In this episode, we chat with Brownie Liles, a seasoned guide with over 25 years of experience and the innovative mind behind Blue Ridge Boatworks. Brownie takes us on a journey of drift boat building and the scenic rivers of East Tennessee, sharing insights into his unique designs crafted specifically for the challenges and joys of fly fishing in the region.

Listeners will dive into fly fishing conservation, the thrill of chasing fish in East Tennessee’s vibrant waters, and how Brownie’s passion for guiding and boat building led to creating a drift boat that blends tradition with cutting-edge design.

Show Notes with Brownie Liles on Drift Boat Building. Hit play below! 👇🏻

apple podcasts

google podcast

Find the show:  iTunes | Stitcher | Overcast

Subscribe on Android

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts

Subscribe on Google Podcasts

Subscribe via RSS

(Read the Full Transcript at the bottom of this Blog Post)


Sponsors and Podcast Updates


drift boat building

Episode Chapters with Brownie Liles on Drift Boat Building

01:37 – Brownie shares his transition from whitewater kayaking to fly fishing in the mid-90s, sparked by a Christmas gift from his sister—a fly rod that ignited his passion for fly fishing. This newfound obsession led him to guide on the Tow River and eventually shift his career towards fly fishing in East Tennessee.

07:20 – He tells us how his company, the Blue Ridge Boatworks came to be. Drawing from his whitewater kayaking background and a lifelong passion for building, he crafted the perfect plastic skiff—a durable, high-density polyethylene vessel designed to navigate the challenges of river fishing. The result is a series of almost indestructible guide boats that cater specifically to the needs of fly fishing enthusiasts, proving that with vision and craftsmanship, traditional boat building can meet modern innovation.

drift boat building
Photo via:

11:14 – He shares the intricate process behind constructing their unique boats. Unlike traditional methods, building these high-density polyethylene skiffs involves an innovative approach where every piece is precision-cut and then welded together using a state-of-the-art extrusion welder—a tool likened to an expensive, Swiss-made “glorified hot glue gun.”

14:33 – Skiffs, according to Brownie, generally offer a wider platform, granting more room within the boat and significantly enhancing side-to-side stability that traditional dories lack. This increased stability stems from the broader width, which provides greater surface area and displacement, causing the boat to ride higher on the water. Brownie points out that while all skiffs enjoy this inherent stability due to their width, his boat maintains this advantage from front to back, diverging from some skiffs that narrow at the ends, showcasing how thoughtful design can impact a boat’s performance and angler’s experience on the water.

drift boat building
Kingfisher Skiff (Photo via:

20:30 – He highlights the boat’s thoughtful features, like increased gunnel height for dryness and safety, and the slickness of the material that enables easy maneuverability over obstacles. Despite its sturdiness and innovative features, the boat’s weight remains competitive, aligning closely with industry standards. Brownie also emphasizes the boat’s practicality for guides, ensuring ease of entry and exit, especially in challenging river conditions.

26:31 – Brownie explains that the traditional gunnel rail, while aesthetically pleasing and structurally important in most drift boats, was intentionally omitted in their designs to achieve a maintenance-free vessel. Instead, they opted for rod trays below the gunnel line to provide the necessary structure, eventually moving towards using plastic for parts like thigh braces, which were initially made from wood due to cost constraints.

33:03 – He discusses the Watauga River’s appeal for fly fishing, emphasizing its accessibility for both wading and drifting, thanks to its manageable flows. It’s particularly known for its caddis hatch, making it a prime location for year-round fishing.

Watauga River (Photo via:

35:04 – Brownie also highlights the lodge and guide service he’s associated with, providing top-notch accommodations and expert guidance for anglers looking to explore the best fishing spots on the river. Despite the river’s popularity among anglers, the community maintains a friendly and respectful atmosphere, making it an inviting destination for fishermen of all levels.


38:28 – For those planning a fly fishing trip to the Watauga River, Brownie recommends late March through July as the optimal period, highlighting late March for its abundant bug activity and eager fish. Despite potential traffic, spring promises great fishing conditions, transitioning into productive summer months, especially with sufficient rain.

40:25 – The famed caddis hatch, peaking in early to mid-April, presents challenges and opportunities with various techniques, from swinging flies to precise dry fly casting. While wade fishing is an option, the local float guide culture predominantly favors fishing from drift boats for convenience and efficiency, with most guides preferring to stay onboard throughout the fishing experience.

47:33 – We give a shout-out to one of our avid listeners and also Drifthook. They have an interesting article on their website entitled “Top 21 Places to Fly Fish in Tennessee and What Flies to Use”.

53:57 -As a lodge owner and former guide, Brownie offers insights into his daily operations and his transition from guiding to focusing more on his lodge and growing boat business.  His success, he believes, came not from being the best guide but from taking care of his clients and making lasting friendships.

58:22 – For those looking to fly fish in the South Holston area, Brownie Liles recommends Mahoney’s Outfitters in Johnson City for a comprehensive range of fishing gear and The Fly Box near the South Holston River, known for its knowledgeable staff and quality guide services.

Liles’ lodge offers a guide service, preferring to provide a full-package experience to guests, from lodging to guided fishing trips. However, he also collaborates with other local guides, ensuring visitors have various options for their fishing adventures.

Photo via:

49:43 – For those spending a day on the water near Johnson City and looking for dining options, Brownie mentions some places in the city’s downtown area. He also suggests an alternative for guests preferring a more intimate setting: purchasing groceries and utilizing the outdoor kitchen facilities at his lodge.

1:00:44 – Brownie shares his love for classic rock bands such as Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin.

You can find Blue Ridge Boatworks on Instagram @blueridgeboatworks.

Facebook at Blue Ridge Boatworks

Visit their website at

drift boat building

Read the Full Podcast Transcript Below

drift boat building

Conclusion with Brownie Liles on Drift Boat Building

The importance of investing in quality fly fishing gear, including durable and functional boats like those from Blue Ridge Boatworks, is a key takeaway from this episode. Quality gear not only improves your fishing performance but also ensures a safer and more enjoyable experience on the water.