Long-time Clackacraft dealer eyes retirement
Gary Beebe, the owner of Mountain Driftboat in Victor and once a prodigious fisherman and guide, hasn’t owned a fishing license in three years.
The boat business just takes up too much time.
“It’s rare that people show up and buy a new one off the lot,” Beebe said. “There’s so much paperwork with boats, with orders and invoices, transport, and title transfers, it just goes on and on. If a guy orders in March, I might have contact with that buyer a dozen times.”
During guiding season, Beebe is also a resource guides who need a quick boat fix between trips. He sells hardware, oar stops, straps, personal flotation devices, covers, and other accessories. That means opening up shop early enough to help guides, or staying late until they’re off the river.
“I’m 70 years old,” Beebe said. “I’m tired.”
Beebe has lived in the Tetons for 50 of those years, and spent the first 30 as a fishing guide and heli-skiing guide. Back in the old days, he estimates that there were only 50 fishing guides between here and Jackson; now there are thousands.
Until the early 90s, only guides owned drift boats, and then the public caught on to the idea, Beebe said. He got into the boat business in 1995. He ordered a Clackacraft drift boat and had to pick it up in Oregon, but upon his arrival, the owner of the company admitted he hadn’t yet built the boat, so Beebe hung out with him for half a week. By the end of that time, the owner asked Beebe if he’d be interested in becoming a Clackacraft dealer.
He started selling boats in the lot where Grumpy’s Goat Shack now stands, then moved next to All American Tire & Brake as his business grew. His former guiding clients bought boats from him, and word of his encyclopedic boat and fishing knowledge spread. He helped a dealer in Idaho Falls open a Clackacraft distribution center, and now the two eastern Idaho locations are the only dealerships outside of Oregon and Alaska.
Beebe has a real appreciation for the details and innovation that go into each Clackacraft; the boat company, unlike most manufacturers on the market, incorporates a lot of kayak technology and hydro-engineering into its boats, with features like undercarriage dimples, rockered hulls, rounded chines, and channels along the bottom to decrease drag.
While he loves the boats, Beebe couldn’t find anyone to keep the business going if he retired. That’s why he’s letting his inventory run down; he has nine boats left that he hopes to sell next spring, then he’ll be available by appointment only. He’ll spend the winter in Costa Rica and make passive income by offering boat storage space to guides and clients. His friend who owns the lot where the dealership is located may or may not sell the property in the coming years.
Beebe hopes to increase his internet presence and focus on selling high end oars. He already moves around 100 pairs of oars per year. Oars, Beebe believes, are the most important piece of equipment, the best opportunity to increase efficiency and save energy. Drift boat oars were once narrow, long, and rectangular; they couldn’t be bigger because they’d be unwieldy and heavy. Then military grade carbon fiber because available to commercial manufacturers and lighter, larger oar blades were possible. Working with Sawyer Paddles & Oars out of Oregon, Beebe designed his own fishing blade, a light, strong spoon that moves a lot of water but works well in shallow conditions. (A fishing blade is better for quick maneuvering in small spaces, whereas a whitewater blade is more powerful.) The Mountain Driftboat oar can only be purchased from Beebe, and he says they’re the most popular fishing oar among guides in the region. The oar blades have a wood core and the shafts are laminated wood.
“It’s all one piece and designed like a ski, it’s got a sweet flex,” Beebe said, hefting one of the nine-foot-long oars.
The oars come in regular or squaretop versions, the latter of which provides additional counterbalance and decreased fatigue for rowers. They’re not cheap, and shipping is pricey, but Beebe said a pair of oars is a lifetime investment if you take good care of it.
Visit www.mountaindriftboat.com for more information, or just stop by the lot; Beebe is happy to sit and chat with anyone interested in fishing history, theory, or practice. Once Mountain Driftboat closes, he plans to spend more time mountain biking. And maybe he’ll even go fishing, just for fun.