HELENA — A fishing guide’s boat is his home. That’s what Mike Ward says. He knows a little about guiding — he’s been outfitting since 2002. He also knows a little about boats — he’s been rowing them since he was a kid and building them since 2009.
Tracy Allen’s been guiding since the mid ‘80s and building boats since the early ‘90s.
When he came to a point in his life where he had to choose one over the other, he went with boat building.
“Last year was the first year in 26 years that I didn’t guide,” he said.
The two launched a dream two years ago. Ward was on a perpetual quest to find a great boat, and Allen was on a mission to build the best.
“I took Mike and his wife on a guided trip,” Allen said. “He rowed my boat. And here we are.”
In the Adipose Boatworks manufacturing space on Wilkinson Street in Helena, Allen points out some of the features that make the company’s boats special. He’s dressed in worn Carhartt’s and a paint-spattered canvas apron and speaks in a North Carolina accent that has faded little during his decades in Montana.
Not with a note of self-importance he says: “I have a following with my previous boats.”
Adipose is Allen’s third boat-building venture. He’s worked with metal, wood and fiberglass. His most recent business was High Country Drifters, which was based in Belgrade and which he sold a few years ago.
“I’m a mad scientist some days,” he says.
He and Ward believe they’ve come up with the best-designed boat for trout streams in the Rocky Mountain West. Their clients agree.
“I’ve rowed about everything out there,” said Eric Adams, outfitter and owner of Montana Fly Fishing Guides in Livingston.
“It’s the best rowing boat for our inner mountains streams.”
Andrew Martineau, who works at Adipose, describes the Adipose boat as a hybrid — a cross between a Mackenzie boat and a skiff.
The Adipose boat is 15 feet 4 inches long, 58 inches wide at the bottom, 74 inches from oar lock to oar lock and weighs in at 420 pounds fully fitted out.
Ward is a Washington native who grew up fishing for bass. After developing a passion for Montana and the Missouri River, he transferred from Eastern Washington University to Carroll College and became a fishing guide.
“For me as a guide, I would spend a lot of time thinking of things to improve my boat,” Ward said.
One obvious idea was to come up with a boat that’s easier to row.
“For a guide, you shoulders are your biggest asset,” Ward said. “Anything you can do to save those can extend your career.
“When I rowed Tracy’s boat, it’s what I wanted,” he said.
What Ward also wanted was a way to extend his work schedule beyond the six month fly-fishing season and a better way to support his young family.
Allen describes the Adipose boat as having a really big footprint on the water, which allows it sit on top of the water column.
“In a normal drift boat, you have to keep rowing,” Ward said. “With this boat, you can row and then let off the oars and the boat will stay in one place,”
This is good for fishing guides as it allows them to easily keep the boat in one place as their clients cast to rising fish, increasing the chance of the client hooking up with a fish.
“What I enjoy the most about this boat is that it’s not only the perfect boat to row, it’s the perfect boat to fish out of,” said Peter Skidmore, a fishing guide who works for Headhunters fly shop in Craig. “The way it’s suspended in the water column, you’re not drafting a lot of water. It keeps itself suspended.”
It also responds well in the wind, Allen said.
“You can get hit with a pretty good wind — 25 mph — and not feel it,” Allen said.
The company can build between 50 and 100 boats per year, and each sells for about $9,150, fully outfitted and with a custom trailer.