A good Boat Poker Player always begins play at the fly shop, long before the clients skip happily into the summer camp office. Finding out where all the friendlies are going is the first card dealt. Know the players tendencies and quarks and you can have a great advantage once the game starts, remember you are playing against an oarsman and their fishermen and the power index is different every day. A great boat handler is only as good as the guys he's been dealt, he has to be able to play the cards best he can and not fold. Certain guides from your own barn can be scary to work around, maybe they wack em consistently, maybe they have terrible etiquette, maybe they are too loud or cut you off and hot hole you all day. Maybe you like playing with certain captains, maybe you go to a totally different casino. Lots to consider in the first card. Add the clients to the card game and it can strengthen or weaken your boats game and maybe completely fold up the hand you wanted to play originally.
Your next card comes sometime during an hour of small talk on the way to the game. If your players want some solitude you will find out now and you may have to explain the odds without spooking anyone.
This card is definitely face up. The oar stroker has to keep this wild card and use it to adapt his own personal playing style for the guy providing the bank role, his money his style. High roller wants peace and quiet, you are going to play your game with that goal in mind, even if you know the river is going to look like a Walmart parking lot at Christmas.
You get this one at the put in. So do the other 15 boats you are about to shove off with. This is the first good look at the other players at the table for the day and the number of players can sometimes freak a fly fisherman out. This is the first time you use your very confident poker face. Show no emotion, don't let your team or the other players see you sweat right now. Confidently let them know that things don't look any different from any other summer day and you like your hand. Take sometime while rigging and prepping to read the "tells" that are all around you at the beginning of your game.
"Where are the other boats from?"
"Have you been at the table with them before?"
"Do they play fast or slow?"
The best ramp"tell" is always the boat. Never fear an extremely shiny vessel. That boat is either really new or only gets used 3 times a year; meaning they are not going to get close to hazards, shallows or park on a crazy spot. Good card, keep it. Nice boat usually means it's not a guide boat or it's a guide who only works once in awhile. All things that make a hand stronger if you know how to play for space. Dirty boats I worry about.
"Is it a hard boat or a raft?"
Rafts are like Aces, high or low you like em. Typically the raft is going to fit places a hard boat won't so chances are that boat should disappear at the first side channel to play in the back room games reserved for little boats.
Use your eyes at the ramp. Be on the sly with some quality glasses and a hat as the parking lot is a great place to get a sneak peak how everyone is going to fish at least to start. You can tell a dry fly rod, a streamer rig or a nymph stick from a hundred yards away. You can tell if the dry is big or small. You can tell if they are using droppers and how far they are dropping them. You can see how deep they are fishing and even how heavy by just watching rods come out of the truck. If you are fishing dries you better realize you don't want to follow two boats of guys throwing meat and how to recognize that quickly.
Use your ears while the boat is still on the trailer. Some oars men are simply too loud and just love to hear themselves babble all day. Even some of their fisherman just can't help but show you their cards, you just have to pay some attention into the pot. Take note of loud boats in the parking lot, odds are it's going to be loud on the river too and that can definitely crush a solitude card
You get this one in the first mile or so of your float. Just because you leave the ramp around 15 boats does not mean you have to be around all of them for the day. Some guys are slow, some guys boogie. Some guys play the same game everyday, they are going the same speed, starting at the same time of day and stopping in all the same holes, everyday. Painful but real easy to play against. Who is left around you after the first mile or so is generally who you will be playing against for the duration, knowing them and their tendencies should help you decide how you show your cards
This is one is face down and requires your best poker face as this is the place in the game where most everyone loose all their chips. The most obvious "tell" once you are floating is where you and every other boat stops. Where and when you stop depends greatly on who is around watching and this is where bluffing skills can be valuable. If it's only the morning armada of 53 rafting trips riding up your bumper, pull over and wade a spot with little worry of showing another player all of your cards. Your solitude seeking fisherman's blood pressure should drop as quickly as the rubber hatch floats out of sight. It is another story altogether if the only other boats around you are fishing and you stop. Do you really want to be landing two fish from your A hole while some hungry, second year float guide from the other end of the valley watches the whole thing?? Ask yourself a few quick questions before going all in by stomping that anchor peddle or hovering on a spot you care about.
"Am I surrounded by weekend warriors that I may never see again?"
This hand is easy, get aggressive and stop on your spots if they are open. Be super nice, chances are the other boat is already intimidated, doesn't like the crowd either or hates guides. These boats tend to go faster then everyone else so you won't sweat it long.
"Are these a bunch of guides around me who know where all the spots are any ways?"
In this instance you have to decide to either play fast and aggressive or slow play depending on who's in the small blind. If you race to a hole you could be showing how important it is to your game, if you slow play it could be taken. Some of the best bluffs I have ever happened across involved a dude trying to not look so interested. I once passed the same boat, parked in the same place three days in a row and each time they were sitting and not fishing. A few days later I stopped and it has become one of the most cherished of all my A holes. Bad bluffer.
"If someone else has been in the cookie jar already, do you stop?"
This one kind of depends on how long they have been there and how hard they may have fished it. If you know the talent level in the boat leaving the spot is novice and you have some sticks it can be a nice boost to your stack of chips if you can sweep up after people successfully.
Seniority is another card to be considered when choosing to stop or not on your #1 spot. Every single secret spot was someone else's secret spot before it was that guys uncle's secret spot. I understand how I arrived here at mediocrity and it was because of help, either willingly given or artfully stolen from friendly senior guides and other exceptionally fishy people. At one point, as I was floating helplessly around them, they decided to be generous and stop on a spot they really loved, in plain site. Thank you. When I know certain guys around me have been generous in the past or have been doing this twice as long as I have, I try and not even be in his sight. He deserves his place at the table.
Playing in traffic with respect consistently can help other players start to trust you and the way you play your cards. You are now at a high stakes table and you must act accordingly from here out to ever win another hand. Lots of great guides have trusted me with valuable junk over the years. While I might not be invited over for dinner, I respect the fact they don't mind playing some boat poker with me on a daily basis.
In the end, the sticks riding around all day flinging flies should have no idea of all the games the boat jockey has been playing with them all day.
Lets play soon.