Rafts and rod tubes

This is not a raft.

Most hard drift boats manufactured in the last few years come equipped with integrated rod tubes for protecting fly rods (at least part of the rod, anyway) whilst in transit downstream. This is an invaluable feature as it’s important to have a safe place to stow the sticks when you’re, well, on the sticks. Rafts, conversely, do not have the ability to include said built-in tubes and without such a protective feature one risks damage to, or loss of, the rods. Therefore many folks rig some sort of protective sleeve or tube for this very purpose.  I recently got myself a Stream Tech Salmonfly drift raft and this matter of creating protective rod storage was my first priority. While researching how best to do this I encountered many different solutions, including some pre-fabricated tubes. Here are some sources for ideas that I encountered:

• Raft rod storage ideas

• Fly rod holders for fishing frame

• Rod storage on rafts

What follows is my personal solution.

I opted to start with a 10 foot section of 1-1/2 inch gray PVC conduit. My intention is to stow one single-handed rod per tube. If you want to have a tube to accommodate more than one rod you will obviously select a larger diameter PVC blank. All but two of my single handed rods are 9 foot. I also have a 10 foot 8 weight and a 7 foot 3 weight. The 10 foot tube will accommodate all these rods.

Step 1: Determine the bend. Position the length of PVC where it will be attached to your raft frame. Mark with a pen or pencil the point at which you wish to bend the tube to conform to the contour of your boat. NOTE: Do not leave the PVC conduit in place on the boat when proceeding to Step 2. Heat guns and inflatable boats do not make for good bed fellows. Place the conduit on the ground—a garage floor works nicely for this.

Step 2: Heat the PVC. Commence doing this only after the conduit has been placed a safe distance away from your boat. There are several ways to heat PVC. Electricians use heat blankets and heat boxes for bending conduit, but if you don’t have access to one of these commercial tools a simple a heat gun will suffice nicely. I happen to have a heat gun that I bought for welding loops into fly line. Begin by holding the heat gun approximately 6 inches from the PVC. Grasping the conduit with your other hand, rotate the conduit so that you are applying heat evenly. It doesn’t take long before the PVC begins to soften—be careful not to overheat or burn the PVC by holding your heat gun too close. Once the PVC is pliable, bend the conduit as desired. If it isn’t bending as you had hoped, apply more heat until you get a nice smooth curve to the material. Hold the conduit in the bent position as it cools. After it has cooled, re-position it on your boat to check for fit. If you have bent too much or not enough, remove the conduit from your boat once again and apply more heat. Adjust the bend accordingly. Once you’ve achieve the shape you want, let it cool for a few minutes.

Step 3: Mark the slot to be cut for your fly rod. Position the now-bent tube on your boat once again. Using a straight edge (I used a 3 foot carpenter’s level) mark the cutting lines for the slot. My slot is 1-1/4 inches wide, which accommodates standard cork grip on a fly rod. How long the cutout for your slot will be is entirely up to you. I wanted to be able to stow and retrieve rods from inside the boat so I made the slots 38″ long. If you don’t mind having to get out of the boat in order to access the rod tubes, your slot can be much smaller. Once you have marked the side cuts for the rod slot, mark the end cuts. I opted to leave 2-1/2 inches at the stern end of the conduit to accommodate a rod with a fighting butt.

Custom-shortened jigsaw blade for shallow cutting.

Step 4: Cut your slots.  NOTE: Again, it’s imperative to remove the conduit from your boat before you begin this task, as saw blades and inflatable boats do not mix well. Depending on the tools you have at your disposal you will cut your tubes accordingly. My tool of choice is the old jigsaw. However, a standard jigsaw blade is too long to allow for making a shallow cut into a conduit that is only 1-1/2″ in diameter. My solution was to shorten the blade by snapping it off to a desired length. I used C-clamps to secure the PVC to my work bench so that the conduit would not move while making the cuts. Despite going slow and steady, the cuts are not as precise as if they’d been made on a table saw. However, they’re pretty darn straight. Once the two long cuts were done, I used a hack saw to make the perpendicular cuts at each end of the slot.

Step 5: Sand your cuts.  The sharp edges of your cuts will need to be rounded so as not to slice your hands or damage your fly rods. Using sandpaper you will also be able to remove any PVC burrs and rough spots.

You are now done with the fabrication of your rod tubes. Fasten to your frame as needed. You may elect to use a velcro strap or a small ball & bungee chord to place around the tube near the reel to hold it securely in position.

This project cost me $4.95 for each length of PVC and took less than an hour to complete. Your mileage may vary, but I worked slowly and methodically, measuring twice and cutting once as opposed to the alternative.

For stowing Spey rods I plan to fabricate similar tubes using 2-1/2 inch conduit in 8 foot lengths. The 13+ foot long rods will be broken down in half before being stowed so there will be no need to bend the conduit.


  1. Bud Alcock

    Excellent…gonna have to build a few for my toons cuz I always pack extra rods.



    • Kirk Werner

      Well, hey! Someone already found some value in my post. Glad to have been of service, Bud. As always, thanks for following along.

  2. Morris

    That story borders on being accomplished: the truly unaccomplished would surely have made an unfortunate cut too close to the new boat or at a minimum caught the garage on fire. Perhaps 2014 is the year of the short angler ….

    • Kirk Werner

      I think you’re giving me too much credit, Morris. Then again, maybe the blow to the back of the head I sustained on the last day of 2013 knocked some sense into me. Oh wait, I didn’t discuss that yet. Stay tuned.

  3. Simon

    Man, where was this two years ago when I built my raft rod holder! I beer thought of bending the PVC. The only extra piece I added was a short bungy cord threaded through the PVC that then looped around the reel to hold it in. I am a rafter and fisher and so wanted to be able to fish between class three and four rapids, and with my rod, like everything else, I rig to flip!

    • Kirk Werner

      Glad that you’re rigged to flip, but hope you don’t! I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use a small bungee cord as you noted. Gotta find the bungee first. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Paul

    Hey Kirk great post! How is the Stream Tech treating you? I’m close to pulling the trigger on one, and was wondering your thoughts on the boat in general? Also, does the wood sideboard add a lot of unnecessary weight? It looks good and is practical but just wondering if that’s gonna be big pain with the added weight in addition to a dry box.

    Thanks and great blog!


    • Kirk Werner

      Paul, I love it. Absolutely love it. 4 years ago I rowed Derek’s first Stream Tech Green Drake and was blown away by how well it handled and the ease of rowing overall. I had never considered an inflatable prior to that. Ever since, I wanted one and saved my pennies until the time was right. No regrets. I like rowing it so much that I hesitate to give up the sticks to those who offer. Besides, it keepes me from having to fish 😉 The wood rails don’t add any distinguishable weight and I find them to be a very nice addition. They’re a very stable platform on which to stand and makes getting in and out just that much easier. I’d recommend them. Thanks for the comment, and now go pull that trigger!

  5. Jeff

    Kurt, this is an awesome post! I got turned on to your site by my buddy Brian K. in Michigan. I just bought some conduit this afternoon and am going to start working on my rod holders tonight. My buddy has a table saw so we’re going to try ripping the conduit to achieve a nice even cut along the top, then I’ll probably just have to put a cap on the end of the conduit by the reel. I found some cool little velcro straps at the hardware store that I’ll use to secure the grip into the holder when not in use. Psyched! Thanks again

    • Jeff

      Sorry, your name is Kirk. Duh.

      • Kirk Werner

        No worries, Jeff 😉 If I had a nickel for every time I was called Kurt, I’d have an awfully big collection of nickels.

    • Kirk Werner

      Thanks, Geoff—and to Koz for steering you in the direction of my site. Glad you found some value in my post. I wish I’d had a table saw with a dado blade to make mine, but the old jig saw worked fine enough. The velcro straps sound like a good idea, although I’ve found that I haven’t needed them. Yet. Good luck with your project!

  6. Peter "doc" Golden

    Nice post, I am building a rod holder out of 8″ – 10″ PVC in a 10 foot length with Caps, and open top with drain holes to let water out like a self bailer. I am hoping that I will be able to hang it under the outside of the oar frame with straps on the opposite side that my spare oar is on. It will give me a spot to hang the oar blades on as well when not it use. I am hoping that I will be able to stow about 4 10 ft rods in the big tube. I am wondering how I could segment the big tube to keep them separated and also have two with reels face forward and two with reels face backward. Hopefully that will give each angler front or back access to the spare rods.

    I love the wood decks, I finished some decks for a friend of my and then decided to build some for myself out of non skid poly in half inch. I am putting decks on to give me a platform to walk on and net fish either front or back, port or starboard.

    • Kirk Werner

      How to segregate the rods in the tube: That is a great question, and not one I have an answer to, unfortunately. If you figure out a way, be sure to let the listening audience here know about it!

  7. Chris

    How did you go about bending the pvc without it creasing on you?

    • Kirk Werner

      Slow, gradual application of the heat and slow bending of the pvc. If you heat too quickly the material gets too soft, folds/bends too quickly and will crease.

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