little, the Water Master Grizzly is a much heavier and more sophisticated boat than you need or want.

Final Word

For my angling exploits in New England, hiking less than three miles to backcountry ponds, and fishing warmwater ponds and lakes with boat ramps, the Water Master Grizzly was the ideal, packable boat. It’s a highly utilitarian craft that is portable and well-matched to a variety of water types.

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