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Watermaster Bruin | The Best Small Water Raft Going

Growing up and living in Central Pennsylvania my entire life, a fly fishing raft was never something that was on my radar. The larger trout streams in my part of the state average no more than 50 to 60 feet wide and are mostly only accessible by foot, with exception to the occasional canoe launch. As a result of these things I've always been a wade angler and used my own to feet to cover water. In 2019 however, I had my first ever experience fly fishing from a drift boat during a trip to Montana and had an absolute blast! After returning home, I still had a craving for that drift boat experience which forced my brother and I to get creative.

Growing up, we had some canoeing experience and decided to try fly fishing from a canoe on our local waters. It turned out to be a very successful trip! While it was tremendously enjoyable to fish from the canoe, it definitely provided its fair share of challenges. Firstly, canoes are not very stable, which made casting and landing fish a bit difficult. There was also the challenge of thoroughly working good water. Every time we would get to a nice stretch of water, we would no sooner start fishing and before we knew it we had zipped on through.

Check out our video on fly fishing from a canoe.

After a couple additional trips in the canoe, we tried to think of some alternatives. Our search for a portable raft that could navigate small waters had begun.

I'm not going to bore you with the details of our selection process, but to summarize, I developed a spreadsheet listing various small rafts (such as Flycraft StealthX, Smithfly, Stealthcraft, Watermaster, etc.) and their features features listed side-by-side to get a good idea of how they compared against each other. The Watermaster Bruin came out on top.

Now let's get into the review...

The author with a decent wild PA brown trout.

With the Watermaster Bruin is there is no compromise between portability, stability, and comfort. Coming in at 12’ long and only 108 pounds fully equipped with a 3-man NRS fishing frame, the Bruin in amazingly portable. With 2 people, it can easily be lifted on top of an SUV or put in the bed of a full-sized pickup truck. While I wouldn't recommend doing so, I've even lifted it onto my Toyota Rav4 by myself when going on leisurely floats with my wife.

Our Watermaster Bruin on top of my brothers 2008 Toyota Rav4.

The ease of portability means that you can launch it where most rafts or drift boats can't go. No trailer or boat ramp is required for this thing! There have been multiple instances of us carrying the Bruin through the woods to access the stream when a regular canoe launch wasn't available.

So far you might be thinking, what makes this so different than a Flycraft or other small raft? Its capability to comfortably fish 3 anglers and its amazing stability are the true differentiators with respect to this raft.

The ability to float and fish with 3 anglers was a must for us when choosing a raft. My dad, brother, and I are all able to fit comfortably with plenty of room to fish. We are even able to switch positions in the raft relatively easily while on the water.

There is plenty of room in the back for a third angler to comfortably fish.

With regards to stability, I never dreamed it would be as stable as it was! As someone who is used to canoeing and with a few Flycraft trips under my belt, I anticipated it to be stable, but still possible to flip. The first time I stepped into the Bruin, my first thought was that is was much more stable than I ever could have imagined! I don't think it would be possible to tip this thing unless you were navigating through heavy rapids or intentionally tried to flip it - it's that stable! It is rated to handle 1500 pounds and Class IV whitewater—more than any other raft in its class (flycraft, stealthcraft, etc.). Due to its stability, the Bruin also has its place in a number of non-fishing activities as well, from whitewater trips to multi-day river camping excursions, and so on. As my young family grows, I fully intend to use this thing on river trips, especially for the smaller kids.

Leaning on the sides of the raft doesn't seem to be an issue for stability at all.

The Bruin has a high-pressure drop stitch floor that is self-bailing. This is a very nice feature, especially if you are in and out of the raft throughout the day. A downside to this however, is if the front or back angler chooses to stand up to fish, the drop stich floor sinks into the river slightly and water covers a good portion of the floor. I find this to be somewhat annoying, especially if the cooler and drybox start floating within the boat as a result. My future plan to address this however is some sort of suspended casting platform. NRS even sells a casting platform if you are so inclined to buy one. They look like they would fit, however the price of this add-on seems a bit much to me at the moment.

Speaking of price, the Watermaster Bruin fishing package comes in at about $4,300 which is definitely a bit more than the competition but not by a whole lot. For the extra features that you get with the Bruin, the price seems to be justified and I would anticipate that the durable construction of this raft will allow it to hold up for many years to come. As they say, you get what you pay for.

In the coming months we hope to expand on this review to include two additional resources for you to look into if you are considered the Bruin. The first of these upcoming projects will be an on-the-water video review posted to our YouTube Channel to give you a look at all of the features that the Bruin has to offer. We hope to shoot this video in the coming months. The second project will be a video and accompanying blog post that will feature the DIY upgrades that we have planned for this raft and will include things such as rod holders, dry boxes, cup holders (no raft is complete without cup holders), and more!

In order to ensure that you don't miss this future content, please subscribe to our YouTube Channel and blog so you can be notified on when these projects are completed. And as always, don't hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions and we'll do our best to get back to you quickly.

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