Escalade Inflatable Boat
Escalade Inflatable Boat from Dave Scadden.
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hat suitcase and the box of presents will have to go in the backseat," I told my wife, Barbara, as we packed the Nissan for a Christmas visit to her sister.
She looked puzzled. "Why can't I put them in the trunk?"
"Because," I said, "there's already two suitcases in there. And my fishing gear. And a boat."
"There's a boat in the trunk!?"
"See," I said, pointing it out. "It's that red thing in the back. Behind the suitcases. Under the coats and other stuff."
"There's a boat in the trunk?" she repeated. Then her eyes got that narrow, suspicious look. "Why do you need another boat?"
Light Weight, Highly Portable
This compact, highly portable boat was an Escalade, an inflatable watercraft from Dave Scadden Pontoon Craft of North Fork, Utah. It quickly became a favorite of mine. The Escalade resembles a kayak with a fondness for Twinkies: it's pointed at both ends and suitable for one person, but it's fatter and broader than that Eskimo-invented boat. And, like a dedicated Twinkie eater, the biggest bulge is towards the back end.
This shape means the Escalade rides over the tops of waves instead of slicing through them. Unlike a pontoon boat, it has no rigid frame, which makes the Escalade lightweight and highly portable. However, it's not suited for anything beyond class III rapids (and then only in the hands of a knowledgeable paddler).
But the Escalade isn't just for moving water. The floor is cut out just in front of the seat, so you can dangle your legs and kick your flipper-clad feet. This makes it work well on lakes, too. Its extra width makes it more stable, so it doesn't rock and roll when you're casting.
Some users actually dispense with oars and paddles even on moving water: they just kick their Escalade from one rapids to the next. Frankly, they have more confidence than I do. When I navigate a river in this craft, I use a kayak paddle. The Scadden company sells oarlocks for the Escalade, but I choose not to use them because they make the boat heavier and less portable.
Different Than a Pontoon Boat
You might be wondering how the Escalade differs from a pontoon boat. I've used both types of craft, and in my experience there are advantages and disadvantages to both. My Outcast Pac 800 is a nifty watercraft, but it weighs 40 pounds with the frame. Also, I have to carry it on top of the truck (a theft problem if I stay overnight in a motel) or take it apart for transport and put it back together when I arrive. And if I deflate it for storage in the back of truck, I'll not only have to blow it up again, but I'll still have to wrestle the frame into the truck, where it takes up a lot of room.
The Escalade's light weight means I can get it up and down steep banks more easily than with a pontoon boat. I've used an Escalade on the Deschutes, parking my truck wherever I felt like it, then dragging the boat down the steep bank to the water. After drifting and fishing two miles downstream, I stash it in an inconspicuous place, fetch the truck, and haul the boat to it--and hardly puff and wheeze at all.
Inflation time is less than ten minutes with a hand pump, and deflation takes about a third of that. When deflated and rolled up, the Escalade fits into a 24x12x12 bag (sold separately).
So the chief advantages of the Escalade over a pontoon boat are packability and lug-ability. Sometimes, those are very big advantages. The boat is also a bit cheaper (under $600 retail).
However, a pontoon boat delivers a few things the Escalade does not. Pontoon boats can carry more, handle rougher water, be rowed faster (than an Escalade powered by kicking or by kayak paddle), and have a better anchoring system.
The latter is an important issue. On the Deschutes, where you can't fish from a boat, I haul the Escalade onto shore, then tie down both ends while I'm fishing. Otherwise, that strong, up-canyon wind would blow the boat halfway to Madras before I've taken three casts.
Dave Scadden designed and sells the Escalade, but it's manufactured by Aire, a Boise, Idaho, maker of rafts and other inflatables. The Escalade features the usual Aire construction method: heavy-duty laminated PVC fabric that is zippered around a tough urethane air bladder.
The Escalade is all one tube, so if you're in the middle of a cold lake and manage to thrust your Swiss Army knife through it, you're in deep do-do. Fortunately, that's an unlikely event, and if you're used to float tubes, you've already faced that fear and, I hope, surmounted it.
The Escalade has two large pockets for storing fly boxes, reel spools, etc. They are conveniently located and roomy--too roomy for my taste; your gear can shift around in them and become hard to find. I would have preferred that each pocket be divided into a large section and a small section. Of course, you could use a little zippered bag for tippet spools and other small, easily lost items.
Larger gear, such as a coat and that all-important lunch bag need to be stored on the rear deck. Because the rear deck is pointed at the back, a medium-sized cooler will not fit well (unlike a pontoon boat). You supply your own dry bag for your gear and tie it down.
The Escalade's seat is fabric. You inflate it by hand (more exactly, by mouth). The backrest is a block of Styrofoam that slips into a pocket. The backrest is adjustable and seems comfortable enough. A foot rest is located in front of the open space between the seat and the bow. An easily-detached stripping apron is provided.
The first time I used this boat on a lake, I had the feeling that I could easily slip off the seat and into the water because there's no strap in front of the seat, such as on a float tube. This is a safety measure: if you flipped this rig in a river, you'd want to get out easily. After using the Escalade for a while, I felt more secure and realized that the seat is much harder slip out of than I first thought.
The Escalade's seat is positioned just above the water, so you're lower than you'd be in a pontoon boat, but unlike a float tube, you're not sitting in the water. This is ideal: you're low enough to reduce your profile to the fish, but high enough so you'll stay warmer.
Up the Creek
A few other points about the Escalade:
Overall, I rate the Escalade very highly. It's well thought-out, is a stable fishing platform for both lakes and rivers, and is compact and easy to transport when deflated. Above all, it's light weight so you can get into and out of fishing spots that would be difficult to reach with any other watercraft.
Note: Since publication of this article, Dave Scadden closed its doors. Scadden created a new company, North Fork Outdoors. North Fork does not make the Escalade, but it has a product with similar advantages called the Outlaw.
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Bottom Line: Inexpensive, versatile, and highly portable. Worth considering for either lakes or rivers. Reviewer Rating: 4
Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).
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